Off To War–The Battle of Wilson’s Creek

Battle of Wilson’s Creek
“Oak Hills” (as the Confederates named the engagement)O
N.B. Pearce, Brigadier-General, C.S.A.
W.E. Woodruff, Late Major Art., C.S.A.
Franz Sigel, Major-General, U.S.V. (Federal)

Some sketchy information was gleaned from the book of McCurtain County History.

Wilson’s Creek occurred on the ninth day of August, 1861. As Garrett’s birthday is on the 15th of September 1847, he lacks six days and a month of making the grand old age of 14. While this was pretty young for starting a military career it was by no means unheard-of.

Many youthful teens in both the North and the South were joining-up and as their respective countries needed the manpower, they were eagerly accepted for duty. (I cannot imagine my Kolten, now twelve, being a calvaryman in just one more year. Yet, these were hard times which bred hard men early).

Garrett is serving with Greer’s Texas regiment (mounted) and, during the Battle of Oak Hills, under the over-all command of N.B. Pearce, Brigadier-General, C.S.A.

Greer’s Texans decided to travel north in hopes of finding a scuffle with any Yankees they might run across. They feared that the war would be over before they could find any action as the early battles indicated that the Union would quickly fall into Confederate hands.

On April 10-13, 1861 Brig. Gen. Beauregard’s command bombarded Fort Sumpter in Charleston Harbor and accepted the Union surrender. Most in the Confederacy expect a quick capitulation by the Federals.

Upon hearing of the start of hostilities, Greer forms the regiment of Texas volunteers. Garrett is but one of many boys seeking adventure who quickly fill the ranks. The volunteers provide their own equipment, mount & supplies. A motley looking crew of men without any real uniforms, they are, however, a breed who had been riding & hunting their entire lives. And, they are extremely dangerous frontier men.

The Texans are a formidable force without much discipline but a huge gusto. They set out for the north country with high hopes of victory, blood and, probably, pillage.

They cross the Red River on the ferry at Doaksville, Oklahoma Territory. This is near the former US Army Fort Towson which lies upon the Military Trail leading northeastward to Fort Smith. The men and Garrett stop to purchase supplies along with lead and powder at the trading post. Even a large body of men travelling is not secure in this wild country.

Doaksville and Fort Towson were familiar territory to Garrett having traveled there several times with his older brothers William, Napoleon, and Clifton. The Choctaw Indians are by now a familiar people to him having been associated with them for several years now.

Garrett leads a rambunctious childhood in Veasey, the town founded by his father William upon the family’s relocation from Madison County Kentucky to northeast Texas. Garrett and Texas were formed and succeeded at about the same age. In the wild Texas country he is forced to carve a place for himself with his fists and, more importantly, his wits.

Garrett considers Greer’s regiment as an important step forward on the social ladder; not that he thought of it so many words. He knows that a man’s reputation in Texas can make or break him socially and financially. Garrett grew-up listening to tales of the Revolutionary and Texas Wars of Independence. The Igos are generally found in any scrapes which occurred around them.

One unsubstantiated but interesting family tale stated that some ancient Igos had found employment with the Spanish. Originally French and spelled “Iguo” they sought opportunity where it lay. The Spanish were building their mighty armada of ships with which to invade Britain. The Spanish monarch hired mercenaries to fight alongside the Spanish troops. The Iguo warriors, seeking hard cash, sold their services to the highest bidder.

The tale relates that once the armada was repulsed and caught-up in a mighty storm, the ship bearing the Iguos was run aground after having rounded the northern end of Scotland and upon the western shores of Ireland. Here they took up residence until relocating to America. These, however, were not the Igos of Garrett’s direct ancestors.

Those heroic tales told to Garrett made sure he understood the high place afforded the men who served in the military. Even though his immediate family felt no desire to enter this war, Garrett jumped at the chance for glory and rode off with the Calvary to battle and glory.

