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Posted June 20, 2003
Solving the Mystery of the Arsenal Guns
by Randy R. McGuire, PhD
Sources and Methodology
Background of the Arsenal
The St. Louis Arsenal in the Years Leading up to the Civil War
Events of Early 1861 Affect the St. Louis Arsenal
Excerpts from Contemporary Sources:
Eyewitness and Early Historical Accounts of Events
Concerning the St. Louis Arsenal and the War in Missouri in Early 1861
(Sources Published Between 1861 and 1920)
1. Daily Missouri Democrat, 23 Feb 1861. The following article was copied from a microfilm of an original damaged issue of the newspaper. Bracketed areas indicate sections of text missing which have been reconstructed to the best of the author’s ability. The significance of this article is that it depicts how the arsenal was intended to be in its defenses, not how it actually was. Captain Lyon refers to this article in his 25 February 1861 letter to Frank Blair (see Para 5.c):
The St. Louis Arsenal
Its Present Condition—Means of Defence—Preparations to Repel an Assault—Names of the Officers in Command—Discipline of the Troops—Exaggerations of the Small Pox Stories, etc.
If there be any secessionist or other person in St. Louis or out of it, who is under the impression that the Arsenal in this city can be easily wrested from the possession of the United States government, let him at once abandon the idea; and if there be any conditional Union man who goes to bed at night half inclined to fear that before he awakes the next morning the Arsenal property will have been seized, let him henceforth rest in peace. The Arsenal is safe in the hands of United States troops, in force sufficient with the means of defence at their command to drive off ten times the number, with all the arts and implements of war likely to be brought into action by secessionists or others.
We paid a visit to the Arsenal yesterday, and although it is a peaceful locality, one cannot but feel the moment the gate is closed upon him, that he is surrounded on all sides by terribly effective weapons of defence.
The number of men now quartered within the walls, and capable of active service, is five hundred, with a large reserve force at the Jefferson Barracks below. The troops are divided into ordnance corps and infantry corps, the latter being most numerous. The chief officer in command is Major Hagner, the second in command is Captain N. Lyon, recently arrived from Fort Scott, whither he went in search of Montgomery’s band, on the occasion of the late outbreak on the border.
The following is a list of all the officers, and the state from which they hail:
Brevet Major, Peter B. Hagner; District of Columbia.
1st Lieutenant, John W. Todd; Ky.
2nd Lieutenant, Moses W. Wright, Tenn.
2nd Infantry, Capt. N. Lyon; Conn.
1st Lieutenant, Thos. W. Sweeney; N.Y.
2nd Lieutenant, Wm. F. Lee; Va.
10th Infantry, Capt. Alfred Tracy; Me.
1st Cavalry, 2nd Lieutenant, John A. Thompson; Va.
4th Artillery, 1st Lieutenant, Rufus Saxton; Mass.
The infantry are divided into six companies, of seventy men each, who are daily drilled, and beside the ordinary routine, exercise in target practice, in order to keep their guns in good order. The soldiers are all good and true men. The officers are sound on the Union question, and would sooner die than see the stars and stripes hauled down and any mongrel secession flag hoisted in its stead—no matter by whom or under what authority. Major Hagner has lately removed from Fort Leavenworth, and superseded Major Bell in the command of the post. He is a brave and gallant officer. Capt. Lyon, who is equal in line rank to Major Hagner, is Captain of the Second Infantry. Capt. L. graduated at West Point, as early as 1841, and immediately entered into active service in Florida, where he served under Gen. Worth. After leaving Florida, he was ordered to the Northwestern frontier, pending the settlement of the Oregon boundary question. On the breaking out of the Mexican war, he was ordered to Mexico, and served under Gen. Taylor until Gen. Scott’s arrival, and in command of a company won distinction at the storming of Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, Contreras, Churubucco, Molino del Ray, and the final taking of the City of Mexico. On the close of the war he went to California; commanded several expeditions to Clear Lake and Russida River, to chastise certain troublesome Indians, for which he was complimented by the War Department. He has been on the Western frontier since 1854.
The subordinate officers are all believed to regard the stars and stripes as the only flag worth following. They have a high admiration of Major Anderson, and profess to hope that he may maintain his position unharmed at Fort Sumter. We need not tell our readers how many men from the lower part of the city would tender their aid to preserve the arsenal, in case it was attacked by secessionists, acting under State or individual authority. Their name is legion.
[H]OW THE ARSENAL CAN BE DEFENDED
It is not our province to state how the arsenal will be defended, [for] that is, of course, a military secret which it wo[ul]d be impolitic to expose; but we can state th[e] means of defence and the possibilities of the [ ]se, and with the assurance that the necessities [ar]e well understood by the officers in command [a]nd the means of carrying out the plans read[y] at a moment’s warning, leave our readers to j[ud]ge of it for themselves how the place can be [de]fended.
It is well known th[at] the arsenal buildings and grounds are surro[un]ded by a high stone wall. This is extreme[ly f]ortunate, as it forms a basis of protective pre[par]ations. Plank platforms may be erected [abo]ut a hundred yards apart inside the walls, [a]nd with a force of infantry to keep off in[va]ders, the walls can never be scaled. This i[s a]n important point gained. Sentinels now g[uar]d the wall, and a single shot would be suffi[cie]nt to call several hundred men to arms in [ ]e minutes. The gates are commanded by six[ ]four pound howitzers, protected by earthwor[ks t]o keep off the fire of musketry or rifles. The g[unn]ers can never be touched by rifle or musket b[all] while a charge of grapeshot would scatter a[n as]sailing force at the gates quickly. There are [ ] of these ugly customers at each gate. The [ord]ers to prepare field works were received from [the] War Department about two weeks ago, a[nd t]he work has been done promptly and well. [Th]e artillery is so distributed that any attack fr[om] the railroad could be repelled in a few minu[tes] by running out a couple of guns beyond th[e w]alls in the southeast corner and completel[y sw]eeping the track northward. Then insid[e ] thirty-two pounders are arranged to sweep [the] length of the walls completely, so that if a[nyon]e ever got over the walls they would meet [wit]h certain destruction.
There are other means at hand [to di]spose of an invading force should one be s[ucce]ssful in reaching the inside of the walls, [con]cerning which we are not at liberty to speak. [Wh]at has been accomplished toward putting t[he a]rsenal in a defensive condition has been do[ne q]uietly and without any noise or parade.
We are permitted to state that a large [qu]antity of arms lately stored in our arsenal h[as b]een shipped to other States, principally to W[isc]onsin. As the Southern States have had mo[re th]an their share [ ] the seizure of the arsen[als ]in Charleston, Bato[n ]Rouge, and elsewhere, Secretary Holt, w[ith a] commendable sens[e o]f justice, has supplied [the] Northwest from [thi]s point.
There is an abundance [of] stores, artille[ry,] arms and ammunition left for practical purposes and a force of laborers no[w en]gaged putting every musket, rifle, sword, an[d pis]tol into perfect order. The artillery is chiefly [ ]nted. Sand bags for throwing up fresh brea[stworks] are all ready for use, and in short the con[dition] of things may be pretty much called on "a [firm] footing."
One company was engaged with muskets in target practice yesterday while we were on the grounds, and their proficiency would do credit to any of our crack volunteer companies. At a distance of sixty yards, nearly every ball went inside a ring fifteen inches in diameter, and the bulls eye was completely riddled. We understand that the men take great pride in the target practice, and have much rivalry in the ranks as to the best shot. A careful inspection of the arms and ammunition is ordered daily, to see that neither are injured by the dampness or otherwise.
THE SMALL POX
The quarters of officers and men are kept in the cleanest condition, and the health of the troops is generally good. The stories about the small pox raging to a fearful extent on the premises are exaggerated. There are a few men sick with it in the hospital, but they are kept entirely aloof from any contact with the main body of troops, and no fear is entertained whatever that it will be spread. Ample precautions have been taken, however, to prevent it.
We could not help being struck with the fine appearance of the men as we passed over the grounds. They look as well and hearty as any set of troops ever seen in this city, and there is not a rebellious spirit among them.
