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Chapter 4:

  • President Davis sends siege guns
  • -- Blair and Lyon prepare to take the camp and the guns -- Frost surrenders -- Home Guards fire on the crowd -- the legislature acts prompt-ly -- reign of terror in St. Louis -- the legis-lature provides a military fund -- Sterling Price commander of the State Guard -- the Price-Harney agreement -- Harney supplant-ed by Lyon -- the Planter's house conference.

The mission upon which Capt. Basil W. Duke and Capt. Colton Greene had been sent to Montgomery was successful, and in due time two 12-pound howitzers and two 32-pound siege guns, with a supply of ammunition, reached St. Louis and were turned over to Major Shaler, of Frost's brigade, and taken to Camp Jackson. Though an effort was made to keep the arrival of the guns secret, Blair and Lyon knew all about it. In fact, the day after their arrival Lyon visited the camp in disguise, and professed to recognize the guns as United States property taken from the arsenal at Baton Rouge. This was as good a pretext for beginning hostilities as he and Blair wanted. They, therefore, proceed at once to make preparations for the capture of the camp. Some of the members of the committee of safety objected to such warlike proceeding in violation of the laws of the State, and insisted that the property should be recovered by legal process, but they finally yielded, with the understanding that the United States marshal should head the column that was to march against the camp, and demand the surrender of the property, while the military should be held in reserve to aid him in an emergency. Lyon [32] professed to acquiesce in this arrangement, but really had no intention of acting in accordance with it. He intended to capture the camp, with the officers and men and the material of war in it, in the harshest manner possible, or tear it to pieces with his artillery. It was planned to make the attack on the next day, the 10th of May.

Frost had heard frequently during the two days preceding the attack that it was to be made, and received positive information on the morning of the 10th that it would be made that day. On the strength of this information he wrote Lyon a letter, in which he assured him that neither he nor any part of his command had any hostile intention toward the United States government, its property or its representatives, and in conclusion said: ‘I trust, after this explicit statement, we may be able, by fully understanding each other, to keep far from our borders the misfortunes which unhappily afflict our common country.’ Col. John S. Bowen was the bearer of the letter, but Lyon refused to receive it. He did not want to come to an understanding in regard to the property of his government, which it was his professed desire to reclaim. He at once put his troops in motion and marched direct to the camp. Arriving there he surrounded it on every side with his infantry to prevent the escape of the officers and men, and put his artillery in position to drive them out of it. Then he sent a staff officer to General Frost and demanded the immediate and unconditional surrender of his command. Promptly and without parley Frost surrendered. A great crowd of citizens, many of them women and children, had collected about the camp, and when the soldiers stacked their arms and marched out on their way to prison, the crowd began to jeer and mock at their captors, who resented the indignity by firing volley after volley into the crowd, the firing extending in regular succession down the line of troops. Twenty-eight persons were killed or [33] wounded. Among the killed were three of the prisoners and a child in the arms of its mother.

General Frost's force was outnumbered ten to one, and he, no doubt, thought a refusal to surrender would result in an unavailing loss of life. But why did he put himself in a position to provoke an attack, if he did not intend to fight? Why did he ask for siege guns to reduce the arsenal, if he could not keep them when he got them? If he could not defend himself, why did he not retreat? He knew for two days that he was liable to be attacked, and for several hours that he certainly would be. He had two safe lines of retreat open to him. A march of 15 miles over a macadamized road would have put him behind the Meramac river; or of 20 miles, over an equally good road, across the Missouri river at St. Charles; and in either case reinforcements would have come to him every hour of the day and night. In fact, why did he not take the arsenal long before? He had the authority to do it, and could have done it at any time for months. The partisans of the South throughout the State were disheartened because those in authority did not do anything themselves and would not allow others to do anything. They knew the possession of the arsenal was essential to their cause. The possession of it would have been followed by the enrollment of an army of 50,000 men at any time. Yet when it was offered to him Frost declined to accept it—and when it was lost beyond hope he asked for siege guns to reduce it.

