MISSOURI IN THE CIVIL WAR
Vol. 9, Chapter I
Confederate Military History
INTRODUCTORY--THE ADMISSION OF MISSOURI TO THE UNION--THE BEGINNING OF THE CONTEST BETWEEN THE NORTH AND THE SOUTH--THE MISSOURI COMPROMISE--THE KANSAS-NEBRASKA BILL--NEW ENGLAND EMIGRANT AID SOCIETIES--THE NATIONAL ELECTION IN 1860--THE SOUTHERN ELEMENT DIVIDED--DANGEROUS POSITION OF THE STATE--NEW PARTY ORGANIZATIONS AND LEADERS--THE SOUTHWEST EXPEDITION.
TO understand correctly the popular feeling in Missouri at the beginning of the War between the States, it is necessary to look back more than a generation prior to that time. It may be said that the political contest between the North and the South began, or at least assumed definite form, with the application of Missouri for admission into the Union, and that the feeling of hostility in the North engendered by that contest, toward the State, has grown with the lapse of time to the present day. During the seventy odd years which have passed, the habit of misrepresenting the State and its people has become fixed and ineradicable.
In 1819 Missouri sought admission into the Union on terms entirely in accordance with the requirements of the Federal Constitution and the precedents established in the admission of other States--Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi in the South, and Vermont, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois in the North--with the difference that the former recognized the institution of domes-tie slavery, and the latter did not. But in each instance the people of the State seeking admission had decided the question for themselves. The territorial laws of Missouri recognized slavery. On that account the Northern members of Congress refused to admit it. The Southern members favored its admission, holding that the people of Missouri had a right to determine the question as they pleased when they came to frame their State constitution.
In this the North was manifestly the aggressor. Its position had no warrant in the Constitution, in the laws or in the precedents bearing on the subject. The contest that followed was prolonged and violent, but finally the State was admitted in 1821, as the result of the adoption of a compromise--known as the Missouri Compromise, the principal provisions of which were that Missouri should be admitted as a slaveholding State, but after that time there should be no slavery north of the line of 36 degrees and 30 minutes, while in States south of that line, formed out of territory embraced in the Louisiana purchase, slavery might or might not exist as the people determined in organizing State governments. In this way the immediate question at issue was settled, not in accordance with the law, or the constitutional right of the people organizing new States to make their own laws, but by drawing an arbitrary line across the country from east to west, and giving those on one side the right of self-government, and denying it to those on the other side.
This arrangement was not satisfactory to the people of Missouri, because it imposed upon them conditions on entering the Union which had not been imposed on the people of other States. But it put a stop to the agitation of the slavery question for a generation, as far as the admission of new States was concerned. In the meantime, however, it became more and more a political issue, attended with a growing feeling of bitterness on both sides. But it did not assume practical form again until California, organized out of a part of the territory acquired from Mexico chiefly by the blood and courage of Southern soldiers, asked admission into the Union, when it was revived in more than its original spirit of sectional violence.
As a result of this agitation the Missouri legislature adopted resolutions affirming the rights of the States as interpreted by Southern statesmen, and instructing its senators in Congress to co-operate with the senators of the other Southern States in any measures they might adopt as a defense against the encroachments and aggressions of the North. Senator Thomas H. Benton refused to obey these instructions and appealed to the people of the State in vindication of his course. He was serving his fifth term in the Senate, and his hold on the people of the State was very strong. But notwithstanding his great ability and popularity, he was beaten for re-election to the Senate and was afterward successively defeated for governor and for representative in Congress. The resolutions of instructions remained unrepealed on the statute-book until after the war. They were a protest against the indignity put upon the State in the terms imposed upon it in its admission to the Union.
