previous next

Chapter 10: Missouri.

Conspiracy had been working with untiring persistence in every Slave State since, and even before, the formal secession of the Cotton States in January, and had everywhere made considerable advances, notably in the State of Missouri. Governor Jackson, of that State, had leagued himself with the secession plot, though still concealing his purpose with outward professions of loyalty. Many subordinate officers and members of the Legislature were secretly aiding him. Together they were leading Missouri through the usual and well-established paths to ultimate treason, by means of official recommendations from the Governor and various shrewdly devised laws passed by the Legislature. They made a serious miscalculation, however, in the stereotyped and hitherto always successful expedient of a State Convention. When that body was elected and met (February 28th), it showed such an overwhelming majority of Union members, that the plotters of treason were quite willing to hide their defeat in joining certain pointed declarations by the convention against secession, and adjourning its sittings to the following December, trusting their chances to a more pliant and treasonable legislature; hoping to bring about a policy of arming the State under pretence of local defence, and committing it to a neutral attitude under plea of [116] local security. In all their efforts, however, they met the constant and determined watchfulness and opposition of zealous and fearless Unionists, among whom Frank P. Blair, junior, was a conspicuous leader.

It so happened, also, that in this State a small detachment of the regular army was, for the first time, rendered useful in thwarting the local development of disunion. At the city of St. Louis was an arsenal belonging to the United States, containing a considerable quantity of arms and ammunition. To obtain these was from the beginning, as in other States, a prime object of Governor Jackson and his co-conspirators. They had in January, as they believed, perfected an intrigue for the surrender of the arsenal, by the officer in charge, into their hands and control. That arrangement was soon blighted by the arrival of reinforcements ordered there by General Scott to protect the place, under command of an officer afterward famous-Captain Nathaniel Lyon, of the Second United States Infantry.

Lyon was a man of outspoken anti-slavery principles, of unswerving loyalty to his flag, and of unsleeping vigilance over his post and the Government interests. By the middle of February enough recruits had been added by General Scott to his own company of eighty trained regulars to raise his force to four hundred and eighty-eight men.

Holding the same political convictions and patriotic impulses, Lyon and Blair became quickly united in an intimate personal friendship; and very soon, also, Lyon's regulars and Blair's Home Guards sustained each other in a mutual reliance and protection. Their common watchfulness over the arsenal was by no means wasted. Governor Jackson was determined to establish by force what he had failed to accomplish by intrigue. He sent two trusty agents to the Rebel President to solicit help in arms and ammunition. [117] “After learning,” wrote Jefferson Davis, in reply, April 23d, “as well as I could from the gentlemen accredited to me, what was most needful for the attack on the arsenal, I have directed that Captains Green and Duke should be furnished with two twelve-pounder howitzers and two thirty-two-pounder guns, with the proper ammunition for each. These, from the commanding hills, will be effective, both against the garrison, and to breach the enclosing walls of the place.”

Encouraged by this co-operation, the Governor, as his next step, instructed one of his militia generals, D. M. Frost, a West Point graduate, to assemble the available organized and equipped volunteer companies of the State in a camp of instruction at St. Louis. The Governor had also convened his Rebel Legislature to meet in extra session on May 2d. The day following, May 3d, began the assembling of the militia in “Camp Jackson,” so named in honor of the Governor. Two regiments and part of a third soon arrived; and though some of the companies were either without political bias, or of Union sentiment, a general spirit of secession pervaded the camp, and its avenues were christened “Davis” and “Beauregard.” The object of the organization soon became unmistakably known to Lyon, Blair, and the Union Safety Committee, who, by the aid of skilful detectives, gained information of all its movements. On the night of May 8th, the cannon, ammunition, and some muskets furnished by Jefferson Davis, were landed from a New Orleans steamer, in boxes marked “marble,” and immediately loaded upon drays and hauled out to the camp.

Under this threatening disclosure, the Unionists felt they could no longer dally with the conspiracy. Already three weeks before, the United States Arsenal at Liberty, Mo., had been robbed of its arms by the disunionists, and Jeff. [118] Thompson was known to be actively drilling rebel companies at St. Joseph. They could not afford to allow a concentration of these and other treasonable forces. In the meanwhile the Washington authorities, receiving Governcr Jackson's insulting refusal to furnish troops, had ordered the enlistment of Blair's Home Guards into the United States service, to the number of four regiments, which order was soon increased to ten thousand men.

