Monday, April 25, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Strange Times in Washington, Missouri and Tennessee

Thursday, April 25, 1861

Washington had been in a state of siege since the Baltimore riot on April 19.  Railroads and telegraph lines to the capital had been cut, isolating it from the rest of the nation.  No orders could get out; the only news that could get in was rumors -- mostly of an impending Rebel invasion.

The 6th Massachusetts Regiment had made it through the riot to Washington, but now the capital was cut off.  More troops were on the way, but there was no news of them.  Inspecting the troops that had been wounded in the riot, a despondent Lincoln told them, "I don't believe there is any North.  The 7th (New York) Regiment is a myth.  Rhode Island is not known in our geography any longer.  You are the only Northern realities."

The 8th Massachusetts Regiment, led by General Benjamin Butler, had followed closely on the hills of the 6th Massachusetts. Hearing of the disturbance in Baltimore, Butler had detrained his regiment, the 8th Massachusetts, at the head of Chesapeake Bay, commandeered a steamboat, and headed for Annapolis, Maryland.  After a short delay coming ashore, these troops were put to work reopening a route to Washington, repairing the railroad and the equipment.

The first troops sent forward were the 7th New York.  They entered Washington on April 25, followed closely by troops from Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  The route was open and Washington's siege was lifted.

Missouri would get out of hand very quickly.  The governor, Claiborne Jackson, was trying to take the state out of the Union.  In fact, he had worked out a plot with Jefferson Davis to capture the St. Louis Arsenal.  Davis was sending cannons.  Jackson would call the state militia into camp for drill and instruction.  They would camp near the arsenal and take the facility when the cannons arrived.

Frank Blair and Nathaniel Lyon were determined to keep the state in the Union.  Blair, the youngest son of the prominent Blair family, had begun forming his own militia, the Unionist Home Guard, composed mainly of German immigrants.  Lyon, the commander of the arsenal's garrison, was temporarily in command of the Department of the West.  General William Harney had been called away to Washington.  Lyon quickly began inducting Blair's Germans into the United States Army.

Blair and Lyon knew that Jackson was after the arsenal.  It was one of the most important military installations in the country -- a large complex dedicated to the manufacture and storage of arms and munitions.  They would soon take very proactive steps to keep it out of the hands of the Confederates.

Illinois Governor Richard Yates enters the story on this date.  He too was worried about the security of the arsenal.  Working with Blair and Lyon, he sent Illinois militia into Missouri.  On the night of April 25, they removed 20,000 muskets and 110,000 cartridges and transported them to the Springfield Armory.  Blair kept enough of the muskets to arm the Home Guard.

On February 9, voters in Tennessee had voted against holding a convention to consider secession.  Now, after Fort Sumter and Lincoln's call for troops, the sentiment had changed.  Most of the Unionism in the state had simply evaporated.

Governor Isham Harris called the legislature into special session on this date.  He recommended that the legislators declare Tennessee independence and enter into an alliance with the Confederacy.  He also proposed that they pass "such legislation as will put the State upon war footing immediately."  The legislature went into secret session to consider Governor Harris's proposals.

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