The American flag is hoisted at sunrise and lowered at sunset, with military honors.
2. The Evening News, 23 April 1861.
Even as late as 23 April, with war preparation taking place all around them, some St. Louisans still clung to the hope that war could yet be averted in Missouri and the state could maintain a strong neutrality in the midst of its warring neighbors. The following Evening News article expressed these sentiments with a hopeful, if naïve, sincerity:
Governor Jackson has ordered the legislature of Missouri to convene in extra session on next Thursday week, the 2d of May, "for the purpose of enacting such laws and adopting such measures as may be deemed necessary and proper for the more perfect organization and equipment of the militia of this State, and to raise the money and such other means as may be required to place the State in a proper attitude of defense."
In assembling in this extra session, the legislature, we trust, will exhibit less of bigoted partisanism and a livelier regard for the true interests of the State than it manifested at the last session. This hour of gloom and danger is no time for flippancy or trifling—no time for displays of personal vanity or partisan spite—no time for the exhibition of sectional bigotry and malevolence. The common welfare and the interests of our State—nay, the very existence of our beloved commonwealth—may be at stake, and the crisis demands not only the highest human wisdom, but the greatest forbearance and concession.
We want no hostility between the city and the remainder of the State. The interests of the two are one, and the effort for the maintenance of those interests should be united. Acting separately, we would only fall a prey to enemies. Acting together, we can defend our rights, maintain our individuality, and assert a dignity which our enemies as well as our friends will be bound to respect.
The sentiment in the city is in favor of neutrality, and this is the policy demanded by the interests of the State. If the legislature resolves to arm the State, let it be understood and declared that it is to be an arming purely and solely in defense of neutrality; an arming in defense of our soil; an arming to protect all Federal property, and to maintain all Federal institutions in the State; an arming for the protection of every citizen, high or low, great or humble, in the enjoyment of his rights.
On such a basis the State and the city, we believe, may act harmoniously together, and acting thus in concert they may defy all enemies and invaders. The city can furnish money, can cast cannon, can manufacture muskets and cartridges, and provide the munitions of war. It can concentrate the supplies for an army, manufacture clothing for troops, and, with its vast means of transportation, bear an army with all necessary material and supplies to almost any point within the State. All this the city can do, and will do, if it has assurances that its contributions will be used only in legitimate defense, and for the maintenance of peace and the laws. (OR Ser 1, Vol 1, pp. 673-74)
3. Duyckinck, Evert A., National History of the War for the Union: Civil, Military and Naval. Vol. I. (1861)
This early volume is comprised of articles from various publications and official documents which were produced during the war and was made available shortly after the events it describes. One of the earliest articles relating to the situation in Missouri during the opening days of the war was an account, in the Chicago Tribune of 29 April 1861, of the transfer of arms from the St. Louis Arsenal to Illinois. The author relates this account as told to him by its key participant, Captain James H. Stokes, who rather embellished his part in the affair. Many of the details of this episode were later denied by others who were privy to the actual event, but the swashbuckling story related by Stokes was preferred by Northern readers who were desperately in need of a hero during these dark and troubling days.The first active proceeding at St. Louis, under instructions from the Government at Washington, was the removal, on the 25th of April, by a party from Illinois, of a large quantity of arms from the United States Arsenal – an important establishment, amply stored with the various munitions of war. With the examples in mind of the robbery of the public property in . . . other [Southern] States, and the obvious purposes of the Missouri Legislature to control all military movements in her borders, the delivery of the arms in the presence of the secession authorities of St. Louis was considered, at the time, a feat of some nicety, as the reader may gather from an animated account of the affair communicated from Springfield to the Chicago Tribune a few days after.
"I am now," says the writer, "able to give a complete and accurate narrative of the transfer of the 21,000 stand of arms from St. Louis to Springfield. Captain James H. Stokes, of Chicago, late of the regular army, volunteered to undertake the perilous mission, and Governor [Richard] Yates placed in his hands the requisition of the Secretary of war for 10,000 muskets. Captain Stokes went to St. Louis, and made his way as rapidly as possible to the arsenal. He found it surrounded by an immense mob, and the postern gates all closed. His utmost efforts to penetrate the crowd were for a long time unavailing. The requisition was shown. Captain Lyon doubted the possibility of executing it. He said the arsenal was surrounded by a thousand spies, and every movement was watched and reported to the headquarters of the secessionists, who could throw an overwhelming force upon them at any moment. Captain Stokes represented that every hour’s delay was rendering the capture of the arsenal more certain; and the arms must be moved to Illinois now or never. Major Callender agreed with him, and told him to take them at his own time and in his own way. This was Wednesday night[, 24 April]. Captain Stokes had a spy in the camp, whom he met at intervals in a certain place in the city. On Thursday he received information that Governor Jackson had ordered two thousand armed men down from Jefferson City, whose movements could only contemplate a seizure of the arsenal, by occupying the heights around it, and planting batteries thereon. The job would have been an easy one. They had already planted one battery on the St. Louis levee, and another at Powder Point, a short distance below the arsenal. Captain Stokes immediately telegraphed to Alton to have the steamer City of Alton drop down to the arsenal, landing about midnight. He then returned to the arsenal and commenced moving the boxes of guns, weighing some three hundred pounds each, down to the lower floor. About 700 men were employed in the work. He then took 500 Kentucky flint-lock muskets, which had been sent there to be altered [to percussion cap], and sent them to be placed on a steamer as a blind to cover his real movements. The secessionists nabbed them at once, and raised a perfect Bedlam over the capture. A large portion of the outside crowd left the arsenal when this movement was executed; and Captain Lyon took the remainder, who were lying around as spies, and locked them up in the guard-house. About 11 o’clock the steamer City of Alton came alongside, planks were shoved out from the windows to the main-deck, and the boxes slid down. When the 10,000 were safely on board, Captain Stokes went to Captain Lyon and Major Callender and urged them, by the most pressing appeals, to let him empty the arsenal. They told him to go ahead and take whatever he wanted. Accordingly, he took 11,000 more muskets, 500 new rifle carbines, 500 revolvers, 110,000 musket cartridges, to say nothing of the cannon and a large quantity of miscellaneous accoutrements, leaving only 7,000 muskets in the arsenal to arm the St. Louis Volunteers. When the whole were on board, about 2 o’clock on Friday morning [26 April], the order was given by the captain of the steamer to cast off. Judge of the consternation of all hands when it was found that she would not move. The arms had been piled in great quantities around the engines, to protect them against the battery on the levee, and the great weight had fastened the bows of the boat firmly on a rock, which was tearing a hole through the bottom at every turn of the wheels. A man of less nerve than Captain Stokes would have gone crazy on the spot. He called the arsenal men on board, and commenced moving the boxes to the stern. Fortunately, when about two hundred boxes had been shifted, the boat fell away from the shore and floated in deep water. ‘Which way?’ said Captain Mitchell, of the steamer. ‘Straight to Alton in the regular channel,’ replied Captain Stokes. ‘What if we are attacked?’ said Captain Mitchell. ‘Then we will fight!’ said Captain Stokes. ‘What if we are overpowered?’ said Captain Mitchell. ‘Run her to the deepest part of the river and sink her,’ replied Captain Stokes. ‘I’ll do it,’ was the heroic answer of Capt. Mitchell; and away they went past the secession battery, past the entire St. Louis levee, and on to Alton in the regular channel, where they arrived at 5 o’clock in the morning. When the boat touched the landing, Captain Stokes, fearing pursuit by some two or three of the secession military companies by which the city of St. Louis is disgraced, ran to the market-house and rang the fire-bell. The citizens came flocking pell-mell to the river, in all sorts of habiliments. Captain Stokes informed them of the situation of things, and pointed out the freighted cars. Instantly, men, women, and children boarded the steamer, seized the freight, and clambered up the levees to the cars. Rich and poor tugged together with might and main for two hours, when the cargo was all deposited in the cars, and the train moved off, amid their enthusiastic cheers, for Springfield." (308-09)
4. Moore, Frank. The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events. Vol. I. (1862)
This volume, the first in a series of twelve, served a similar purpose to the Duyckinck volumes, but to a greater degree, by attempting to gather the best of the nation’s "documents, narratives, illustrative incidents, poetry, etc.," to vividly illustrate all aspects of the war while it was still underway. This first volume was published in 1862 and covered the period 1860 through 1861. One of its early selections is the 29 April 1861 Chicago Tribune article, entitled "How the Arms were Taken from the St. Louis Arsenal." It is, however, worth noting that this version of the article differs at several minor points in regard to punctuation, abbreviations and the addition of a few words. But the most significant difference is in the number of guns said to have been transferred. This account says that Stokes took 10,000 more muskets than his requisition called for, whereas Duyckinck says 11,000. Which one is correct? It remains to compare these two accounts with the original Tribune article to see what it really said. Unfortunately, an original copy of that article is not available at the present time. What follows is the slightly altered version of the article:
a.Captain James H. Stokes, of Chicago, late of the regular army, volunteered to undertake the perilous mission, and Governor Yates placed in his hands the requisition of the Secretary of war for 10,000 muskets. Captain Stokes went to St. Louis, and made his way as rapidly as possible to the arsenal. He found it surrounded by an immense mob, and the postern gates all closed. His utmost efforts to penetrate the crowd were for a long time unavailing. The requisition was shown. Captain Lyon doubted the possibility of executing it. He said the arsenal was surrounded by a thousand spies, and every movement was watched and reported to the headquarters of the Secessionists, who could throw an overpowering force upon them at any moment. Captain Stokes represented that every hour’s delay was rendering the capture of the arsenal more certain, and the arms must be moved to Illinois now or never. Major Callender agreed with him, and told him to take them at his own time and in his own way. This was Wednesday night, 24th April.
