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Posted By: Mark Hageman on: 10/09/2011 10:40:17 EDT
Subject: RE: Wilson's Creek & early use of telegraph

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Here is some info I found:



Communications in the campaign for Missouri in 1861 essentially took two forms-the telegraph and messengers. Both sides used these forms extensively. In this regard, the Federals had something of an advantage because St. Louis was their communications hub, and it connected them with the rest of the Union via telegraph and rail. The Confederates had a more difficult, and round about communications system, further complicated by the fact that Missouri had not yet seceded. Memphis, Tennessee, the center of Confederate communications in the Western theater, was connected by telegraph and rail with the rest of the South.

Good roads, the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, and the railroads to Jefferson City, Rolla, and Ironton gave the Federals good lines of communications to support their field operations. By August 1861, the most important of these was the rail line from St. Louis to Rolla and the road from Rolla to Springfield. General Lyon communicated easily with St. Louis along this line, and any supplies and reinforcements that reached him would most likely come that way.

Several factors complicated the Confederate communications problem. First of all, most of the pro-Southern strength in Missouri lay along the Missouri River-in the northern one-third of the state and farthest from the South. Governor Jackson and the legislature became more isolated as Lyon drove them into the southwest corner of Missouri. There, the Ozark Mountains and the increasingly primitive state of the countryside combined to make communications difficult. But on the positive side, there was a good telegraph line that ran from Springfield to Little Rock, Arkansas, that the Confederates could use. In addition, Wilson's Creek was something of a communications center itself, as the Ray house was the local post office. Also, as Jackson's force withdrew to Cowskin Prairie, it drew closer to the Arkansas border and potential help from that direction. At the same time, Lyon extended his communication line by occupying Springfield.

Tactical communications at the Battle of Wilson's Creek were of two types--by direct leadership and messengers. For this reason, the Confaderates generally fared better, because they held a central position from which they moved troops to meet Federal threats. Coincidentally, Generals McCulloch and Price were breakfasting together when the attacks began, and they were able to effect and coordinate a general plan of action almost immediately. Although Wilson's Creek divided the Confederate campsites, two usable fords crossed the creek within the Southern lines, and units moved from place to place with reasonable ease (complicated only by stragglers, both mounted and afoot, that congested the camp's center).

Although General Lyon gained the huge advantage of surprise at the battle's onset, the way he employed that tactic also caused his plan to falter; since Lyon and Sigel were separated, they could not communicate with each other, and while each achieved great success initially, they could not coordinate their efforts and rapidly finish the battle. What is more, at a critical point in the battle, Sigel could not determine if approaching troops were friendly or enemy and was overrun. Later, Lyon and his successor, Major Sturgis, continued to hope for Sigel's arrival but remained ignorant of his plight.

Personal leadership by commanders communicating directly with their troops and units played a central part in the outcome at Wilson's Creek. The battle was small enough that personal direction was possible. Lyon, McCulloch, and Price each placed units into line, led charges, directed, movements, and rallied formations. In fact, Lyon died doing so. Their subordinates, for the most part, followed instructions, demonstrated initiative, and facilitated the flow of information. All tried to coordinate their efforts but with mixed results.

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Wilson Creek Communications
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