Posts Tagged With: missouri

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

Missouri Battle Flags: Confederate and Federal

"Veterans Flag" of the 1st Regiment Missouri Cavalry Volunteers

“Veterans Flag” of the 1st Regiment Missouri Cavalry Volunteers

The state of Missouri is unusual, in that it fielded a large number of both U.S. and CSA units of state volunteer troops.  At the link below you can examine infantry, cavalry and artillery flags from Missouri units on both sides of the “Brother’s War” in addition to the personal flag of Confederate General (and later Missouri Governor) John Sappington Marmaduke and the captured flag of the “Beauregard Rifles” (possibly the flag of Company “A”, 9th Alabama Infantry”).

The flags, often with major wear and battle damage bear a variety of battle honors, including most of the great battles of the Western Theater, including Ft Donelson, Shiloh, Corinth, and the many battles of the Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Atlanta Campaigns.

Many also bear the names of lesser known fights from Missouri’s bitter “civil war, within the Civil War”, fought between Missourians as they struggled for control of the state:  Black Water, Silver Creek (Roan’s Tan Yard), Lone Jack and Neosho.

Unique flags include the green regimental color of the 7th Missouri Infantry, the “Irish Seventh”, one of two officially ethnic Irish regiments of Missouri volunteers during the war. Although badly damaged, it is still easy to see why it was considered one of the most beautiful flags produced during the war. The obverse shows a golden sunburst, behind a wreath of shamrocks, charged with a golden Irish harp and a wolf hound. The reverse shows the sunburst and a golden dawn, with the Gaelic war cry “Faj an Bealac!” [a variant transliteration of Faugh an Bealac], meaning “Clear the Way!”

Of special interest are the special “Veterans” flags issued to by the (Unionist) state government of Missouri to units which reenlisted at the end of three years service. The blue flags bear the state arms (rather than the Federal eagle) in gold, with the word “Veterans” and the unit designation on the reverse. These flags tell a story of the contest for legitimacy, and the Unionist’s claim to recognition as the lawful government of the state. At the beginning of the war, the secessionist Missouri State Guard had designated a blue flag with the state arms in gold (the unofficial state flag in common use) as the State Guard battle flag. By issuing Federal veteran units the state flag in its own name, the Unionist government of Provisional Governor Hamilton Gamble was making the public statement that his administration, not the government-in-exile of Missouri’s Confederates, was the legitimate government of Missouri.

As for Missouri’s Confederates, they are represented as well, with both the “starry cross” of the commonly known Confederate battle flag, and examples of “Price’s Flag” (aka the “Missouri Battle Flag”) popular with many Missouri Confederate regiments in the later part of the war (a blue flag, bordered in red, with a white Latin cross near the fly).

1st Regiment Missouri Cavalry (Dismounted), CSA

1st Regiment Missouri Cavalry (Dismounted), CSA

So, click on the link below, and enjoy the fine work the conservators in Missouri are doing, and all the great things the state staff and volunteers in Missouri are doing to preserve and publicize the history of America’s most divided state.

Categories: Missouri Civil War | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hempstead Rifles, Co “B”, 3rd REGT Arkansas State Troops

3rd REGT Arkansas State Troops

Shortly after passing Arkansas’ Ordnance of Secession, the Arkansas Secession Convention created the “Provisional Army of Arkansas”, commonly known as the Arkansas State Troops. These forces cooperated with (and fought along side) Confederate Forces, but were ultimately under Arkansas state control.

The Hempstead Rifles was a local militia company, raised in Hempstead County in southwest Arkansas. This photo shows the “Rifles” parading in Washington, Arkansas on May 4, 1861, having just received a locally made Confederate flag [1st National Pattern] , visible near the center rear of the company.

[click through twice on photo for close-up]

The volunteers are mostly dressed in improvised uniforms, based on “militarized” civilian clothes. Many wear home-made “battle shirts” popular among western Confederates early in the war. The battle shirt was a roomy overshirt, often with two breast pockets, decorated with fabric tape (in a contrasting color), particularly along the collar, cuffs, and front placket. Despite their lack of training, and (to us) unconventional (if not unmilitary) appearance, the volunteers would distinguish themselves in battle.

