Tuesday, May 31, 2011

150 Years Ago: Friday, May 31, 1861

On May 31, 1861, The Confederacy gave General P. G. T. Beauregard command of the "Alexandria Line," which includes all of northern Virginia.  He would be charged with defending the territory against invasion.  He would soon be fending off General Irwin McDowell's army at Manassas.

Out west, in Missouri, General Nathaniel Lyon was given command of all the Union troops in the state, replacing General William Harney.

Even further west, the Union evacuated some of the forts in the Indian Territory.  Most of those troops arrived in Leavenworth, Kansas, on this date.  The path they took would later be known as the Chisholm Trail, named after one of their guides, Jesse Chisholm.  After the war western ranchers would use the trail to get their cattle to the eastern markets.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

150 Years Ago: Grafton, Virginia

On May 30, 1861, Union troops under Major General George McClellan occupied the town of Grafton, Virginia.  The move was made to secure the section of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad that ran through the western Virginia mountains.  The mostly pro-Unionist residents of the region cheered the Union invasion.  Grafton was the site of an important railroad junction where the B & O split into lines that went west and northwest to different points on the Ohio River.

Also on this date, Secretary of War Simon Cameron approved General Benjamin Butler's plan to retain any fugitive slaves that entered his lines at Fort Monroe, Virginia.  Butler was to put them to work and keep records of their service.

At Norfolk, Virginia, the Confederates raised the U.S.S. Merrimack.  It had been burned and sunk when the Gosport Naval Yard was abandoned by the Union troops on April 20.

Frank Blair used the authority given him by Lincoln and the War Department to relieve General William Harney of command.  Nathaniel Lyon would take his place as the top commander in the St. Louis area the following day.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

150 Years Ago: Dorothea Dix

U.S. Library of Congress DIX, DOROTHEA LYNDE. ...Image via Wikipedia

On Wednesday, May 29, 1861, Dorothea Dix met with Secretary of War Simon Cameron, who accepted her help in setting up hospitals for the Union army.

Dix would soon be named superintendent of women nurses, the first woman to serve in a federal-level executive position.  She looked for nurses who were not too young and "plain to almost homeliness in dress, and by no means liberally endowed with personal attractions."  She came under heavy criticism for her brusqueness and for her insistence on treating Union and Confederate wounded alike on the battlefield.

Also on this date, the Battle of Aquia Creek began on the Potomac River.  This was an inconclusive little affair, an exchange of gunfire between Union gunboats and Confederate shore batteries that lasted until June 1.   The gunboats were unable to dislodge the batteries or inflict any serious casualties.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

150 Years Ago: McClelland Heads to Western Virginia

To travel west from Washington in 1861 you had to take the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and much of it ran through the seceded state of Virginia.  Now, at the end of May, rebels held the line from Harper's Ferry to Cumberland, Maryland, and would control much more of the line as soon as they could get troops into western Virginia.  In addition, the people of western Virginia were staunchly Unionist; they had just a few days earlier voted overwhelmingly against secession in a recent statewide referendum on the subject and were contemplating a break with the rest of the state.

Major General George B. McClelland, commanding the Department of the Ohio, decided to secure western Virginia (and the railroad) for the Union.  He got his troops underway, headed toward the key junction of Grafton, Virginia, on May 26, 1861, after issuing two proclamations.  One was addressed "To the Union Men of Western Virginia," the other to his soldiers:
Headquarters, Department of the Ohio, May 26, 1861.