Once clear of Fort Towson the regiment traveled the Military Trail which was simply a well-beaten path winding amongst the rolling Oklahoma hills. Many outlaws and even wilder types preyed upon lonely travelers in this country.

The well armed Texicans are an unappetizing target. They are already spoiling for a fight and would have welcomed a brawl with outlaws or anyone else for that matter. But the trip proved uneventful.

Somewhere around Fort Smith, Arkansas, Greer learns that several Arkansas and Louisiana units (Confederate) were encamped just north of the Missouri line. The troops were mustering for a fight with nearby Federal troops located in Springfield. The Federal troops number around 5000-6000 while the Confederates have the numerical advantage at around 11,500 men.

These are the forces that Greet’s men join. They are a welcome addition. The Confederates are largely untrained and undisciplined. Further, the Southerners are lacking in arms and ammunition. Yet, like Garrett, they are all hunters and raised upon the land making them a formitable malitia force.

The Confederates under General Ben. McCulloch are preparing to attack Springfield on August 8th. Garrett and his confederates spend the time since their arrival making a camp and forging lead bullets. They forage for supplies having consumed most of their own in the trip north.

With the time of battle finally arriving, Garrett’s spirits are high. His “blood” is up and he wants nothing more that to participate in a glorious charge pounding his charger into the enemy.

As evening approached, rain heavy clouds formed and caused Gen. McCulloch to postpone the attack. The troops, including Garrett were greatly disappointed at this turn of events and feared their great battle might never occur. They went to bed with this disappointment laying upon their fighting hearts. Little did they know what the morning would hold.

While darkness still covered the land Garrett felt himself shaken into wakefulness. It was none other than Col. Greer with his huge hands on Garrett’s thin shoulders pulled the lad to his feet. “Come with me, boy,” was all he said.

Garrett immediately sees his horse saddled and standing outside the tent. He looks quizzically at Col. Greer wondering if he is to be sent home. Near panic creeps up Garrett’s spin at the thought of being forced to leave the scene of battle like a small child.

“I want you to ride towards Springfield,” says Greer as relief spreads across Garrett. “Just outside the town leave your horse and try to infiltrate. We desperately need information about when the Yanks are going to come out and meet us!”

“Yes sir!” Garrett immediately grabbed this chance to distinguish himself. He knew that they are chosing him not only because he is perhaps young enough the Yanks would overlook a kid, but also because the officers trust Garrett.

He springs upon his pony and is off down the road at a high gallop. Not only is he not sent to the rear out of harm’s way, but he has been promoted to spy and scout!

Daylight comes early in August and Garrett is just tieing the reins of his horse in a thicket outside the first houses of Springfield when he heard faint popping sounds back towards Wilson’s Creek Garrett suspects immediately that the Yanks are on the move.

He rapidly skirts the few houses back to the main road on foot. There he spies large groups of uniformed men forming into marching order. Back down the road towards town he spies artillary pieces hitched to mules. This is the expected move. Garrett is dissapointed at not having to go into the center of Springfield, but quickly retraces his steps and remounts his horse.

Careful to give a wide berth to the Yankee troups, Garrett hightails it back to the camp to spread the alarm of approaching battle.

Mis-judging his course he flies across a bend of the road just between two advance pareties for the Federal forces. His unexpected appearance causes the Yanks to wildly fire after his flying figure disappearing into the brush.

The shots ring-out and bullets cut the limbs around Garrett. He hears the angry sound of lead pounding after him! “I guess I’m into it now…”, he thought to himself. Without slowing he crashes through the picketts of his own Conferates.

He quickly sound his alarm and heads back to the Texicans. Greer is surprised to see him again so quickly. “They are here, sir,” shouts Igo. Greer immediately starts shouting orders to prepare his men.

“Good job, boy,” Greer tosses back ove his shoulder to Garret the praise as he quickly heads to other duties.

