Participants in the Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Memorial Illumination stand at attention while the park's flag is lowered.
It was August 10, 1861, when 17,000 men, Confederates and Union soldiers, met in the woods and cornfields on the outskirts of Springfield. Although his troops would be greatly outnumbered, Union General Nathaniel Lyon chose to meet his foe in what became the Battle of Wilson's Creek. The death toll that day reached 2539--reducing the Confederate army by 1222 and Union forces by 1317. General Lyon didn't survive past morning. After sustaining a bullet to the heart, Lyon gained the distinction of being the first Union general to be killed in the Civil War. Union forces eventually capitulated that day and the Confederates were given credit for a victory. BTW, a pile of stones remains as a tourist attraction to mark the spot where the general fatally fell.
A Memorial Illumination Ceremony, the 12th to take place, was held on December 12, 2015, at Wilson's Creek, now a national battlefield run by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Highlighting the event was the placement by more than 100 volunteers of 2539 white luminary bags, with each bag containing a lit candle memorializing a soldier who gave up his life in battle.
As the sky darkens visitors take the memorial illumination driving tour.
The free event began with a short ceremony outside of the visitor center thanks to the unusually warm weather for a December day. A crowd gathered to hear Don Akers, past president of the Greene County Historical Society, give the invocation and the Kickapoo High School choir sing. After remarks by Jerry Redfearn, president of the Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Foundation; Ted Hillmer Jr, superintendent of the Wilson's Creek National Battlefield; Steve Ross, luminary event coordination and Shawn Harris, president of the Ozark Trails Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the nearby flag was lowered and folded by members of Nixa Boy Scout Troop 200. A special candle was lit by Rick Langum assisted by Sons of the American Revolution who marched past.
No Confederate flags were waved during the ceremony. But then curiously no pledge of allegiance to the flag was recited, nor was the National Anthem sung. A small Confederate flag pictured on a package of Confederate coins sold in the gift shop was the only obvious reference to the Confederacy.
After the ceremony guests were invited to visit the museum, partake of refreshments inside or return to their vehicles to drive the almost five miles of illuminaria. The Ray House was a stopover along the way where volunteers in costume performed tasks suitable to the 1860s.
The Ray House
Dinner is set but rifle is ready for any uninvited guests at the Ray House.
Past the entrace gate and down the road high up on a hill sits the Ray House. A small parking area is provided for those who care to visit.
We are told that the Ray House was built in the early 1850s. Roxanna and her first husband William Steele lived there with his two young slaves, a girl Rhoda and boy Wiley, who lived in a house in the backyard. The slaves became part of Mr. Steele's estate and passed on to Mrs. Steele's second husband. Early postal records show John Ray, a farmer, was also a postmaster with the Wilson's Creek Post Office located on the site in 1856.
While Wiley was sold five years earlier, the female, still enslaved at the beginning of the Civil War, became known as "Aunt Rhoda." A pictorial display in the museum at the visitor's center shows the restrictions placed upon slaves in Missouri. As a border state, Missouri was exempt from Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Slavery was ended in 1865 by Missouri Governor Thomas Clement Fletcher.
One might imagine that the person on the Ray House front porch greeting visitors could have been Mr. Ray himself. While his family and slave were hunkered down in the cellar, he is said to have sat in a rocking chair on the porch watching the Union and Confederate troops battling in his cornfield and a distant spot now known as Bloody Hill.
Inside other enactors explained how the house survived destruction. It was used as a hospital for wounded on both sides. A yellow flag was raised outside to stop any artillery fire in its direction. The bed on which the body of General Lyon eventually was placed may be seen, although not in its original location.
Besides this winter event, the Ray House is open to visitors periodically through the summer with interpreters dressed in period costume giving guided tours.
A park for nature lovers and historians
One of the messages conveyed during the ceremony, besides the idea that no life snuffed out by war should go unrecognized, was that more visitors should take advantage of what the Wilson's Creek National Battlefield has to offer. Besides the paved tour road that may be accessed by vehicle, bicycle or on foot to view eight interpretive areas (each with provided parking), five walking trails are available for individual interpretation. The most characteristic bird of the park is the Eastern Towhee with field sparrows and wild turkeys common along the road. However, the total number of species as well as wildflowers that bloom in the spring and early summer are too numerous to mention.
The Wilson's Creek National Battlefield is located at 6424 W. Farm Road 182 in Republic. For directions go here.
Inside exhibits about the battle are viewable seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. A Civil War research library is open to visitors Tuesdays through Saturdays. For all operating hours go here. For fees go here.
Photos capture people and sites at the December 12th event. Click on any thumbnail to start a slideshow.