To the Union Men of Western Virginia:

Virginians! The General Government has long enough endured the machinations of a few factious rebels in your midst. Armed traitors have in vain endeavored to deter you from expressing your loyalty at the polls. Having failed in this infamous attempt to deprive you of the exercise of your dearest rights, they now seek to inaugurate a reign of terror, and thus force you to yield to their schemes and submit to the yoke of the traitorous conspiracy dignified by the name of the Southern Confederacy. They are destroying the property of citizens of your State and ruining your magnificent railways. The General Government has heretofore carefully abstained from sending troops across the Ohio, or even from posting them along its banks, although frequently urged to do so by many of your prominent citizens. It determined to await the result of the late election, desirous that no one might be able to say that the slightest effort had been made from this side to influence the free expression of your opinions, although the many agencies brought to bear upon you by the rebels were well known. You have now shown under the most adverse circumstances that the great mass of the people of Western Virginia are true and loyal to that benificent [sic] government under which we and our fathers have lived so long. As soon as the result of the election was known the traitors commenced their work of destruction. The General Government cannot close its ears to the demand you have made for assistance. I have ordered troops to cross the Ohio river. They come as your friends and brothers, as enemies only to the armed rebels who are preying upon you. Your homes, your families, and your property are safe under our protection. All your rights shall be religiously respected, notwithstanding all that has been said by the traitors to induce you to believe that our advent among you will be signalized by interference with your slaves. Understand one thing clearly. Not only will we abstain from all such interference, but we will on the contrary with an iron hand crush any attempt at insurrection on their part, now that we are in your midst. I call upon you to fly to arms and support the general government, sever the connection that binds you to traitors, proclaim to the world that the faith and loyalty so long boasted by the Old Dominion are still preserved in Western Virginia, and that you remain true to the stars and stripes.

Geo. B. McClellan,
Maj. General, U. S. A., commanding department of the Ohio.

Head Quarters of the Department of the Ohio.
May 26th 1861.

Soldiers you are ordered to cross the frontier and enter the soil of Virginia. Your mission is to restore peace and confidence—to protect the majesty of the law and rescue our brethern [sic] from the grasp of armed traitors. You are to act in concert with Virginia troops and to support their advance. I place under the safeguard of your honor the persons and property of the Virginians. I know that you will respect their feelings and all their rights and preserve the strictest discipline. Remember that each one of you hold in his keeping the honor of Ohio and of the Union! If you are called upon to overcome armed opposition I know that your courage is equal to the task, but remember that your only foes are armed traitors, and show mercy even to them when they are in your power, for many of them are misguided. When under your protection the loyal men of Western Virginia will be enabled to organize and arm, they can protect themselves and you can return to your homes with the satisfaction of having preserved a proud and gallant people from dishonor.

Geo. B. McClellan,
Major General U. S. A., Commanding the Dep’t of the Ohio.

Also on this date, in Washington, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair ruled that postal service would not be provided to the Southern states after May 31.

After laying in state in the East Room of the White House the day before, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth's funeral was held.  President and Mrs. Lincoln attended.  Ellsworth's body was then transported to upstate New York for burial.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

150 Years Ago: Ex parte Merryman

Washington lies between Virginia and Maryland.  With Virginia now out of the Union, it was critical for President Abraham Lincoln to keep Maryland in the Union by whatever means necessary.  After the 6th Massachusetts Regiment was attacked in the streets of Baltimore and the rail lines to the capitol were cut, Lincoln took drastic measures, including declaring martial law in Baltimore and suspending the writ of habeas corpus.

As a 1st lieutenant in the Baltimore County Horse Guard, John Merryman had participated in the bridge burnings that cut Washington off from the rest of the country.  He was also recruiting men to go south and fight for the Confederacy.  Merryman was arrested on Saturday, May 25, 1861, sparking one of the best-known Civil War-era court cases.

