James O Broadhead by Kirby Ross

Posted December 6, 2002

Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand
by Kirby Ross, Samuel S. Hildebrand, James W. Evans, A. Wendell Keith

available at Amazon.com

The True Life Wild West Memoir of a Bush-Popping Cow Waddy

By Charley Hester, Edited by Kirby Ross

available for pre-order at Amazon.com

Civil War St. Louis contributing author Kirby Ross published in North & South magazine, Vol 6, issue 7

The Burning of Doniphan by Kirby Ross

(Vol 6, Issue 7 of North & South mails to subscribers October 21st; on sale in stores November 11th)

JAMES O. BROADHEAD

ARDENT UNIONIST, UNREPENTANT SLAVEHOLDER

by Kirby Ross

While serious students of Missouri Civil War history readily recognize the name James O. Broadhead, it is usually in regard to his seven-month tenure as Provost Marshal General of the Department of the Missouri.  His prior very key role in holding Missouri in the Union is otherwise generally overlooked and he himself forgotten—this even though it was once said of him “his powers were almost absolute.”1 Despite his leading position among Missouri Unionists, he was a proud Southerner and well into the Civil War continued to cling to the notion that slavery should be preserved.  As a slaveholder at the dawn of hostilities he once proclaimed, “I am willing to go as far as any living man to protect the institution of slavery in the State of Missouri.  I have no prejudice against the institution.  I have been raised with the institution, and I know something of it.”2 Even as he was being assigned in 1863 to the position of Provost Marshal General—a military command that encompassed Missouri, Arkansas, Indian Territory, Kansas, and southern Iowa—he maintained this mind-set and was reported to have gone so far as to assert that “every damned Abolitionist in the country should be hung.”3

Despite these extreme sentiments and the fact he grew up in Virginia, few men doubted Broadhead’s loyalty to the Union as the war found its way to Missouri.  After the Rebellion was over an ex-Confederate Congressman referred to Broadhead as having been “a trusted counsellor of Mr. Lincoln.”  And an observer on the other side of the conflict later noted, “No man…was more stalwart in his Unionism, or took a more active part when war came, in supporting the Federal Government than did James O. Broadhead.”4

For those that might be unsure about his priorities Broadhead explained, “I am a slave owner myself, but I am not willing to sacrifice other interests to the slave interest….”  Emphasizing the nature of the interests he was willing to place over and above his slave interests, Broadhead also offered words that familiarly echoed ones once uttered by his more famous cousin, Patrick Henry: “Who would not be willing to meet these calamities to preserve the Union and Missouri in the Union and secure to ourselves and our posterity such a destiny as most assuredly awaits us.  That man who does not know when to die is not fit to live; and what better time to offer up our lives than in behalf of such a cause?”5

To understand the paradox of Broadhead, one must look far back into his ancestry and his birthplace.  “Born at the South,” Broadhead once said, “I think I know something of my duty to the South as well as to the Constitution of my country.”  As a native son of Charlottesville, Virginia, it was said by one of his contemporaries that he “imbibed in his youth and early manhood the spirit which actuated the fathers of the Republic.”  Another acquaintance made a similar observation in noting that Broadhead “grew to manhood in an atmosphere created by eminent statesmen and permeated by a love of country, a patriotic devotion to public duty, and a full recognition of the obligation which rests upon the citizen.”6

This “spirit” and “atmosphere” created by eminent statesmen radiated from Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, who also hailed from Charlottesville.  Furthermore, not only was Broadhead a cousin of Patrick Henry but also of Dolley Madison.  In his formative years he was a frequent guest in her house where the host of the manor was James Madison, the “Father of the U.S. Constitution.”  Young James Broadhead’s “personal acquaintance and relations with ex-President Madison served to foster still further these virtues” of love of country and patriotic devotion to it.7

Broadhead’s ties to the Founding Fathers ran deeper still, however.  His father Achilles Broadhead was commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to survey the grounds that became the University of Virginia.8 In an even more powerful connection to Jefferson, Dabney Carr, the brother of James’s grandfather Garland Carr, was the beloved childhood friend of Jefferson.  This relationship ultimately evolved from friendship to kinship upon the marriage of Broadhead’s Uncle Dabney to Martha Jefferson, the third President’s sister.  When Dabney died he was the first person to be laid to rest in the new burial grounds of Monticello.  Jefferson interred the body so it would one day be directly at his own side and then placed a headstone over Dabney’s remains that contained the inscription “To His Virtue, Good Sense, Learning and Friendship this stone is dedicated by Thomas Jefferson, who of all men living loved him most.”  After the burial, Jefferson took the Carr children into his household and raised them as his own.9

Completing the atmosphere that so-compelled slaveholder James Overton Broadhead to fight for the very cause that ultimately resulted in the extinction of the “peculiar institution,” Broadhead was also distantly related by marriage to Martha Washington and Mary Todd Lincoln.10


Having completed studies in Red Hills at the classical school of his uncle, Dr. Francis Carr, Broadhead thereafter entered the University of Virginia in 1836 at age 16.  When in 1837 most of his immediate family removed to St. Charles County, Missouri, James remained behind and taught at a private school near Baltimore before joining them out west a year later.  Upon his arrival the scholarly aristocrat joined the employ of the Hon. Edward Bates as a tutor for his children.11

Bates, a prominent attorney as well as nationally recognized Whig politician, reversed roles and soon took Broadhead on as student of his own in the study of law.  By 1842 Broadhead was licensed as an attorney and had moved to Pike County.  Within three more years Broadhead was following in his mentor’s footsteps and was active in state politics as a Whig.  At the age of 26 he was elected to be a delegate to Missouri’s second constitutional convention.  The following year he was sent by Pike County to the state house of representatives, and four years afterward to the state senate.12

Shortly before the Civil War began, Broadhead moved from Pike to St. Louis where he entered into a law partnership with Fidelio C. Sharp, an affiliation that by 1873 grew into “the largest legal practice of any firm, not only in Missouri, but in the West.”13 Then in 1860 Edward Bates, now a Republican, was a candidate for the presidency of the United States.  Strongly backed by newspaperman Horace Greeley, Bates was thought in some quarters to have a good chance at gaining the party nomination.  Instead, Abraham Lincoln was chosen to be the standard-bearer but promptly appointed Bates to be his Attorney General after the general election.14

Broadhead’s own politics began to evolve around this time, although he remained committed to the institution of slavery.  Shortly after the election he admitted, “it is true I voted for Lincoln—and yet I am not exactly a Republican, certainly not a Black Republican….”  Asserting “Lincoln is himself an honest man and a patriot,” Broadhead attributed his support of the Illinoisan to be a consequence of Lincoln’s pro-business economic platform and his advocacy for a strong government, as well as his Free-soil stance that would leave slavery alone where it existed (the Emancipation Proclamation was still far off and unforeseen).  Broadhead did state abhorrence for the fringe groups of the Party—the Red Republicans (labor agitators) and the “fanatical” Black Republicans (Abolitionists), a body that he claimed “is the smallest class.”  All a very interesting perspective given that the Republican Party of 1860 that Broadhead was involved in and spoke of is now seen in a significantly different light in the hindsight of modern times and through the intervening prism of the American Civil War.15