With this force Lyon felt himself strong enough to crush the budding insurrection. On the morning of May 9th he disguised himself in female garb, and, seating himself beside a friend in a barouche, was driven out into Camp Jackson, personally and leisurely inspecting its strength, situation, and military approaches. The next day the arsenal and the various volunteer armories were alive with military preparation, and, at two o'clock in the afternoon, Lyon, at the head of his battalion of regulars, with six pieces of artillery and six regiments from the lately organized Missouri Volunteers and reserve Corps (as they were respectively called), marched rapidly through various streets of St. Louis, in two columns, concentrating at Camp Jackson. Before General Frost was well aware of the coming event, these regiments had surrounded his camp and posted the batteries on commanding elevations. The camp thus invested, with batteries and arms ready for instant action, Lyon sent Frost a note, stating that his command was regarded as hostile to the United States, and demanding an immediate surrender, “with no other conditions than that all persons surrendering under this demand shall be humanely and kindly treated,” and allowing half an hour's time for compliance. The circumstances left Frost no alternative, and before the expiration of the half-hour he gave notice of his unconditional surrender. [119]

So far everything had gone as harmlessly as if the affair were merely a gala parade; but now a most deplorable occurrence succeeded. The march, the halt, and the capture greatly excited a vast crowd which the occasion drew together; and scarcely had the homeward march with the prisoners begun, when the troops were assailed by secession rowdies with abusive language, stones, missiles, and finally a pistol shot or two. This last provoked a return volley without orders from one or two companies, by which, and the desultory shots succeeding, fifteen to twenty innocent bystanders and several soldiers were instantly killed. The untoward incident caused a dangerous ferment in the city, but the courageous efforts of the police prevented a general riot.

The telegraphic news of the capture of Camp Jackson threw the Governor's revolutionary cabal and disloyal legislature sitting at Jefferson City into the utmost consternation. The Governor immediately sent out and caused a bridge on the railroad from St. Louis to be burned, to prevent any sudden descent by Lyon upon the capital; and during the afternoon and night, the Legislature in secret session rushed through several acts specially designed to promote rebellion, which they had before been concocting with more circumspection. A few days later, a military bill, virtually making the Governor an irresponsible military dictator, was formally passed; and having thus, as the conspirators thought, made all necessary legal preparations, the session was finally adjourned on May 15th.

General Harney, the ranking officer in the Department of the West, who had been temporarily called away, returned to St. Louis the day after the Camp Jackson affair, thus superseding Lyon in command. It must be explained that events, and particularly antecedent conditions, had most unfortunately [120] divided the Missouri Unionists into two bitterly and tagonistic factions, which, indeed, continued throughout the whole four years war. The Radicals, embracing the large German population of St. Louis, and who formed the bulk of the Home Guard, were mainly of democratic antecedents, and strong anti-slavery sentiment; these followed the leadership of Blair and Lyon. The Conservatives, more generally of American nativity, belonging rather to the wealthy and the business classes of the city, largely of Whig antecedents and strongly tinged with the “Know-nothing” prejudices of former years, and holding very tolerant if not actually favorable sentiments toward slavery, grouped themselves about General Harney. The Radicals believed in defending the Government with steel and lead; the Conservatives trusted to reclaim their erring brethren with forbearance and moral suasion. Cold after-criticism finds both factions chargeable with extremes of feeling and speech; but if the former were prone to excessive zeal, the latter were yet more culpable in a stupid over-caution. Such deep local antagonisms, however, of nationality, class, and life-long political prejudice, can hardly be expected to act with moderation in the blinding atmosphere of revolution.

Harney was a loyal and courageous soldier, but lacked the quick, instinctive judgment of the statesman. Beset by noisy clamor on both sides, he vibrated to acts of conflicting rather than consistent administration. His first impulse was to order the disbandment of the Home Guards. Convinced that this was beyond his power, he soon after (May 14th) issued his proclamation justifying the capture of Camp Jackson, denouncing the Military Bill as an indirect secession ordinance, and declaring that “Missouri must share the destiny of the Union.” He also announced his determination to uphold the Government of the United States “at all [121] times and under all circumstances;” but his measures to carry out this loyal policy were not chosen with wisdom.

Governor Jackson had at once proceeded to organize the militia of Missouri under his dictatorial military bill; and Frost's military laurels having withered at Camp Jackson, the Governor made ex-Governor Sterling Price his generalin-chief. Price was less scrupulous in political strategy than Harney, and within a week he had entrapped the unwary Union commander into an agreement which tied up the Government forces in a role of mere idle lookers-on, while Governor Jackson's Missouri militia should without hinderance place the State in active insurrection.

General Price,” so ran the agreement, signed on May 21st, “having by commission full authority over the militia of the State of Missouri, undertakes, with the sanction of the Governor of the State, already declared, to direct the whole power of the State officers to maintain order within the State among the people thereof; and General Harney publicly declares that, this object being thus assured, he can have no occasion, as he has no wish, to make military movements which might otherwise create excitements and jealousies, which he most earnestly desires to avoid.”

This was to be done “in subordination to the laws of the General and State Governments;” but it gave the conspirators the right of initiative, and left them for a season the uncontrolled, and even unobserved masters of the whole State outside of St. Louis. Governor Jackson and General Price made such prompt use of their time, that before the end of the month reports of outrageous indignities upon Union men came from all parts of the State, and finally the threatening rumor that a rebel invasion from the Arkansas border was being encouraged and rapidly formed; and as fast as Harney brought the facts to the notice of Price, that dissembling [122] conspirator waved them aside with an unvarying denial.