The Hempstead Rifles, under their Captain, John R. Gratiot, were subsequently combined with other local militia companies into a regiment which became the 3rd Regiment Arkansas State Troops. Gratiot was promoted and made Colonel of the Regiment.

The 3rd Arkansas joined a mixed force of Confederate regiments, Arkansas State Troops, and (secessionist) Missouri State Guards under Confederate Brigadier General Ben McCulloch. On August 10, 1861 they fought in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, about 10 miles south of Springfield, Missouri.

The battle, popularly known as the “Bull Run of the West”, was a vicious one and (depending on ones point of view) resulted in a Confederate tactical victory. The Third Arkansas fought well, but paid a heavy price, suffering 109 casualties (including 25 killed) in the 500 man unit.

After the battle the regiment, along with the other Arkansas State Troops, returned to Arkansas. Provided the opportunity to enter the Confederate Army as a unit, the regiment voted to disband instead. Many of the members of the regiment subsequently joined other Confederate units.

[Photo courtesy of the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield]

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The Anaconda Plan (and much more) in period imagery


The Anaconda Plan, is the (retrospectively) un-ironic name given to the much modified but eventually successful Federal Grand Strategy to win the Civil War.

The (very) rough outlines of the plan were sketched out by U.S. Army General-in-Chief Brevet Lieutenant General Winfield Scott in May of 1861.


General Scott envisioned a grand envelopment (a crushing Anaconda in the public mind) which would divide, isolate, and economically cripple the seceded states. Scott wished to avoid a “war of conquest” if possible, so he called for a naval blockade to isolate the seceded states from foreign markets and imported goods. His main military action was to be a huge offensive down the Mississippi River, seizing key points along this strategic artery to put in under Federal control all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

“The object being to clear out and keep open this great [riverine] line of communication in connection with a strict blockade of the sea-board, so as to envelope the insurgent States and bring them to terms with less bloodshed than by any other plan.” [LTG Winfield Scott letter to MG George McClelland, May 21, 1861]

Scott did not wish to have to force the “insurgent States” back into the Union as “conquered provinces”, and he believed that there was significant “latent Unionism” in the seceded states which might be rekindled (a view Lincoln shared at the time). Isolation from foreign markets, a drought of luxuries, and economic collapse might, in Scott’s mind, bring many of the insurgents back into the U.S. with a minimum of destruction.

At the time Scott’s concept was widely derided. The label “Anaconda Plan”…or “Scott’s Great Snake”….came from enemies of the Plan, or of the Administration. Unionist fire-brands who supported a more direct “on to Richmond” strategy dismissed it as passive and weak. Peace Democrats and Confederate commentators dismissed it as doomed to fail, and as foolishly underestimating Confederate determination to break away.

In the end, Scott DID underestimate the Confederate will to fight and willingness to accept privation to achieve independence. The Confederate population proved willing to not only forgo luxuries, but bore up under economic collapse and serious food shortage. Still, Scott was right that the blockade would be a key to victory, and that a long complex campaign on the Mississippi (far from the dueling capitals) would be vital to eventual success.

Scott also saw something that few did at the time: that it would be a hard, LONG war. At the time of the plan’s origination, most Federal volunteer troops were “Three Months Volunteers”, mustered for 90 days service under the Militia Act of 1795. Scott had little use for the Three Months Men, as they could hardly be armed and partially trained before them would be mustered out. His main hope for these short-term volunteers was that they might receive some military instruction during that period, so they could be more useful as recruits for future “Three Year Regiments”. At the time, many commentators, North and South, still believed the war would be over in a matter of months.

Scott’s plan for the (Anaconda-like) slow crushing of the Confederate economy, was eventually put into place, although with the addition of the conquest and attrition Scott hoped to avoid.

The wonderful graphic of “Scott’s Great Snake” presents a great Federal “Anaconda” …studded with Navy ships…..wrapping around the southern states, and curling around to plunge, snake head-first down the Mississippi. It was created by J. B. Elliott of Cincinnati in 1861.

But in addition to the Great Snake there are numerous other miniature images, often commenting on current (to 1861) views of states or recent events. The snake’s tail is anchored to an American Flag at Washington, topped with a liberty cap.

