Missouri celebrated her 160th anniversary of her secession from the Union on October 28. It was that day, in 1861, that both chambers of the duly elected Missouri legislature passed an ordinance of secession in extra session in Neosho, Missouri. The ordinance was signed by the duly elected governor three days later, on October 31, 1861. Missouri was officially accepted into the Confederate States of America by the Confederate Congress on November 28, 1861.
Handled differently by the United States national government, particularly President Abraham Lincoln, war and then secession – and unlike most of Missouri’s sister Southern States, it happened in just that order here – might have been averted.
Missouri was mostly settled by Southerners from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina, who brought their culture, backgrounds, tradition, and history with them. I might add that these demographics changed after the war, as so many Southern families went south to Texas or out west during or just after hostilities and were replaced by families from northern States, many of whom were Union veterans who had served here during the war and liked what they saw. Property was cheap here after the war, because of the abundance of abandoned farms and homes. That has largely contributed to Missouri’s identity issue today. But in 1860 Missouri was by culture, institutions, and, to a large degree, politics, very much a Southern State.
Missouri’s war, and first step on the road to secession, truly started in 1854, with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed the people of those two territories to decide for themselves whether to be a Free-State or Slave State. Missourians had presumed Kansas territory, next door, would be mostly settled by THEM, but were unprepared for the surge of immigrants from New England who quickly moved into the territory to ensure Kansas would be a Free State and thus help tip the balance of political power in the U.S. Congress. Incidentally, the slavery question was ALWAYS about political power. Besides the national consequences, having yet another Free State next door was perceived to pose a direct problem for slave-holding Missourians, who were already bordered by Free States to the north and east. To counter this, Missourians also poured into Kansas Territory and bloody conflict was a given, resulting in what has been dubbed “Bleeding Kansas.” As feared, New England abolitionists made murder raids into Missouri, killing citizens and rounding up slaves – with or against their will. The infamous New England fanatic John Brown – who would be considered a terrorist today, if right had prevailed – got his murderous start in Kansas, most notably with the Pottawatomie Creek Massacre when he and his followers visited the homes of settlers from Missouri one dark night in 1856 and shot and hacked five men to death with swords in front of their screaming families. It was war to the knife, and the knife to the hilt.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the State, immigrants from Germany were pouring into St. Louis, and some counties west of there, following a failed socialist revolution in 1848. These European socialists were staunchly in support of a strong centralized government in their new land and were also anti-slavery, at least partly for political and economic reasons, which also caused conflict with the existing Missouri population. Incidentally, many of the sons of the German immigrants who arrived in Missouri PRIOR to the 1848 socialist revolution later fought for the Confederacy.
In the U.S. presidential election of 1860, when the then-conservative Democrat Party split into two factions, and a third-party candidate also entered the ring, thus ensuring the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln, Missouri very narrowly supported Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas, followed by third party Constitutional Union candidate John Bell of Tennessee, then Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge, and in a distant last place Republican Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln promised not to want to interfere with slavery where it existed but was against the extension of slavery into new territories for reasons of political power. That political power meant the South would continue to be marginalized economically and socially. Coupled with the fact that the purely Northern Republican Party would also now control both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, it didn’t take a fortune teller to see which way the wind would blow for the South in the future.
South Carolina seceded on December 20, 1860 and resumed her status as an independent republic prior to joining the union. She was followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Together they joined in a new union, the Confederate States of America.
Missouri, considered a State of the Upper South, had some hard choices to consider. A convention was called in February 1861, and delegates elected. Former governor and Mexican War hero Sterling Price was elected by the delegates as president of the convention. Price, like a majority of Missourians at that time, was considered a Conditional Unionist, the condition being to remain in the union unless the United States national government tried to bring the already seceded States back into the union by force. On March 19, 1861, the convention voted that “at present [emphasis added] there is no adequate cause to impel Missouri to dissolve her connection with the Federal Union.” The convention was to reconvene that summer if warranted but, as events turned out, by then war already existed between Missouri and the national government and an honest convention was unfeasible.
It also noteworthy that the states of Arkansas, Virginia, and Tennessee also held conventions at around this same time period and also voted at that time NOT to secede. I bring this up because people often point to the fact the original Missouri secession convention voted not to secede, as if that somehow cancels Missouri’s eventual status as a Confederate State, while ignoring the fact that the original conventions in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Virginia also initially voted not to secede.
Then the Lincoln administration forced the State of South Carolina to fire on Ft. Sumter in her coastal waters on April 12, after being told to evacuate, as Lincoln was already in the process of landing federal troops to reinforce Ft. Pickens in Florida.
Lincoln called upon the States that had not already seceded to supply 75,000 volunteers to invade South Carolina and the other six seceded States then making up the Confederate States of America. Missouri was told to provide its quota. Missouri Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson responded to Lincoln that [and I quote] “there can be, I apprehend, no doubt that the men are intended to form a part of the President’s army to make war upon the people of the seceded States. Your requisition, in my judgement, 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 on any unholy crusade.” Three cheers for Governor Jackson!
Less than a month later, the Missouri Volunteer Militia, which was kind of akin to our state National Guard but without the “national” part, was going through its annual training throughout the State. In the St. Louis district, the Missouri Volunteer Militia companies met at a park area then west of the city. The Militia dubbed that year’s training site Camp Jackson in honor of the governor. New England-born U.S. Army Captain Nathaniel Lyon believed the Militia had its eye on the U.S. Arsenal there, which he was in command over, and took precautions and removed the weapons to Illinois. And, indeed, Governor Jackson and Confederate President Jefferson Davis had been in communication. However, the commander of the training camp, State Militia General Daniel Frost had already determined that seizing the arsenal was unfeasible. Legend has it that U.S. Captain Lyon stole into the camp and spied it out and came back with the conclusion that it was a “nest of traitors.”
On May 10, 1861, the last day of training, which was described as a picnic-like atmosphere, with civilians visiting and going to and fro, Captain Lyon surrounded the Camp with U.S. Army regulars and para-military pro-Union German immigrant volunteer forces and demanded its surrender. Greatly outnumbered and surrounded, General Frost surrendered under fierce protest. Lyon could have paroled the Missouri Volunteer State Militiamen on the spot, but he wanted to make a show of Federal power, and so he marched them through the streets of St. Louis to the U.S. Arsenal. He first took them through the German neighborhoods where the humiliated Missouri volunteers were insulted and jeered at. When the column reached downtown St. Louis, however, things turned ugly. You must understand that a great many of these young men were the sons of the aristocratic families of the city. They were the cream of society. So seeing their boys being illegally held captive and forced to make a humiliating march through the streets, quite frankly, ticked off the good people of St. Louis, to put it lightly. An angry mob formed. Rocks and brickbats were thrown at the U.S. troops and German paramilitaries. Stories differ, but a shot was reportedly fired. Some accounts say this wasn’t the case. At any rate, the German paramilitaries fired not one but several volleys into the crowd of civilians, along the route, killing 25 citizens, including two women and child. For those who doubt this, we have their names, as published in a local newspaper the next day. Three unarmed Missouri militiamen also died that day, caught up in the fighting. Dozens of people were wounded. The Federals lost at least one killed and several wounded. When the captured Missouri militia finally made it to the arsenal they were paroled – all except for Captain, later Colonel, Emmett MacDonald, who refused parole and actually took his case to civilian court, where he WON. It was determined by the court that the actions that day by U.S. Captain Lyon had been illegal, but by then the blood had already been spilled.
The Missouri State Legislature met in special session that evening, armed with pistols and shotguns in the House and Senate Chambers. Can you imagine the lamplit scene? They passed an emergency military spending bill creating the Missouri State Guard and appointed former governor, and lately president of the aforementioned secession convention, Sterling Price as commanding general.
On May 12, 1861, Price met with U.S. General William S. Harney in St. Louis, resulting in the Price-Harney Agreement, which allowed Missouri to remain neutral in the coming conflict, provided that Missouri was not invaded by either Federal or Confederate troops. This was NOT what Lincoln wanted, and Harney was subsequently fired from his position by Lincoln on May 30. Instead, Lincoln appointed Nathanial Lyon, the man responsible for the St. Louis Massacre, and now promoted to general, to fill Harney’s shoes.
On June 11, 1861, Missouri Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson and Missouri State Guard General Sterling Price met with Harney’s replacement, General Lyon, whereupon Lyon terminated the meeting with the threat that “rather than allow the State of Missouri for one single instant the right to dictate to my government in any matter however unimportant” he would see “every man, woman, and child in the State of Missouri dead and buried. This means war.”
On June 13, 1861, U.S. General Nathaniel Lyon lead an invasion force into Missouri and captured Jefferson City, the State Capital. Most of the executive branch and the legislature escaped and fled to Southwest Missouri, taking the State Seal with them. Our State Attorney General did not escape and was thrown into prison. Also, two members of our Missouri Supreme Court were disbarred for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the federal government and were afterward persecuted throughout the war. One of their wives miscarried a pregnancy after Union troops ransacked their home and beat the judge. An unelected, provisional, pro-Union puppet government was subsequently established and ruled the State throughout the War. One of the acts of the U.S. military occupation force was to compel militia service for men of military age, leaving pro-Southern Missourians not already in Confederate service with few choices: They could either leave their families and flee south and join the regular Confederate army, and thousands did; they could hit the brush as partisan rangers or guerillas, which wasn’t for everyone; or they could join the Union militia under duress. So, when you see Missouri’s so-called Union military enlistments, know that a great many of those were more or less involuntary. Thousands more were German immigrant regiments, and thousands more were actually regiments raised in other States who had already filled their quotas and were designated as Missouri regiments. I know that sounds odd, but it is a documented, if widely unknown, fact.