Merryman's lawyers hurried off to the circuit court where they found Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney presiding.  The petition to the court laid out the basic facts:
To the Hon. Roger B. Taney, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States: The petition of John Merryman, of Baltimore county and state of Maryland, respectfully shows, that being at home, in his own domicile, he was, about the hour of two o'clock a. m., on the 25th day of May, A. D. 1861, aroused from his bed by an armed force pretending to act under military orders from some person to your petitioner unknown. That he was by said armed force, deprived of his liberty, by being taken into custody, and removed from his said home to Fort McHenry, near to the city of Baltimore, and in the district aforesaid, and where your petitioner now is in close custody. That he has been so imprisoned without any process or color of law whatsoever, and that none such is pretended by those who are thus detaining him; and that no warrant from any court, magistrate or other person having legal authority to issue the same exists to justify such arrest; but to the contrary, the same, as above stated, hath been done without color of law and in violation of of constitution and laws of the United States, of which he is a citizen. That since his arrest, he has been informed, that some order, purporting to come from one General Keim, of Pennsylvania, to this petitioner unknown, directing the arrest of the captain of some company in Baltimore county, of which company the petitioner never was and is not captain, was the pretended ground of his arrest, and is the sole ground, as he believes, on which he is now detained. That the person now so detaining him at said fort is Brigadier General George Cadwalader, the military commander of said post, professing to act in the premises under or by color of the authority of the United States. Your petitioner, therefore, prays that the writ of habeas corpus may issue, to be directed to the said George Cadwalader, commanding him to produce your petitioner before you, judge as aforesaid, with the cause, if any, for his arrest and detention, to the end that your petitioner be discharged and restored to liberty, and as in duty, & c. John Merryman. Fort McKenry, 25th May 1861.

On May 26, Taney issued the following order:
In the matter of the petition of John Merryman, for a writ of habeas corpus: Ordered, this 26th day of May, A. D. 1861, that the writ of habeas corpus issue in this case, as prayed, and that the same be directed to General George Cadwalader, and be issued in the usual form, by Thomas Spicer, clerk of the circuit court of the United States in and for the district of Maryland, and that the said writ of habeas corpus be returnable at eleven o'clock, on Monday, the 27th of May 1861, at the circuit court room, in the Masonic Hall, in the city of Baltimore, before me, chief justice of the supreme court of United States. R. B. Taney.

Mr. Spicer issued the writ commanding General Cadwalader to appear before the court at the appointed time "and that you have with you the body of John Merryman, of Baltimore county, and now in your custody, and that you certify and make known the day and cause of the caption and detention of the said John Merryman."

A U.S. marshal was sent to serve the writ.  At the appointed time a military officer, a Colonel Lee, appeared with Cadwalader's return to the writ:
'Headquarters, Department of Annapolis, Fort McHenry, May 26 1861. To the Hon. Roger B. Taney, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Baltimore, Md.Sir: The undersigned, to whom the annexed writ, of this date, signed by Thomas Spicer, clerk of the supreme court of the United States, is directed, most respectfully states, that the arrest of Mr. John Merryman, in the said writ named, was not made with his knowledge, or by his order or direction, but was made by Col. Samuel Yohe, acting under the orders of Major General William H. Keim, both of said officers being in the military service of the United States, but not within the limits of his command. The prisoner was brought to this post on the 20th inst., by Adjutant James Wittimore and Lieut. Wm. H. Abel, by order of Col. Yohe, and is charged with various acts of treason, and with being publicly associated with and holding a commission as lieutenant in a company having in their possession arms belonging to the United States, and avowing his purpose of armed hostility against the government. He is also informed that it can be clearly established, that the prisoner has made often and unreserved declarations of his association with this organized force, as being in avowed hostility to the government, and in readiness to cooperate with those engaged in the present rebellion against the government of the United States. He has further to inform you, that he is duly authorized by the president of the United States, in such cases, to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, for the public safety. This is a high and delicate trust, and it has been enjoined upon him that it should be executed with judgment and discretion, but he is nevertheless also instructed that in times of civil strife, errors, if any, should be on the side of the safety of the country. He most respectfully submits for your consideration, that those who should cooperate in the present trying and painful position in which our country is placed, should not, by any unnecessary want of confidence in each other, increase our embarrassments. He, therefore, respectfully requests that you will postpone further action upon this case, until he can receive instructions from the president of the United States, when you shall hear further from him. I have the honor to be, with high respect, your obedient servant, George Cadwalader, Brevet Major General U. S. A. Commanding.

