Gray-Clad Union Troops Cause Confusion at Battle of Wilson’s Creek
The Battle of Wilson’s Creek (Oak Hills) was the first major battle in the Civil War’s Western Theater, fought in Missouri on Aug. 10, 1861, and won by the Southern forces. Missouri, a slave state, was officially neutral, having declared that it would not supply men or arms to either side—yet with a large population of 1.2 million, an industrial base in St. Louis, and control of large portions of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, Missouri was a state the Confederacy dearly wanted to have in its ranks.
The fighting during the Battle of Wilson’s Creek was very confusing. For one thing, with both pro-Union and pro-Confederacy Missouri men taking up arms, one couldn’t rely on a soldier’s accent to see if he was fighting for the North or the South. For another thing, some of the Union troops (the 3rd Iowa Infantry) wore gray uniforms. During a pivotal moment of the battle, Confederate troops approached very near the Union lines without being fired upon because they were mistaken for the Iowa troops, as related in the following unusual story.
This article was published by the Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) on Aug. 28, 1861:
A Pennsylvanian at the Battle at Wilson’s Creek
In the statement of Lieutenant Spalding, giving an account of the fearful battle at Wilson’s Creek, Missouri, on the 10th instant, we find the following description of an interview on the battlefield between Captain Clayton, of the First Kansas Regiment, and a Rebel Adjutant. Capt. Powell Clayton is a son of John Clayton, a respectable farmer of Delaware county, in this State, and some seven or eight years since, he removed to Leavenworth City, Kansas, there to pursue his profession as a Civil Engineer. The Captain is about 28 years of age, and has hosts of relatives and friends in this city:
The Fifth Missouri Regiment, (Rebel troops), commanded by Colonel Clarkson, were seen advancing in line upon the left of Company E. Their uniforms being nearly the same as General Sigel’s troops, they were taken for his men, and supposed to be retreating from their position upon the left of the enemy’s rear, which was the post assigned them.
The enemy also supposed our men to be a portion of their army and marched up upon our left, and thus aligned we marched forward ten or fifteen rods together. Col. Clarkson then asked Captain Clayton where the enemy were posted, and the Captain pointed out the Rebel forces still south and west of our line, when we again advanced together. Soon, however, Captain Clayton discovered the red flannel badge worn by the Rebels upon their left shoulder, and immediately complained to his company that they were crowding upon the line and ordered his men to the right oblique, which they did. When about twenty or thirty yards from Clarkson’s forces the Rebel Adjutant rode forward and commanded us to halt. We did so, and brought the company to an about face, when the Adjutant inquired what troops they were. Without answering his question, Captain Clayton and Lieuts. Stafford and Spalding advanced to the side of the Adjutant, who was mounted, when the Captain demanded of the Adjutant his colors. He reported that he was the Adjutant of the Fifth Missouri Regiment.
Captain Clayton: “Of the Southern army?”
Adjutant: “Yes, sir, Confederate troops.”
Capt. C (seizing him by the coat collar, and pulling him from his horse): “Then, sir, I demand your sword.” (After being delivered): “Now, sir, order your men not to fire upon us, or you are a dead man,” at the same time presenting a revolver to his breast.
The Adjutant turned partially around to his men, and seeing his Colonel advancing, replied, “There, sir, is my Colonel,” but no sooner had he uttered this sentence than the Rebels fired upon us. The Captain then shot the Adjutant, and Sergeant Brennan rushed forward as he fell and pinned him to the earth with his bayonet, leaving the gun sticking upright in his body and the ground.
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