After moving to St. Louis Broadhead began to associate closely with U.S. Congressman Frank Blair, who was a leading opponent of secession in Missouri.  As early as 1859 Blair urged Broadhead to run for the Missouri Supreme Court and advised him he could help deliver at least 10,000 votes.  Although this entreaty was not accepted, Broadhead’s relationship with Blair continued to expand and ultimately developed to the point where “Broadhead was his right hand, his chief lieutenant.”  So close were the two that one day Blair would ask Broadhead to give the nominating speech at a national convention when he ran for President.  Broadhead would also serve as his pallbearer several years after that.16

As Blair rallied his supporters, in February 1861 he was instrumental in forming the Committee of Safety, whose “purpose was to serve as the executive committee of the Union party.”  Besides Blair, five other men were selected for the Committee, and among their ranks was James Broadhead, who was appointed secretary of the group.  Under the auspices of this organization an armed force of Loyalists was recruited in the city and within a short time several regiments were mobilized.17

A couple of weeks after he joined the Committee of Safety, running on a campaign slogan of “the Union at any cost” Broadhead was also elected to serve as a delegate to the State Convention assembled to decide the question of whether Missouri should secede from the Union.18 As a leader of the Unconditional Unionist, on March 14, 1861, he addressed the group.  By now Broadhead was also a proponent of the belief that secession would result in economic disaster for the state.  Furthermore, should Missouri leave the Union the Fugitive Slave Act would be abrogated—an act that legally required free states to assist in the return of escaped slaves to their owners.  Surrounded on three sides by what would be a foreign country if the secessionists were successful, slaves in Missouri would readily find freedom in Kansas, Iowa, and Illinois after secession just as easily as if they made their way all the way to Canada before secession.19

In his address to the Convention Broadhead observed that Missouri stood directly along the route between the eastern United States and western United States.  He stated that “efforts have been made for the purpose of connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean, by means of a railroad, in order that the wealth of the Indies may be poured into the lap of this country of ours.  And Missouri stands in the pathway of nations; over her soil this pathway must run, just as inevitably as fate.  And do you suppose that the accumulated interest of the East and the West, and I may say the world, will ever submit to have an interdict placed upon that pathway?”  In dramatic fashion Broadhead was arguing that even if the Deep South were allowed to remove itself from the Union, geographic positioning made Missouri different than those states.  Consequently, as Broadhead opined, “I say, then, gentlemen of the Convention, that Missouri cannot go out of the Union if she would; and I think I know what I say when I speak it, that she has not the power to go out of the Union if she would.”20

Several weeks after the March session of the Convention concluded, Abraham Lincoln issued orders that effectively federalized the paramilitary forces raised by the Committee of Safety, thus allowing them to operate under color of authority as U.S. Volunteers.  Now permitted to recruit up to 10,000 troops, additional loyal citizens of St. Louis were brought into another umbrella organization known as the United States Reserve Corps.  Thomas William Sweeny of the Regular Army was placed in command of the five regiments of the Reserve Corps, with James Broadhead assigned to his staff at the rank of major.21

The President also issued orders for the U.S. military in St. Louis to consult closely with the Committee of Safety and to go so far as to proclaim martial law in the city if deemed necessary by the members of the Committee.  Lincoln specifically referred to Broadhead by name in this order.22 One historian later elaborated on the extraordinary influence of the Safety Committee—“Into its hands was given absolute authority in all matters concerning the Union cause in St. Louis….  The Committee became the central medium of advice, information, and direction of the Union activities of the City, and a little later, throughout the State of Missouri.”23

The Committee was not lax in exercising its considerable power in the course of the compulsory military consultations.  When the U.S. general commanding in Missouri, William S. Harney, did not act according to their desires the Committee petitioned Washington and saw to it that he was removed and replaced by Nathaniel Lyon, a much more aggressive officer.24

With Federal authorities concerned about the creation of the Southern-sympathizing Camp Jackson on the outskirts of St. Louis in early May, Lyon asked leave of the Committee for permission to close it down.  Upon receiving their acquiescence, with Secretary Broadhead voting guardedly in favor of the plan, on May 10 Lyon surrounded the military encampment and took its occupants prisoner.  Marching them through the streets of St. Louis, a crowd began to gather along the route.  In the course of events one shot was fired, then another, and very quickly a general maelstrom swept across the area.  When the smoke cleared at least twenty-eight men had lost their lives and many more were wounded.25

While not commenting on the deaths that resulted from this affair, Broadhead did discern a marked shift in the balance of power in the city that resulted from the dispersal of the camp.  Writing to an acquaintance eleven days later Broadhead said the action “operated like a poultice—the inflammation has been drawn out of the great numbers of men [in St. Louis] who were heretofore rampant secessionists.”26

With events happening very quickly in Missouri, Broadhead expanded his Union-supporting activities.  Simultaneous to his service as a major in the Reserve Corps and delegate to the State Convention, he was also appointed by Bates to serve as Assistant United States Attorney.  In that latter position Broadhead was party to a decision made in concert with Attorney General Bates to pursue prosecutions for treason, but only in extreme cases and only when the chances of a conviction were certain.  The treason card was not to be played precipitately.27 One case Broadhead did bring forward—in fact it was the first treason indictment he drew up—was against Governor Claiborne F. Jackson.  This charge was the consequence of a search warrant Broadhead executed that resulted in the seizure of a letter written by Jackson on April 28, 1861, that spoke freely about plans for taking Missouri out of the Union.  Writing a confidential communication to a friend, on May 21 Broadhead discussed the development:  “we have a warrant out for Jackson for treason, but it will not be served yet—perhaps not at all—if he makes the proper settlement.”  (This may very well mark the only time in United States history that a sitting governor has been indicted for treason.)28

A settlement to Broadhead’s liking remained elusive as the situation deteriorated further over the next few weeks.  All finally came to a climax on June 11 in a meeting at the Planter’s House in St. Louis between General Lyon, Governor Jackson, and Jackson’s head of militia, General Sterling Price.  When the negotiations reached an impasse, Lyon rose to his feet and angrily exited the room thundering “This means war!” on his way out.  Whether Broadhead was now ready to serve his warrant is unknown, since Jackson and Price immediately returned to the capital at Jefferson City, gathered their allies, packed the state records, and promptly proceeded on a journey west and then south that saw a large part of the elected Missouri government spend the remainder of the war in exile.29

Afterward, the State Convention reassembled to address the absence of a governing body in Jefferson City.  James Broadhead was appointed chair of a committee formed to consider the status of the state government and to recommend a course of action regarding it.  Broadhead seized upon language the now-absent Governor and General Assembly (legislature) had given force of law when they enacted the bill that created the Convention.  Passed by a very overwhelming margin of 30-2 in the senate and 105-8 in the house of representatives, Section 5 of that statute specifically gave the Convention delegates the power “to adopt such measures for vindicating the sovereignty of the State and the protection of its institutions as shall appear to them to be demanded.”30 Wrote Broadhead on the authority granted, “If the Convention is to be limited in its action by the provisions of the act of the General Assembly, it is difficult to perceive how language could have been used which would have vested it with greater powers.”31