Taney cited the general for contempt and sent the marshal back to serve an attachment on him, but the marshal was denied entrance to Fort McHenry.  Because "the power refusing obedience was so notoriously superior to any the marshal could command," Taney excused him from doing anything more, then proceeded:
I ordered this attachment yesterday, because, upon the face of the return, the detention of the prisoner was unlawful, upon the grounds: 1. That the president, under the constitution of the United States, cannot suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, nor authorize a military officer to do it. 2. A military officer has no right to arrest and detain a person not subject to the rules and articles of war, for an offence against the laws of the United States, except in aid of the judicial authority, and subject to its control; and if the party be arrested by the military, it is the duty of the officer to deliver him over immediately to the civil authority, to be dealt with according to law. It is, therefore, very clear that John Merryman, the petitioner, is entitled to be set at liberty and discharged immediately from imprisonment. I forbore yesterday to state orally the provisions of the constitution of the United States, which make those principles the fundamental law of the Union, because an oral statement might be misunderstood in some portions of it, and I shall therefore put my opinion in writing, and file it in the office of the clerk of the circuit court, in the course of this week.

Taney concluded by saying that his opinion, when filed, should be laid before the president "in order that he might perform his constitutional duty, to enforce the laws, by securing obedience to the process of the United States."

Lincoln ignored the ruling, and more arrests followed.  The Baltimore police chief, four police commissioners, and several prominent citizens were arrested by the army for their roles in the April 19 riot.  Later, 31 secessionist member of the Maryland legislature were arrested along with Baltimore mayor George Brown.

John Merryman was released after seven weeks and indicted in the U.S. circuit court, but his case never came to trial because the government knew that he would never be convicted by a Maryland jury.  Taney's opinion that only the legislative branch can suspend the writ of habeas corpus was most recently cited in the case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

150 Years Ago: Alexandria and Contraband

Elmer E. EllsworthImage of Elmer Ellsworth by UW-River Falls Archives via Flickr

On Friday, May 24, 1861, Federal troops made their first invasion of the South as eight regiments crossed the Potomac before dawn and occupied Alexandria, Virginia.  One consequence of the invasion was that the North suffered its first combat fatality of the war.

Elmer Ellsworth, the colonel of the 11th New York Regiment, saw a Confederate flag flying from the roof of the Marshall House hotel.  He climbed up on the roof and cut it down.  As he was coming back down the stairs, he was shot to death by the proprietor of the hotel, James T. Jackson, who was then killed by Private Francis Brownwell, one of Ellsworth's men.  Both sides now had their first martyrs of the war.

Ellsworth had briefly studied law in the office of Abraham Lincoln, then worked on his campaign and accompanied him to Washington for the inauguration.  Ellsworth then traveled to New York City to raise a regiment of volunteers.  He recruited heavily in the city's fire departments, and clothed the regiment in zouave uniforms patterned after French colonial troops in Algeria -- white leggings, red baggy pants, a blue sash, a dark blue vest, a short red cape, a dark blue jacket, and a blue tasseled red fez.

Lincoln openly mourned Ellsworth's death.  His body lay in state in the White House before being returned to upstate New York for burial.  Alexandria would remain in Union hands until the end of the war.

Also on this date, at Fort Monroe, Virginia, three fugitive slaves came into Union General Benjamin Butler's lines.  Their owner, Colonel Charles Mallory, had been using them to erect a battery for Confederate guns and wanted them back.  Butler was obligated to return them because of the fugitive slave law, but he had other ideas.  Property of those in rebellion against the United States could be seized as contraband of war.  These men were property, owned by a man rebelling against the United States.  Could they not be held and used as contrabands?

Butler had introduced a new idea -- and a new word -- to the war.  In the days that followed, more fugitive slaves came into his lines and Butler kept them and used them while the War Department tried to sort out the problem.  Secretary of War Simon Cameron would eventually declare that the war was being fought to preserve the Union and protect the rights of all, including the right to repossess fugitive slaves, but that did not apply "in states wholly or partly under insurrectionary control."  Butler could keep the slaves, but must do no proselytizing to encourage slaves to run away.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

150 Years Ago: Virginia Makes It Official

Virginia began the process of leaving the Union almost immediately after Lincoln's call for troops after Fort Sumter was fired upon.  On Thursday, May 23, 1861, Virginia voters completed the process, voting for secession by a 3-to-1 margin in a statewide referendum.  Most of the pro-Union vote came in the western part of the state, which was now considering a break with the rest of the state.