About 6A.M. a call to arms sounds throughout the Confederate encampment. Once on his horse, Garrett falls into formation with his troop. The regiment is ordered up the creek towards the now nearly deafening sound of gunfire. As they begin trotting toward that sound the loud rolling thunder of artillery rolls across the hills. Garrett and his regiment are ordered to hold on the skirts of Oak Hill to await deployment.

Just over the hill the growing sound of rifles, field pieces and the shouting of discovered that all reasonable men feel fear when facing imminent battle and the possibility of death. The real battle is over-coming this fear.

His horse prances about sensing the stress. Garrett checks the loaded rifle time and again. Then, of a sudden, comes the command to go forth in column of twos around about Oak Hill towards Wilson Creek. His horse literally leaps into action. Garrett welcomes anything to avoid sitting around in anticipation of the fight.

Before he knows what the troup is about to attempt, Garrett finds himself bounding across a field of men busily engaged in killing each other. The very air is rent with anger; the sound of shells exploding amidst both sides who are madly entangled The sound of angry bees Garrett identifies as bullets flying in all directions. He desperately wishs he could bury his head in some safe place.

The fighters pay scant attention to the Calvary skirting the main fight. The troop bounds up a slight incline and Garrett is discharging his weapon into a group of men madly attempting to defend a field gun. Clinging desperately to his galloping horse Igo tries to reload his weapon. They are launched into a insane charge at the rapidly scattering men of Union artillery battery.

He thinks perhaps one of the men he fires upon might have staggered slightly, but he is cannot be sure in the general melee of confusion. The men defending the field pieces run in all directions and disperse quickly into the surrounding woods.

The body of men and horses in full charge carry Garrett along past the battery of guns and, circling, back in the direction from whence they had come. The whirl of battle demands Garrett’s full attention to not become detached from his unit. This could be a death sentence in the melee surrounding him. He is unsure what their objective is and has absolutely no idea if they have accomplished any part of it.

Much later N.B. Pearce, Brigadier-General, C.S.A., described the brief action thus: “At this juncture a gallant charge was made by Greer’s and Carroll’s mounted regiments on Totten’s battery, but it was not a complete success, as the gunners turned about and recovered their guns.”

Garrett Igo, at age 14, is finished with his first major engagement as a calvaryman. He scarcely remembers the incident. He later learns that they have not fully accomplished their mission, but have stilled the guns momentarily and interrupted the rain of death upon their confederates.

The slaughter on the field of main battle continues unabated. Garrett hears the mayhem and is inundated with the smell the smoke and blood all about the hill. Bullets fly over their heads and sometimes fall amongst the troop.

He cannot see that anyone has as yet been wounded much less killed. Word circulates that several men were suffering from wounds but elect to ramain within the ranks.

After milling about for another hour behind the main action, Garrett’s troop is again called to action. This time they charge straight up Wilson’s Creek and rout a unit of Federals from the woodline where they had been ensconced since just after daylight.

This is a fill-blown Calvary charge against infantry…”the real thing,” thought young Garrett Igo.

The bugler sounds “Charge!” and off they thunder towards the woodline and the unseen guns. Some Texicans fall from their saddles on this charge. A few are dead and the rest later are able to rejoin the unit. Some of these wounded are now crippled for life.

Garrett follows the man directly in front of him until, suddenly, he finds himself in the front rank of horsemen with nothing between himself and the gunsmoke filled woods. His fear fled with the first bulging ring and he now screams the best rebel yell he is able to muster.

He discharges his weapon he knows not how many times. The laborious job of reloading from the saddle and aiming from the running mount makes keeping track of the battle impossible. Garrett fires and rides as best he can. Fear is left far behind and his adrenaline filled veins burn as if they are on fire. He screams and rides down upon the enemy now in full flight back towards Springfield.

He slowly becomes aware that his officers are curbing the charge and calling the men to fall back towards the main battle. It is no small job taking the men from hunting the fleeing enemy. The Texans “blood is up” and they want to inflict punishment upon the Federals.

They give-up the chase prior to reaching the outskirts of Springfield and turned about to the still raging skirmishes around the hills of Madison Creek.