Capt. Stokes had a spy in the camp, whom he met at intervals in a certain place in the city. On Thursday he received information that Gov. Jackson had ordered two thousand armed men down from Jefferson City, whose movements could only contemplate a seizure of the arsenal, by occupying the heights around it, and planting batteries thereon. The job would have been an easy one. They had already planted one battery on the St. Louis levee, and another at Powder Point, a short distance below the arsenal. Capt. Stokes immediately telegraphed to Alton to have the steamer City of Alton drop down to the arsenal landing about midnight. He then returned to the arsenal, and commenced moving the boxes of guns, weighing some three hundred pounds each, down to the lower floor.
About 700 men were employed in the work. He then took 500 Kentucky flint-lock muskets, which had been sent there to be altered [to percussion cap], and sent them to be placed on a steamer as a blind to cover his real movements. The Secessionists nabbed them at once, and raised a perfect bedlam over the capture. A large portion of the outside crowd left the arsenal when this movement was executed; and Capt. Lyon took the remainder, who were lying around as spies, and locked them up in the guard-house. About 11 o’clock the steamer City of Alton came alongside, planks were shoved out from the windows to the main deck, and the boxes slid down. When the 10,000 were safely on board, Capt. Stokes went to Capt. Lyon and Major Callender, and urged them, by the most pressing appeals, to let him empty the arsenal. They told him to go ahead and take whatever he wanted. Accordingly, he took 10,000 more muskets, 500 new rifle carbines, 500 revolvers, 110,000 musket cartridges, to say nothing of the cannon and a large quantity of miscellaneous accoutrements, leaving only 7,000 muskets in the arsenal to arm the St. Louis volunteers.
When the whole were on board, about 2 o’clock on Friday morning [April 26] the order was given by the captain of the steamer to cast off. Judge of the consternation of all hands when it was found that she would not move. The arms had been piled in great quantities around the engines to protect them against the battery on the levee, and the great weight had fastened the bows of the boat firmly on a rock, which was tearing a hole through the bottom at every turn of the wheels. A man of less nerve than Capt. Stokes would have gone crazy on the spot. He called the arsenal men on board, and commenced moving the boxes to the stern.
Fortunately, when about two hundred boxes had been shifted, the boat fell away from the shore, and floated in deep water. ‘Which way?’ said Captain Mitchell, of the steamer. ‘Straight to Alton, in the regular channel,’ replied Captain Stokes. ‘What if we are attacked?’ said Captain Mitchell. ‘Then we will fight,’ said Captain Stokes. ‘What if we are overpowered?’ said Captain Mitchell. ‘Run her to the deepest part of the river, and sink her,’ replied Captain Stokes. ‘I’ll do it,’ was the heroic answer of Capt. Mitchell; and away they went past the secession battery, past the entire St. Louis levee, and on to Alton, in the regular channel, where they arrived at five o’clock in the morning.
When the boat touched the landing, Capt. Stokes, fearing pursuit by some two or three of the Secession military companies by which the city of St. Louis is disgraced, ran to the market-house and rang the fire-bell. The citizens came flocking pell-mell to the river, in all sorts of habiliments. Capt. Stokes informed them of the situation of things, and pointed out the freight cars. Instantly, men, women, and children boarded the steamer, seized the freight, and clambered up the levees to the cars. Rich and poor tugged together with might and main for two hours, when the cargo was all deposited in the cars, and the train moved off, amid their enthusiastic cheers, for Springfield. (147-48)
b. An entry in Moore’s "Diary of Events" somewhat skewed the above story, embellishing an already exaggerated event as follows:
The Illinois troops struck a great blow at the secessionists of Missouri. Acting under orders from the President of the United States, an expedition of Illinois volunteers visited St. Louis, advanced upon the Federal Arsenal at that place, and brought away immense stores of artillery, ammunition, and small arms, which had been stored at that post by the Government.
The amount of Federal property thus secured from the hands of the Secessionists of Missouri is of great value. Among the articles recovered were 21,000 stand of small arms and a park of artillery. There was no fighting. The Illinois boys declare, in true Western style, that the "Secessionists are euchred." (44)
c. 20 April 1861:The Missourians seized the United States Arsenal at Liberty, Mo., and garrisoned it with 100 men. In the arsenal were 1300 stand of arms, ten or twelve pieces of cannon, and quite an amount of powder.
Twelve thousand stand of arms were furnished the citizens of Leavenworth from the arsenal at Fort Leavenworth, and the commander at that post accepted the services of 300 volunteers to guard the arsenal pending the arrival of troops from Fort Kearney. (Times, April 22) (36)
5. Peckham, James, Gen. Nathaniel Lyon and Missouri in 1861. (1866)
a.There was no place in possession of the national authorities in 1861, which the conspirators so much desired, as the arsenal at St. Louis. It is situated in the southern part of the city, and covers an area of fifty-six acres of ground, bordering the Mississippi river. It is located on rather low ground, and is hemmed in by a high stone wall on all sides except the water front. Within these walls, independent of the workshops, there are four very large stone buildings, forming a rectangle. The main arsenal is one of these, flanked on either side by buildings of equally solid masonry. The fourth building is larger than the main arsenal, and was used in January, 1861, for the several offices then established in the arsenal. Within these buildings there were stored, at the time last mentioned, 60,000 stand of arms (mostly Enfield and Springfield), 1,500,000 ball cartridges, several field pieces and siege guns, together with a large amount of machinery in the several shops, and munitions of war in abundance. In the main magazine there were 90,000 pounds of powder.
"In early January, 1861, the only protection afforded this invaluable property was a force consisting of a few staff officers, three or four men detailed from Jefferson Barracks to serve them, and the mechanics (unarmed) in the workshops. There were no precautions adopted to prevent mischievous persons from entering the place, and a half dozen John Brown’s could have taken the arsenal. (42-43)
b. The following letter appears to implicate Major William H. Bell, arsenal commander, in a conspiracy to turn the arsenal over to Missouri secessionists:
ST. LOUIS, Mo., 24 January 1861.
His Excellency C. F. Jackson, Governor of Missouri:
Dear sir—I have just returned from the arsenal, where I have had an interview with Major Bell, the commanding officer of that place. I found the major everything that you or I could desire. He assured me that he considered that Missouri had, whenever the time came, a right to claim it as being on her soil. He asserted his determination to defend it against any and all irresponsible mobs, come from whence they might, but at the same time gave me to understand that he would not attempt any defense against the proper State authorities.