Friday, May 20, 2011

150 Years Ago -- North Carolina Secedes

North Carolina had a pro-Union majority until Lincoln's call for troops after the fall of Fort Sumter.  Virtually overnight the state started moving toward secession.  Jonathan Worth, a Unionist leader in the state, declared, "Lincoln prostrated us.  He could have devised no scheme more effectual that the one he has pursued to overthrow the friends of the Union here."

On May 20, 1861, North Carolina's secession was officially complete.  A state convention in Raleigh voted unanimously to repeal the state's ratification of the Constitution.  North Carolina became the eleventh and final state to join the Confederacy.

Also on this date, Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin signed the declaration of neutrality passed by the legislature on May 16.  The declaration forbade the movement of troops on both sides on state soil.  In order to woo the state, both sides played along, but quickly gave it up.  For the two sides to get at each other west of Virginia, Kentucky would have to be crossed.

In Montgomery, Alabama, the Confederate Congress voted to move the capital to Richmond, Virginia.

And throughout the North, U.S. Marshals raided telegraph offices and confiscated all files of telegrams sent throughout the year in order to uncover spy sources and other pro-secessionist evidence.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

150 Years Ago: Frank Blair's Letter

On Saturday, May 18, 1861, Frank Blair received a letter from Abraham Lincoln giving him the authority to relieve Brigadier General William Harney, the top army commander in St. Louis, from command if Blair thought it necessary:
My Dear Sir—We have a good deal of anxiety here about St. Louis. I understand an order has gone from the War Department to you, to be delivered or withheld in your discretion, relieving General Harney from his command. I was not quite satisfied with the order when it was made, though on the whole I thought it best to make it; but since then I have become more doubtful of its propriety. I do not write now to countermand it, but to say I wish you would withhold it, unless in your judgment the necessity to the contrary is very urgent. There are several reasons for this. We better have him a. friend than an enemy. It will dissatisfy a good many who otherwise would be quiet. More than all, we first relieve him, then restore him; and now if we relieve him again the public will ask, "Why all this vacillation?"

Still, if in your judgment it is indispensable, let it be so.

Yours very truly, A. Lincoln

Blair would quickly find it necessary and remove Harney from command on May 30.

Also on this date, Arkansas was admitted to the Confederacy, and, in Virginia, the mouth of the Rappahannock River was blockaded by Union ships.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

150 Years Ago: Friday, May 17,1861

On May 17, 1861, Joseph Hooker and Nathaniel Lyon were both promoted to brigadier general in the Union army.  Hooker was assigned to defend Washington.  Lyon was in the midst of a campaign to drive pro-Southern forces out of Missouri.

Also on this date, North Carolina was admitted to the Confederacy contingent upon the state's ratification of the Confederate Constitution.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Tennessee and Kentucky

Although Tennessee was technically still in the Union until a referendum on a declaration of independence on June 8, on Thursday, May 16, 1861, the state was formally admitted to the Confederacy in a ceremony in Montgomery.

In Kentucky, the legislature passed a declaration of neutrality, stating "that this State and the citizens thereof should take no part in the civil war now being waged, except as mediators and friends to the belligerent parties."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Butler Is Reassigned

On Wednesday, May 15, 1861, Union General-in-chief Winfield Scott and the War Department showed their displeasure with General Benjamin Butler's occupation of Baltimore by sending him to Fort Monroe, a quieter post where couldn't cause as much trouble.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Sherman Rejoins the Army

General William Tecumseh Sherman, 1865.Image via Wikipedia

On Tuesday, May 14, 1861, William Tecumseh Sherman rejoined the United States Army.  He was commissioned a colonel in the new 13th U.S. Infantry.

Sherman attended West Point, graduating sixth in the class in 1840.  He served as an aide to Captain Philip Kearny, then as an adjutant to Colonel Richard Mason during the Mexican War, but considered resigning because he saw little action.

