Sunday, August 10, 2014

Franc B. Wilkie: An Embedded Journalist

Today is the anniversary of the battle of Wilson’s Creek, and an appropriate time to recognize Franc B. Wilkie. A native of New York, Wilkie entered the newspaper business when he was in his twenties and was associated with that profession for most of his life. In the 1850s, he ventured to Iowa, and became a correspondent for the Dubuque Herald when the war started. He traveled with the 1st Iowa Infantry during the campaign that culminated in the battle of Wilson’s Creek, and later in the year, the Dubuque Herald published in book form the thirty-two letters that he sent to the newspaper.

In 2001, the Camp Pope Bookshop published a new edition of this rare book along with Wilkie’s letters about the fall 1861 campaign. These latter include his accounts of the siege
of Lexington (Missouri), a skirmish at Blackwater River, and Second Boonville. Michael E. Banasik ably edited the book, and it is part of the publisher’s important Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the Mississippi series. Later in the war, according to the book’s introduction, Wilkie became a correspondent for the New York Times and then worked for a Chicago newspaper.

Here is a part of Wilkie’s thirty-second letter that was written in Springfield on the day that the battle of Wilson’s Creek was fought:

“…Everybody who was in Springfield was up long before daylight and awaiting with feverish anxiety the event of the day…. About ten minutes past five the heavy boom of the artillery rolled through the town like the muttering of a thunder storm upon the horizon, and sent a thrill through every heart like a shock of electricity. I instantly mounted my horse and set out for the scene of the action, which was fully twelve miles distant, and as I neared it the explosions of the artillery became one continuous roar that only now and then was broken enough to distinguish the sound of individual guns….
As I approached the battlefield, squads of men could be seen galloping madly hither and thither, while out on the prairie were scores of saddled horses grazing peacefully, whose riders had left them in many cases forever. I met also two men getting away from the fatal timber, over which hung a thick smoke, as if hell itself were flaming within. Some of them limped painfully along, others were supported upon the arms of comrades, some were hatless, and with locks clotted and countenances ghastly with blood, while a few had helped themselves to horses, and all were making their way as fast as they could towards town. Going still further, one came to a spring, situated a few hundred yards from the line of fight, in a ravine, and here the wounded were conveyed, and here the doctors were busy in their humane but unwelcome duty.”

Source of quotation: Banasik, Michael E. Missouri in 1861: The Civil War Letters of Franc B. Wilkie, Newspaper Correspondent. Iowa City: Camp Pope Bookshop, 2001, pages 143-144.

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