In taking full advantage of the legislature’s legal authorization allowing the Convention to adopt measures that appeared to be needed to protect the state’s institutions, Broadhead issued a report that recommended, among other things, that the offices of governor and lieutenant governor be declared vacated, as well as the General Assembly.  This recommendation was ultimately accepted by a two to one margin by the whole of the Convention, which then promptly appointed Edward Bates’ brother-in-law Hamilton Gamble to fill the position of Provisional Governor.  The Convention thereupon proceeded to act as a legislative body until new elections could be held.32

So went James Broadhead’s very major and very forgotten actions in those first days and weeks of the war in Missouri.  Thirteen years after the close of hostilities one writer summed up his role by stating, “looking back at the critical condition of the government in the early part of 1861, the importance of these prompt proceedings assume immense proportions.  What Mr. Broadhead accomplished in the preservation of the Union . . . can never be fully estimated.33

His activities that followed, important though they might have been in the scheme of events, were almost anti-climactic compared to what had preceded them.  Broadhead spent 1862 serving on the military staff of Provisional Governor Gamble as Judge Advocate General, at the rank of colonel.  He also continued in the employ of Edward Bates where he received a promotion from Assistant U.S. Attorney to U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, where he served from November 1861 through August 1862.34

The following year he was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry Regiment, a Pike County unit.  He was then detached from the regiment and assigned to the post of Provost Marshal General for the Department of the Missouri from June 1863 through January 1864.  In this position he ironically wielded far more power than his commanding officer in the Third M.S.M. (who happened to be Edward Bates’ cousin and law partner).  While his wife’s brothers—John and Caleb Dorsey of Pike County—and their Confederate activities occasionally bedeviled him in his position as PMG, his Conservative Unionist policies offered relative moderation towards the non-combatant slaveholding and Southern-oriented citizenry of the state, as well as extreme aggravation to his Radical Unionist political opponents that desired sterner action on his part.35

After the war Broadhead continued his association with Frank Blair, and together they pursued an effort to repeal the onerous restrictions placed upon ex-Confederates in Missouri.  It was said of Broadhead “he had taken a bold stand against the provisions of the Drake Constitution, which not only destroyed the citizenship, but prevented many from pursuing their vocations as a means of earning their daily bread.  He was equally outspoken in denouncing the reconstruction acts of Congress as revolutionary.”36 In 1868 and 1872 he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and in 1875 played a leading role in the Missouri Constitutional Convention.  The following year he was appointed special counsel for the U.S. Attorney’s office in St. Louis and assisted in the prosecution of the so-called “Whisky Ring”—a scandal that reached directly into the White House.  That same year he was the Missouri delegation’s favorite son choice for President of the United States at the Democratic National Convention.  Two years later he helped found the American Bar Association and was elected to be that organization’s first president.37

In 1882 Broadhead successfully ran for the United States Congress, and, after serving one term, was appointed a special claims commissioner by Grover Cleveland.  Broadhead spent his sunset years as Minister to Switzerland from 1893 through 1897.  Finally retiring at the age of 78 years old, he returned home to St. Louis where he passed away on August 7, 1898.38

© 2002 by Kirby Ross

All Rights Reserved


1In Memoriam. James Overton Broadhead (St. Louis: Legal Publishing Company 1899) 42

2Samuel B. Harding, “Missouri Party Struggles in the Civil War Period,” American Historical Association Annual Report For the Year 1900 I (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office 1901) 93; Journal and Proceedings of the Missouri State Convention, March 1861 (St. Louis: George Knapp & Co., Printers and Binders 1861) 122.

3St. Louis Democrat, 2 June 1863, p. 1; St. Louis Democrat, 10 June 1863, p. 1.  See also The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, 1880-1901) Ser. 1, Vol. LIII, p. 582 (hereinafter cited as Official Records).  The Democrat was a Radical Unionist newspaper very strongly opposed to the appointment of Conservative Unionist Broadhead as PMG.  The Official Records correspondence was a direct reflection of that newspaper’s reporting.  Whether Broadhead actually said these particular words is problematic and thus far no definitive support has been located elsewhere.

4Harding, 93; Thomas L. Snead, The Fight For Missouri (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons 1886) 88

5Missouri State Convention, March 1861, 122-123; In Memoriam, 41-42.  For Broadhead’s relationship to Patrick Henry, see Howard L. Conard and William Hyde, eds., Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis I (New York: The Southern History Company 1899) 241; Garland Carr Broadhead, “Carrs, Winstons and Barretts,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (April 1898) 442; Garland Carr Broadhead, “The Family of Achilles Broadhead,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (October 1895) 212; Garland Carr Broadhead, “Carr Family,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (October 1895) 208-211; Garland Carr Broadhead “Carr Family,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (April 1898) 440-441.  Robert Douthat Meade, Patrick Henry: Patriot in the Making (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company 1957) 23, 40, 53, 64, 65; Henry Mayer, A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic (New York: Franklin Watts 1986) 24, 40, 47.  Patrick Henry was the grandson of Isaac Winston and Mary Dabney Winston, making him the first cousin of Broadhead’s maternal grandmother Mary Winston Carr.

6Conard and Hyde, 241; In Memoriam, 13, 30, 84; Missouri State Convention, March 1861, 122

7Conard and Hyde, 241; In Memoriam, 13, 84.  See also, Katharine Anthony, Dolly Madison: Her Life and Times (New York: Doubleday & Company Inc. 1949) 5; Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia 1990) 376-377.  Like Patrick Henry and James Broadhead, Dolley Madison was a direct descendant of Isaac Winston and Mary Dabney Winston.  Broadhead’s great-grandfather, Colonel William “Langloo” Winston, was a brother of Lucy Winston Coles, Dolley Madison’s grandmother.  See, “Carrs, Winstons and Barretts”; “The Family of Achilles Broadhead”; “Carr Family” Oct. 1895; “Carr Family” Apr. 1898.

8Plat of Land (A. Broadhead), 15 Nov. 1825, Accession #RG-5/3/1.002, Special Collections Dept., University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.

