The Dead and Wounded at Wilson's Creek 363
that was sent over that part of the field to gather up the arms strewn along
their wild flight. The stench was awful then, and what it must have been two
days later would baffle imagination." When the Third Louisiana marched
past the Sharp farm on August 14, a soldier reported: "The bodies of those
that fell in the road near the battery had been thrown to the side of the road
and were festering in worms and the advanced state of putrification; it was
horrible and loathsome beyond description." Given these conditions, the
Sharp family probably evacuated. A full week after the battle, a large number of bodies remained unburied. According to one account, a captured
Union officer, understandably outraged by these circumstances, finally
offered civilians five hundred dollars of his own money to do the job.42
Not all of those who died on August 10 were buried amid the oak-covered hills. The bodies of fallen soldiers who had been residents of Greene
County and its environs may have been claimed almost immediately. Others
were taken home as well, depending upon geographic distance and their
ranks. The Pulaski Light Battery provides an illustration. Both Lieutenant
Omer Weaver and Private Hugh Byler fell while serving the guns, but they
received quite different treatment in death. Captain William Woodruff went
to great lengths to obtain a zinc-lined coffin for Weaver's body and then ship
it home for a hero's funeral, one of the largest ever witnessed in Little Rock.
Byler, however, was interred on the field.43
Because Nathaniel Lyon was the first Union general to fall in combat, it
is hardly surprising that his corpse was treated differently from the others.
The tragicomic story of its interment demonstrates both the confusion of the
military and the degree of animosity between North and South. At the same
time, it underscores the necrolatry inherent in Victorian mourning customs.
Sturgis had ordered Lyon's body placed in a wagon, but the vehicle was later
drafted to remove the wounded. In the haste of the retreat, the body was left
behind. Since Lyon did not carry a sword and wore a plain captain's coat
without any insignia of rank, there was little reason for his corpse to be
noticed amid so many others. When the Southerners accidently discovered
it, they brought it to Federal surgeon S. H. Melcher, who had stayed on the
field to treat the wounded. Melcher took the body to the Rays' home where,
42 Bearss, The Battle of Wilson's Creek, 161-164; J. H. Rockwell, "A Rambling
Reminiscence of Experiences During the Great War Between the States," n.p., Missouri State
Archives; "From Springfield, Mo.," Olathe (Kans.) Mirror, "Full and Authentic Particulars,"
Shreveport (La.) Weekly News; William E. Woodruff to Dear Pa, 15 August 1861, "Extract of a
Letter from Capt. William E. Woodruff, jr.," Little Rock Arkansas True Democrat, 5 September
1861; Cantrell, "Extracts from a Letter."
43 W. E. Woodruff, With the Light Guns in '61 -'65: Reminiscences of Eleven Arkansas,
Missouri and Texas Light Batteries, in the Civil War (Little Rock, Ark.: Central Printing
Company, 1903), 42; Woodruff, "Extract of a Letter."