Born out of a need to protect the hallowed ground around Wilson's Creek, the Wilson's Creek Battlefield Foundation was formed by local business leaders and citizens in 1950. The newly formed Foundation initially purchased 37 acres called Bloody Hill, with contributions from the community and pennies collected by area school children.
After years of Congressional lobbying and local efforts, the Foundation reached its goal in 1961, when Wilson's Creek National Battlefield was dedicated on the 100th anniversary of the battle, with a total area of 1750 acres.
With that goal accomplished, the Wilson's Creek Foundation turned its attention toward educational programs and preservation efforts to enhance the visitor's experience. These projects included furnishing the historic Ray House, where Nathaniel Lyon's body lay after the Battle of Wilson's Creek; restoring the Edward's Cabin, site of Gen. Sterling Price's headquarters; purchasing granite markers for a historic sidewalk timeline; and refurbishing the fiber optic battle map program in the Visitor Center.
The Foundation also provided financing for the addition of an 8,000-square-foot expansion to the Visitor Center, which houses the Hulston Civil War Library, a research facility containing over 8,000 volumes, a rare books room and curatorial space.
The Foundation recently purchased additional resources for the battlefield, including 972 rolls of the Missouri Compiled Service Records, which completes the library's collection of Missouri Union and Confederate soldier records, and the complete microfiche set of Civil War Unit Histories: Regimental Histories and Personal Narratives for Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Arkansas units.
On the 144th anniversary of the Battle of Wilson's Creek in August of 2005, Wilson's Creek National Battlefield acquired General Sweeny's Museum of Civil War History. This collection of Trans-Mississippi Civil War artifacts, considered to be one of the best and most complete in the country, adds a new element to the Wilson's Creek history experience.
Named for Thomas William Sweeny, a Union general, the museum had the distinction of being the only private museum to tell the story of the Civil War in the West. Former chief historian of the National Park Service Ed Bearss believes that "the Sweeney's [the museum founders] have put together the finest collection of artifacts and memorabilia relating to the Civil War west of the Mississippi. It's a big plus to complement the Wilson's Creek National Battlefield."
Visitors now have the opportunity to explore the museum's unique perspective with their paid admission to the battlefield; however, since its present location is a short distance from the Visitor Center, many people do not take the extra time necessary to explore this outstanding collection.
The Foundation is currently in the process of planning an addition to the Wilson's Creek Visitor Center to preserve the museum exhibits, make them more accessible to the public and provide adequate security for this priceless collection.
The Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Foundation's mission to support the battlefield through fundraising, educational activities, and the acquisition of historical properties and materials has led to many important accomplishments, but our most pressing concern has now shifted to the protection and preservation of the surrounding Ozarks countryside.
In 2004 Congress passed the Wilson's Creek National Battlefield expansion bill, allowing the National Park Service to purchase an additional six parcels of land adjacent to the battlefield that have been identified as significant to the battle. However, the site of the Battle of Wilson's Creek, once surrounded by rolling farm land, now sees development looming on the horizon. The fight to save one of the most pristine Civil War battlefields in the National Park Service has begun.
The first volley was fired by Missouri Partners Inc., when the development of a 2,000-acre residential area adjacent to the battlefield was announced. Working cooperatively with the developer, the Foundation was able to acquire 157 acres that is historically significant to the battle.
The property includes areas like Moody Springs, where soldiers camped the night before the battle, and the intersection of the Wire Road and the Old York Road, used for moving troops and equipment. Preserving this property is also very important in protecting the view from the park at strategic points of the battle, such as Bloody Hill.
An important element in the agreement to purchase the property was the support of the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT), which recognized the threat to our battlefield by placing Wilson's Creek on its 10 most endangered battlefields list two years in a row, as well as funding the Foundation's initial payment to the developer.
In February of 2006, the parcel was purchased from the Foundation by the National Park Service, and it is now included in the battlefield boundary. These efforts earned the Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Foundation the CWPT Brian C. Pohanka Preservation Organization of the Year Award for 2006.
Current preservation efforts by the Foundation focus on continuing fundraising to acquire from willing sellers more than 400 acres remaining in the boundary expansion parcels and to protect a quarter-mile buffer around the boundary of the battlefield from commercial or residential development. We have participated in landmark USDA Farmland Protection Program conservation easements that preserve several critical pieces of land adjacent to the battlefield.
The Foundation sees itself in a prime position to protect Wilson's Creek National Battlefield from unwanted development as property becomes available, but land prices are increasing rapidly. We are currently in the process of negotiating to purchase several important parcels, but our ability to take advantage of these opportunities depends on the financial support we receive from battlefield preservationists, Civil War enthusiasts and concerned citizens.
Once historic land has been sold for development, it is gone forever and its story will never be preserved. For more information about the Foundation, visit our Web site at www.wilsonscreek.com or contact us at (417) 864-3041.
Ron Elkins Jr. has been President of the Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Foundation since 1996. He retired in 2001 after 40 years as president of EDCO, The Document People, a company that he co-founded. He is also mayor of Fremont Hills, Mo. He has been involved with numerous improvement and preservation projects at Wilson's Creek and is dedicated to the battlefield's welfare.