9Rev. Edgar Woods, Albemarle County in Virginia (Charlottesville: The Michie Company 1901) 160-161; “Carrs, Winstons and Barretts”; “The Family of Achilles Broadhead”; “Carr Family” Oct. 1895; “Carr Family” Apr. 1898; Thomas Fleming, The Man From Monticello (New York: William Morrow and Company 1969) 8, 12, 22-23; William Howard Adams, Jefferson’s Monticello (New York: Abbeville Press 1983) 259; Willard Sterne Randall, Thomas Jefferson: A Life (New York: Henry Holt and Company 1993) 90, 176

10See Conard and Hyde, 386; “Carrs, Winstons and Barretts”; Mark Freeman, 20 Mar. 2002, “Thomas Carr of Caroline and Louisa Co., Va.,” http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~markfreeman/carr_lou.html

11In Memoriam, 21; William E. Parrish, “James Overton Broadhead,” American National Biography III (New York: Oxford University Press 1999) 579; “Hon. James O. Broadhead,” The United States Biographical Dictionary Missouri Volume (Kansas City: Press of Ramsey, Millett & Hudson 1878) 434-435; St. Louis: the Future Great City (St. Louis: C.R. Barnes 1876) 636-637

12In Memoriam, 21-22, 33; American National Biography, 579; United States Biographical Dictionary, 435.  See also John Vollmer Mering, The Whig Party in Missouri (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press 1967)

13“Hon. James O. Broadhead,” The Century Magazine III (August, 1873) 2

14Parrish, American National Biography, 329-330; History of St. Charles, Montgomery and Warren Counties, Missouri (St. Louis: National Historical Company 1885) 207; Perry McCandles, A History of Missouri II (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press 1972) 280.  See also Marvin R. Cain, Lincoln’s Attorney General Edward Bates of Missouri (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press 1965)

15“Fragments of the Broadhead Collection,” MHS, Glimpses of the Past, 2, 4 (March 1935) 49-51

16Ibid.; In Memoriam, 45; William E. Parrish, Frank Blair: Lincoln’s Conservative (Columbia: University of Missouri Press 1998) 254

17Lieutenant-Colonel James O. Broadhead, “Early Events of the War in Missouri,” War Papers and Personal Reminiscences—Missouri (St. Louis: Becktold & Co. 1892) 4-5, 8, 9-12, 18-19; United States Biographical Dictionary, 435-436; Walter Harrington Ryle, Missouri: Union or Secession (Nashville: George Peabody College For Teachers 1931) 206

18Robert J. Rombauer, The Union Cause in St. Louis in 1861 (St. Louis: Press of Nixon-Jones Printing Co. 1909) 191; Conard and Hyde, 241

19For Broadhead’s position on the economic issue, see Missouri State Convention, March 1861, p. 122-123.  For a concise presentation of the Unionist economic argument, see Ryle, 208-209.

20Missouri State Convention, March 1861, 122-123

21Official Records, Ser. 1, Vol. 1, p. 675; United States Biographical Dictionary, p. 436; War Papers and Personal Reminiscences, 5; Adjutant General’s Report of Missouri State Militia For the Year 1861 (St. Louis: George Knapp & Co., Printers and Binders 1862) 6; James O. Broadhead, “St. Louis During the War,” James O. Broadhead Papers, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis; “General Sweeny’s: A Museum of Civil War History,” 15 Nov. 2002, http://www.civilwarmuseum.com/gensweeny.html

22Official Records, Ser. 1, Vol. 1, p. 675

23Ryle, 206

24United States Biographical Dictionary, 436; William E. Parrish, A History of Missouri 1860-1875 (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press 1973) 10-11

25Ibid.; Parrish, A History of Missouri 1860-1875, 12-14; War Papers and Personal Reminiscences, 19-22; James Peckham, Gen. Nathaniel Lyon and Missouri in 1861 (New York: American News Company, Publisher 1866) 140-141

26“Fragments of the Broadhead Collection,” 57-58

27James O. Broadhead correspondence to Edward Bates, 4 Apr. 1862, James O. Broadhead Papers, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis; Official Records, Ser. 2, Vol. I, p. 277; Louis S. Gerteis, Civil War St. Louis (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas 2001) 169

28War Papers and Personal Reminiscences, 22-26; “Fragments of the Broadhead Collection,” 58

29Parrish, A History of Missouri 1860-1875, 22-23

30 Journal of the Missouri State Convention, July 1861 (St. Louis: George Knapp & Co., Printers and Binders 1861) 5, 9-10; W.F. Switzler, Illustrated History of Missouri From 1541 to 1877 (Saint Louis: C.R. Barns, Editor and Publisher 1879) 322; Eugene Morrow Violette, A History Of Missouri (Cape Girardeau, MO: Ramfre Press 1960 reprint, 1918) 328; Louisiana (Mo.) Journal, 1 Aug. 1861, p. 2

31Missouri State Convention, July 1861, 10

32Missouri State Convention, July 1861, 5-12, 17-18, 20-22, 25

33United States Biographical Dictionary, 436

34Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Missouri for 1862 (St. Louis 1862) 3; Gerteis, 269; In Memoriam, 42

35United States Biographical Dictionary, 436; In Memoriam, 42

36In Memoriam, 44; See, William E. Parrish, Missouri Under Radical Rule, 1865-1870 (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press 1965) 58, 78, 84, 88, 248, 305, 315; Parrish, Frank Blair: Lincoln’s Conservative, 236, 241, 245, 251

37Biographical Dictionary of the United States, 436-437; “Broadhead, James Overton,” 29 May 2000, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/

biodisplay.pl?index=B000848

38 Ibid.

Provost Marshals

Provost Marshals

by D. H. Rule

James O. Broadhead: Ardent Unionist, Unrepentant Slaveholder by Kirby Ross new December 6, 2002


George E. Leighton – George Elliot Leighton, Born March 7, 1835 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Came to St. Louis in 1858. Lawyer in St. Louis. Lieutenant in 3rd Missouri US Reserve Volunteers, April 1861. Major in 5th Missouri State Militia Cavalry. Married Isabella Bridge October 23, 1862. Son George B. Leighton born 1864. Provost Marshal of St. Louis fall 1861 through 1862. 1863 Colonel of 7th Regiment Enrolled Missouri Militia. Later President of the Missouri Historical Society. Died July 4, 1901.

“I was on the other side myself, but I recollected Colonel Leighton’s administration, and, though this was a Southern city, I can say that the only recollection of it to most of us is admiration for the man himself. I can’t say that we indorsed all his moves, of course, but most of his orders were worded with great humanity, and were carried out in the same manner so long as he was personally present to supervise them. He was not responsible for the doings of some of his subordinates.” Jefferson Meek, 1901


GENERAL ORDERS No. 13.

HDQRS. DEPT. OF THE MISSOURI,
Saint Louis, Mo., December 4, 1861.

I. Lieut. Col. Bernard G. Farrar is hereby appointed provost-marshal-general of this department. Capt. George E. Leighton is provost-marshal of the city of Saint Louis and its vicinity. All local provost-marshals will be subject to the orders of the provost-marshal-general, who will receive his instructions direct from these headquarters.


OFFICE OF PROVOST-MARSHAL,
Saint Louis, Mo., December 4, 1861

I may be permitted to say that on my appointment to the position I hold I found the department greatly disorganized and that from the date of the proclamation of martial law there had been exercised a very general jurisdiction over civil as well as military matters. Perhaps at first it was in a measure necessary, but if so the necessity exists no longer; and it has been my aim by thorough organization to increase its efficiency though operating with a less force and disentangle it from all connection with civil matters except in cases of absolute necessity and where it is believed the interests of the Government imperatively require it.

