Posted September 5, 2002

 

General Nathaniel Lyon and Missouri in 1861

by James Peckham, 1866

Introduction
Sumter

Part I - Part II - Part III

Camp Jackson

Part I - Part II - Part III

The Harney Regime

Part I - Part II - Part III

Wilson's Creek

Part I - Part II - Part III

Appendix

Part I - Part II - Part III

Return to Civil War St. Louis

 

GEN. NATHANIEL LYON

AND

MISSOURI IN 1861.

 BOOK I.

 SUMTER. (Part II)

 

THE CATHOLIC BELLS.

GENERAL ORDERS, No. 4.

HEADQUARTERS FIRST MILITARY DISTRICT,

ST. LOUIS, January 8, 1861.

I. With a view to facilitate a prompt assemblage of the troops in this district, whenever it may be necessary so to do, it is hereby ordered that all officers and soldiers in the command shall assemble at their armories and headquarters, in full dress uniform, as soon as they may hear the bells of the churches sounding a continual peal, interrupted by pauses of five minutes. The troops, having thus assembled, will await in their quarters orders from their commanding officers.

II. Commanding officers of corps will be held responsible that this order is communicated and explained to their commands.

By order,

BRIG.-GENL. FROST, Commanding.

WM. D. WOOD, A. A. G.

The Safety Committee, through their secret agents, obtained information that the bells which General Frost expected to use were none other than the bells of the Catholic churches throughout the city. Archbishop Kendrick having been absent from the city, the conspirators had arranged with the person acting for the Archbishop in his absence, for the use of the bells of the Catholic churches, for the purpose of signaling the designs of the traitors. Mr. O. D. Filley and Mr. Peter L. Foy called upon the Archbishop immediately upon his return to the city, and asked him if the information in the possession of the Safety Committee was correct. The Archbishop replied that it was, and assured his visitors that he had already interfered in the matter, and had strictly prohibited the use of the bells for any such purpose. So the Catholic church bells were no longer relied upon by Frost, and his secret circular was a failure.

But this circular, secretly distributed, fell into the hands of a good Unionist, who at once handed it over to Mr. Blair. That gentleman made it the ground of an urgent demand upon General Scott to re-enforce the arsenal, and to place in command at that valuable depot some reliable person who would be true to the Union cause. Mr. Blair was aided in this movement by Mr. Lincoln, Gov. Yates, and his brother, Montgomery Blair. In the latter part of January, General Scott ordered Lieutenant T. W. Sweeney, of the Second Infantry, then in New York, to report to Major McRae, at Jefferson Barracks, and also ordered Major Bell to the Eastern Department. The reason for this last may be discovered in the following telegram to the New York Evening Post:

WASHINGTON, January 24, 1861.

Detailed information has to-day been communicated to General Scott, to the effect that a plot is laid for the seizure of the U. S. Arsenal at St. Louis.

Major Bell declined obeying the order for his transfer, and tendered his resignation on the ground of his large property interests in St. Louis, which would not permit of his absence. His resignation was at once accepted, and Major Hagner assumed command of the arsenal.

REMOVAL OF GOVERNMENT FUNDS.

At six, P. M., January 9, a small body of troops arrived in the city from Newport Barracks, and proceeded at once to Jefferson Barracks. The secesh were indignant at this slight manifestation of vigor in the Government, and talked angrily about Federal attempts to overawe them, and "Black Republican " designs to overthrow liberty. But their indignation increased to fever heat when they found, on the morning of the 11th, that a Federal Lieutenant (Thompson), with a squad of U. S. soldiers was in charge of the Custom House and Sub-Treasury. Throughout the day a crowd collected in the streets adjoining (composed of men of all shades of opinion), and secesh passion found vent in the most ludicrous remarks. The object of the martial visit was to secure the safe removal of the U. S. funds, which having been effected during the day, Lieut. Thompson and his men, at about five P. M., retired to the arsenal. So threatening did affairs appear throughout the city, that Mayor Filley saw proper to send to the Common Council that afternoon the following:

MAYORS OFFICE, January 11, 1861.

GENTLEMEN OF THE BOARD OF COMMON COUNCIL.—A very general and unusual excitement prevails in our community, and although I do not apprehend that any actual disturbance or interference with the rights of our citizens will ensue, yet I deem it best that all proper precautionary measures should be taken to fully prepare for any event. I would hence recommend that the members of the Council from each ward select from among their best citizens such a number of men as the exigencies of the case may seem to require, and to organize them to be ready for any emergency. Our citizens are entitled to the full protection of the laws, and must have it.

Respectfully,

O. D. FILLEY.

Fortunately, however, no collision occurred, owing to the prudence of the Unionists. It was about this time the minute-men were organizing.

POLITICAL PARTIES IN JANUARY, 1861.

The vote for Breckenridge, in November, 1860, did not indicate the full strength of the secessionists in St. Louis. Many of them voted for Claib Jackson, not only because of fears that the "abolitionists" would triumph in the defeat of the Democracy, but because they had entire confidence in Jackson himself. Many of the most active Douglasites became earnest leaders among the minutemen, and thus the secession element was immensely stronger in January, 1861, than at the previous November polls.

