Wilson's Creek

Elias Tucker Goes to War... Well, Sorta

by Dale Grubaugh

On the bank of Wilson’s Creek the battle lines had been drawn. We advanced a few feet, then upon command, we retreated a few. Moments later we were ordered to advance back to our previous position only to be pushed back to where we had started. This see-sawing of position happened several times throughout the day.

“We” were the spectators who had gathered at Wilson’s Creek to watch the reenactment of the Battles of Wilson’s Creek. Our adversary was the crowd control folks who couldn’t make up their minds were "we" were supposed to be.

I began to think there was going to be a real fight that was not going to be pretty or choreographed (quite frankly I was about ready to lead the charge).

It was a classic case of too many generals and not enough privates.

At one point of our waltzing back and forth a feller dressed in a colonel’s uniform told us to move forward again. I told him he had best check with the general, saying, “She just walked by and seemed to have a different idea.”

Anyway, we finally got set and the re-enactment began.

Soon the birds’ song, the buzzing of insects and babble of the creek was replaced by the roar of cannon fire, the beating of drums, bugle calls, the pounding of horses’ hooves and the sound of musket fire.

The air was filled with the acrid smell of gunpowder and smoke.

From the sidelines it all seemed so grand.

Watching the opposing sides — the Union and Confederates — in their authentic uniforms and regalia, marching in formation and attacking in gentlemanly fashion, was awe inspiring.

The realism was uncanny but there seemed to be something missing.

After the morning battle was over and the armies marched off the battlefield to the sounds of cheers and applause, I walked with the rest of the spectators across the bridge to the commons area. There was lots to see and do. There were sutlers selling their wares, food vendors, refreshment stands, bands playing, a beer garden and large tents to sit and visit while you ate or rested.

It was like going to a carnival.

It was while strolling through this area that the “what was missing” finally struck ol’ Elias.

We had the sounds of war, the smells of war but not the reality of war. A battle of emotion was being waged in my heart and head.

On August 16, 1861, over 500 American lives were lost at the actual Battle of Wilson’s Creek. It was a bloody and deadly battle here on American soil between Americans. Unlike the reenactment I had just witnessed, the dead did not get up and walk off the battlefield. And those who survived did not march off the field with pomp and circumstance. They went running for their lives.

As we were getting positioned for the afternoon re-enactment, about a dozen current-day soldiers — clad in their fatigues — went running across the battlefield waving and smiling as we cheered them. As I watched them, tears began to roll down my face. Someday soon, those young soldiers would be on another battlefield. They would not be met with cheers and applause, but with hatred and real enemy gunfire.

If they fell then, they would not get up and walk away to fight another day.

I realize the historical significance of such reenactments, but ol’ Elias walked away from Wilson’s Creek that day with some new realizations.

War is not a game. War is not a picnic. War is not a party. War is real. It is horrible, it is deadly, and it is for keeps. War must never be entered into lightly. If we must fight, then, we must. But, we must also remember this:

War has a great price tag. Life.

’Till next time,

Elias Tucker

September 11, 2011

plate 1.

Wilson's Creek

plate 2. Infantry obscured by rifle smoke.

Wilson's Creek

plate 3. Map of the events.

Wilson's Creek

plate 4. Supplies arriving amidst carnival tents.

Wilson's Creek

plate 5. Cavalry, infantry and the fallen.

Wilson's Creek

plate 6. Sunset.

About the columnist:

Dale Grubaugh, writing as “Elias Tucker from The Holler” is a valued contributor to State of the Ozarks. He is a man who loves his Ozark culture deeply.

As a Southern Baptist preacher and pastor, Dale has dedicated his life to the people of these hills.

Also, he has worked hard in many facets of the Branson show industry. And he has lived the Ozarks, fishing, hunting, appreciating the wilds that are so close — but so closely forgotten.

— Joshua Heston, editor

Photo credits: J. Heston, August 13, 2011. State of the Ozarks © Archive.

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