General Persifor Frazer Smith convinced him to remain in the army, and made Sherman his adjutant general when he took command of the Pacific Division in San Francisco after the war.  He married Ellen Ewing in 1850, and resigned his commission as captain in 1853.

He worked in San Francisco as the agent for a St. Louis-based banking firm.  When the parent company failed in the financial crisis of 1857 he moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to open a law and real estate office.  In October 1859, he became the superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary, the forerunner of Louisiana State University.

Sherman was offered a commission in the Confederate army, but declined.  He moved to St. Louis, serving as president of a St. Louis streetcar company until the Civil War began.
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Friday, May 13, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Butler Takes Baltimore

Sunrise in Baltimore, MD seen from from Federa...Image of Baltimore from Federal Hill via Wikipedia

On Monday, May 13, 1861, General Benjamin Butler occupied Baltimore, stamping out secessionist activity there and securing it for the Union for the duration of the war.

Butler had occupied Relay, Maryland, just south of Baltimore, on May 5.  From there, he had reported back to the War Department, tales of military stores and gunpowder being sent to the Rebels.  He received some vague verbal orders; he was expected to make a few arrests and seize the military supplies.  He used those orders to occupy Baltimore and institute martial law there.

Butler marched his men into Baltimore on May 13, placing artillery on Federal Hill, commanding the business district and the harbor.  Butler then issued a proclamation, declaring the military in charge.  Any display of Southern sympathy was quickly squelched and dozens of arrests were made.  Suspected pro-Southerners were imprisoned at Fort McHenry with no charges filed.

General-in-chief Winfield Scott was livid that Butler had exceeded his orders.  He was especially concerned that Butler might have touched off another riot in the city.  Scott would remove Butler from command, but Lincoln would promote him to major general and send him to Fort Monroe, a quieter post where he wouldn't cause so much trouble.

But although Butler was gone, martial law would remain.  The arrests would continue, and Baltimore would be secured, opening the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad to Washington again.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

150 Years Ago -- The St. Louis Riot

St. Louis RiotImage via Wikipedia

On Friday, May 10, 1861, the situation in St. Louis turned violent.

Union General Nathaniel Lyon, with two companies of regulars and several thousand German Home Guards, surrounded the state militia at Camp Jackson and demanded their surrender.

The militia protested, but had no choice but to surrender.  Soon the 639 enlisted men and five officers were marched through St. Louis to the arsenal to be paroled.  A crowd gathered to see what was going on, and when they saw the prisoners surrounded by the hated Dutchmen, they became more and more hostile, and soon erupted into violence.

From The Coming Fury by Bruce Catton:
"A woman screamed 'They've got my lover!' and ran close to spit on one of the guards; the guard turned on her with his bayonet and chased her down the street, wholly ignoring the storied sanctity of Southern womanhood.  A drunken man with a revolver tried to break through the cordon, was pushed violently away, and began to fire, wounding an officer.  Some of the Germans fired in reply; then the column wavered to a halt and suddenly the firing was general.  In the beginning, it was said that most of the soldiers fired in the air, but this did not last long, and many of the bullets found human targets.  In a little open square (William Tecumseh) Sherman stood watching with his small son at his side.  When the firing began, he pulled the boy to the ground and lay over him to protect him; he estimated that at least 100 bullets passed over them before the firing died down.  Smoke clouds drifting across the pavement veiled the movement of running men and women, and there was a wild uproar of musket fire, shouts, screams, hoarse cries of command, and the clatter of hurrying feet."

When it was over, at least 28 people -- civilians, soldiers and prisoners -- were dead.
"St. Louis was a wild town that night.  Thousands of people were on the streets, asking for news, prepared to make news on their own account.  Groups paraded back and forth, shouting, brandishing weapons, now and then firing in the darkness, some carrying the United States flag, others bearing the flag of the Confederacy.  Proprietors of saloons, restaurants, and theaters prudently shut up shop, fearing a general riot.  A store selling firearms was raided, and fifteen or twenty rifles were carried off before the police could disperse the mob.  Somehow, general rioting was averted, but trouble broke out afresh the next day when one of the German regiments, marching from the arsenal to its mustering place, fell afoul of an angry crowd at Fifth and Walnut streets.  In the senseless firing that resulted, from six to twelve persons were killed -- some of them, it was believed, soldiers hit by wild shots fired by their own comrades."