A enthusiastic zouave, in puffy red pants, charges out of New York, as a winged helmet emblazoned “Free Trade” hovers overhead.

Maryland declares “We give in” as a bridge burns on the MD/VA border.

A West Virginian defends “The Old Flag” with a sword, as the rest of Virgina is symbolized by a battered bee hive, topped with a tattered Confederate Flag [First National pattern] hanging from a broken staff.

A North Carolinian notes that pine rosin is “Poor Eating”, while “Contrabands” escape slavery in South Carolina.

The Georgian cotton factory is abandoned and wrecked, while a lone Floridian sits in a swamp.

A proud Alabamian is angry that “Dam old Virginai took our Capitol”, because the CSA capitol was transferred from Mongomery, AL to Richmond. 😦

Some of the cartoons are grim or horrible. Rebelling slaves (apparently) are “burning massa out” as a plantation burns. In Louisiana a “Union Man” is hung while locals complain that they can’t ship out their cotton. Next door in Texas  a planter shoots fleeing slaves, noting  it is “costly shooting $100,000 a head”

Kentucky….wearing a coonskin cap…. perches on the fence, trying to maintain “Armed Neutrality”

Tennessee is divided, with the Unionist  “Knocksville [Knoxville] Whig” [Newspaper] leading East Tennesseans in defending the American Flag. In West Tennessee a secessionist in a cocked hat looks for threats across the Mississippi.

Scott's Great Snake-Jackson

There, the Great Snake is chasing out Missouri’s secessionist Governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson (the fleeing jackass), while an over-armed Arkansan wields two Bowie Knives and wearing two muskets over his shoulders.

A native chief smokes a pipe in Indian Territory [Oklahoma today], while in “Kanzas”, marching feet make “Union Music”. A second battalion of “Hawk-Eye Marksmen” march south, while a cannon points south from the Federal redoubt at Cairo [pronounced Kay-Roh] Illinois, where Ft Defiance guards the junction of the Ohio and the Mississippi.

A detailed examination of “Scott’s Great Snake” can be made at the Library of Congress:

Categories: cartoon, Map | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Brief Discussion of “Bleeding Kansas”

A Brief Discussion of “Bleeding Kansas”

As we discussed, the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) officially repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820. It also triggered a struggle for control of the Kansas Territory, to determine whether Kansas would (eventually) be organized a a Free Soil or slave-holding state.

Most pro-slavery activists felt that, regardless of the Popular Sovereignty claims made by proponents of the Act, the “unspoken bargain” had been that Kansas would be organized as a slave state (to balance out the more northerly potential state in Nebraska, where no one believed plantation agriculture could survive).

While most immigrants into Kansas were only interested in the opportunity of becoming land owners, others traveled there specifically to join the struggle over the state’s destiny. In the short term, pro-slavery activists had a great advantage in electoral politics, as “armed voters” could cross the border from slave-holding Missouri on polling days, to stuff the ballot boxes in support of pro-slavery government in Kansas. Violence was not long in coming.

The link provides a good, brief overview of some of the issues involved in Kansas’ decent into violence. We also see our friend, Missouri’s own militant U.S. Senator David “Whiskey Dave” Acheson (“kill every Gad-damned Abolitionist in the district”), and the lethal saber-wielding John “Pottawatomie” Brown……

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Song of the Kansas Immigrants/Call to Kansas

Missouri folk duo Kathy Barton and Dave Para sing a two-song melody of songs from the Free Soil side of the Missouri-Kansas Border War [aka, “Bleeding Kansas”].

Fighting between pro-slavery and Free Soil settlers helped radicalize people in the trans-Mississippi region, and push the nation at large towards war. The radicalization of actors in the Border War may have been a cause for some of the extreme violence seen during the region’s guerrilla conflict during the subsequent Civil War.

The song describes the Free Soil faction in Kansas as harbingers of freedom and democracy. The images mostly depict the fighting in Kansas from the Free Soil point of view.

Pro-Slavery activists and most Missourians would take great issue with the characterizations presented in both the songs and imagery.

The track can be found on Para and Barton’s CD:
Johnny Whistletrigger: Civil War Songs from the Western Border (Vol 1)

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