At the time of the capture of Camp Jackson, the legislature was in session, it having met on the call of the governor on May 2d. The governor had appealed to it in vain to put the State in a condition to defend itself. When the news of Frost's surrender, his men held prisoners of war by the Home Guards, and the wanton killing of women and children, reached the capital, the military bill was under discussion, with but little prospect of its passage. But instantly the opposition to it vanished, [34] and in less than half an hour the bill was passed by both houses and signed by the governor. During the night the church bells rang out and the legislature met again, and was informed by the governor that it was believed the enemy was advancing on the capital from St. Louis. In the midst of great excitement a bill was passed authorizing the governor ‘to take such measures as he might deem necessary to repel invasion or put down rebellion,’ and $30,000 was appropriated to enable him to execute the powers conferred upon him.

When the governor learned that the arsenal had passed beyond his reach, he requested Quartermaster-General James Harding to go to St. Louis and buy all the arms and ammunition he could find there. That officer had before reported to the governor that the only arms the State owned, except a few muskets in the hands of the militia, were two 6-pounder guns, without limbers or caissons, about one thousand muskets, forty sabers and forty light swords of an antique Roman pattern, which were neither useful nor ornamental. In St. Louis he purchased several hundred hunting rifles, some camp and garrison equipage and about seventy tons of powder-all of which was shipped to Jefferson City, guarded by Capt. Jo Kelly's company. Now that Blair and Lyon were levying war on the State in the most unmistakable manner, this was the condition the people were in for defense.

After the capture of Camp Jackson, the excitement was more intense in St. Louis than in Jefferson City. In the afternoon of that day a regiment of Home Guards, returning from the arsenal to its barracks in the northern part of the city, halted for a few moments at the corner of Sixth and Walnut streets, and in reply to a pistol shot fired on Fifth street, again fired into a crowd of citizens who had stopped to see it pass. Eight men were killed and many wounded. The next day another Home Guard regiment fired into a crowd on Sixth street between Pine and Olive streets, and again several citizens [35] were killed and wounded. The Home Guards were supreme, and emphasized their supremacy by threatening to kill all the Secessionists in the city. The city authorities and the police were powerless. There was a .rush of people, mostly women and children, to get out of town. General Harney was appealed to and promised to send the Home Guards out of the city, but Blair and Lyon decided that they should stay, and they stayed. Harney, however, brought two companies of artillery and two companies of regular infantry from Jefferson barracks into the city, and pledged his faith as a soldier to preserve the peace and protect the property and lives of the people, and this to some extent reassured them. He also refused to allow Blair and Lyon to follow up the capture of Camp Jackson by advancing on Jefferson City and into the interior of the State.

The legislature adjourned on the 15th of May. But before adjourning it passed resolutions, unanimously, denouncing Blair and Lyon, the capture of Camp Jackson and the wanton killing of peaceable citizens, and requesting the governor instantly to call out the militia At the same time it created a military fund, into which the school fund and all other moneys belonging to the State were ordered to be paid, together with a loan of $1,000,000 from the banks, which was authorized; also the proceeds of $1,000,000 of State bonds which the governor was given authority to sell. The unanimity with which these bills were passed was evidence of the revulsion of feeling which had taken place throughout the State. Many Conditional Union men promptly declared against the Union. Ex-Gov. Sterling Price, president of the State convention, and other prominent men, hastened to Jefferson City and offered their services to the governor. The military bill provided for the enlistment of the Missouri State Guard, and authorized the governor to appoint eight brigadier-generals to command the troops from the eight military districts into [36] which the State was divided. It also authorized him to appoint a major-general, who should have command of all the troops of the State. This position was offered to General Price and accepted by him.