This state of affairs was terminated on May 30th. Mis. souri matters had been watched with intense and daily solicitude at Washington. Each of the Union factions of that State had a spokesman in the Cabinet, Postmaster-General Blair favoring Lyon and his friends, Attorney-General Bates those of Harney; and the President therefore heard the complaints and justifications of both sides. Acting thus on full information, Lincoln, on May 18th, entrusted Frank P. Blair, junior, with a confidential discretionary order to relieve Harney whenever he might deem it necessary. On May 30th, amid the thickening perils from the conspiracy, Blair felt himself justified in acting upon this discretion; Harney was relieved, and Lyon once more placed in command under a newly issued commission as brigadier-general of volunteers, a position to which the first four Missouri regiments had unanimously chosen him.

With Lyon once more in power, the conspirators felt that the crisis of their intrigues had come. Governor Jackson and General Price therefore solicited an interview with the new commander, which being granted, and a safeguard being furnished them, they visited St. Louis on June 11th, and were met by Lyon and Blair, in a conference of several hours' duration. As might have been expected, their views and objects were utterly at variance. The Governor proposed to neutralize Missouri by excluding United States troops and disbanding the Home Guards; Lyon, on the contrary, insisted that the Governor should disband his Missouri militia, and give the Government forces full liberty of movement and control throughout the State. Separating upon these irreconcilable propositions, Governor Jackson and General Price hastened back to Jefferson City that same night, burning the [123] railroad bridges behind them to prevent pursuit; and on the following day, June 12th, the Governor issued a revolutionary proclamation, calling fifty thousand militia into active service to “repel invasion.”

Lyon evidently expected little else from the rebellious Governor, for he seems to have been ready with plans and preparations to act against the open insurrection that functionary so defiantly proclaimed. The Missouri River furnished a convenient military highway to the capital of the State; and by the afternoon of June 13th, Lyon had an expedition of three swift river steamers, containing a company of his regulars and several battalions of volunteers, in motion. They arrived before Jefferson City on the 15th of June, landed without opposition, occupied the town, and once more raised the Union flag over the State House. Governor Jackson and his Secretary of State precipitately fled, carrying with them only the great seal of the State, to use in certifying their future publications under the pretended authority of Missouri.

Learning at Jefferson City that the Governor and General Price were gathering a force and preparing to make a stand at Boonville, a town fifty miles farther up the Missouri River, Lyon, on June 16th, the day following his arrival, leaving but a small guard at the capital, again hurriedly embarked his men, numbering about two thousand, and pushed energetically ahead, determined to leave the enemy no time to recruit an army. The steamers passed over the intervening distance during the night, and early next morning (June 17th) Lyon made an unopposed landing four miles below Boonville. The Governor's rallying call had indeed already been responded to by several thousand Missourians, being, however, almost totally without organization, and very poorly armed. Half-way from his landing-place to the [124] town Lyon found a rebel line strongly posted; a spirited fusillade quickly ensued, and for about twenty minutes the Union advance, composed of perhaps five hundred men, was held in check. The enemy could, however, not long withstand the fire of a regular battery which was brought up, and which, with the well-delivered volleys of the betterdrilled Union volunteers, soon routed them in a general panic and flight. General Price early retired from Boonville on plea of illness; while Governor Jackson, who viewed the battle from a convenient hill some two miles off, seeing the disastrous result, once more betook himself to flight. Two on the Union, and fifteen on the rebel side, were reported killed, with the usual corresponding number of wounded. Twenty prisoners, two six-pounder guns, two secession flags, and the various supplies of the rebel camp, furnished the Union force substantial trophies of victory. Moving cautiously forward, Lyon occupied the town of Boonville, and issued a quieting proclamation to its terror-stricken inhabitants, while the immature and boyish prisoners he had captured were released on parole. This battle of Boonville ends the administration of Governor Jackson-he had long before forfeited his honor and authority by covert treason; from henceforth his role is not only that of an open traitor. but also of a mere fugitive pretender.

The insurrection and flight of the State officers left Missouri without local government. It happened, fortunately, that the State Convention, when in March it took a recess to the following December, empowered a select committee to call it together at any time upon a pressing emergency. The emergency having thus come, the committee issued its call; and the convention, minus some of its disloyal members, but yet having a full constitutional quorum, met once more in Jefferson City, on the 22d of July. It proceeded by [125] ordinance to declare the State offices vacant, to abrogate the Military Bill and other treasonable legislation, and provide for new elections; and finally, on the 31st of July, it elected and inaugurated a provisional government, which thereafter made the city of St. Louis its official headquarters. Hamilton R. Gamble, a Conservative, was made Governor; he announced his unconditional adherence to the Union, and his authority was duly recognized by all those portions of the State which were not under military control of the rebels during the fluctuating fortunes of the local guerilla warfare by which Missouri was so long tormented and desolated.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
December (2)
May 30th (2)
January (2)
July 31st (1)
July 22nd (1)
June 17th (1)
June 16th (1)
June 15th (1)
June 13th (1)
June 12th (1)
June 11th (1)
May 21st (1)
May 18th (1)
May 15th (1)
May 14th (1)
May 9th (1)
May 8th (1)
May 3rd (1)
May 2nd (1)
April 23rd (1)
March (1)
February 28th (1)
February (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: