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Colonel Grimsley’s Constitutional Guard: The First Paramilitaries

During the 1860 Presidential election, St. Louis’ streets were host to multiple mass political organizations. Partisan marching clubs combined political mobilization and street theater with occasional brawling. The shocking election of the Abraham Lincoln, the candidate of the new anti-Slavery Republican Party, did nothing to lower the temperature in the contested city. Angry men in the city, and across the State of Missouri, vowed (according to their outlook) to refute, modify, or uphold the decision of the national ballot box. As the states of the Deep South moved to secession, in the border slave-holding state of Missouri people feared, and prepared for, civil conflict and the possibility of violence. In such an atmosphere the existing marching clubs did NOT disband. Instead they reorganized for the feared war ahead.

Colonel Thornton Grimsley,  commander of the

Colonel Thornton Grimsley,
commander of the “Constitutional Guards” paramilitary organization

Ironically, the first of the political street fighters to organize militarily were (theoretically) the moderates, the Douglas Civil Guards, who had supported Senator Stephen Douglas, the “National Democrat” candidate in the recent election. On or about November 13th, 1860, only seven days after the election, the Douglas men reorganized themselves into the paramilitary “Constitutional Guards” to pursue future political and….. potentially….military goals. On November 23rd, their leader, sometime Missouri militia Colonel Thornton Grimsley wrote to sitting Missouri Governor Robert M. Stewart to inform the state’s chief magistrate that his men stood ready to fight Abolitionism and “Black Republicanism” by political or military means:

“The Douglas civil guards[,] a political organization which was under my command during the presidential contest[,] has been disbanded- some ten days since and have reorganized under the name of the constitutional guards. The present organization was made mainly to operate for our City election in april [sic] next and is composed as before of ten companies one in each ward of the city the enrollment of members is fully two thousand men and are commanded by a Col, Lieut Col, and Major with their staff officers same as on [sic] a military establishment.

The companies are officered just as the provisions of [Missouri’s state] military law [the state’s Militia Law of 1858] require so that while we claim to be and are in fact a political organization we can as once adopt the military costume shoulder arms and wheele [sic] into line as soldiers of our common country. Having given you the history of the organization of the Constitutional guards and the intentions of those who were instrumental in bringing them into existence which is to wipe out black republicanism from this congressional district I have an other pleasing duty to perform.

Which is to offer you the services of seven hundred to one thousand of the guards for any military service which as the Governor of the state you may command them to perform. The men are now under regular military drill which will be kept up while the distracted state of the country lasts or until [Abolitionist] fanaticism supplants good government or is driven not only from Kansas but from our beloved and now distracted country” [Original in the Special Collections of the Missouri State Archives]

Colonel Grimsley was a successful St Louis businessman, former state Senator, militia enthusiast and pro-slavery activist. While he had no professional military training (or combat experience) he had been a fixture of the various incarnations of the St. Louis militia for decades. While the “Constitutional Guards” were NOT (yet) a legally constituted militia regiment, it is clear the Colonel Grimsley viewed them as a military force in waiting, and one that might be used to combat the growing power of the Republican party and (in Grimsley’s view) Abolitionism in Missouri.

It is unlikely that Governor Stewart, a moderate “conservative” on Missouri’s political spectrum, welcomed Grimsley’s thinly veiled belligerence, and there is no record of a reply or any action to regularize the “Constitutional Guards’” militia status.
Colonel Grimsley had similar difficulty interesting Stewart’s successor, pro-Secession Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson in deputizing him (Grimsley) to attack Federal forces in St. Louis. Grimsley reportedly wrote Jackson in early 1861 (likely mid-January) proposing Jackson authorize him to capture the U.S. Arsenal at St. Louis “which he could safely do, as he had over one thousand men [presumably from among the “Constitutional Guards”], drilled, armed and ready for any work.” Grimsley also reportedly claimed that militia Brigadier General Daniel M. Frost, Commander of Missouri’s First [St. Louis] Military District was ready to cooperate with him on a prompt attack on the Arsenal.

BG Daniel M. Frost , MVM Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum

BG Daniel M. Frost
Commander, 1st [St. Louis] Military District
Missouri Volunteer Militia (MVM)
Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum

This was certainly not true. On January 24th General Frost reported back to Governor Jackson to quash rumors of unwanted Federal activity at the Arsenal, transmitted to Jackson by leaders of St. Louis’ secessionist Minute Men paramilitary organization. While Frost was ready to attack the Arsenal (with official state forces) if an emergent situation arose, he believed that with proper political and military preparation the Arsenal would fall into his hands with little or no violence. He saw no need to involve the sort of enthusiastic amateurs who were urging the Governor to authorize them to attack Federal forces in St. Louis:
“Major [William H. Bell, commander of the Arsenal] is with us, where he ought to be…..I shall therefor rest perfectly easy, and use all my influences to stop the sensationalists [among area secessionists] from attracting the particular attention of the [U.S.] government to this particular spot. The telegraphs you received were the sheerest “canards” of persons who, without discretion, are extremely anxious to show their zeal. I shall be thoroughly prepared with the proper forces to act as emergency may require. The use of [state militia] force will only be resorted to when nothing else will avail to prevent the shipment or removal of the arms [from the St. Louis Arsenal].”

Frost then turned to the true author of the recent reports of Federal activity at St. Louis “Grimsley, as you doubtless know, is an unconscionable jackass, and only desires to make himself notorious. It was through him that that [Minute Men President Charles] McLaren and [James] George made the mistake of telegraphing a falsehood to you.”

Ironically, while General Frost privately felt that Grimsley was too much a loose cannon to involve in the Governor’s official secessionist planning, Grimsley’s public reputation….at least in the press….was that of a moderate, perhaps even a Conditional Unionist.

Feb 16, 1861 MISSOURI REPUBLICAN Constitutional Guards Mobilization Orders

Constitutional Guards Mobilization Orders

The MISSOURI REPUBLICAN, the leading organ of the “National Democrats” in the St. Louis media market, viewed the “Constitutional Guards” as a resource for its political faction. At the time, the MISSOURI REPUBLICAN maintained a (somewhat erratic) Conditional Unionist editorial policy. The REPUBLICAN’s editors felt it proper not only to write approvingly of the “Constitutional Guards”, but to print the “orders” of its various ward paramilitary “Companies” on its editorial pages, to ensure that organized men which the REPUBLICAN believed supported its political policies could be properly mobilized.

The announcements to the right were published in the February 16, 1861 edition of the MISSOURI REPUBLICAN. They are the orders from Grimsley and his subordinate “officers” ordering the “Guards'” ten companies to mobilize that night. These postings were part of a series of articles to mobilize partisans for a rally on the evening of Febuary 16th in support of the “Constitutional Union” slate of candidates (generally viewed as a mix of “conservative”, i.e. pro-slavery, Unionists of varying enthusiasm) for election to the approaching state Constitutional Convention. Despite the MISSOURI REPUBLICAN’s official disdain for the Republican Party and the President-Elect, at the time the paper was advocating for a policy of state “neutrality” to keep Missouri on the sidelines of  the developing conflict. The REPUBLICAN’s editors and other Conditional Unionists seemed to have viewed the “Constitutional Guards” (militant neutralists?) as a useful counterweight to pro and anti-secession militants active in St. Louis.

Unconditional Unionists were not so sure about Grimsley’s men. When, in January, there was a rumor of a possible raid on the Arsenal, Major Bell reportedly consulted with St. Louis Mayor Oliver Filley and Colonel Grimsley. In response Grimsley apparently attempted to exploit Bell’s fears and occupy the Arsenal. The Unconditional Unionist MISSOURI DEMOCRAT described the subsequent events with amusement, “the Constitutionals gallantly mustered a corps of picked volunteers, and proceeded to the Arsenal to reinforce Major Bell. On their arrival they were, as we are informed, most courteously received although that the honor of their presence within the walls was respectfully declined”.

Despite Grimsley’s militant intentions, and the “Constitutional Guards’” military pretensions, there is no evidence that before May 1861 the group’s members carried out any effective military function. This is likely the result of animosity between Grimsley and General Frost (despite their shared secessionist goals). Frost, a graduate of the West Point class of 1844 and a Mexican War veteran, was contemptuous of the amateur Grimsley. Also, as commander of the St. Louis military district Frost resented “Colonel” Grimsley contacting Governor Jackson directly,  attempting to encroach on Frost’s role as area commander. For his part, Grimsley could have done what the openly secessionists Minute Men did, subordinate his organization to Frost and officially enlist his men in the Missouri Volunteer Militia (M.V.M.). But this would have (at best) made him a subordinate officer under Frost, and denied Grimsley the chance for individual glory as a war-time commander, something he had unsuccessfully sought as far back as the Blackhawk War in 1832.

The result was one more example of the mutual mistrust, miscommunication, and lack of cooperation which would plague the efforts of Missouri secessionist efforts through May. While Grimsely claimed that he could mobilize “over one thousand” of his men for service against Federal forces, there is no evidence he played any part in (or even had knowledge of) Frost and Jackson’s April-May moves to seize the Arsenal using militia forces. It is likely though, that some of Grimsley’s more secessionist “Constitutionals” decided to enlist in the new militia companies Frost raised in April and May in support of the planned attack. Indeed the newly raised Company “I”, of Frost’s 1st Regiment MVM was officially nicknamed the “Grimsley Guard” in his honor. Had the May militia muster continued past May 10, as it appeared it was going to, perhaps more of Grimsely’s man would have peeled off and filled Frost’s four planned state regiments.

As it was though, the majority of the “Constitutional Guards” were not at the militia drill site at “Camp Jackson” when Frost’s men were arrested on May 10. Instead, hundreds of Thornton Grimsley’s “drilled, armed, and ready” Guardsmen were at large, scatted over St. Louis. It is likely that these men…hostile to “Black Republicanism” and the “German element” prevalent among Federal volunteers…..played a role in the lethal violence which followed the arrest of the militia, and that continued though the days which followed.

Subsequently, the “Constitutional Guards” ceased to exist, as all non-Federal military formations in the city were ordered disbanded. As for the “Guardsmen” themselves, it is likely that a number when South, joining the secessionist Missouri State Guard or regular Confederate units. It is also likely that like other Conditional Unionists, other members of Grimsley’s organization joined the Federal volunteer regiments raised in Missouri, their support of Union overcoming their hostility to the incumbent Republican party.

Next time, we will examine St. Louis’ Minute Men paramilitaries….the true firebrands of secession. But that is a tale for another day.

Categories: Missouri Civil War, Missouri Secession Crisis, St Louis | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

St. Louis’ Prelude to War: Political Marchers and Street Fighters During the 1860 Election

Political violence, often in the form of intimidation by partisan gangs, was a common feature of American elections in the mid-19th century. Election-related rioting and even murder was not uncommon and occasionally triggered the intervention of official or unofficial militia. The election of 1860, in the areas where it was contested, was most tense in U.S. history, with four major electoral slates contenting to decide the future course of a nation which seemed on the edge of breaking apart over the slavery’s place in the western territories and the wider nation. In addition to a contest of ideas the election of 1860 was fought in the streets…sometimes literally….by partisan clubs which marched, protected political leaders, and sometime battled each other for their candidates and parties.

Republican Wide Awakes, in marching gear with torches, Hartford, CT

Republican Wide Awakes, in marching gear with torches, Hartford, CT

It is a common theme of the various traditional narratives of the Missouri Secession Crisis that the St Louis branch of the “Wide Awakes”, a Republican political marching club, was a major source of conflict in the tense city. The standard narrative also holds that the Wide Awakes’ militancy helped set the stage for the May 10, 1861 arrest of the Missouri Volunteer Militia at St. Louis’ “Camp Jackson” by Federal forces, an event that helped trigger Missouri’s internal civil war within the Civil War.

As with many elements of the common narratives of the Missouri Secession Crisis, this one is misleading, if not completely false. St. Louis did have “Wide Awakes”, as did most Northern cities. St. Louis was unusual though, in that it was a Southern city that had representatives of the nation-wide Republican club. The Republican Party was not even on the ballot in ten southern states (this included South Carolina which carried out no presidential balloting).
In 1860 St. Louis was a boisterous and often violent frontier metropolis. It was the United States’ eight largest city, and its explosive growth had seen it double in size in the 1840s and again in the 1850s. With a population of over 160,000 St. Louis was the third largest city in any southern state (after Baltimore and New Orleans) dwarfing Richmond, and home to booming heavy industry. A flood of immigrants from the free states of today’s Midwest and foreign nations (primarily Germany and Ireland) had given the city a cosmopolitan and turbulent culture. Ethnic violence had been a serious problem….election-day 1854 had brought three days of lethal anti-immigrant rioting….and the city was one of the few places in the country where pro and anti-slavery militants co-existed (and contended) in the same political space.

Senator Stephen Douglas

Senator Stephen Douglas, “National” Democratic Party

In St. Louis all four major political factions all has strong support, and all had organizations to provide marchers and street fighters. The Douglas or “National” Democrats were supported by the “Douglas Civil Guards” and the “Broom Rangers”. The “Bell-Everett” Union Party was supported by the “Union Guards”. The Breckinridge or Southern Rights Democrats had the Breckinridge Guard. And the Republicans had the “Blair Rangers” (supporters of Congressman Francis Preston “Frank” Blair, Jr.) and the local branch of the “Wide Awakes”, which in St. Louis included large numbers of ethnic-Germans openly hostile to the institution of slavery (an unusual political position in slave-holding Missouri).

Southern Rights Democrats, Campaign Badges,  John C. Breckinridge (for President),  Joseph Lane (for Vice President) Courtesy of

Southern Rights Democrats, Campaign Badges,
John C. Breckinridge (for President),
Joseph Lane (for Vice President)
Courtesy of “The Rail Splitter”

All these groups conducted public marches, including nighttime torchlight parades, to demonstrate organizational power and build enthusiasm among partisans. Bodyguards made of members of the clubs also provided protection for candidates and stump speakers, who were liable to heckling or even physical attack by opposing partisans. With hundreds of militant, mostly young, men maneuvering against each other in St. Louis’ streets it is not surprising that meetings between these activists not infrequently turned to fisticuffs. What is surprising is that the largest recorded political brawl of St. Louis’ 1860 political season was between the two (alienated) wings of the Democratic party, the “National Democrats” who supported Senator Steven Douglas and the “Southern Rights Democrats” who supported sitting Vice President John C. Breckinridge. The fight received press coverage as far away as San Francisco:



A Row Between the Douglas and Breckinridge Candidates in St. Louis-Fighting

The War of the Roses was never more bitter that the difficulties in this city between the representatives of the two Democratic factions. On the evening of the 31st ult., all three parties [sic] – the Republicans, Douglasites and Breckinridgers- held meetings, and, about half-past 10, after the Breckinridge and Lane Democratic Club returned from Lucas Place, and had enjoyed themselves a few moments in their headquarters, many of them started on their way home. The sound of music drew most of the members of the Club to the several corners of Lucas and Fourth Streets, to see the passing procession of the Douglas Civil Guards, on their return from Biddle Market. As the procession passed the corner, the Breckinridge men raised cheers for Yancey and Breckinridge, and, at the same time, some unknown person threw a brick at the procession; but whether the outrage was committed by a Breckinridge Democrat, a [Bell-Everett] Union man or a Republican, is unknown. At this double assault, the Douglasites broke ranks, and rushed savagely upon the members of the Breckinridge Democracy standing on the corner, striking wildly with their torches and batons.

The Breckinridges, however, stood their ground well, and drove the Douglas men down Locust, towards the Breckinridge Club room, when the few yet remaining in the room rushed down stairs and stopped the retreat of the Douglasites. Then was the battle at its height, rocks flew like hail stones, torches flourished like tomahawks, and those who had neither went on their muscle, striking but wildly from both shoulder and hip, making the blood fly at every blow, and often felling the recipients to the earth. The Douglas men, however, showed their discretion by a hasty retreat, amidst the cheers and jeers of the Breckinridge men.

Neither party, however, had much to brag of, for many on both sides were covered with blood, had noses mashed, teeth knocked out, and several had faces badly cut. One Breckinridge man was very badly burned by being hit with a lighted torch, which covered him with camphene, and immediately his whole person was enveloped in flames. His clothes were speedily torn from his body by some who were not so actively engaged in the fight and his person removed to a drug store. We were able to learn the names of a few of the participants, and refrain from mentioning them at this time by particular request of several, who, after a moment’s reflection, were heartily ashamed of the whole affair, and did not desire any mention of themselves in connection with it.

Despite the regular assaults during the 1860 campaign season, there are no reports of political murders in St. Louis (although there would be an assassination attempt against Congressman Blair after the election). The marching season and the contested result did, however, raise political tensions in the city to a dangerous pitch. After Lincoln was declared the President-Elect with a popular plurality, and the country began to spiral towards disunion, many of the members of the various St. Louis political clubs reorganized themselves into paramilitary companies in anticipation of armed violence. Once again history tells us that the “Wide Awakes” were the first to pick up the sword, and once again those histories are wrong….but that is another story.

Categories: Missouri Civil War, Missouri Secession Crisis, St Louis | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Short Overview of the Events Surrounding the Jackson-Frost Conspiracy

Before diving into the documentary evidence, an overview of the situation and events of the Secession Crisis period is in order. Even here though, we will have to tightly focus on events directly surrounding the planned attack in St. Louis, and expand to other issues later.
The bullet-points below are not exhaustive, instead providing some of the key issues surrounding the Conspiracy, and ending with the Capture of Camp Jackson (an event which is really only the end of the beginning for Missouri’s internal tragedy). There is a great deal of vital and nuanced detail absent, information necessary to understand the environment that made these events possible…and possibly even inevitable considering the personalities involved. That detail will come later, as we examine large numbers of period documents, allowing the parties involved speak for themselves. But until then, a few of the high points by way of introduction.

Note: In 1861 St. Louis was the eighth largest city in the United States. It was a booming metropolis lying on the fault line of North and South and contenting with Chicago to become the “great metropolis of the west”. Control of the city would have a major, even a decisive, effect on the campaign in the Western Theater. A Confederate St. Louis would have been second only to New Orleans in population (with St. Louis’ 160,773 far outstripping Richmond’s population of 37,910). As an industrial center, St. Louis had no Confederate peer, with an economic output twice that of New Orleans or Richmond. Added to that, St. Louis’ controlling position at the junction of the Mississippi and the Missouri Rivers made the city a prize worth struggling for to both sides in the approaching war.

St Louis Allen Iron Works

Key findings of the Missouri Secession Crisis Project include:

  • Finding of Fact: From January 1861 Governor Jackson and his allies examined a variety of methods to take Missouri out of the Union. This included repeated attempts to pass a version of a “Military Bill” which would have placed the state on an effectively martial law footing and granted the governor, as Commander-in-Chief of the state forces, near dictatorial powers.
    • These had failed to pass in the January-March timeframe, because Jackson had only a plurality of “Breckinridge Democrat” supporters in the General Assembly. A coalition of Douglas Democrats, Bell-Everett Unionists, and Republicans cooperated to block the passage of the various military bills at that time.
  • Finding of Fact: While Governor Jackson was elected in late 1860 as the “Douglas Democrat” (due to a deal between the two factions of the “Missouri Democracy”) privately he was contemptuous of his (nominal) Conditional Unionist allies considering them “base submissionist[s]”.
  • Finding of Fact: Key secessionist actors did not trust each other and did not inform each other of their views or planned intentions. This was especially true of Governor Jackson, Lieutenant Governor Thomas C. Reynolds, Colonel Thornton Grimsley and former Governor (and future Major General) Sterling Price. This led to these secessionist leaders often operating at cross purposes and mutual (if sometimes unintended) sabotage.
    • A core of cooperating secessionists seems to have included: Governor Jackson, Secretary of State Benjamin Franklin Massey, MVM Adjutant General Warwick Hough, MVM Brigadier General Daniel M. Frost, Thomas Lowndes Snead, and (usually) the leaders of St. Louis’ Minute Men pro-secession paramilitary organization.
  • Finding of Fact: Despite the state’s official policy of “armed neutrality” (inherited from Jackson’s predecessor Governor Robert M. Stewart), from February-May 1861 Brigadier General Daniel March Frost, MVM, worked with the St. Louis’ pro-secessionist “Minute Men” para-military organization to establish new “all-secessionist” companies and regiments in the 1st (St Louis) Military District.
    • On or about 13 February, 1861 General Frost began swearing in companies of “Minute Men”, which he consolidated in a new “All Secessionist” 2nd Regiment MVM. This process also provided the Minute Men legal standing to organize militarily, and the cover of a government association when they intimidated St. Louis Unionists.

      Berthold Mansion Minute Men Headquarters, Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum

      Berthold Mansion
      Minute Men Headquarters,
      Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum

    • Subsequently, during the May Militia Drill, the “Minute Men” headquarters (the Berthold Mansion at 5th and Pine) was employed as an official auxiliary Militia recruiting station, and organized companies were marched from that location to Camp Jackson for consolidation into the Militia and training.
    • Note: The long-standing 1st Regiment MVM began to come apart during the secession crisis, with component companies losing personnel or disbanding. This seems to have been the result of a number of factors, but primarily due to concerns by some Unionist members of the militia that the Governor or General Frost would call upon the militia to act against the Federal government. The disbanded companies in the 1st Regiment were replaced by new companies established under General Frost’s administration.
  • Note: The senior Federal military official in St. Louis was the 60-year old Brigadier General William Selby Harney, commander of the Department of the West, which was headquartered at St. Louis. Harney was loyal to the Federal government, but had long and deep ties to key pro-secessionists in St. Louis (General Frost was an in-law). He attempted to tamp down friction in St. Louis, but because these actions usually involved preventing “provocative” defensive measures related to the Arsenal, he was considered dangerously naive, if not treacherous, by key Missouri Unionists. They made their views clear in a series of letters to President Lincoln and members of his cabinet.
    Brigadier General William S. Harney

    Brigadier General William S. Harney

    • For much of the Secession Crisis the Arsenal itself was managed by Brevet Major Peter V. Hagner, of the Ordinance Department. St. Louis Unionists considered him to also be dangerously inactive in preparing the Arsenal for defense.
    • Captain Nathaniel Lyon, 2nd Infantry had arrived at the Arsenal with a company of infantry in early February. A Free Soiler, Lyon had become strongly opposed to militant pro-slavery activists during his time in Kansas. He became associated with the anti-secession activists of St. Louis’ “Union Club”. Concerned about the potential threat to the Arsenal he consulted on Unionist underground military training. At the request of St. Louis Unionists, on March 13 the War Department appointed Lyon commander of Arsenal defenses, but not the Arsenal itself. The control of the facility and its contents were still in the hands of Major Hagner. Lyon fell under the direct supervision of General Harney, as Department commander. Harney could, and did, personally intervene to modify or prevent Lyon’s defensive measures.
  • Finding of Fact: Shortly after the March 31, 1861 adjournment of the Missouri General Assembly (apparently on or about April 10, 1861) Governor Jackson traveled from Jefferson City to St. Louis for secret conferences with civilian and military advisors (“some of the most active secessionists of the city”) discussing (notwithstanding the State Convention’s March 21 rejection of secession) a planned attack on the U.S. Arsenal at St. Louis and the secession of the state.
    • Participants reportedly included: Governor Jackson; General Frost; Judge William M. Cooke; John A. Brownlee, President of the St. Louis Police Board; and Colton Greene and Basil Wilson Duke of the Minute Men. Also likely present was MVM Adjutant General Warwick Hough. Lieutenant Colonel John S. Bowen, MVM may also have been there, but evidence is more contradictory.
  • Finding of Fact: At the St. Louis Conferences, it was agreed “that the first thing to be done was to seize the [U.S.] Arsenal” at St. Louis. BG Frost was charged with writing up a post-meeting “memorial” discussing the how the Arsenal could be captured. Frost did not complete the document until April 15.
    • Note: According to the scholarship of Dr. Randy McGuire, PhD, the St. Louis Arsenal had the largest holdings of infantry weapons of any Army depot in any southern or western states, with approximately 36,600 small arms of all types. It also had a small number of field guns, perhaps ten or so.
      • General Frost likely believed that the Arsenal held about 40,000 small arms. This was the number given him by the friendly Major William H. Bell, USA during a conversation in late January, 1861
      • In January 1861, an inventory of MVM weapons by Quartermaster General James Harding stated that Missouri possessed approximately 2,300 rifles and muskets and 60 carbines state-wide.
    • Note: While question of arms was a major one, and was the subject of a large volume of correspondence between both Unionist and secessionist activists, the Arsenal played a more important role as THE center of Federal and Unionist activity in the state. While the Headquarters of the Department of the West was theoretically located at General Harney’s house in the city, by April most Federal military activity had become centered on the secure Arsenal grounds. The Arsenal was also the focus of civilian Unionists who looked to it as the main outpost of Federal (military) authority in the state. In the event of secession, or MVM action without legal secession, the Arsenal would likely become a focus of resistance by Unionist Missourians.
  • Finding of Fact: While the meeting and decision to attack the St. Louis Arsenal occurred prior to the attack on Ft Sumter (April 12, 1861), Frost had not yet completed his “memorial” when hostilities commenced in South Carolina. The memorandum was finally submitted o Jackson on April 15, 1861. The document is written as if it was the first instance that the two had discussed the Arsenal, although the the Governor and his military commander had already agreed to attack the facility. It is possible that the “memorial” was intended as a “memorandum for the record”, which could be released to the public to justify a subsequent to an attack on Federal forces.
    BG Daniel M. Frost , MVM Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum

    BG Daniel M. Frost , MVM
    Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum

    • Notwithstanding the fact that the accommodating and non-confrontational General William S. Harney still commanded at St. Louis, Frost described the Arsenal as a clear and present danger, which could blockade or bombard the city. He then went on to propose a broad state-wide political-military strategy for “state defense”:
      1. Reconvene the General Assembly to pass new military-related legislation “for the purpose off placing the State in a condition to enable you to suppress insurrection or repel invasion”.
      2. Seek siege artillery from “the Governor of Louisiana….or other points”. The guns were eventually requested from the C.S.A. government at Montgomery and the State of Virginia. Unstated in the document, but implied by the phrase “erect batteries” in Point Five below, is that the artillery was to be used to reduce the St. Louis Arsenal.
      3. Send an agent to Liberty, Missouri “to see what is [at the auxiliary U.S. arms depot] there and to put the people of that vicinity on their guard” to prevent its garrisoning or the removal of arms by Federal personnel. Only five days later, on April 20, local militia from the Liberty area did seize the arms depot, sharing the weapons with the Quartermaster General James Harding of the MVM.
      4. Called on Governor Jackson to make a public announcement stating that Lincoln’s call for volunteers (after the attack on Fort Sumter) was illegal, that Lincoln intended to arm Missourians to resist the state government, and that the population of Missouri should prepare to resist Federal attempts at coercion.
      5. He called on Jackson to order him (Frost) to “form a military camp of instruction at or near the City of St. Louis to muster [new] military companies into the service of the State, to erect batteries [on the heights commanding the Arsenal], and to do all things necessary and proper to be done to maintain the peace, dignity, and sovereignty of the State.” This last item was in line with the course of action decided on during the St. Louis meetings; that the Arsenal would not be attacked by infantry, but instead would be reduced using heavy artillery, emplaced under the guise of militia military engineering exercises.
      6. Finally Frost called on the Governor to order the St Louis troops then deployed the Kansas border, including the state’s only organized battery of artillerists, to return to St. Louis.
  • Finding of Fact: General Harney learned of the planned attack almost immediately.
    • On April 17 Harney wrote the Head Quarters U.S. Army at New York to inform his superiors that “the arsenal buildings and grounds are completely commanded by hills immediately in their rear and within easy range. I learn from sources which I consider reliable that it is the intention of the executive of this State to cause batteries to be erected on these hills and also upon the island opposite the arsenal. I am further informed that, should such batteries be erected, it is contemplated by the State authorities, in the event of the secession of the State from the Union, to demand the surrender of the arsenal.” He noted that while the small garrison present “would probably be able to resist” an infantry attack, “it could not withstand the fire of the batteries situated as above indicated.” Unsure of his proper course he stated “under these circumstances I respectfully request instructions for my guidance.”
    • Of additional interest is that fact that General Harney states only approximately 140 of the 430 men present in the Arsenal garrison were trained soldiers (from the 2nd and 4th Artillery and the 2nd Infantry) the rest having been recruits transferred (at the request of General Winfield Scott) from nearby Jefferson Barracks to deter possible attack on the Arsenal’s normal caretaker garrison.

      Basil Wilson Duke, Commissioner to the CSA Courtesy, Missouri History Museum

      Basil Wilson Duke, Commissioner to the CSA
      Courtesy, Missouri History Museum

  • Finding of Fact: On April 21, 1861, Colton Greene and Basil Wilson Duke (leaders of the Minute Men organization), Commissioned as Captains and Aides-de-Camp, MVM, and acting as Commissioners (Ambassadors) from Governor Jackson, met with President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet at Montgomery. The Governor’s two envoys requested siege artillery to use in attacking the St. Louis Arsenal and carried out preliminary talks to lay the ground work for (in Governor Jackson’s view) Missouri’s subsequent entry into the Confederacy.
    o President Davis agreed to support the attack and provided Duke and Greene with a letter to the Commandant of the Baton Rouge Arsenal, instructing that officer to provide the two Commissioners with the artillery for transfer to Missouri.
  • Finding of Fact: On April 22, 1861 Missouri Adjutant General Hough ordered a statewide militia muster to be held on/around the first week in May. According to one conspirator, the state-wide muster was substituted for Frost’s original “St. Louis-only muster”, because massing troops only in St. Louis would have signaled Governor Jackson’s intent to attack the Arsenal.
  • Finding of Fact: The Lincoln administration was in continual receipt of reports on the tense security situation in Missouri from a variety of sources:
    • Directly though local Army and other Federal officials
    • From Missouri Unionists reporting through Postmaster General Montgomery Blair and Attorney General Edward Bates
    • Direct to Lincoln and the War Department from Missouri Unionists
  • Finding of Fact: Captain Nathaniel Lyon carried out all acts only within bounds set down by official orders from the War Department and by exercising only the authorities delegated to him.
  • Finding of Fact: There were contending quasi-official intelligence networks operating in St. Louis, and both the Unionist and Secessionist networks achieved almost perfect success in identifying the activities and intent of the other. The eventual outcome of the crisis seems to have been a product of a failure of unified command on the Secessionist side, and a failure of General Frost to believe the intelligence provided him on May 9, 1861.
  • Finding of Fact: General Harney was removed as Commander of the Department of the West at St. Louis due to longstanding concerns about his conciliatory attitude toward Missouri’s secessionists and his apparent lack of concern (or fatalism) concerning the pending attack by the MVM. The proximate cause for the general’s removal was his action countermanding an order from the War Department to Captain Lyon to arm “Loyal Citizens” at St. Louis.
    • Note: Harney’s previous behavior makes it likely that he viewed the arming of Unionists as provocative to local secessionists. The General likely should have considered the order to Lyon as binding on him as well, or at least sought guidance from the War Department before contradicting it.
    • In the April 21 message to Lyon informing him of Harney’s removal he was instructed: “General Harney has this day been relieved from his command. The Secretary of War directs that you immediately execute the order previously given to arm the loyal citizens, to protect the public property, and execute the laws. Muster four regiments into the service.” Over the next weeks Lyon did so, mustering local Unionists into Federal service as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Missouri Volunteer Infantry (Three Months Service).
      • While mustering these volunteers directly into Federal service (without state permission) violated the Federal Militia Act of 1795, the Supreme Court later upheld the legality of such actions by Lincoln under his war powers as Commander-in-Chief in wartime.

        John A. Brownlee President of the St. Louis Police Board

        John A. Brownlee
        President of the St. Louis Police Board

  • Finding of Fact: On April 24 the St. Louis Police Board, which controlled all state military and police forces in St. Louis…and was largely composed by Jackson-appointed secessionists…ordered the formation of two volunteer military companies in each of St. Louis’ ten wards to “suppress mobs or riots, and to protect the lives and property of the people”. These Police Board “Home Guards” were not to be sworn police officers, but instead were to be organized and trained as infantry. This order had the effect of creating twenty new companies (two regiments) of state infantry in St. Louis. Because the Police Board could issue orders to Frost’s militia as well as the police, all these state forces could potentially act seamlessly.
  • Finding of Fact: In late April, MVM Quartermaster General James Harding began an effort to purchase all available militarily useful weapons and other supplies in St. Louis and other locations in and round the state.
  • Finding of Fact: On the evening of April 25, on the Authority of the Police Board, troops of the First Regiment MVM conducted a nighttime raid, at the request of Quartermaster General Harding, to seize the gunpowder at the civilian powder magazines of the Laflin and Hazard companies in northern St. Louis. Although this was publicly described as a “purchase” or an act to “protect” the gunpowder, Harding described it as a “forced purchase” and stated the men of the (1st Regiment’s) St. Louis Greys and the Washington Blues broke open the magazines and took the powder by force. The majority of the powder was immediately loaded on the steamers ISABELLA and AUGUSTUS MCDOWELL and sent up the Missouri to Jefferson City where Governor Jackson personally received and congratulated the militia who had traveled on board to guard the gunpowder. After the war Harding wrote the civilian owners of the magazines were never fully compensated for the seizure.

    Herman Hunicke, 4th Missouri Volunteers. Courtesy, Missouri History Museum

    Herman Hunicke, 4th Missouri Volunteers.
    Courtesy, Missouri History Museum

  • Finding of Fact: The large number of potential Unionist volunteers in the city, and the approaching May militia muster at St. Louis, led the Lincoln administration, on April 30, to order Lyon to enroll “in the military service of the United States the loyal citizens of Saint Louis and vicinity, not exceeding with those heretofore enlisted, ten thousands in number”. These formations were to be short term “emergency” units, and would be mustered out after the security threat to St. Louis had abated. Lyon quickly swore in four regiments of United States Reserve Corps (U.S.R.C.) Infantry. These units are usually referred to as (Federal) Home Guard.
    • Despite the enlistment of the Missouri Volunteers and U.S.R.C. units into Federal service, most were far from fully organized or trained. It appears that many volunteers wore “citizens’ clothes”, their only uniform being a rifle, belt and cartridge box. In addition, the majority of these “troops” were scatted around the city, living at home and drilling during the day at a neighborhood “armory”, often a local meeting place such as a beer garden or hall.
    • The force at the Arsenal itself consisted of a handful of Regulars, the 1st Missouri and two companies of the 2nd Missouri.
  • Finding of Fact: More important, the same April 30 order authorized Lyon, “if deemed necessary…by yourself and [the members off the Unionist Committee of Public Safety to] proclaim martial law in the City of St. Louis.” The order was personally authorized by General-in-Chief Scott, Secretary of War Cameron, and President Lincoln.
  • Finding of Fact: On May 2 the General Assembly convened a special session at Governor Jackson’s request to consider issues dealing with state security. The next day the legislature went into “Secret” [closed and confidential] session. The governor’s legislative allies reintroduced proposals from the long contentious “Military Bill” which would have transformed the Militia, boosted spending, and granted the governor sweeping powers. The proponents of the acts argued they were necessary to give teeth to the state’s policy of “Armed Neutrality”. Unconditional Unionists and many Conditional Unionists were very distrustful of Jackson’s intentions, and resisted rising pressure to pass new security bills. As the “Secret Sessions” continued, even Jackson’s Conditional Unionist allies at St. Louis’ [Democratic] MISSOURI REPUBLICAN newspaper grew alarmed at idea of legislating in secret and granting Jackson new powers [while the militia was on duty].
  • Finding of Fact: In late April and early May, MVM Quartermaster General James Harding sent most of the state’s small arms and almost all of its artillery to St. Louis.
  • Finding of Fact: In early May Unionist civilian and Federal authorities became aware that most of the state’s artillery had been shipped to St. Louis and was being stored in the city, including in the Police Headquarters at Arnot’s Building. At least one mounted gun was taken to Murphy’s Wagon Manufactory where the gun was removed from the carriage. This was almost certainly to provide a template for the construction of additional gun carriages, which were subsequently manufactured there.
  • Finding of Fact: On May 3, Judge William M. Cooke completed two days of discussions with Virginia Governor Letcher’s advisory council. He was there at Jackson’s request, carrying out the same mission that Duke and Greene had pursued in Montgomery. He was successful in his request for heavy guns, and the council recommended that Governor Jackson be provided with twenty two guns from the trove seized at Gosport Navy Yard. However, Cooke’s mission would be overcome by events before action could be taken to procure and ship the cannon from Virginia.

    Camp Jackson Courtesy, Missouri History Museum

    Camp Jackson
    Courtesy, Missouri History Museum

  • Finding of Fact: On May 6 the Militia established “Camp Jackson” at Lindell’s Grove on the western edge of St. Louis. The camp was reported to have a holiday feel, with significant overt secessionist display. A significant portion of the 1st Regiment and all of the 2nd Regiment appear to have been secessionist by this time.
  • Finding of Fact: During the subsequent days, heavy militia recruiting and enlistment went on at the MVM’s official recruiting office and at the Minute Men headquarters at the Berthold Mansion. Companies of Police Board “Home Guards” marched to Camp Jackson “for arms and to be drilled”.
  • Finding of Fact: On May 7, the troops of the Southwest Battalion from the Kansas Border, under Lieutenant Colonel Bowen, arrived at Camp Jackson. This included the trained gunners of the Missouri/St. Louis Light Artillery (aka Captain Jackson’s Battery).
  • Finding of Fact: On the May 9, Captains Duke and Greene, and the Confederate siege guns arrived at the St. Louis levee on the steamer J.C. SWON. The boat was met by Major Shaler of the 2nd Regt MVM who took possession of the weapons. The guns, shells, and small arms were loaded onto wagons hired by the St. Louis Police, and under escort of the MVM and police the weapons were hauled to Camp Jackson.
    • Rumors had long circulated the Governor Jackson was procuring artillery from the Confederacy. The arrival of the guns, even though disguised as civilian cargo, became a sensation, with the rumors provoking comment in the next morning’s newspapers.
    • According to a number of different accounts, the Confederate Shipment appears to have included at least:
      • 3 x Thirty Two Pounders
      • (At least) 3 x Twenty Four Pounder “Flank Defense Guns” (iron howitzers)
        • “Five boxes of canister shot, each box containing fourteen shot”
      • 6 x Twenty Four Pounder brass coehorn mortars
        • 300 x “six inch bomb shells”
      • 1 x Ten Inch Siege Mortar with base
        • 96 x “ten inch bomb shells”
      • 800 or 1,200 rifle muskets (depending on report)
    • Note: There is no information that the guns tubes were shipped with carriages, and it is likely that carriages would still have had to have been constructed before the cannon (if not the mortars) could be put into action. This might have been a task for Murphy’s Wagon Manufactury.
  • Finding of Fact: On May 9, Governor Jackson signed a bill passed the previous day, which provided him the authority extend the period of active duty for any militia currently on drill “for such time as he may think necessary”. This meant that while most observers expected Camp Jackson to break up after May 11, the Governor had the authority to maintain the troops there (and at other sites across the state) as a “force in being” indefinably.
    • Note: It is likely that Frost intended several more days, if not weeks of organization, to fill out four state regiments and get his artillerists in order and familiar with the siege pieces [although this must be speculation]. The “Act in Relation to the Volunteer Militia of Missouri” of May 9, 1861 gave the general the legal footing to take his time.
      • Finding of Fact: On May 9, the press announced that General Harney had been reinstated as Commander of the Department of the West, and would be returning, possibly as early as May 11. The secessionist MISSOURI STATE JOURNAL reported the news with pleasure.
    • Note: Lyon’s occupation of the heights above the Arsenal, an act which was contrary to Harney’s policy, was only carried out due to Harney’s temporary removal. Harney’s return had the potential to lead to a second abandonment of the heights, and their occupation by the MVM.
  • Finding of Fact: Several sources state that Lyon carried out a personal reconnaissance of Camp Jackson, verifying the arrival of the Confederate artillery. On the evening of the 9th, he convened a meeting of the Committee of Public Safety to ask for their endorsement for an effort to arrest the militia [before Harney returned]. There was some debate among the members of the Committee, with an argument made that while majority of the militia might be disloyal, the militia muster was legal within the traditional six day window specified by law. There was also the suggestion that the Confederate artillery was an issue of stolen property, best handled by the U.S. Marshal, rather than as a military threat.
    Captain Nathaniel Lyon

    Captain Nathaniel Lyon

    • Note: Lyon’s specific counter-argument is not recorded, but his later letter to General Frost likely provides a window into his thinking. The MVM at Camp Jackson (certainly Frost, Bowen, and the 2nd Regiment) were openly hostile to the U.S. Government, were in communication with Confederate Authorities, were in possession of Confederate “materials of war”, and had engaged in “plotting at the seizure of its [the U.S.] property and the overthrow of its authority.” Because President Lincoln had already ordered the disbandment of disloyal military formations in his April 14 proclamation, Frost’s command was unlawful, and could, and should be broken up.
    • Apparently though, the issue which finally won the agreement of the Committee for action against Frost’s command was the news that General Harney was about to return. It is unlikely that any of the members had confidence in his ability to manage the threat posed by Jackson and Frost. In the end, it was this issue which led to unanimous agreement to arrest the militia.
  • Finding of Fact: On the evening of 9 May, St. Louis Police “scouts” (and others) observed Federal preparations the following mornings action. The St. Louis Police Board was informed, and they passed a warning of a probable Federal attack to General Frost, with the recommendation that he act immediately (although no order was given to disperse, preempt, or prepare to resist).
    • Despite this warning, Frost took no action on the night on 9 May or the morning of 10 May. He did not even warn his command of the possibility of a Federal attack.
  • Finding of Fact: On May 10, the MISSOURI DEMOCRAT reported that a new artillery unit, the St. Louis Light Artillery, Company “B”, had been formed. The new gunners had drawn a cannon from the “Police hall on Chestnut street” and marched to Camp Jackson.
    • The same report stated that the new companies had increased the number of state troops available in St. Louis to 1,400.
    • This did not include the 600-1,000 men that secessionist Colonel Thornton Grimsly claimed to have in his parallel city-wide Constitutional Guard paramilitary organization.

      Captain Emmett McDonald, MVM

      Captain Emmett McDonald, MVM Captured at Camp Jackson and refused to give his parole.

  • Finding of Fact: While the Federal forces moved with significant coordination (considering the green status of most of the troops and officers) they did not succeed in surrounding the camp simultaneously. A number of militiamen appeared to have escaped. Similarly, since Camp Jackson was adjacent to the city, significant numbers of men were away from camp on passes, visiting or at other duties. Less than half of the men expected were captured (689 militia).
    • Similarly, Thornton Grimsley’s Constitutional Guards and the Police Board “Home Guards” were likely not present (having their “armories” scattered across the city), but did have the opportunity to mass at the Camp Jackson and along the line of march back to the Arsenal. While this latter is not definitive these secessionists at-large likely provided heat to the situation, making the subsequent violence more likely.
  • Finding of Fact: Governor Jackson subsequently lied to his own constituents and supporters, denying coordination with the Confederacy, and claiming that the Federal raid was an unprovoked attack on Missouri’s sovereignty and an act of murder. While he had lost almost all his military power, he did succeed in getting the frightened and angry members of the General Assembly to pass bill providing him with (potentially) sweeping new powers….but that it a story for later.
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