wild bill during the civil war -- 8/24/20

Today's selection -- from Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier's First Gunfighter by Tom Clavin. Before he became one of the most famous men in America -- fame gained due to his reputation as a gunfighter -- Will Bill Hickok was a daring and effective Union soldier in the Civil War, serving as a scout, spy and sharpshooter:

"[Wild Bill] Hickok was a scout for various Union army detachments. This sometimes put him, as in the Battle of Wilson's Creek, in the line of fire. In March 1862, he served as a scout under General Samuel Curtis. By then, General Price and his troops were in the process of being pushed out of Missouri and would soon take refuge in Arkansas. There he was reinforced by a two-thousand-man force led by General Earl Van Dorn. The combined command outnumbered Curtis, offering the Confederates an opportunity to gain back ground in Missouri.

James B. Hickok, in the 1860s,
during his pre-gunfighter days

"But before the Confederate army could get there, Hickok and other scouts spotted them on the move. Curtis set up a defensive position on the Arkansas side, northeast of Fayetteville. On the seventh, Price attacked, and the two-day Battle of Pea Ridge began. Again and again, Curtis's lines repelled the rebels. Hickok was seemingly everywhere, riding between bullets to gather information to report to Curtis as well as carrying dispatches from the general to the front lines. On that first day, he went through four horses, three giving in to exhaustion and the other being shot out from under him. The fierce fighting took more of a toll on the attackers than on the defenders. One of the more famous deaths in the Civil War was recorded that day: when Confederate general Ben McCulloch was shot by a soldier in the Thirty-Sixth Illinois Infantry, he exclaimed, 'Oh, hell!' and died.

"On the second day, the Union army shifted to offense, and their firepower forced Price to retreat. Part of that firepower was supplied by Hickok with a group of sharpshooters on a ridge offering a clear view of the Confederate troops. Curtis pressed forward, and the rebels quit the field entirely. A consequence of the battle was that Missouri would never be seriously threatened again by a Confederate army."

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Tom Clavin


Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier's First Gunfighter


St. Martin's Press


Copyright 2019 by Tom Clavin


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