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THE UN-CIVIL WAR IN MISSOURI - Tribune Papers, Western North Carolina

March 20, 2008
Part 1 of a Series
Mike Scruggs

Following the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854—which allowed Kansas to allow or reject the institution of slavery by popular sovereignty—a destructive and sometimes bloody border war between Kansas and Missouri partisans raged for six years. The grizzly Manson-style murder of five settlers from Missouri in Pottawatomie, Kansas, in 1856, by the radical abolitionist, John Brown, helped fuel a growing flame of regional distrust. Brown was later hanged in 1859 after an unsuccessful attempt to capture the U.S. arsenal in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. He had planned to start a bloody slave insurrection. The fact that Brown was praised in many of the pulpits and hustings of New England greatly alarmed the South and added more fuel to the already smoldering issues of states rights and unfair tariffs. Readers of my previous articles and my book, The Un-Civil War: Truths Your Teacher Never Told You, will recall the influence of radical abolitionism as a precipitating cause of the so-called “Civil War.”

In 1860, about 80 percent of Missouri’s population was made up of first or second generation immigrants from other Southern and Border States. Except for St. Louis, a city of 160,000, where new German immigrants made up a considerable portion of the population, Missouri was solidly conservative and Democrat in its political leanings. Lincoln ran fourth in the 1860 presidential election, capturing only 10 percent of the vote.

In those days Democrat and conservative were practically synonyms, and the new Republican Party favored big government, high tariffs (disproportionately paid by the South), and subsidies to railroads and large manufacturing companies. The Democrats favored strict constitutionalism and limited government, while the Republicans felt the Constitution limited industrial growth and the prospects for national greatness. The Republicans wanted to confine slavery to the Southern and Border States and preserve new states for free white labor. More importantly, they wanted to preserve and increase their political power by Republican dominance in new states. The Republicans wanted Kansas to be a western extension of New England, and immigration from Democrat-leaning and pro-slavery Missouri threatened that ambition.

Only about 13 percent of Missouri households owned slaves. Thus the percentage of households owning slaves was only about half that of the South as a whole, and the number of slaves per household was much lower than in South Carolina and the Gulf States.

For most Republicans of that era, slavery was primarily an issue crucial to free white labor and Northern political dominance rather than any moral reservations about the institution. Actually, most Northerners and Southerners favored the gradual emancipation of slaves, giving the economy, freed slaves, and slave owners time to adjust to a new labor paradigm. It was only the radical abolitionists who favored immediate emancipation regardless of its impact on the Southern economy or the immediate welfare of the slaves themselves. Like John Brown, many of the more radical abolitionists favored violent means to achieve their ends.

Despite their sympathies with the South, the delegates to Missouri’s convention to consider the secession question held on February 28, 1861, voted overwhelmingly against it. The results were the same in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Virginia. But on April 15, following South Carolina’s capture of Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, Lincoln called for troops from each state to put down Southern secession. Such military coercion of their fellow states by the federal government was repugnant to Southern thinking. Missouri’s Governor Claiborne Jackson immediately and harshly rejected Lincoln’s request:

“Your requisition, in my judgment, is illegal, unconstitutional, and revolutionary in its object, inhuman and diabolical, and cannot be complied with. Not one man will the State of Missouri furnish to carry out any such unholy crusade.”

The Governor of Kentucky sent a similar wire to Lincoln:

“I say emphatically Kentucky will furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern states.”

Lincoln immediately moved Federal troops into Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland to make sure they had no opportunity to secede. But Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee quickly moved to secede by now overwhelming votes.

St Louis County was one of only two in Missouri that cast a majority of votes for Lincoln in 1860, largely due to the large number of recent German immigrants. But even there the Republican Mayor had been swept out of office on April 1, and Lincoln’s effective declaration of war against the Confederacy was unpopular.

The local U.S. Army garrison in St. Louis had not yet been reinforced, but its commander, Connecticut-born Captain Nathaniel Lyon acted immediately to prevent secessionists from seizing weapons at the Federal arsenal there. He quickly augmented his small force to over 6,000 with German Unionist volunteers and on May 10 marched on Fort Jackson, where 689 members of the Missouri militia had gathered for annual training. The militia units commanded by Brigadier General Daniel Frost were themselves flying the U.S. flag and were uncertain as to the issue that had brought Lyon’s advance on them. Outnumbered more than eight to one, they had no choice but to surrender their arms as demanded. Lyon then marched his dejected and bewildered prisoners through the streets of St. Louis led by a band playing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Gathering along the sides of the streets, outraged citizens booed the Germans and began throwing rocks. Some of the Germans fired warning shots over their heads, but perhaps in confusion, others lowered their rifles and began to fire into the crowd. It was later claimed that some in the crowd returned pistol fire. When the firing finally ceased, 28 civilians lay dead. Included were two women and four children. In addition, three of the prisoners and two soldiers, probably accidental victims of friendly fire, were dead. At least 75 others were wounded.