He promised me upon the honor of an officer and a gentleman, that he would not suffer any arms to be removed from the place without first giving me timely information, and I, in return, promised him that I would use all the force at my command to prevent him being annoyed by irresponsible persons.I at the same time gave him notice that if affairs assumed so threatening a character as to render it unsafe to leave the place in its comparatively unprotected condition, that I might come down and quarter a proper force there to protect it from the assaults of any persons whatsoever, to which he assented. In a word, the Major is with us, where he ought to be, for all his worldly wealth lies here in St. Louis (and it is very large); and then, again, his sympathies are with us.
I shall therefore rest perfectly easy, and use all my influence to stop the sensationists from attracting the particular attention of the Government to this particular spot. The telegrams you received were the sheerest "canards" of persons who, without discretion, are extremely anxious to show their zeal. I shall be thoroughly prepared with the proper force to act as emergency may require. The use of force will only be resorted to when nothing else will avail to prevent the shipment or removal of the arms.The Major informed me that he had arms for forty thousand men, with all the appliances to manufacture munitions of almost every kind.
This arsenal, if properly looked after, will be everything to our State, and I intend to look after it; very quietly, however. I have every confidence in the word of honor pledged to me by the Major, and would as soon think of doubting the oath of the best man in the community. His idea is that it would be disgraceful of him as a military man to surrender to a mob, whilst he could do so, without compromising his dignity, to the State authorities. Of course, I did not show him your order, but I informed him that you had authorized me to act as I might think proper to protect the public property.
He desired that I would not divulge his peculiar views, which I promised not to do, except to yourself. I beg, therefore, that you will say nothing that might compromise him eventually with the General Government, for thereby I would be placed in an awkward position, whilst he probably would be removed, which would be unpleasant to our interests.
Grimsley, as you doubtless know, is an unconscionable jackass, and only desires to make himself notorious. It was through him that McLaren and George made the mistake of telegraphing a falsehood to you.
I should be pleased to hear whether you approve of the course I have adopted, and if not, I am ready to take any other that you, as my commander, may suggest.
I am, sir, most truly, Your obedient servant,
D. M. FROST. (43-45)
Shortly after this letter was written, Bell’s complicity with the secessionists was disclosed to headquarters in Washington, and Bell was ordered to be transferred to the East coast. Since he had substantial property interests in the St. Louis area, he chose to resign from the army and retired to his farm in St. Charles County. Brevet Major Hagner was transferred from the Leavenworth Arsenal to assume command at the St. Louis Arsenal near the end of January. (46-47)
c. In a letter to Frank Blair on 25 February 1861, Captain Lyon expresses his frustration at attempting to fortify the Arsenal against the secessionists while facing the resistance of the new Arsenal commander, Major Hagner:
ST. LOUIS ARSENAL, Feb. 25, 1861
Hon. F. P. Blair, Jr., Washington, D. C.
Dear Sir—I Have recently written to Major Hunter, who, you must know, accompanied Mr. Lincoln to Washington, upon the wants of the service here, and with the hope that through his energy and zeal the proper measures might be adopted to meet existing emergencies here. The subject-matter, and which I stated to you verbally, I will here repeat, for such consideration and action as you may think it deserves.
It is obvious that the fine stone wall inclosing our grounds affords us an excellent defense against attack, if we will take advantage of it; and for this purpose platforms should be erected for our men to stand on and fire over; and that artillery should be ready at the gates, to be run out and sweep down a hostile force; and sand-bags should be prepared and at hand to throw up a parapet to protect the parties at these pieces of artillery; inside pieces should be placed to rake the whole length, and sweep down on each side a party that should get over the walls, traverses being erected to protect parties at these pieces; a pretty strong field-work, with three heavy pieces, should be erected on the side toward the river, to oppose either a floating battery or one that might be established on the island; and finally, besides works about our houses, every building should be mined, with a train arranged so as to blow them up successively as occupied by the enemy. Major Hagner refuses, as I mentioned to you, to do any of these things, and has given his orders not to fly to the walls to repel an approach, but to let the enemy have all the advantages of the wall to lodge himself behind it, and get possession of all outside buildings overlooking us, and to get inside and under shelter of our outbuildings, which we are not to occupy before we make resistance. This is either imbecility or d__d villainy; and in contemplating the risks we run, and the sacrifices we must make in case of an attack, in contrast to the vigorous and effective defense we are capable of . . . I get myself into a most unhappy state of solicitude and irritability. With even less force and proper disposition, I am confident we can resist any force which can be brought against us. . . . These needful dispositions, with proper industry, can be made in twenty-four hours. There cannot be, as you know, a more important occasion, nor a better opportunity to strike an effective blow at this arrogant and domineering infatuation of secessionism, than here; and must this all be lost, by either false notions of duty or covert disloyalty? As I have said, Major Hagner has no right to command. . . . [He] is not accustomed to troops, and manages them here awkwardly; but this is nothing compared to the great matter in hand, and, as I have plainly told him, this is of much more importance than that either he or I should conduct it. You may see in the Missouri Democrat of the 23d an account of our defenses, which sets forth what ought to be our state, but not what it is, and was given to frighten the secessionists. A simple order, countermanding that assigning Major Hagner to duty according to brevet rank, would give me command. With a view to defense here, it would be well to add that I should assume control, and avail myself of all means available for the purpose. . . .
If I should have command, I would have no trouble to arm any assisting party, and perhaps, by becoming responsible for the arms, &c., I might fit out the regiment we saw at the garden the other day [probably Frank Blair’s German recruits]; but most, I concern myself with a view to sustain the Government here, and trust to such measures as may be found available.
N. LYON. (67-68)
d. After Lincoln was sworn in as President on 4 March 1861, Frank Blair finally succeeded in getting the new administration to approve Lyon’s appointment as commander of the defensive forces at the Arsenal, effective 19 March. But Lyon still had to contend with Hagner’s control of the ordnance and ordnance structures. Lyon wrote to Blair:ST. LOUIS ARSENAL, April 6, 1861.
Hon. F. P. Blair, Jr., Washington, D. C.
Dear Sir—I am aware that I am indebted to you for changing the command of the troops at this post. . . . But with the orders of General Harney, . . . I fear little has been gained, while I am in the awkward position of being held responsible for the defense of the place, without having the means for it. As you will see, I have no control of the ordnance department, and therefore cannot take a single round of ammunition, nor a piece of artillery, or any other firearm, without the direction of General Harney; and in case of an attack, various means not foreseen might suggest themselves, but which I could not obtain without taking them forcibly, which would place us here in a state of antagonism toward one another, at a time when harmony would be most needed and expected. In anticipating an attack, I would distribute troops for the night in buildings most needed for defense, and where position would be most important; but Major Hagner has charge of all the buildings, and occupies most of them with his ordnance stores and business, which, however, need not be materially disturbed by my wants; but I cannot get these buildings for even the most important interests of the service, without a struggle before General Harney, who seems to think there is no danger of an attack, and would, as he has already done, advise me not to urge these measures of defense. I cannot get a hammer, spade, ax, or any needful tool, but upon Major Hagner’s concession, or by making requisition upon General Harney and getting his orders. . . . I had hoped to have entire control of the means available here for the defense of the post, and for sustaining the Government authority here. . . . But I fear the monopoly of the ordnance department is somewhat a power above the Government, with which the Government is afraid to deal. . . . Or, if, indeed, in giving me authority, such precautions must be taken against my abusing it that I can make no good use of it, let it revert to some one more competent. . . . If I am to command, I should have entire control for my purposes, as I should, on the other hand, render entire obedience to any proper and legal authority exercised over me. If you think this matter worthy of attention, I would like you to make such suggestions to the War Department as the subject requires. . . .
N. LYON (69-71)
e. On the same day, Blair’s friend in St. Louis, Charles Elleard, wrote to describe the awkward command situation in which Lyon found himself:ST. LOUIS, April 6, 1861.
Hon. F. P. Blair, Jr., Washington City.