From June through September the Missouri State Guard battled Union troops throughout the State, at Booneville, at Carthage, at Dry Wood, at Oak Hills (which the Yankees call Wilson’s Creek) where General Nathan Lyon met his much-deserved end by a lead ball from a Missouri squirrel rifle, at Lexington, and at other fights, coming out mostly victorious. Not bad for a bunch of rag tag Missouri farmers and clerks who stood up to arguably the most powerful government of the world. It is rather inspiring, really.
By the fall of 1861 we still held Southwest Missouri. After the Federal troops had been beaten back somewhat, Governor Jackson called a special session of the legislature to meet in Neosho, a half block from where we are now, to finally consider an ordinance of secession from the Union that the State of Missouri had already been fighting for months.
Legislators who had fled Jefferson City the previous June began arriving in Neosho, many staying at the Armstrong House Hotel, which was located just east of here, on the corner of Main and Wood Street, the site of which I pointed out last night for those that could make the walking tour. The session began on October 21. My understanding is that the Senate convened at the Armstrong Hotel and the House members at the Masonic Hall, catty corner on the opposite corner of the Square, although it is thought the Hall may have actually been located one block further east, at Spring Street and Lafayette Street, and moved to the corner of the Square after the war. The Armstrong Hotel burned in the 1880s and the Masonic Hall was dismantled and moved again in about 1883 and later scrapped. At any rate, messengers were sent out to bring in absent legislators for the session. Both the House and Senate Journals survive, unbeknownst to many. There has been much speculation, presented as fact, that there was not a quorum in either Chamber. However, if you read the journals the obvious conclusion is that the numbers that have been counted are simply based on the legislators who actively participated in the proceedings, such as those making and seconding motions, and does not include back benchers. A roll call vote was not taken. After a week of deliberation, both chambers passed an ordinance of secession from the United States on October 28, 1861, declaring that “the political ties heretofore existing between the State of Missouri and the United States of America are dissolved.” There was just one dissenting vote.
After the ordinance was passed in Neosho, the legislature adjourned to Cassville, where Governor Jackson signed it on October 31, 1861. Missouri was officially accepted into the Confederacy, by Congress, on November 28, 1861, and became the 12th Star on our Flag. Kentucky was 13. Yes, Missouri was before Kentucky.
Afterward, the Missouri State Guard army advanced to near Osceola, MO, and then back down to Springfield, where it fell back from in February 1862 in the face of overwhelming odds, culminating in the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, Arkansas, which the Yankees call Pea Ridge, on March 7-8, 1862. In that time period, most, though not all, of the army transferred to Confederate service and became the most elite fighting regiments of the war. What remained of the Missouri State Guard went east of the Mississippi River and then returned to Arkansas, most eventually going into Confederate service as well, where they also gained undying fame on this side of the River.
The rightful and duly elected Missouri State Legislature, meanwhile, established a government in exile in Marshall, Texas, always longing for the day when they could return to Missouri and establish their rightful governance. I believe our program this evening is on that very topic. Governor Jackson died on December 6, 1862, in Little Rock, Arkansas and was succeeded by Lt. Governor Thomas C. Reynolds, who to this day still holds a place on the governor’s portrait wall in the Missouri Capitol Building.
Had Lincoln not been so heavy handed and tyrannical with Missouri, he might have saved himself a whole lot of trouble, as well as saved thousands of families on both sides of heartbreaking loss. Doubtless, thousands of Missourians would have flocked south anyhow to stand with their kin, but Missouri as a whole would not have been devastated as it was by internecine bloodshed, and thousands of Union troops may not have been tied up as they were trying to fight and dominate the people of a State who didn’t appreciate being bullied. And you know what? We still don’t.
It is estimated that 40,000 Missourians fought for the Confederacy. We’re working on the numbers who died, but it is in the thousands. They are buried throughout the South, a great many in graves marked unknown, if marked at all. We gave our best blood for the South – at Oak Hills, at Elkhorn Tavern, at Corinth, at Prairie Grove, at Vicksburg, at Helena, at Pleasant Hill, at Jenkins Ferry, at Atlanta, at Franklin, and at a great many other fights. It pains me when I see or hear our brother Southerners not include Missouri as a Confederate or a Southern State. By our count there are 13 Stars on that Flag, and by God, Missouri earned her star with blood!