The police department of the city is under the control of men of unquestioned loyalty, and a thorough understanding exists between the chief of that department and myself so that there may be co-operation when desired. The executive of the city while he is not to be considered loyal is not one who would give aid or assistance against us. He has scrupulously avoided all chance of collision and where the peace and good order of the city has been involved has not hesitated to operate in connection with this department.

The council and aldermen are all of undoubted disloyalty but nothing is to be apprehended from them, the police and executive being the only branches of the city government with which it is desirable that this department should co-operate.

I have the honor to be, general,

GEORGE E. LEIGHTON,

Provost-Marshal.

“I was informed Colonel Leighton was to be married that night at the Trinity Episcopal Church… Out of pure deviltry I proposed to attend the ceremony. To this some of my friends seriously objected, while others said I would not dare do such a risky thing, when all the government officials and the police were on the alert to capture me. A dare or a challenge was a thing I never dodged, so I determined to undertake it. My dear friend, Miss Lizzie Pickering, proposed to accompany me and we were present when the ceremony was performed. We occupied seats near the rear of the church and left promptly after the ceremony. A few days later I wrote Colonel and Mrs. Leighton a note of congratulations, and he had the note published in the St. Louis Globe under the title, ‘Insolent Nerve.'” — Absalom C. Grimes


James H. Baker – former Secretary of State of Minnesota, fought in the Sioux uprising. Born in Monroe, Ohio, May 6, 1829. Moved to Minnesota in 1857 where he served two terms as Secretary of State. Married Rose Thurston September 25, 1852. She died March 21, 1873. Two sons, Arthur and Harry Baker. Married December 23, 1879 to Zula Bartlett. Baker died May 25, 1913 in Mankato, Minnesota. Provost Marshal of St. Louis and Department of Missouri 1863-65. Baker’s Correspondence in the Official Records

From the 1864 St. Louis Directory:

Provost Marshal General’s Dept. of the Missouri

Office, 5th st., cor. St. Charles

Colonel J. H. Baker, P. M. General

Lt. Col. C. W. Davis, 1st Asst. P. M. General

Capt. Saml. S. Burdett, 2d Asst. P. M. General

Lieut. J. C. Bradler, 3d Asst. P. M. General

Lieut. G. H. Richardson, 4th Asst. P. M. General

Lieut. Geo. W. Shinn, Chief of Bureau of Examiners

Samuel S. Boyd, Solicitor

Capt. Peter Fallon [sic–Tallon], Chief U. S. Military Police

A. B. Converse, Asst. Chief U. S. Mil. Police


James O. Broadhead – James Overton Broadhead. May 28, 1819-August 7, 1898. Lawyer from Virginia with many Southern friends and sympathies, pro-slavery. Married Mary Snowden Dorsey. Children: Nannie Dorsey Broadhead-1849, Charles L. S. Broadhead-1853, May Mary W.Broadhead-1856, John D. Broadhead-1858.

See: James O. Broadhead: Ardent Unionist, Unrepentant Slaveholder by Kirby Ross new December 6, 2002

“With the approbation of Governor Gamble, General Schofield appointed as a staff officer and assigned to duty as provost-marshal-general one James O. Broadhead, who, it is said, declared recently in Saint Louis that every damned abolitionist in the country ought to be hung, with Chase and Stanton at their head. Under this new administration, faithful, diligent, and competent assistant provost-marshals were arbitrarily removed without any cause being assigned and their places supplied by those whose sympathies were with the Conservatives.”BROADHEAD, James O., lawyer, was born in Albemarle county, Va., May 19, 1819. He was educated at the high school, and when sixteen years of ago studied for one year at the University of Virginia. In June, 1837, he removed to Missouri, where he studied law in the office of Edward Bates for three years. In 1841 he began the practice of the law in Pike county, Mo., and in 1845 was elected as a delegate to the constitutional convention of the state. In 1846 he was elected to the state legislature from Pike county, and in 1850 to the state senate, and served in that capacity four years. In 1859 he located in St. Louis, and in February, 1861, he was appointed U.S. district attorney of Missouri, but resigned when he found it interfered with his duties as a delegate to the state convention, “for vindicating the sovereignty of the state, and the protection of its institutions.” Under the provisions of resolutions offered by Mr. Broadhead, this convention abolished the existing state government, and established a provisional government, which for the first three years of the civil war managed its affairs, raising and organizing a military force in support of the United States government. He was commissioned lieutenant-colonel of the 3d Missouri cavalry, and was assigned to duty on the staff of General Schofield, as provost marshal-general of the department of Missouri. In 1876 he was [p.416] appointed by President Grant as counsel on the part of the government in the prosecution of the “whisky frauds.” In 1878 he was chosen president of the American bar association, which met at Saratoga, N.Y. In 1882 he was elected a representative to the 48th Congress as a Democrat, and in 1885 was appointed by the government as special agent to make preliminary search of the record of the French archives in the matter of the French spoliation claims, making his report in October, 1885. He was U.S. minister to Switzerland, 1893-’97, and on his return he took up the practice of his profession. He died in St. Louis, Mo., Aug. 7, 1898.

Johnson, Rossiter, ed. Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, – Vol. I-X (10). Boston, MA: The Biographical Society, 1904

From the  Westliche Post, a German newspaper in St. Louis:

MISSOURI AS HUNTING-GROUND FOR NEGRO-CATCHERS.

Our Jail, under the administration of General Schofield and Provost-Marshal Broadhead, has become area; “slave-pen? Every day blacks and colored people of all shades–men, women, and children–are thrown into it, who had believed in the gospel of liberty proclaimed by “honest “–it is too great a shame that this word must now be written with quotation marks–by honest Father Abraham. This honest man has made Missouri a real hunting-ground for nigger-catchers, and the authorities appointed by him protect this “honest” calling in every possible way. If we say the Jail has become a slave-pen, we don’t mean to censure the jailer. He is bound to receive the slaves that are arrested by order of the provost-marshal and brought to jail; he is bound to do it as his duty, and we are sure it is a disagreeable duty to him. But who has given our Provost-Marshal-General Broadhead authority to recall and declare null and void the free papers which have been given by his predecessors or by former commanders of this department to the slaves of rebel masters? Does a slave become a free man by a certificate of liberty, duly made out by competent authority, or is such a certificate of liberty a mere piece of paper, which may be torn up at pleasure? Is the great liberty proclamation of the President himself also a mere rag, which every provost-marshal may spit upon and kick with his feet, if he so chooses? Every day fugitive slaves from all quarters of the rebellious States are arrested in our streets by professional rascals and dragged to jail. The process of such an outrage is a very- simple one. Any rebel from Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, or any other slave State sells his human property to a dealer in men’s flesh, who is, of course, a “loyal” man, Just as Mr. Lincoln is an “honest man, and this slave-trader puts immediately his blood-hounds on the track of the scented game, which is then surely fated, for the provost-marshal-general never neglects to play his role. Thus, in the past month hundreds of liberated slaves have been carried back into slavery; thus, yesterday, six of them sat in the jail waiting for the next boat to Kentucky, and thus things will continue as long as Schofield and Broadhead are at the head of affairs, and probably as long as “honest Old Abe” sits in the White House. We spoke to an old soldier of the Twelfth Regiment, who had carried a musket in the service of liberty since the commencement of the war, and we heard him say, “May my right hand wither before it ever again throws a ticket for Abraham Lincoln into the ballot-box and may my lips be struck dumb if ever I pronounce that name otherwise than with contempt!A negro who has gone through all the toils of the Twelfth Regiment for two years is now a fugitive slave in the jail, caught on Lincoln’s slave-hunting ground in Missouri.