The events that followed the passage by Congress of the Kansas-Nebraska bill still further aggravated public sentiment. A struggle began in Kansas between the partisans of the North and the South for the political control of the Territory, which was carried on with great and constantly increasing bitterness on both sides. At first it was a legitimate contest between actual settlers, but it soon became one of fraud and violence. Emigrant aid societies were formed in the North, which sent men by the hundreds and thousands into the Territory, with the Bible in one hand and a Sharpe's rifle in the other, who manifested their fanaticism and lawlessness by denouncing the Union as "a league with hell," the Constitution as "a covenant with death," and the national flag as "a flaunting lie." They were organized to plunder and kill. Missourians, as well as settlers from other Southern States, went into the Territory in large numbers to maintain their own rights as defined in the Constitution and the laws, and the rights of the South as a joint owner in the common territory of the country. To some extent the national authorities attempted to preserve the peace, and kept the combatants apart, but the struggle was really the beginning of the war that followed with all its attendant train of evils. Missouri suffered more from the pilfering propensities of these armed bands of Northern emigrants than from their fighting capacity. Their efforts were directed chiefly to abducting slaves from their Missouri owners, but they did not disdain other crimes and other species of property when opportunity offered.
Thus Missouri, from the time it became a State--indeed, from before that time--was deeply involved in the struggle between the North and the South, and was frequently the scene of the most heated part of the struggle.
The experiences of its people in the settlement of Kansas had forced upon them a knowledge of what Northern supremacy meant, as far as they and the people of the South were concerned. These things ought to have solidified public sentiment and made the State practically a unit when the time for action came. To some extent they did, or rather would have done so, if the Southern leaders in the State had had a conception of the nature of the crisis that confronted them. But they were politicians, men shrewd enough in their way, who knew the written and unwritten laws of party management thoroughly, while war and revolution were entirely beyond their mental range, and consequently they delayed, hesitated and frittered away their strength, laboriously doing nothing, until the storm burst upon them and found them totally unprepared.
At the presidential election in 1860, Missouri cast its electoral vote for Stephen A. Douglas. It was the only State that did so. The total vote was 165,000. Of these, 58,801 were given to the Douglas electors; 58,373 to the Bell electors; 31,317 to the Breckinridge electors; and 17,165 to the Lincoln electors. The vote, however, did not correctly represent the sentiment of the people of the State. Claiborne F. Jackson was the regular Democratic nominee for governor. He was a good man, in a personal sense, and thoroughly loyal to the institutions of the State and the South. But as a matter of policy he declared his intention early in the campaign to support Douglas for President, thereby giving him the appearance of being the nominee and representative of the party. The more pronounced Southern men, the Breckinridge Democrats, refused to follow his lead, and nominated Hancock Jackson for governor, with a full electoral ticket. No doubt Claiborne F. Jackson thought he was acting for the best interests of the State and the cause to which he was strongly attached. But he was not. His precipitate movement in favor of Douglas divided Southern men and produced discord among them, when it was desirable above all things that they should be united and should act together in harmony. This was the first great mistake made by the Southern leaders in Missouri, and it was followed with fatal consistency by others that brought many disasters on the people of the State, and possibly changed the whole current of American history.
The supporters of Breckinridge, of Douglas and of Bell were in the main opposed to the sectional purposes of the Republican party, to the election of Lincoln, to the policy of the coercion of the Southern States, and when the test came would have been united in regard to the position Missouri should take. But dissensions and antagonisms were created among them by bad management. The vote showed the Republicans were outnumbered nine to one. Their strength was mainly in St. Louis and the counties along the south side of the Missouri river between St. Louis and Jefferson City, in which, as well as in St. Louis, there was a large element of Germans. The seeds of Republicanism had been sown in the State by Thomas H. Benton, when he appealed to the people against the instructions of the legislature twelve years before. In the contest which ensued his friends had established an organ in St. Louis to advocate his cause, and his supporters, under the leadership of Francis P. Blair, Jr., had been organized into a party and were a compact and fanatical force in the body-politic. Blair was a man of great strength of character, and a fearless and sagacious party leader. In the politics of the State he was an outlaw, and in the stormy period preceding the war he was more or less a revolutionist. He had nothing to lose and everything to gain by a bold course. Besides this, circumstances favored him. When Mr. Lincoln made up his cabinet, his brother, Judge Montgomery Blair, was appointed postmaster-general. Thus Frank Blair was the unquestioned leader of a considerable and well-organized party in the State, with the resources of the Federal government practically at his disposal as far as Missouri was concerned, and was well fitted by nature and experience to play a bold part in the terrible drama of war and revolution which was impending.