They come upon the main battle just as the moment of truth had come. Gen. N.B. Pearce orders his main reserve force into the middle of the main battlelines. This push forces the Federals from their hard defended positions and they are soon in retreat with Union artillery covering them.

The Texans were not called into battle again this day. Garrett does not know it, but he has seen the last of his military combat.

Greer’s forces spend several more days encamped both at Wilson Creek and Springfield after the Federal army retreates further north. But for the Texans, the war is now over.

After the guns fall silent Garrett looks over the quieted battlefield littered with broken bodies of the dead and dying, he regrets not the cessation of hostilities. It would have taken so little for him to be laying upon that field horribly broken or dead.

He finds himself looking with a longing at the weapons laying about whose owners would no longer have need of them. He also had a powerful desire to have one of the fancy Confederate Calvary hats with golden tassles. Along with others of his unit he soon upgrads his equipment and apparel.

When supplies began to run thin and money was not forthcoming, Col. Greer decids to lead his men back to Texas before they decide to take their own leave by ones and twos. They disengaged from the main Confederate Army and fall back to the area of Fort Smith.

The Military Trail is now filled with travelers trying to avoid the fighting. The Texans take another trail a further to the west pushing them closer to the Cimmeron River.

Days later while on this trail the forward unit is attacked by a combined band of Commanche and Kiowa warriors. A brief battle ensues in which few are wounded and none are killed on either side. The opposing sides soon beat a hasty retreat. The Indians have probably mistaken the troop for a less well armed band of immigrants not a calvery unit just blooded in a huge battle. Of the Texicans there are still few who sport any type of uniform.

The skirmish really amounts to little, but it did entail the last full battle involving “wild Indians” in the Oklahoma Territory. All future battles would be north, west or down south on the Illano Estacado of West Texas.

For Garrett the fight consisted of firing his rifle once at a vague target and charging his horse through a thin line of Indians already fleeing. He found he was not able to even be afraid the action opened and closed so quickly. But he reflects, “Now I’m an Indian fighter as well as veteran of war.”

Garrett finds as so many before him have that bravery was simply a question of mastering your emotions until the fever of battle overtook one. He also found that when involved in battle he only lived for the moment. All around himself disolved to a blur while he fought to remain alive while tried his best to do his duty.

The regiment trouped on southward to Fort Towson without other excitement. They laze around the Fort for several days trading for needed supplies and swapping stories. They then cross back into Texas by the Doaksville ferry and the regimental formation dissolves once back within Clarksville The men are now free to return to attend their expectant families.

Garrett joins his own family in Veasey. Although the regiment parads and drills until the end of the war, they will never again see action. The big battles of the east rage; men die and cities burn, but in remote northeastern Texas, little of the carnage impacts them.

The young veteran Garrett often daydreams that his experience had carried him into the real big battles. Yet, he realizes that he has probably enjoyed the best of war and little of the bad. He remembers the field that day beyond Oak Hill littered with the broken dead and horribly wounded men. He remembers the screams of men as their legs and arms are hacked-off and finds he didn’t really miss war all that much at all.

Garrett later adopts the title of Colonel. It is perfectly acceptable to do this. Even a 14 year old can aspire to call himself by an inflated title after a proper interval. In fact, Garrett is listed as Col. Igo in the official McCurtain County History.

Miss Ruby recalled how Garrett (Goodpapa) would proudly stomp up the stairs of the Ruollo Hotel to meetings of the Confederate Veterans Association. He would always draw himself proudly up and salute when Dixie was played on the piano. At 14 his war began and ended. And, after competently and bravely acquitting himself, he awarded himself with a lifetime of glory. It was deserved.men grows to a crescendo. Amid rebel yells and screams of men obviously in pain the cacophony of battle grew.

Garrett sits upon his horse anxious that he appear brave while fear is great within his 14-year-old heart. He tugs his hat even lower over his eyes that no one can perceive the fear. He he has not yet

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