To such a pass has a weak-brained and weak-spirited Republican administration brought affairs in Missouri that it has incurred the hatred and the disgust of all true Union men, of all true emancipationists, and of all those who are honestly in favor of liberty: while noon its head descend the blessings and the praises of those who stigmatized the conquerors of Camp Jackson as murderers and the author of the emancipation proclamation as an Abolitionist. Be it so. Italia far a da so. We will help ourselves.


Thomas T. Gantt – Thomas Tasker Gantt. Lawyer. Born in the District of Columbia July 22, 1814. Attended West Point 1831-33 but a military career was prevented by an injury. Moved to St. Louis May, 1839. In 1845 Gantt was appointed by President Polk as United States District Attorney for the District of Missouri, as which he served four years. City counselor of St. Louis 1853 for two years. Elected to State Convention February 1861 from the city and county of St. Louis as an unconditional Union man. Gantt became a colonel in the Army of the Potomac August 1861 by appointment of General McClellan. He served as judge advocate. Resigned due to ill health and returned to St. Louis in July 1862. Served as unpaid Provost Marshal from July to November 1862. Returned to law practice until 1875 when he was first a member of the Constitutional Convention of Missouri, then a judge of the Court of Appeals. In January 1877 he returned to private law practice. Died June 17, 1889.
“He is a man of warm impulses, and a generous friend. By his own industry, energy, and enterprise he has acquired a competent fortune; is a fine scholar, a finished and accomplished lawyer, and has won for himself in the community where he has so long lived, the reputation of an honest man, and an upright, public-spirited, worthy citizen, ever to be relied upon in the hour of danger and public emergency.” –Personal Recollections of John F. Darby (mayor of St. Louis 1835)

Thomas Gantt building in St. Louis, built 1877

A link to photos of Gantt’s grave on Find-a-Grave

(use your back button to return here)


Franklin A. Dick – Franklin Archibald Dick. From Pennsylvania. Lawyer. Lieut. Col. and Provost-Marshal-General, Dept. of the Missouri, brother-in-law of Frank Blair. Married Mira M. (Midge) Alexander November 25, 1851 (she was the sister of Blair’s wife). Credited with getting the dress from his mother-in-law that Nathaniel Lyon wore on his scouting trip into Camp Jackson (see Lady With Spurs).

“Hither came the trusty agents of Missouri’s cruel hyena, F. A. Dick, Provost Marshal of St. Louis…” from Shelby and his Men by John N. Edwards, 1867

SAINT LOUIS, March 5, 1862.

[Hon. FRANCIS P. BLAIR,  Jr.]

DEAR FRANK: There is one thing that at first was inexplicable to me—it is the feeling or policy that induces U. S. officers to grant extraordinary privileges to the rebel officers who are taken as prisoners, such as releasing of a number of them in this city on parole by General Halleck, thus giving them the opportunity of going freely among our wealthy secessionists. The consequence of this was that these home rebels ran after the officers, dined and feted them, encouraged them to stand firm in their disloyalty, and so bold and defiant did they become as I am informed that General Halleck has revoked the parole, gathered up the officers and sent them to confinement at Alton.

I was surprised that so judicious a man as Halleck should have fallen into this error; but with his usual correctness he soon saw his mistake. From what I have learned of the feelings of the regular officers I am inclined to believe that Halleck fell into this error through their influence. I have heard most loyal and sensible officers of the U.S. Army say that they had no personal feeling whatever in the war nor toward the officers whom they captured. This I suppose because these officers of ours have kept aloof from political contests and do not recognize in the rebel officers the instigators and workers up of this rebellion. In our eyes Buckner, Floyd, Jo. Johnston, &c., are traitors, and none the less so because they hold in this rebellion the place of officers. If the rebellion had been less formidable and soon put down these men would not have been treated as officers but as felons if captured. There are necessary reasons why to a certain extent we have to treat them as conducting a war and therefore according to the rules of war. The only reason that I recognize for this is that we may save our own soldiers from severe treatment when captured by them. Beyond this there is no necessity for our going, and I say that it is only necessity or in other words our inability to do so that prevented us in the beginning from hanging them all as traitors. The privates and non-commissioned officers in the rebel armies are mostly ignorant men who enlisted as they believed to protect their country from an unjust aggressive war. The proper treatment for them—all I believe concur in this—treat them fairly, correct the errors they have been educated in, inform them of the truth and let them go back home when it can be safely done. But these men who under a mock government are called officers, who are but political desperadoes in military garb and disguise, must be punished; if not for their misdeeds certainly for the sake of the country. Will the privates, the masses, believe their leaders criminals or in the wrong when they see them set at large on their honor and allowed to associate with the wealthy rebels who so openly honor them?

I call your attention to this matter at this early day hoping that you will think it Worth while to bring the matter before Secretary Stanton. The officers of the Army do not feel the effects of this rebellion as the masses of the people do. To them (the officers of the U.S. Army) it is a war merely, and not a political struggle—maddened, desperate, and aimed to destroy rather than submit to a political defeat. Believing as I do that the practice I have spoken of is a serious evil and that the only way of remedying it is for the Secretary of War to make general regulations upon the subject, to be departed from by commanding officers only for pressing reasons, I therefore suggest that you call his attention to the matter. I have no fear that General Halleck will again fall into the error, but in my opinion few of our officers are equal to him in correctness of judgment.

Yours, very truly,

F. A. DICK.


HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE MISSOURI,
Saint Louis, January 15, 1863.

Hon. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War:

I telegraphed a request that I might confer by letter before executing your telegraphic order concerning provost-marshals’ orders, and the provost-marshals generally.