Notwithstanding the comparative insignificance of the Republican vote in the State, the contest was not as unequal as it appeared. Blair knew the elements with which he had to deal as well as his opponents. He knew, besides, what the policy of the Federal government would be, and what support he could depend on. Both sides were getting ready to strike a decisive blow. But the Southern leaders were playing an open hand, while he was playing a secret one. The State occupied a precarious position. It was surrounded on three sides by Northern States, which were organizing and arming their citizens to invade it. The troops of Illinois, Iowa and Kansas were almost as much at Blair's disposal as those he was actively but secretly organizing in Missouri.
Both sides were waiting. The Southern leaders did not know what they wanted to do, and consequently were not doing anything. As politicians they were shirking the responsibility of action, and waiting for some overt act on the part of the Federal authorities. Their attitude and policy suited Blair exactly. He was waiting, too, but at the same time he was working with a definite idea and aim. He was exerting to the utmost his great powers as a political intriguer to cause misunderstandings and dissensions among his opponents throughout the State, and organizing, arming and drilling his forces in St. Louis. In fact, he was getting them ready to commit the overt act for which his opponents were waiting. All he wanted was time, and they were giving him time.
At that period St. Louis was not only the commercial but the financial and political center of the State. The banks, the great commercial houses and the manufacturing establishments were located there. The railroads centered there. The newspapers that most strongly influenced the thought of the people and most nearly controlled their action were published there. All of these agencies were combined and were used openly or covertly against the integrity of the State and the Southern cause. The Democrat, the old Benton organ, which was established in the first place through the influence of Blair, and was still controlled by him, was unreservedly for the Republican party and the Union. The Bulletin was ultra-Southern, but it was newly established, of limited circulation and influence, and was short-lived. The Republican, the oldest paper in the State and probably the leading paper of the Mississippi valley, was the organ of the bankers, the merchants, the manufacturers, the property owners and business men of the city, and, to a great extent, of the State. The position of the Democrat and the Bulletin was defined. That of the Republican was not. Nominally it was Southern in feeling and policy, but really it changed its course with every change in the situation, and while talking of the rights of the people and the honor of the State, was playing into the hands of the enemies of both. It was an enemy in the camp of the Southern Rights men, and did their cause all the harm it could.
During this period of doubt and delay, Missourians had an object lesson at home that might have taught them a world of wisdom, if they had chosen to learn the lesson. The State had found it necessary during the preceding fall to keep a considerable military force on its southwestern frontier to protect the lives and property of the people of the border counties from the predatory and murderous incursions of armed bands of Kansans. So bitter was the feeling of the Free State men of Kansas that they never allowed an opportunity to harass, plunder and murder the people of Missouri to pass unimproved. A certain Captain Montgomery, with an indefinite force under him, was particularly active in this congenial work. The only organized and armed force which the State had was Gen. D. M. Frost's skeleton brigade, of St. Louis. It was a fine body of men--a little army in itself, composed of infantry, artillery and cavalry--and General Frost, who was a native of New York, was a graduate of West Point. Though the brigade did not fight any battles, Frost was an intelligent officer and a strict disciplinarian, and his campaign served a good purpose in instructing in the rudiments of soldiership a number of young men who afterward made brilliant reputations in the Confederate army. In point of fact, General Harney of the regular army was eventually sent to the scene of disturbance to hold the lawless Kansans in check. The incident did not amount to much, but it showed the feeling by which the Northern people were animated, and their hostility to Missouri and Missourians.
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