At Jefferson City, the state capital, the legislature was in session.  They leaned toward the Union until the news arrived from St. Louis.  Suddenly, they were vehemently pro-Confederate.  They passed a bill authorizing Governor Claiborne Jackson to spend two million dollars to repel invasion.  The bill also put every able-bodied man in the state in the militia, gave Jackson the power to appoint all militia officers, and made criticism of the governor an offense that could be punished by court-martial.

They adjourned for the evening, but were called back into an emergency session around midnight.  The rumor was that 2000 Federal troops were on the way from St. Louis to capture the capital.
"That midnight session was eerie; tense, shadowed, poised halfway between the desperate and the ludicrous.  Almost everybody came to the meeting armed, some men excessively so.  Rifles were stacked in the aisles, or leaned against desks; some members sat in their places with guns between their knees, and some wore heavy belts to which were fastened revolvers and bowie knives; and there were armed guards at the doors.  The tension was allayed when it became known that the Osage bridge, which must be crossed by any despotic Dutch levies that intended to enter Jefferson City, had been burned.  There would be a breathing spell, then.  The solons voted to send the state treasure to some safe place out of town, voted to do the same with the state's supply of powder, and then adjourned for the night, their weapons unused.  In the morning it was learned that the march on the capital was not taking place after all."

Lyon's actions kept Missouri in the Union, but put the entire state in an uproar.  Suddenly everyone was choosing sides, and many of those who had been for the Union before were changing sides.  Among these was Sterling Price, a leading citizen of the state, a former governor, former Congressman, and Mexican War veteran.  Jackson commissioned him a brigadier general and put him in command of the militia.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Lyon's Ride

(Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon)Image via Wikipedia

One of those strange, weird, seriocomic episodes of the war occurred on Thursday, May 9, 1861.  Union General Nathaniel Lyon, disguised as a woman, took a ride through Camp Jackson, searching for signs of subversion and rebellion.

Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson was planning to take the state out of the Union, and wanted to capture the St. Louis Arsenal in the process.  He assembled the state militia on the outskirts of St. Louis, ostensibly for drill and instruction.  The plan was for the militia to capture the arsenal using some cannons sent by Jefferson Davis.  The militia named their encampment Camp Jackson in honor of the governor.

Lyon had figured out the plot though.  By the time the guns arrived, the muskets in the arsenal were gone.  Now, Lyon was determined to close down Camp Jackson.  But first, he needed to do a little reconnaissance.

Although Camp Jackson was open to all, and Lyon could have easily strolled through the place without much trouble, he dressed himself in an improbable disguise.  Lyon, who had a full beard and a head full of bright, bushy red hair, dressed in a black dress and veil, got into a buggy with a black coachman, and had himself driven through the camp.  If anyone asked, he was Frank Blair's mother-in-law out to see the sights.

When his trip was complete, Lyon was more determined than ever to stamp out this nest of rebellion as quickly as possible.

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Sunday, May 08, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Jeff Davis's Guns Arrive

On Wednesday, May 8, 1861, the guns Jefferson Davis sent to Missouri finally arrived -- too late to do any good.

Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson was trying to take his state out of the Union.  He had his eye on capturing the St. Louis Arsenal for the Confederate cause as well, and had hatched a plot with Jefferson Davis.  Jackson would assemble the militia for drill near the arsenal; Davis would send artillery pieces to help them capture it.  The guns arrived too late.  Most of arms the Confederacy coveted had already been removed.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Tennessee

On Tuesday, May 7, 1861, the state of Tennessee, technically still in the Union until a referendum on June 8, moved closer to secession with the legislature approving of a league with the Confederacy.  Clashes erupted between Unionists and secessionists in Knoxville, leaving one man dead.