The provost-marshal system is not of my planting or growth, but is now so old, deep-rooted, and wide-spread it cannot be summarily disposed of without danger of losses and disasters. It began in General Fremont’s administration, by the appointment of Major McKinstry in this city, who was followed by Colonel McNeil and Captain Leighton; neither of them were properly in the United States service. From this it spread out through the whole department, and when I came in command Colonel Gantt was provost-marshal-general, and hundreds were elsewhere located; most of them not officers in the United States service, except by virtue of their appointment as provost-marshals. General Halleck had given the system a head by creating a provost-marshal-general, and issued some orders devolving specific duties on these functionaries, and, by a kind of common understanding, provost-marshals took charge of prisoners, watched contraband trade, discovered and arrested spies, found out rebel camps, and pursued and arrested the rebels in their neighborhoods. They operate with volunteers, militia and police force, just as circumstances require, and in Southern Iowa and large districts of Missouri, where recruiting guerrilla agents strive to organize their bands, they are the only stationary, permanent official sentinels, who keep me advised and guard the public safety. Public arms, prisoners, contraband property, and forfeited bonds are held by them and properly disposed of, and immediate discharge would create loss and confusion where everything is now quiet and secure For instance, the provost-marshal at Glasgow has 30 or 40 prisoners. At Columbia last Sunday the provost-marshal resisted an effort to rescue a parcel of most desperate prisoners—one a Confederate recruiting officer.

I send you the letter of Colonel Dick, my provost-marshal-general, to show other duties devolved on these men. Soon after my assuming command, I presented to the General-in-Chief the importance of more exact and uniform rules in regard to the system, and desired the matter might be taken up at Washington, but, in the absence of any instructions, I directed the provost-marshal-general to compile and construct some general and uniform rule of action. This he did in Orders, No. 35, which I suppose is the order disapproved by His Excellency the President. It contains the gist of a great many old orders and some new ones, but in the main it conforms to the current business of the system. No paper or person here has made complaints against the order, and I am surprised that such apprehension and immediate necessity should be presented at headquarters. As far as possible, action under the order is suspended, but I presume most of it will be found to be a mere condensation of our police regulations.

I have been urged to send away my regular volunteers, and have stripped portions of my department to comply with pressing demands elsewhere. To compensate for this, provost-marshals, taken from the Enrolled Militia, are earnestly endeavoring to keep me posted and maintain public tranquility. If they are to have no supervision of trade, commerce, or anything but the discipline and government of the troops in the United States service, how am I to prevent contraband of war, guns, ammunition, and other supplies going into the hands of the guerrillas, and how am I to know what is doing or to be done in various parts of my district when I have no other command, and what am I to do with the prisoners and other rebels that are held either in fact or fear by these provost-marshals?

I regret that I am thus forced to defend a system I never did approve and have often condemned. I could not find either statute or military law to rest it upon. I have not appointed one, except to fill the vacancy of the provost marshal-general; but the system has started and grown up from surrounding necessities; it is now working very extensively and quite harmoniously, and I believe it must in some shape be continued during the war. When a nation is at war, war exists everywhere, and we must have some sort of military representatives wherever military offenses can be committed. It costs too much to keep stationary troops everywhere, but without such officers as I may trust and constantly employ in every county of this State and in various parts of my department, I must have many more troops in actual service in Missouri. While, therefore, there is no apparent necessity of a sudden radical change, I most respectfully request that some substitute may be allowed me for a system of military power which now serves a most important purpose throughout my command, or so order the matter that we may perfect what now seems to be a useful military expedient.

I have the honor to be, Mr. Secretary, your very obedient servant,

SAML. R. CURTIS,

Major-General.

[ Inclosure. ]

[SAINT LOUIS, Mo.,] January 15, 1863.

Maj. Gen. SAMUEL R. CURTIS, Commanding:

GENERAL: The telegram of the Secretary of War, of the 14th, to the major-general commanding this department, contemplating a change in the system of provost-marshals in the interior of the State, requires of me that I should present to you some of the duties performed by them.

Commanding officers in the field turn over prisoners captured by them to provost-marshals, who take the evidence against the prisoners and forward it and them to Saint Louis. With guerrillas and marauding bands operating in the State, whenever opportunity occurs, appearing at first one place and then another, our troops are kept moving, and the officers in the field do not furnish the evidence against the men they capture. Were these prisoners considered prisoners of war, and to be sent forward for exchange, but little evidence would be needed, but they are many of them lawless men, known in certain localities. After their capture their friends constantly make efforts to have them released, and it is through the provost-marshals that the facts relating to them are ascertained, and upon which the proper action can be based, as to holding or releasing them. These provost-marshals are made by your orders conservators of the peace. They know and report the state of the country, and can and do determine better than any one else which men can safely be enlarged and which not. Remove them, and to whom shall we apply for the information constantly needed at your headquarters, and to whom will commanders in the field send their prisoners to be examined and forwarded? Again, it is well known that rebel recruiting officers and spies are constantly coming into this State. It is the business of provost-marshals to keep on the watch for them, and to break up their practices; and, but for their efforts, in many counties recruiting for the rebel army would be carried on without danger. There are many disloyal farmers who would constantly aid the rebellion with supplies of different kinds, but for the provost-marshal system. Remove the danger of detection, and the State would furnish (to the rebs) considerable amounts of supplies, and the stream of rebel soldiers southward would be largely increased.

I have released, all the time, men in whose promises reliance could not be placed, but I have felt justified in doing it by placing them under the surveillance of the provost-marshals of their counties. If, however, they have no local officer to care for, they either cannot be released or would soon again be led off into aiding the rebellion. Provost-marshals, too, give confidence to the Union men through the State; they stand as the representatives of the United States Government, and if a neighborhood becomes so rebellious as to endanger Union men, they feel that the report of the provost-marshals will call the attention of the military authorities to the condition of things. To relieve the provost-marshals will be a shock to the Union cause in this State, and will have a most depressing effect upon those who require the support of the Government. They acquire a local knowledge which is valuable and reliable. The men who have been disloyal in Missouri, most of them, remain so; and it will prove a costly mistake to act upon a contrary hypothesis. They are Southern sympathizers who have taken up arms, and they are none the less sympathizers because for the time disarmed; and I feel safe in making the assertion that, if they believe it not too perilous to do it, they will again take up arms, or by other means aid the rebellion. My belief is that these people have got to be kept down while the war rages, and my every day’s experience confirms that belief. After the rebellion becomes powerless, then the Missouri rebels will give up their plans of co-operation, and not until then. So far as they have ceased hostilities, it has been from force, and not voluntary submission, and to consider these people no longer enemies of the Union is to fall into a practical error. They have had pretty hard experience in this war, and I believe, by vigilance, can easily be kept down; but a show of military power is necessary, and the presence of some military force, too, accompanied by the continuation of the military system sufficient to keep them sensible of this, that renewed hostilities on their part will be promptly met by force. If my hypothesis is correct, then the system of military law cannot be dispensed with in Missouri, while disloyal men believe that the Union will be dissolved, and they very generally do believe it. If my judgment and opinions are incorrect, then let the capture and detection of guerrillas and marauders be turned over to the civil authorities, and let military action be confined only to regular movements in the field; and it may be that it will be found that the State is

I consider it my duty as an officer to make this statement relating to the disloyal men in Missouri, believing that the reliable supporters of the Union cause in this State are the men who feel that the safety of this State lies in the control of it by the military power of the United States, so long as this rebellion continues defiant; and these men who alone constitute the strength of the Government in this State will have bitter sufferings to endure, if the protection of the Government is withdrawn.

I have the honor to remain, most respectfully, your obedient servant,

F. A. DICK,

Lieut. Col. and Provost-Marshal- General, Dept. of the Missouri.