Friend Frank—Foy and myself have just returned from the arsenal. We found there two commanders in charge. General Harney has placed a construction on the order giving command to Captain Lyon, whereby he has no command over the artillery and ordnance stores. THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG. General Scott has made an order that Lyon shall appear at Fort Leavenworth in a few days. THINGS ARE IN SUCH A FIX HERE THAT WE CANNOT SPARE HIM AT PRESENT. You will see the necessity of having the court postponed. We do not think that Major Hagner, who is in command of the ordnance, can be relied on, as he says he does not consider it his duty to act until an assaulting party gets inside the walls. What * * * * are the walls for, if not to protect the arsenal? There is less than 400 troops, all told, at the arsenal, with plenty of room for 500 more. But Captain Lyon has no control over the buildings where he would like to place his men in case of necessity. The * * * * * * secessionists are in great glee. A friend told me this morning there was a talk at Jacoby’s that they would not allow Foy to take charge of the Post Office. I did not tell Foy, but we want force enough to give them a lively time. You certainly will see the necessity of seeing that Lyon has full command of the arsenal, with privilege of furnishing arms to those friendly to the cause.
Truly and sincerely yours,
CHARLES M. ELLEARD
f. Later the same day, after personally speaking to General Harney, Lyon wrote a follow-up note to Blair:ST. LOUIS, April 6, 1861.
Hon. F. P. Blair, Jr., Washington, D. C.
Dear Sir—Since writing to you today I have seen General Harney, and had a long free talk with him, and he seems alive to the present state of things, and has ordered Hagner to issue me and provide such items as I have specified, and which I could foresee now as necessary, and seems to regret that I am under any trammels in respect to him; by which I am led to think that his order, or letter of instructions of March 9 . . . was founded on instructions from Washington. He expressed very strongly a wish that Hagner was out of the way, so as to put me free from his incumbrance. He is to come down to-morrow and confer upon measures of defense.
N. LYON (72-73)
g. After an attempt was foiled to have Lyon transferred to Fort Leavenworth, and General Harney ordered Major Hagner to fill Lyon’s requisitions, work was underway in earnest to enhance the Arsenal’s defenses:. . . Lyon remained, to give encouragement, advice, and aid to Union men, and a means of safety to the arsenal itself. A system of signals was established, by which the Union men of the city and the Captain at the arsenal could instantly acquaint each other with the movements of the enemy. The arsenal buildings were undermined; banquettes arranged [i.e. platforms installed along the interior of the wall]; batteries put into position; guards established at the gates, and a strict surveillance instituted over all persons desiring admission. (74)
h. In another passage Peckham extols Lyon’s devotion to duty and describes in more detail his preparations for defense of the arsenal:
The proceedings at Jefferson City, and the conduct of secessionists everywhere in the State, were fully communicated to Captain Lyon, and awakened within him the most serious apprehensions. He conversed freely with his friends [the Committee of Safety] as to the best policy to pursue. Of one thing he expressed himself as fully determined—the arsenal property shall never be surrendered or taken while he remained in a position to prevent it. The force at the arsenal had been further increased by the arrival of more recruits from Newport Barracks, and other troops, under Capt. Saxton and Lieut. Lothrop. Lyon, Sweeney, Saxton and Lothrop were assiduous in their duties of drilling and disciplining their commands, and in their efforts to counteract threatened dangers. The arsenal was put in a state of complete defense. Around the inside of the wall banquettes were arranged, and at proper places field and siege guns placed in position, and protected by earthworks and sandbags. The building known as the main arsenal was undermined, and powder enough placed under it to effectually destroy building and contents when necessary to ignite it. Lyon determined the arsenal and himself should be a ruin before the secessionists should have it. (90-91)
i. On 15 April 1861, upon hearing of Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion, Daniel Frost, as commander of the First Military District of Missouri, wrote to Governor Jackson, describing the situation in St. Louis and recommending a possible course of action:ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI, April 15, 1861.
His Excellency C. F. JACKSON, Governor of Missouri:
SIR—You have doubtless observed by this morning’s dispatches that the President, by calling seventy-five thousand of the militia of the different States into the service of his Government, proposes to inaugurate civil war on a comprehensive plan.
Under the circumstances, I have thought it not inappropriate that I should offer some suggestions to your Excellency, in my capacity of commanding officer of the First Military District.
Presuming that Mr. Lincoln will be advised by good military talent, he will doubtless regard this place as next in importance, in a strategic point of view, to Charleston and Pensacola. He will therefore retain at the arsenal all of the troops now there, and augment it as soon as possible. The commanding officer at that place, as you are perhaps aware, has strengthened his position by the erection of numerous batteries and earthworks. You are not, however, aware that he has recently put in position guns of large caliber, to command the approaches to the city by the river, as well as heavy ten-inch mortars, with which he could at any moment bombard our town.
If, therefore, he is permitted to go on strengthening his position, whilst the Government increases his force, it will be but a short time before he will have this town and the commerce of the Mississippi at his mercy. You will readily see how this complete possession and control of our commercial metropolis might, and in all probability would, affect any future action that the State might otherwise feel disposed to take.
I fully appreciate the very delicate position occupied by your Excellency, and do not expect you to take any action, or do anything not legal and proper to be done under the circumstances; but, nevertheless, would respectfully suggest the following, as both legal and proper, viz.:
First—To call the Legislature together at once, for the purpose of placing the State in a condition to enable you to suppress insurrection or repel invasion.
Second—To send an agent to the Governor of Louisiana (or further, if necessary), to ascertain if mortars and siege guns could be obtained from Baton Rouge, or other points.
Third—To send an agent to Liberty, to see what is there, and to put the people of that vicinity on their guard, to prevent its being garrisoned—as several companies of United States troops will be at Fort Leavenworth, from Fort Kearney, in ten or fifteen days from this time.
Fourth—Publish a proclamation to the people of the State, warning them that the President has acted illegally in calling out troops, thus arrogating to himself the war-making power; that he has illegally ordered the secret issue of the public arms (to the number of five thousand) [see following letter of 19 April by Frank Blair] to societies in the State, who have declared their intention to resist the constituted authorities whenever those authorities may adopt a course distasteful to them; and that they are, therefore, by no means bound to give him aid or comfort in his attempts to subjugate, by force of arms, a people who are still free; but on the contrary, that they should prepare themselves to maintain all their rights as citizens of Missouri.
Fifth—Authorize or command the commanding officer of the present military district [Frost himself] to form a military camp of instruction at or near the city of St. Louis; to muster military companies into the service of the State; to erect batteries, and do all things necessary and proper to be done to maintain the peace, dignity and sovereignty of the State.
Sixth—Order Colonel Bowen’s whole command to proceed at once to the said camp, and report to the commanding officer [General Frost] for duty.
Doubtless many things which ought to be done will occur to your Excellency which have not to me, and your Excellency may deem what I have suggested as improper or unnecessary. If so, I can only say that I have been actuated solely by a sense of official duty in saying what I have, and will most cheerfully acquiesce in whatever course your Excellency may lay down for my government.
I would not presume to have advised your Excellency, but for the fact you were kind enough to express a desire to consult with me upon these subjects on your recent visit to this city.
I am, sir, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
D. M. FROST, Brigadier–General,
Commanding First Mil. Dis. of Mo.
P. S.—I highly approve of the suggestions of general Frost, and await your commands.
J. A. BROWNLEE [Head of the Police Commission] (147-49)
j. Through his connections in Washington, DC, Frank Blair had managed to procure an order for five thousand small arms which Captain Lyon could issue to loyal Union volunteers in defense of the arsenal. Lieutenant John Schofield was appointed to enlist and equip these troops under Lyon’s authority, but General Harney intervened and rescinded the order. On 19 April Blair sent a letter via a friend, Dr. Hazlett, to his brother, Montgomery, who served on Lincoln’s cabinet, from which is excerpted the following:
ST. LOUIS, April 19, 1861.
HON. MONTGOMERY BLAIR.