Lyon recruited and armed another German regiment the next day, and there was more bloodshed. Lyon reported that ten civilians and two of his soldiers were killed. Over the next few days 10,000 people fled the Federal violence in St. Louis. Uriel Wright, who had voted against secession as a Convention delegate, articulated his new thinking:

“If Unionism means such atrocious deeds as I have witnessed in St. Louis, I am no longer a Union man.”

One week after the St. Louis massacre, Lincoln issued orders promoting Lyon to brigadier general. This was one of the first of many forthcoming indications that Lincoln favored and would generously reward aggressive suppression of any secessionist sympathies. Any suspicion of resistance to the Lincoln government would be met with harsh measures.

Lyon next marched his troops on the capitol at Jefferson City. Governor Jackson and other elected officials were forced to flee. The Union military quickly occupied the rest of the state, and a Lincoln approved regime was installed in office. The people of Missouri were now at the mercy of Federal occupation forces and the Union regiments recruited by them.

The Union occupiers laid on all manner of decrees and fines persecuting any family suspected of Southern sympathies. These included double taxation and property confiscation with little opportunity to appeal. Every able bodied man was commanded to enroll in loyal Union militia. Federal Order 19 forbade any citizen of Missouri not a member of loyal militia to own a gun for any reason. Loyalty oaths often had to be accompanied by huge performance bonds. All freedom of the press and speech not loyal to the Union cause meant arrest and jail without due process. Twenty-two newspapers were shut down. Extortion, corruption, and arbitrary and vengeful justice were common. Missouri men commissioned in the Confederate Army were declared outlaws subject to immediate execution. The wives and daughters of many Confederate partisans were jailed for aiding and a betting the rebellion. Nevertheless, fewer than 4,000 Confederate guerillas in Missouri were tying up nearly 60,000 Union troops badly needed elsewhere.

In November 1861, the Seventh Kansas Cavalry (nicknamed “Jayhawkers”) under the command of Union Col. Charles Dennison raided the town of Independence, Missouri and removed everything of value in wagons to their headquarters in Lawrence, Kansas. In January 1862, Jayhawker cavalry burned 87 buildings and 170 homes and murdered nine local residents in Dayton, Cass, and Johnson counties. That summer wanton destruction and murder of civilians and Missouri partisan prisoners became commonplace. Union Brigadier General James H. Lane, also a radical abolitionist Republican U.S. Senator from Kansas, stated:

“We believe in a war of extermination. I want to see every foot of ground in Jackson, Cass, and Bates counties burned over—everything laid waste.”

In 1862, three mass executions of a total of 36 civilian hostages and prisoners of war occurred in Missouri. The most famous of these was the Palmyra Massacre (see my book) on October 18, 1862 in which ten civilian and partisan hostages were executed by firing squad in retaliation for the disappearance of a single Union informer. Despite some public outrage, six weeks later Lincoln promoted the Union officer in charge, Col. John McNeil, to brigadier general.

By August 1863, the second floor of the three story Thomas Building on Grand Avenue in Kansas City had become a Federal prison for women accused of Confederate sympathies. Most of the 27 women there were jailed for aiding their Missouri partisan relatives. None of the girls were over the age of 20. On August 13, the building suddenly collapsed killing or fatally wounding six women. Many others were badly injured. Three of the girls were Josephine, Mary, and Martha Anderson, sisters of Missouri partisan leader, Bill Anderson. Josephine was killed and thirteen-year-old Martha had her back and both legs broken and her face disfigured by lacerations. Also killed were twin sisters Susan Vandiver and Armenia Gilvey who had a brother serving with Missouri partisan leader William C. Quantrill. They were also cousins of partisans Cole and James Younger who were serving with Quantrill.

A rumor quickly spread that Brigadier General Thomas Ewing had ordered the building undermined. The Federals immediately shifted the blame by claiming that the girls had undermined the building themselves by digging a tunnel—an extraordinary feat from the second floor! The real cause was later found to be gross negligence. When news of the tragedy reached Quantrill’s men in the field, they became wild with rage. Continued next week.