James H Baker – Provost Marshal

James H. Baker – Union Provost Marshal

James H. Baker was Union Provost Marshal of St. Louis in 1863, later of the Department of Missouri. In his role as Provost Marshal he pursued, among others, Robert Louden, subject of the article in “North and South” magazine.

Baker was from Minnesota, having served as Secretary of State. He became a Colonel in the 10th Minnesota, later brevet brigadier-general.

Baker in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion

Following are memorial tributes by fellow Minnesotans:


I met General Baker first in the political campaign of 1860. I heard him then make one of the very ablest and most eloquent speeches I had ever listened to, though I had heard speeches by Daniel Webster, Daniel S. Dickinson, William H. Seward, Joshua R. Giddings, Benjamin F. Wade, Stephen A. Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and many other noted orators. I say now, after hearing many speeches delivered by General Baker, that in true eloquence he was the peer of all of them, and in power the superior of all of them, Abraham Lincoln excepted. Once I heard Henry Clay, when I was in my “teens” and Clay was an old man, somewhat enfeebled doubtless by age and disappointment; but the old fire flashed as he “picked his flint and tried it again,”–at any rate, he electro-fired me. When I heard General Baker the first time (and many times after), the image of Henry Clay came before me like a flash.


James Heaton Baker, son of Rev. Henry Baker, a Methodist preacher, and Hannah (Heaton) Baker, was born in Monroe, Ohio, May 6, 1829. He graduated at Ohio Wesleyan University in 1852. In 1853 he purchased the Sciota Gazette, at Chillicothe, Ohio. In 1855 he was elected secretary of state on the ticket headed by Salmon P. Chase as governor. In 1857 he removed to Minnesota, where, for two successive terms he was elected to the same office. At the outbreak of the Civil War he resigned, and accepted a colonel’s commission in the Tenth Minnesota Volunteers. In 1863 his command was ordered to the South, and he was detached and made provost marshal of St. Louis, and subsequently of the department of Missouri, in which position he served until the close of the war, he being meanwhile promoted to a brevet brigadier generalship.

At the close of the war he was appointed register of the land office at Booneville, Missouri, but in two years resigned and returned to his farm in Blue Earth county, Minnesota.

In 1871 President Grant appointed him commissioner of pensions, a position for which he was singularly well fitted. He resigned in 1875, and was appointed by President Grant surveyor general of Minnesota. Gen. Baker has been prominent in Masonic circles, and has contributed much to the newspaper and periodical press. He was married Sept. 25, 1852, to Rose, daughter of Reuben H. Thurston, then of Delaware, Ohio, now of Mankato, Minnesota. This estimable lady died at Washington City, March 21, 1873, leaving two sons, Arthur and Harry E. Gen. Baker, since his appointment as surveyor general, has resided at Mankato. He served in 1885 and 1886 as railroad commissioner for the State.


General James H. Baker, a life member of the Minnesota Historical Society, died at his home in the City of Mankato in this state on May 25, 1913.

General Baker was born in Monroe, Butler county, Ohio, on the 6th day of May, 1829. He was the son of Henry Baker, M. D., and Hannah Heaton Baker. In his youth he attended the Firnian Academy at Middletown, Ohio, and later the Ohio Wesleyan University. For a period of time he edited the Sciota Gazette at Chillicothe, Ohio, it then being the oldest newspaper in the state. He served as Secretary of State of Ohio from 1854 to 1856, when Salmon P. Chase was Governor of that State. In 1857 he came to Minnesota, and shortly thereafter located with his family in Blue Earth County.

He was elected Secretary of State in 1859 and again in 1861. In 1862 he was commissioned, by Governor Alexander Ramsey, to be Colonel of the Tenth Minnesota Volunteers, then being recruited for service in the War of the Rebellion. He served with his regiment the first year in the campaign against the Sioux Indians, and in the fall of 1863 with his regiment went South. At the close of the war General Baker was appointed Commissioner of Pensions, and afterward Surveyor General for Minnesota. In 1881 he was elected State Railway Commissioner, in which office he served two terms.

For a time General Baker was the editor and proprietor of the Mankato Free Press. A goodly portion of his life in Blue Earth county was spent on a beautiful farm owned by him near Rapidan, where he personally engaged in agriculture, in which he was always much interested and very progressive.

General Baker was always much interested in the early history of Minnesota, and was never more at home than at the meetings of the old settlers of his county and state. He was pre-eminently a social man, an easy, fluent, and very interesting conversationalist, and hospitable to a fault. He was never more happy than when surrounded by his friends whom he always delighted to entertain.

He was a consistent attendant and supporter of the Methodist Church, and also belonged to the Masonic Order, as well as the Elks, the Grand Army of the Republic, and the Loyal Legion.

He was a power to be reckoned with in politics, and his influence was always felt in the civic and social life of the community in which he lived, and always for the betterment of conditions and of humanity in particular. The life of General Baker stands out as one of pronounced individuality, and of great strength of purpose.

On September 25, 1851, he was married to Rose Lucia Thurston at Delaware, Ohio, who died March 20, 1873. On December 23, 1879, he was married to Miss Zula Bartlett, who survives him and now resides in the homestead in Mankato.
General Baker was away in beautiful Glenwood Cemetery in Mankato. His funeral was held on Wednesday, May 28, 1913, being largely attended.


The late General James H. Baker was a man of many splendid talents. Eminent as he was as an orator, warrior, and statesman, he also possessed rare talents as an author. His numerous and valuable historical and biographical contributions found in the publications of this Society attest this fact. Among these papers are “History of Lake Superior,” “The Sources of the Mississippi River,” “Transportation in Minnesota,” and “The Lives of the Governors of Minnesota.” All these writings show great research and a masterly selection and presentation of the mass of material their author was always able to discover.

The general had a very acute mind and retentive memory, and his long life spanned one of the most eventful periods of the world’s history; and so far as this related to the “Middle West” of our own country, he had a personal acquaintance with most of the great men and a personal touch with most of the big events which went to make up that history. Hence the ease with which General Baker could always command the right material and infuse into it the very life and atmosphere it had when it was the actual reality.

Besides the very unique relation he bore to the people and the times concerning which he wrote, the general had a remarkable command of the English language and a fervid literary spirit, which gave force, fitness, and finish to every sentence he penned. His style is never dull nor florid, but always elegant, incisive, and vigorous.

His monograph on “The Sources of the Mississippi” is a valuable contribution to geographic knowledge, and it dealt a mortal blow to certain theories as to the head of the great river once in vogue. His “History of Lake Superior” did much to call attention to the world’s greatest waterway and the world’s greatest iron mines. “The Lives of the Governors of Minnesota,” forming Volume XIII of this Society’s Historical Collections, written at the eventide of our author’s life, is a fitting climax to his literary activity, being truly a great work, which will grow in worth and importance as the years go by.

Mighty was he with tongue, sword, and pen, and his passing removes from our midst one of our greatest and best citizens.