Dear Judge—Dr. Hazlett will hand you this letter. He goes to Washington for the purpose of urging the removal of General Harney from this post, and giving us someone to command who will not obstruct the orders of Government intended for our assistance. Harney has issued orders, at the instance of the secessionists, refusing to allow us to have the guns which the Government had ordered to be given to us. We also want an order to Captain Lyon to swear in the four regiments assigned to Missouri. I have already written and telegraphed to this effect; but in these days we do not know what to rely upon, and therefore we have deemed it advisable to send a special messenger. If you will send General Wool, or some one who is not to be doubted, to take command in this district, and designate an officer to swear in our volunteers, and arm the rest of our people, who are willing to act as a civic or home guard, I think we shall be able to hold our ground here. But the man sent to supersede Harney should reach here before Harney is apprised of his removal; and the order to swear in our volunteers should come as soon as possible, and should be sent to Lyon by telegraph, if not already sent, and should be repeated, even if the order has been sent already. I consider these matters of vital importance otherwise would not urge them upon your attention. I ask you to see [Secretary of War, Simon] Cameron immediately in regard to the business.
FRANK P. BLAIR, JR. (110-11)
k. Excerpt relating to seizure of the Liberty Arsenal and the perceived threat to the St. Louis Arsenal:
On Saturday, April 20, news reached Captain Lyon that the conspirators had seized the Government arsenal at Liberty, and had carried off all its guns and ammunition. His own friends in the city and the spies of the Safety Committee reported undoubted evidence of an intention on the part of the St. Louis managers to take the [St. Louis] arsenal, if they could. The members of the Safety Committee entirely neglected their business on that day, and rendered every assistance in their power to the designs and plans of Lyon. Mr. O.D. Filley met General Harney at the gate of the arsenal during the day, and informed him of the capture of Liberty arsenal. Harney seemed to take very little notice of the information, and, I am informed, affected not to believe it. Mounted patrols were kept constantly moving through various parts of the city, ready to convey to Lyon reports of any unusual movements among any considerable number of citizens. Companies of the Union Guards were on hand in their private armories, prepared to move into the arsenal at a moment’s notice. In order to avoid creating unnecessary excitement, the entire Union Guard was called at their several places of meeting by private notice, and kept together until a late hour; some companies until after daylight.
That night Sweeney, who commanded at the west gate, with two field pieces under his charge, concluded, about midnight, to station his men at their respective places, when he ascertained that two had deserted since the last roll call. Upon further examination he found that the equipments of both his cannon had been taken away. . . . Obtaining new equipments, he placed them in his tent" and positioned a man to personally guard them for the remainder of the watch. (104-06)
l. On 21 April 1861, Frank Blair had an assistant telegraph a message from East St. Louis to Governor A. G. Curtin of Pennsylvania, asking him to transmit another urgent message to the Secretary of War in Washington, DC:ST. LOUIS, April 21, 1861
Governor A. G. Curtin, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
An officer of the army here [LT John Schofield], has received an order to muster in Missouri regiments. General Harney refuses to let them remain in the arsenal grounds or permit them to be armed. I wish these facts to be communicated to the Secretary of War by special messenger, and instructions sent immediately to Harney to receive the troops at the arsenal, and arm them. Our friends distrust Harney very much. He should be superseded immediately by putting another commander in this district. The object of the secessionists is to seize the arsenal here, with its seventy-five thousand stand of arms, and he refuses the means of defending it. We have plenty of men, but no arms.
FRANK P. BLAIR, JR. (109-10)
m. On that same day, the Committee of Safety decided they had to act to arm the new Union volunteers, even though General Harney had not yet been removed from command and they had not received formal permission from Washington. CPT Lyon wrote to Frank Blair:
April 21, 1861
Hon. F. P. Blair, Jr.:
Dear Sir—I have your note of this day per Mr. Bayles, and I have agreed with him that it will be well to have the companies come in at the gate at the middle of the board fence on the river, and from half-past seven to half-past eight o’clock this evening. This, of course, is with the understanding that Lieut. Schofield will at once accept them, and be prepared to arm and equip them. I suppose he has this authority, though if not I must see them armed at any rate. The company officers must be admitted quietly beforehand, at the main gate on Carondelet avenue, and be ready to recognize their own men on admittance. All should bring a little something to eat, so as not to suffer before we get ready to feed them.
On the night of [Sunday] the 21st of April, several hundred selected volunteers, men all known to their already chosen officers, who stood at the gate, were admitted to the arsenal, and provided with arms. Not only was this personal identity required, but a strip of ribbon, on which was an impress in wax of Captain Lyon’s private seal, had previously been distributed, and was taken up at the gate. (111-12)
n. On 24 April, 1864, General William Harney left St. Louis under orders from Washington to report to the Secretary of War. Captain Lyon was left in full charge of the arsenal and its men. Peckham says:
This was the result of Harney’s refusal to aid Lyon and Blair; and now Lyon was supreme. Blair was constantly with him at the arsenal, rendering him every assistance, and in every instance a counselor and a confidant. Mr. Blair had, on the 21st, in anticipation of earnest work, sent his family out of town, out of regard for their personal safety. . . .
The recall of Harney was equivalent to the acquisition of four regiments to the Federal army. Within as many days the four regiments were full and mustered. [Frank P.] Blair, [Jr.], [Henry] Boernstein, [Franz] Sigel, and [Nicholas] Schuttner were respectively their commanders, and each labored with admirable zeal to select the very best material out of the multitudes offering. When these regiments were crowded to the maximum, there was material enough for a regiment or two more. . . . Lyon thenceforward assumed the position of General, though not the title, until after Camp Jackson he was regularly appointed by the Government. (113-14)
o. Captain Lyon felt the Federal Government did not have a realistic idea of how many troops would be needed in the defense of its interests in Missouri, so after enlisting the first four regiments which had been authorized by Washington, he took further steps to arrange for more volunteers in service to the Union:
[Lyon] had no sooner signified his readiness to receive and arm the four regiments accepted by the Government than some six thousand men rushed to the arsenal for admission. After the four regiments had been mustered to their maximum, Lyon took upon himself the responsibility of quartering a fifth upon the Government, relying upon Colonel Blair for his influence in having it accepted. (117)
p. About this time, the Governor of Illinois, Richard Yates, acting upon an earlier suggestion by Captain Lyon, sent a messenger with a request for rifles to be distributed to Illinois regiments. Following is another account of that transfer of guns to Illinois, which took place the night of 25-26 April 1861. Interestingly, it differs in several small, but significant, details from the version in the Chicago Tribune (see App C.2 above):
Having provided for arming the five thousand volunteers and five thousand Home Guards ordered by the Secretary of War, Lyon thought it necessary to secure the balance beyond all danger of treachery or capture, and with that object in view, on the night of the 26th of April, the steamer City of Alton dropped down to the arsenal, and received on board between twenty thousand and thirty thousand stand of arms. A company of the First Missouri (volunteers), commanded by Captain George H. Stone, was detailed to guard the boat and property to Alton, to which place the guns were safely taken, and forwarded thence to Springfield. On the night of May 1 the same steamer performed another mission to Alton from the arsenal, securely transferring some ten thousand pounds of powder to a magazine of loyal Illinois.