Sterling Price was of an old Virginian family, was educated at Hampden-Sidney college, then studied law, and in 1831 moved with his father's family to Missouri and settled on a farm in Chariton county, which was ever after his home. In 1840 he was elected to the legislature, and was chosen speaker of the house. He owed this distinction, of course, rather to his general character and personal accomplishments than to his knowledge of parliamentary law and the business of legislation. But he filled the position acceptably. Four years afterward he was elected to Congress. But shortly after taking his seat war was declared against Mexico, and he resigned, returned to Missouri and raised a mounted regiment, which was accepted by the government, and he was assigned to the command of it. With a similar regiment, raised and commanded by Col. A. W. Doniphan, he crossed the plains and took possession of New Mexico and Chihuahua. Several battles were fought and won by the combined force, chief among them the battle of Sacramento. The victory gained in this battle was instrumental in giving the Americans possession of the territory out of which, after the close of the war, the States of California, Colorado, Utah and Nevada, and the Territories of Arizona and New Mexico were formed. At the close of the war with Mexico he returned to Missouri, was elected governor of the State, and served in that capacity four years. In 1860 he supported Douglas for President, and in the election of delegates to the State convention, he opposed secession and was elected by a large majority. He was chosen president of the convention when it met, and was the recognized leader of the Conditional Union party outside of St. Louis. But the capture of Camp Jackson and the ruthless killing of [37] men, women and children by the German Home Guards forced him to change his position and offer his services to Governor Jackson for the defense of the State and the protection of its people.

A few days later the governor announced the appointment of the following brigadier-generals: Alexander W. Doniphan, Monroe M. Parsons, James S. Rains, John B. Clark, Merriwether L. Clark, Nathaniel W. Watkins, Beverly Randolph, William Y. Slack and James H. Mc-Bride. All of them were men of note in the State and devoted to its interests. Four of them—Doniphan, Parsons, M. L. Clark and Slack—had seen service and distinguished themselves in the Mexican war. All of them received orders to enlist men in their respective districts and get them ready for service in the field. Recruiting went on rapidly in the populous counties bordering on the Missouri river, and volunteers, organized and unorganized, poured into the capital in a steady stream. On the day General Price was appointed commander more than a thousand were gathered at Jefferson City, waiting to be mustered into the State Guard and take the field against the enemy. Capt. Robert Mc-Culloch brought several companies from Cooper county, and Capt. D. H. McIntire several from Callaway county.

The Independence Grays came from Jackson county, and brought with them the four brass 6-pounders taken from the arsenal at Liberty. Capt. Jo Kelly's company of Irishmen, sent up from St. Louis in charge of the arms bought by Quartermaster-General James Harding, was still there. The first regiment organized was composed of eight companies from the counties close around Jefferson City. It was designated the First regiment of Rifles, and John S. Marmaduke was chosen to command it. Marmaduke was born in Missouri, and was a son of a former governor of the State. A West Pointer, and a lieutenant in the regular army when President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops, he at once resigned and offered his services to the State. [38]

Both sides saw that war was inevitable and were making active preparations for it. But a considerable number of conservative citizens, who deprecated war and its attendant ravages, made an effort to avert it by trying to bring about an agreement between General Harney and General Price. They were both citizens of the State and conservative in their feelings. At last they succeeded in inducing General Harney to invite General Price to hold a conference with him in St. Louis. Accordingly terms were arranged, and on the 21st of May they met and made what was known as the Price-Harney agreement. After stating that the object of each was ‘to restore peace and good order to the people of the State in subordination to the laws of the general and State governments,’ General Price undertook, with the sanction of the governor, to maintain order in the State; and General Harney agreed, if this were done, he would make no military movements within the State. General Harney also intimated to General Price, unofficially, that, as the State Guard might come within the meaning of the President's proclamation requiring officers of the United States army to disperse all armed bodies hostile to the laws of the land, he hoped he would find some way to suspend the organization of the State Guard. General Price said that was beyond his power—that he had no right to disobey or nullify a law of the State. But when he returned to Jefferson City, he ordered all troops, which had come there from other military districts, to return to their homes, and there be organized into companies and regiments as provided by law.

