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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.