As was to be expected, the secesh soon became aware of these movements, and were loud in their abuse of Lyon and Blair, whom they boasted would soon become fugitives from the "sacred soil." (118-19)
q. Peckham records an incident regarding Kentucky firearms which sounds strangely like the story of the guns that Lyon sent out as a ruse on the night of April 25-26 while the City of Alton was being loaded with Arsenal ordnance:
On the 26th of April Hagner shipped six hundred arms on board the steamer Pocahontas, to be delivered to the State authorities of Kentucky, at Louisville. These arms had been sent to the St. Louis arsenal for repairs, and Hagner saw proper to return them. [Kentucky had not seceded from the Union at this point.] The spies of the minute-men, who were unceasingly vigilant, learned of the intended shipment, and magnified the story concerning them. The excited minute-men rushed to the captain of the Pocahontas, and by threats and boasts so filled him with fear that he ordered the guns off his boat, and left them upon the levee, and at once started upon his trip. The police took possession of the property. Through some unknown authority, these guns, at 11 o’clock the same night, were placed on a dray, and ordered on board the steamboat Julius H. Smith, for shipment to Governor Harris, of Tennessee, at Nashville. The minute-men at that hour were on the alert. Not knowing the destination of the weapons, they were determined to stop their shipment. A crowd seized the dray when near the levee, and commenced moving up Pine street, with the intention of taking them to the Berthold mansion. As they neared Third Street, a party of thirty policemen overhauled the highwaymen, and took the guns to the steamer they were intended for. It was said the crowd were informed of the true destination of the guns by a Police Commissioner, before they were thoroughly content to surrender without a fight. (115-16)
r. Captain Lyon conceived a plan whereby he intended to establish Missouri’s strongest outpost at Springfield, MO, to prevent incursions from the South. In such a case, with his initial regiments stationed in forward areas, it would be necessary to enlist several additional regiments of "Home Guards" to secure the home front. He proposed this plan to the Safety Committee, and by their influence it was approved by Washington on 4 May 1861. Colonel Chester Harding was authorized to enlist these troops immediately:
The energy and the efficiency of Colonel Harding, and the usefulness of that organization which was originated in January, and which had preserved the city and the arsenal during the intervening months, were soon displayed in a remarkably speedy completion of the five regiments allowed by the administration. The new organization was called the "United States Reserve Corps," but it is known better as "Home Guards." . . . The Fifth Regiment of Volunteers was regularly mustered into the service by order from Washington. On the 7th of May, the First Regiment Home Guards . . . ; on the morning of the 8th, the Second Regiment . . . ; at 4, P.M., the same day, the Third Regiment . . . ; at 9, P.M., same day, the Fourth Regiment, . . . were all mustered in and armed. . . . On Saturday, May 11, Colonel Stifel’s Fifth Regiment was mustered in, and established its quarters in the Tenth Ward. The commissioned officers of these regiments elected Captain Thomas S. Sweeney [Sweeny] their brigade commander, and he was at once recognized as such. Colonel Harding continued upon the staff of General Lyon as his Adjutant-General, and through his excellent judgment and eminent legal ability became of vast necessity to his chief. (117-18)
s. Stolen arms from Baton Rouge are transferred by Confederate operatives to Camp Jackson:On Wednesday night, May 8, the steamer "J. C. Swon," just from New Orleans, loaded with arms, cannon, and ammunition, from the arsenal at Baton Rouge, La. (which the traitors had surprised and captured from the United States Government), discharged her freight at the levee at St. Louis. The material above described, which had been obtained through the agency of Colton Greene, acting as an agent of Claib Jackson, from the rebel authorities of the seceded States, was that same night removed to Camp Jackson. It is stated that from fifty to one hundred dray-loads were included in this murderous freight. Greene saw the goods safely lodged inside the camp, and on the morning of the 10th of May, accompanied by a company from the camp, he proceeded on the cars to Jefferson City with some of the stolen munitions of war.
Lyon was cognizant of the whole proceeding, and had a strong notion to seize the boat at the levee before she could unload; but after conversing with Mr. Blair, he agreed with the latter, and concluded to allow the material to be received in the camp, thus furnishing additional evidence of the treasonable nature of the camp. The Safety Committee met at the same time, and were strongly urged to seize the property before it could be taken to Lindell Grove, but they also agreed with the plan adopted by Lyon. The latter had already designed capturing the whole camp, but the opposition of a majority of the Safety Committee, upon a merely legal point, caused him to delay the movement. He now felt it his duty to act. (136)
t. On 3 May 1861 members of various militia organizations in and around St. Louis which were units of the Missouri State Militia reported to Lindell Grove, on the western edge of St. Louis, where the annual training session was held. The majority of members of these units were sympathetic to the Confederate cause, and during the encampment numerous volunteers from other parts of the state swelled their number to nearly a thousand participants. Brig. Gen. Daniel M. Frost was the commander of "Camp Jackson," which was named after the governor of Missouri. Camp streets and avenues were named after prominent Confederate leaders. On May 1oth, after consulting with the Safety Committee, Captain Lyon, with Colonel Blair, marched out of the Arsenal at the head of a large contingent of Volunteers and regular troops to surround Camp Jackson and force its surrender. This was accomplished with a minimum of difficulty, but on the return to the Arsenal, with prisoners in tow, crowds of hostile onlookers attacked the column at various places and an exchange of gunfire resulted in at least 28 deaths and many more injuries. The prisoners were kept at the Arsenal overnight and then released on parole the following evening, after taking an oath of allegiance to the Union. All but one took the oath, and he was released later by writ of habeas corpus. According to Peckham, 1110 enlisted men and 50 to 75 officers were captured. (144-61)
Captain Sweeny was left at Lindell Grove with two companies of regulars to take possession of the Government and private property left behind by the captives. Sweeny’s troops gathered up the captured equipment and inventoried it, removing everything to the Arsenal on 11 May. Among the items captured were the following:
Three thirty-two-pounders; three mortar beds; a large quantity of balls and bombs, in ale barrels; artillery pieces, in boxes of heavy plank, the boxes marked "marble;" . . . twelve hundred rifles, of late model, United States manufacture; tents and camp equipage; six brass field-pieces; twenty-five kegs of powder; ninety-six ten-inch bomb-shells; three hundred six-inch bomb-shells; six brass mortars, six inches in diameter; one iron mortar, ten inches; three iron cannon, six inches; five boxes of canister shot; fifty artillery swords; . . . forty horses; several boxes of new muskets; a very large number of musket stocks and musket barrels, together with lots of bayonets, bayonet scabbards, etc. (160)
Citations: None given, although Peckham alludes to having access to Frank Blair’s records (56) and those of other "faithful Union men." Peckham himself was a Missouri legislator and was in the thick of many of the events he relates.
6. Scharf, J. Thomas, History of Saint Louis City and County, Vol. I. (1883)
a.St. Louis was a military position of great importance; it was a military station of great value, and in the event of war both parties would naturally seek to control it for the sake of the advantages which they might derive from its possession. The place had been a center for troops and arms for two generations, and the barracks and the arsenal were treasures to whoever held them. The arsenal was the key to St. Louis. Whoever held that held the city. Besides, it contained military stores, arms, and ordnance of great value and in great quantity. There can be no doubt but that both parties looked with eager and hungry eyes upon the arsenal. The United States government held it, and the Unionists determined it should not be wrested away from them. The States rights party wished possession of it, and would have attempted to seize it, if in their power, upon occasion of the first overt act of violence or the first State act of secession. There is no need to go into the mass of charges and replies which are extant in regard to the possession of the arsenal. It is enough to know that, as was natural, nay, necessary under the circumstances, the arsenal was the main bone of contention between the opposing forces whose antagonism was being so rapidly crystallized, and that every effort made for its capture would intensify the steps and precautions taken for its defense, and vice versa. The evidence for all this is cumulative, and must be taken in connection with the action of the Legislature and the State military. (484)
b. On 5 January 1861, Isaac Sturgeon, the Assistant U.S. Treasurer in St. Louis, wrote to President Buchanan out of fear for the contents of the U.S. Treasury in the city, as well as with a concern for the Arsenal, in case civil strife should break out between Republicans and secessionists. It was likely this letter which finally induced a response from Federal authorities:In the present excited condition of the country, I cannot help feeling concerned in regard to the safety of the government funds in my hands, its arms and munitions of war, which are at the arsenal, and within the limits of the city.
I am satisfied that if either the Republicans or the secessionists should seize the arsenal here, war would at once begin in this section, as neither would submit to its possession by the other peacefully.