This agreement gave great offense to Blair and Lyon. They had objected vehemently to Harney's action forbidding them to advance into the interior of the State, and had begun to work for his removal. They now redoubled their efforts and sent special representatives, well provided with letters and testimonials from influential Union men, to Washington, to persuade the President [39] to remove Harney and appoint Lyon to the command. They were successful. An order was made appointing Lyon brigadier-general of volunteers, and another relieving Harney of the command of the department of the West. The last order was sent to Blair with instructions to use it with discretion, which he did by stirring up the committee of safety to demand that Harney be removed at once. Harney relinquished command of the department on the 30th of May, and Brigadier-General Lyon assumed command the next day.

Blair and Lyon now had everything in their own hands. There was nothing to prevent them making war upon whom they pleased. They had agreed upon a plan of campaign before the capture of Camp Jackson, but Harney had blocked them temporarily. The plan was, as stated by Blair in a letter to the President, to advance into the State and take and hold Jefferson City, Lexington, St. Joseph, Hannibal, Macon, Springfield, and other points if found advisable. Blair thought the troops raised in the State, reinforced by the regular troops at Fort Leavenworth and the volunteer troops in Kansas, would be sufficient to enable Lyon to carry out this plan. But Lyon was less confident and more grasping. He wanted the governors of Illinois and Iowa ordered to send him the troops they had been ordered to send Harney. The authorities at Washington did as Lyon desired. At St. Louis, besides about 500 regulars, he had ten regiments of infantry, a battalion of artillery, a company of sappers and miners, and a company of riflemen, aggregating, officers and men, about 10,000. He had several thousand Home Guards in parts of the State where the Germans were numerous, who were well armed and equipped. At Fort Leavenworth there were 1,000 regulars. In Kansas there were two regiments, nearly 2,000 strong. Five Iowa regiments were on the northern border of the State, anxious to invade it, and Illinois was concentrating troops at Cairo, Alton and [40] Quincy, which were as available as if they were in the State. This was a formidable force, and to oppose it the State had less than a thousand organized troops, most of them armed with shotguns and hunting rifles. Except a few hundred muskets and half a dozen field-pieces and some powder, it had no munitions of war, no commissary or quartermaster supplies, and no money with which to buy any.

But the prospect did not dismay the Southern Rights men. They had been outwitted and beaten at politics and were determined to try the issue, sooner or later, with arms. General Price issued orders to the district commanders to hurry the organization of the troops in their districts, and to get them ready as quickly as possible for active service. They were instructed that each regiment should carry the State flag, which was to be made of blue merino, with the arms of the State emblazoned in gold on each side. But conservative citizens again came to the front and demanded a parley between leaders of the opposing forces. At their intercession Governor Jackson and General Price asked for a conference with General Lyon and Colonel Blair; and again at their intercession the latter agreed to grant it, on the condition that it should be held in St. Louis. A safe-con. duct was sent them to and from that city. The State was represented by Governor Jackson, General Price, and Col. Thomas L. Snead of the governor's staff; the Federal government, by General Lyon, Colonel Blair, and Maj. H. L. Conant of Lyon's staff. The conference was held at the Planter's House, and Lyon stated that Blair would be the spokesman for the Federal side. But Lyon soon thrust Blair aside, and took the lead in the discussion. No understanding was reached, as it was evident from the beginning none would be. ‘Finally,’ says Colonel Snead, ‘when the conference had lasted four or five hours, Lyon closed it as he had opened it. “Rather,” said he, and he spoke deliberately, slowly and [41] with a peculiar emphasis— “Rather than concede to the State of Missouri the right to demand that my government shall not enlist troops within her limits, or bring troops into the State whenever it pleases, or move troops at its own will into, out of, or through the State; rather than concede to the State of Missouri for one single instant the right to dictate to my government in any matter, however unimportant, I would” —rising as he said this, and pointing in turn to every one in the room— “see you, and you, and you, and you and every man, woman and child in the State, dead and buried.” Then turning to the governor, he said: “This means war. In an hour one of my officers will call for you and conduct you out of my lines.” And then, without another word, without an inclination of the head, without even a look, he turned upon his heel and strode out of the room, rattling his spurs and clanking his saber, while we, whom he had left, and who had known each other for years, bade farewell to each other courteously and kindly, and separated —Blair and Conant to fight for the Union and we for the land of our birth.’ [42]

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