Randolph Harrison Dyer Letter

Randolph Harrison Dyer was born in Callaway County, Missouri on July 7, 1825. His family moved to Missouri in the early 1920’s from Albemarle County, Virginia. Randolph, who was known as Harry, was on of nine children to William Hay and Margaret Dyer. Before the outbreak of the war Harry, his parents, his Brother Isaac and sister Anne settled on farms near Lee Summit, Missouri.1

Harry was a Sergeant Major during the Mexican War, serving in Company F, 1st Missouri Mounted Volunteer Cavalry. He was discharged on May 13, 1848 by order of General Sterling Price. Dyer’s Civil War service records could not be found; however, a Randolph H. Dyer was listed as a Major Quarter Master within a listing of General and Staff Officers, Division and Brigade Staffs and other staff departments within the C.S.A. No other identifying information was listed in the soldier’s records. Isaac was also an officer in the Confederate Army, and their eldest brother, Alexander Dyer, served in the Union Army. Alexander graduated from West Point in 1837, and remained in the Union Army during the war.2

Dyer wrote to one of his sister two days after the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in 1861. His letter offers little detail about his regimental affiliation. Dyer’s account of the Battle is brief, but he provides his perspective of the events that unfolded.

On Saturday last we had one of the most terable battles that ever was fought on this Continent, resulting in the defeat and route of the entire Federal army On Friday evening the order was issued for us to advance on Springfield at 9 ock and our picket guards were drawn in The appearance of rain prevented the execusion of the order
Harry letter to his Sister – Aug 12, 1861

Rain on August 9 prevented the Confederate from advancing on Springfield. Confederate Generals Sterling Price and Benjamin McCulloch worried that the rain would soak their paper cartridges. Union General Nathaniel Lyon and Franz Siegel decided to attack the following morning, despite being outnumbered. The Union forces split into two columns and attacked the encamped rebels along Wilson’s Creek.

…the first thing we knew in the morning they commenced firing on us from three points having entirely surrounded us, such scampering of wagons & rushing to arms was never seen…
Harry letter to his Sister – Aug 12, 1861

Despite the surprise attack, the Confederate troops regrouped and were able to repel the Union advance. “Amongst the Killed was Missouris great enemy: Genl Lyon: So completely were they routed, the could not take time to bury him…” Lyon was killed during the battle, and he became the first General to die in the American Civil War. Harry referred to Lyon as Missouri’s great enemy, perhaps due to Lyon’s reputation from the Camp Jackson affair, his declaration of war at the Planter House in St. Louis, and his charge across Missouri to capture the State Capitol at Jefferson City. Wilson’s Creek became a strong moral victory for the Confederacy, which added to their support and momentum in Missouri.

I am happy to say that our neighbors of Kansas suffered most terably & many of them are among the prisoners, who number some four or five hundred. I sincerly hope that after their late defeat in Va & this one here that the people of the north may take the sober second thoughts & that none of us will ever be called on to witness another such a day.
Harry letter to his Sister – Aug 12, 1861

Contributed by the The History Museum on the Square

View this Letter

  1. James Taylor Jr., “Randolph Harrison Dyer” 31 October 1960. Wilson’s Creek, Battle, of, 1861 – Personal Narratives vertical file, Springfield-Greene County Library Center.
  2. “It Was a ‘Terable’ Battle…” 13 November 1960 Springfield News & Leader, D2.; Taylor, “Randolph Harrison Dyer.”