I have now over four hundred thousand dollars of government money on hand, which might be seized, and I have thought proper, under all the circumstances, to submit to you whether it is not advisable, without delay, to concentrate troops at the arsenal for the protection of the government property there (which I think is very large), and the treasure in my care, if it should become necessary. I am satisfied that both sides here have their eyes fixed upon these two points, the arsenal and the treasury, and that the taking possession of them by either will lead to conflict, and it therefore seems to me that the sooner provision is made to guard them the better. A little later and the excitement may arrive at that point here that any suggestion of bringing a force here for their protection would precipitate the seizure of them. . . . (484)
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7. Snead, Thomas L., The Fight for Missouri: From the Election of Lincoln to the Death of Lyon (1886)
In the southern part of the city, on the shore of the Mississippi, was the St. Louis Arsenal. It contained about sixty thousand stand of arms and a large supply of other munitions of war, and the workshops were extensive and well equipped. In addition to the artisans employed in these shops there were at the post several ordnance officers and a few men detailed from the troops at Jefferson barracks. These barracks were ten miles farther down the river, and were occupied by a small force, mostly recruits, commanded by Major Macrae. The commandant of the arsenal was Major William H. Bell, a North Carolinian. . . . The seizure by the seceding states of the Federal forts and other public property within their limits during the last days of December, and in the early days of January, had naturally turned the thoughts of every man in Missouri to this arsenal, whose great stores of arms and ammunition were of incalculable value at that juncture. (CD 49)
8. Anderson, Galusha, The Story of a Border City During the Civil War (1908)
The United States Arsenal was situated in the southern part of the city by the river. It contained nearly thirty thousand percussion cap muskets, about one thousand rifles, some cannon unfit for use, a few hundred flint-lock muskets, and a large quantity of ammunition. (Snead in "The Fight for Missouri," p. 110, says there were in the Arsenal sixty thousand muskets. For this I find no authority.) It was the settled policy of the seceding States to seize the United States arsenals and arms within their boundaries. So those, who were now trying to force Missouri out of the Union, were intent on following the pernicious example of the seceded States. Moreover, our secession Governor was about to call out the militia of the State and put it under military drill; the militia would need arms and ammunition; both were in the Arsenal; why should not these citizen soldiers have them? Why should the sovereignty of the United States override the sovereignty of Missouri? So secessionists reasoned. And the fight for the Arsenal began early. Each party saw clearly that those who held it would hold the city, and those who held the city would hold the State. So all eyes were riveted on the coveted prize. (CD 45)
9. McElroy, John, The Struggle for Missouri (1909)
There were but two arsenals in the state; a small affair at Liberty, in the northwest, near the Missouri River, which contained several hundred muskets, a dozen cannon, and a considerable quantity of powder. The other was the great Arsenal at St. Louis, one of the most important in the country. It covered 56 acres of ground, fronting on the Mississippi River, was inclosed by a high stone wall on all sides but that of the river, and had within it four massive stone buildings standing in a rectangle. In these were stored 60,000 stands of arms, mostly Enfield and Springfield rifles, 1,500,000 cartridges, 90,000 pounds of powder, a number of field pieces and siege guns, and a great quantity of munitions of various kinds. There were also machinery and appliances of great value. The Arsenal was situated on rather low ground, and was commanded from hills near by. At the beginning of 1861 the only persons in it were some staff officers, with their servants and orderlies, and the unarmed workmen. The officer in command was Maj. Wm. Haywood Bell. . . . All the same, the Arsenal was intently watched by both sides, and for the next four months it was the great stake for which they played, since its possession would go far toward giving possession of the state. There were but 150,000 stands of arms in the rest of the south, while here were 60,000. (35-37)
Citations: None, but it is clear that McElroy has copied Peckham almost verbatim, right down to passing along erroneous information. This suggests that McElroy never actually saw the Arsenal and was simply depending upon someone else’s description.
10. Rombauer, Robert J. The Union Cause in St. Louis in 1861: An Historical Sketch (1909)
a. Rombauer accuses the Buchanan administration of permitting corrupt members of his cabinet to use their offices to benefit the Southern states just shortly before they seceded:
During 1860 Secretary [of War John B.] Floyd had transferred from the Springfield Armory [in Massachusetts] and Watervliet Arsenal [in New York], by order of December 29, 1859, 115,000 stands of arms and had sent them to several arsenals at the South. A few days before Floyd resigned, towards the end of December, an order arrived from him at the Alleghany Arsenal, near Pittsburgh, to send 46 pieces of heavy ordnance to Ship Island, Louisiana, and 78 similar cannon to Galveston, Texas. An indignation meeting of citizens at Pittsburgh secured a countermanding order from Washington which stopped this treasonable outrage. Secretary of War Floyd sold between the first of January, 1860, and the first of January, 1861, 31,610 percussion muskets at $2.50 apiece. . . . General Scott stated that Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Kansas were supplied with their full quotas of arms for 1861 in advance. Thus it seems that all the seceding States anticipated the war in 1860. . . .
After Floyd left he was indicted by the United States Grand Jury for a defalcation of a quarter million of dollars. He has systematically stocked the Southern forts and arsenals with arms, ammunition and war material. . . . With the Secession hand in hand went the seizure of arsenals and forts. . . . It was estimated that 5000 cannon, over 200,000 stand of arms and an immense war material amounting in all to over forty millions of dollars were taken from the United States even before President Buchanan’s term expired. . . . (123-25)
b.. . . Another care beset the minds of the Union people in whose eyes General Harney’s loyalty was an unknown quantity and beyond their mental computation; another circumstance greatly aggravated the situation, namely, the commander of the Arsenal, which held 60,000 stand of arms, large quantities of ammunition and war material, was at that time William H. Bell, from North Carolina, a man known to have strong Southern sympathies. Matters looked very unsafe in and around St. Louis, and induced Isaac H. Sturgeon, United States Assistant Treasurer, to write to President Buchanan that ‘both parties had their eyes fixed upon these two points,’ meaning the Arsenal and the Subtreasury with $400,000 cash in its vaults. Sturgeon suggested to the President to concentrate troops at the Arsenal for the protection of the property in both places. (140-41)
c.While these measures were carried out, the overcharged imaginations of some "Fire-eaters" urged Governor Jackson to "do and dare" and take the Arsenal with its 60,000 stand of arms, great store of powder and war material. Governor Jackson wisely thought ‘discretion the better part of valor’ and deferred an attack upon the Arsenal until he had a force to insure success, which, however, never happened. The St. Louis Arsenal could be defended against great odds; its main strength, however, was its location, surrounded by a loyal population. . . . The wards south of Market street, peopled mainly by Germans and other immigrants, were so strongly imbued by Union sentiments, that besides furnishing the bulk of the first four Volunteer Regiments, they also raised three Regiments of Reserves or Home Guards, and all of this before the sun set on the 8th of May. (141-42)
d.On February 16th  the garrison at the Arsenal was reinforced by 203 men [Regular Federal troops], to which, a few days later, 102 were added, bringing the force stationed there to 484 [armed] men. [General] Harney had reported East that there never was a danger of an attack upon the Arsenal, and if an attack should be made, the garrison would be promptly rescued by an overwhelming force from the city. This latter conclusion of Harney was correct, but not the premises, for the Secessionists certainly had the intention and would have improved any chance to capture the Arsenal, but great vigilance prevented such a chance, and the vote on members of the Missouri State Convention on February 18th, defeating every Secession candidate, destroyed all hope of support from the irresolute, noncommittal portion of the community, which at its best was an unknown quantity. The vote on the Convention members had a depressing influence upon the Secessionists, but neither they nor the Union men did for a moment relent in their efforts to prepare for all possible means for the coming conflict. (153)
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11. Duke, Basil W., Reminiscences of General Basil W. Duke (1911)
But if the possession of Missouri and the city of St. Louis was important to ultimate Confederate success, the seizure of the St. Louis arsenal was a matter of vital and immediate necessity. That arsenal contained sixty thousand stand of small arms, thirty-five or forty pieces of artillery, and a vast store of ammunition and military equipments. An almost invincible force could have been promptly armed from this source, and such a force would have been at once recruited; for with the capture of the arsenal by the secessionists all doubt and vacillation would have disappeared from their ranks. It would have assured the most timid and hesitant, and have been the signal for an instant and overwhelming uprising, both in St. Louis and the state, in behalf of the Southern cause. Such an evidence of purpose and of capacity to deal practically with the situation would have settled in advance the questions which the [Missouri] convention had been called to determine. The earnest and resolute men on both sides thoroughly realized this, and to seize or defend the arsenal became the watchwords of all who really "meant business." (CD 11)
Sources and Methodology
Background of the Arsenal
The St. Louis Arsenal in the Years Leading up to the Civil War
Events of Early 1861 Affect the St. Louis Arsenal
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