ascertain in the midst of a fierce engagement.
It was no time to make experiments with untried military genius.
I captured a ‘secesh’ horse found running loose,—for my own horse had been killed and I had been afoot quite a long time,—mounted him, and as soon as the state of the contest would permit, I rode to Major Sturgis
, informed him of Lyon
's death, and told him he must assume the command, which he accordingly did. It afterward appeared that there was one lieutenant-colonel
of volunteers remaining on the field, but neither he nor any one else thought of questioning the propriety of Major Sturgis
's taking the command.
Soon after Lyon
's death the enemy was repulsed, but then seemed to gather up all his remaining strength for a last effort.
His final attack was heavier than any of the preceding, but it was more firmly met by our troops and completely repulsed.
There is probably no room for doubt that the enemy was beaten if we had but known it; but the battle-field was covered with timber and underbrush, so that nothing could be seen beyond a few hundred yards. Our troops were nearly out of ammunition, and exhausted by a night march and by six hours hard fighting without breakfast.
It did not seem possible to resist another such attack as the last, and there was no apparent assurance that another would not be made.
Hence Major Sturgis
decided to withdraw from the field while he was free to do so. The movement was effected without opposition, the wounded were brought off, and the command returned to Springfield
in the afternoon.
This retreat was undoubtedly an error, and the battle of Wilson's Creek
must be classed as a defeat for the Union
The error was a failure to estimate the effect that must have been produced upon the enemy as well as upon ourselves by so much hard fighting.
It was only necessary to hold our ground, trusting to the pluck and endurance of our men, and the victory would have been ours.