Friday, May 06, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Arkansas Secedes

Great Seal of the State of ArkansasImage via Wikipedia

On Monday, May 6, 1861, Arkansas seceded.

In March, a convention had discussed secession, but declined to act.  They adjourned, but could reconvene if events warranted.

Fort Sumter and Lincoln's call for troops put Arkansas in an uproar.  Governor Henry Rector sent the militia to capture federal arsenals in the state and allowed the Confederacy to put artillery in Helena to command the Mississippi.

The convention reassembled on May 6.  An ordinance of secession was introduced.  A vote was held to put it up to the voters in a referendum.  It was a test of Unionist strength and failed mightily.  The majority voted it down; they wanted to vote on the ordinance themselves.  They voted for secession 65 to 5.

Also on this date, in Montgomery, Alabama, Confederate President Jefferson Davis announced that he had signed an act "recognizing the existence of war between the United States and the Confederate States."  Congress had passed the act on May 3.

There was no talk of rebellion in the act.  This was one nation issuing a declaration of war against another nation.

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Butler Goes on the Offensive

Sunday, May 5, 1861, was the deadline Abraham Lincoln set in his April 15 proclamation of war for those in rebellion "to disperse, and retire peaceably to their respective abodes."

Having secured the railroad from Annapolis to Washington, Brigadier General Benjamin Butler went on the offensive to secure the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad through Baltimore.  On this date, his troops -- the 6th Massachusetts and 8th New York Regiments -- occupied Relay, Maryland, an important junction on the B&O just south of Baltimore.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

150 Years Ago -- the Department of the Ohio

On Friday, May 3, 1861, the U.S. War Department created the Department of the Ohio, organizing the troops being raised in the Northern states near the Ohio River -- Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.  George McClellan, a West Point graduate and Mexican War veteran, was named as its first commander.

Also on this date, in Washington, Lincoln expanded his call for troops.  He had called for 75,000 militia in his war proclamation on April 15.  Now he was calling for 42,000 more.  He also directed that the regular army by increased by over 22,000 and the Navy by 18,000.  As Congress was not yet in session, he did this without their approval.

In Missouri, Governor Claiborne Jackson addressed the state legislature which he had called into special session.  Jackson, who was toiling to take the state (and the St. Louis Arsenal) out of the Union, told the legislators that Missouri should remain neutral for the present, but should start arming for its own defense.

Monday, May 02, 2011

150 Years Ago -- the Anaconda Plan

Scott's great snake. Cartoon map illustrating ...Image via Wikipedia

On Thursday, May 2, 1861, General-in-chief Winfield Scott submitted a broad outline of his plan to subdue the Southern states in a letter to President Abraham Lincoln.

The letter was a critique of General George McClellan's plan, submitted earlier:  "his plan is to subdue the seceded States by piece-meal."  Scott instead proposed "enveloping them all (nearly) at once by a cordon of posts on the Mississippi to its mouth from its junction with the Ohio, and by blockading ships of war on the sea-board."

Scott's plan would be derided as "the Anaconda Plan," a slow, gradual squeezing of the Southern states by a populace that wanted quick, decisive action.

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

150 Years Ago -- North Carolina and Tennessee

On Wednesday, May 1, 1861, the four soldiers of the 6th Massachusetts Regiment killed in the Baltimore riot were buried with full military honors in Boston.

Also on this date, North Carolina began the process of leaving the Union.  The governor, John Ellis, called for a special session of the legislature soon after Fort Sumter.  They convened on this date and set an election for May 13 for a convention that was to convene on May 20 to consider a secession ordinance.

Tennessee was also taking steps to leave the Union.  On this date, the General Assembly authorized Governor Isham Harris to appoint commissioners to conclude a military league with the Confederacy.  The commissioners were quickly appointed and just as quickly drew up an agreement with Henry Hilliard, Jefferson Davis's envoy to Nashville.  The agreement was submitted to the legislature for approval on May 7.