The Douglas wing of the Democracy became extinct with the canvass which had called it into existence, and those who had made up that party, if now not avowed secessionists, were at least playing into their hands by clamoring for conditions and compromises.

The Bell-Everetts subsided into obscurity, some of their leaders siding with the rebellion, all demanding compromise. The Crittenden resolutions, though bitterly denounced by the secessionists themselves, were yet clung to by both Democrat and Know Nothing as a means of expressing the amount of their attachment to the Union, without incurring the much feared charge of fusing with the Republicans. Both Democracy and Know Nothings were in a condition to accept any alternative which might be presented upon the first exhibition of military strength on the part of either "Federal" or "Confederate."

The Republicans, as a matter of course, were the sincere friends of the Union. Wherever a Republican was seen, there was known to be a decided, unconditional Union man. He was the jest of both the other factions —alike hated and feared by both. At a later period, moderate Democrats and moderate Bell-Everetts acquiesced in the Union by refraining to take part with the rebellion, but both desired to serve the Union in their own way and under their own leaders. They began to profess a willingness to remain in the Union, but they had fought against Frank Blair so long, they did not now aspire to assist in saving the Union by standing shoulder to shoulder with him. They began to want the Union saved, but did not want Frank Blair to help save it; they loved the country, but they did not want to fight for it; they had no sympathy with secession, but they did not want secessionists interfered with; they were "Union men, but by no means abolitionists."

Mr. Blair and the Republicans were confident of superior strength, with the assistance of Iowa, Kansas, Indiana, and Illinois, to whip out secession from Missouri and Arkansas, yet they were anxious to ignore everything like partyism, and invited all friends of the Union to engage in its preservation under the national banner. They proposed to drop the word "Republican" and engage in the work of forming a great Union party, where all would be on a political equality, and that future action should determine the political status of the individual. But people were very slow to see, and still slower to move. It required the utmost of that political tact and management for which Mr. Blair was so justly celebrated, and the most careful and prudent kind of argument, to effect such a coalition between hitherto opposing elements as should serve the cause of the nation in the State of Missouri.

But the most admirable of all the personal incidents of that time was the perfect confidence and trust reposed in each other by individual Republicans, and the supreme reliance placed in their leader. Between Mr. Blair and others of prominence in the party (men of great abilities and solid judgment as well) there existed the most thorough personal sympathy and harmony. Indeed it was no time to cater to ambition. The positive character, untiring energy, and undaunted courage of Mr. Blair capacitated him for leadership in such a crisis. His fertile brain devised every expedient, his indomitable will carried out every plan. While the rebels threatened they found the work of a master on every hand. In activity and vigilance he was more than a match for the whole batch of conspirators. In council with his co-laborers he accepted their suggestions, strengthened their plans, discouraged contentious debate, when indulged in by some young and unthinking friend, by mild remark or gentle reproof, and rendered strict homage to age and ability. No spirit of jealousy, no desire for notoriety, interfered with his authority, and no personal ambition prompted him to encounter popular prejudice.

Those Republicans of 1861! with what noble self-reliance they maintained their indifference to opprobrious epithets, with what religious inspiration they tenaciously grasped the starry emblem of the Republic! No Dissenter, seeking solitude to avoid the persecution of the Established Church, no Puritan, kneeling in prayer in ocean-tossed "May-Flower," had more the spirit of the true faith than had those Republicans of 1861 who, under such grand "Safety Committee" leadership, resolved to sustain, to the bitter end, the cause of humanity and of God.

POLITICAL MOVEMENTS.

On the night of January 8, the Democracy held a mass meeting at Washington Hall for the purpose of organization. The active members of that meeting were notorious secessionists, and in order to seduce the timid into their ranks, and maintain their own natural strength, it was made the policy to throw the onus of the impending conflict upon the Republicans. The resolutions adopted were satisfactory to the secessionists, but the latter could scarcely see the propriety of adopting that one which called for "a committee of twenty to act with a committee of the ‘Union party,’ for the purpose of opposing Black Republicanism." It was explained that there was a large body of the people who were not disunionists, but yet were not Black Republicans, and as the Congress had not rejected every scheme for pacification, and as it was very likely some basis of settlement would be agreed upon, it behooved the opponents of "Black Republicanism" to show a solid front and assist in securing the South her rights. It was not without considerable discussion, however, that the resolution prevailed.

About the same time the leading Republicans agreed with certain leaders of the opposition (not secesh) for a grand mass Union meeting, to be held on Saturday, January 12; but on the morning of that day it was published in the opposition "dailies," that the meeting was expected to adopt the Crittenden compromise resolutions as the basis for a settlement of the pending difficulties.

This course met with objection from the Republicans, because of the implied sanction it gave to Southern contumacy. The Republicans desired to affirm their unconditional devotion to the Union, but the proposed meeting threatened to restrict them. Mr. Blair, after consultation with prominent men of his own party, decided that the only legitimate course to pursue would be to declare unalterable fidelity to the Union under any and all circumstances; and as this could not be done, under the arrangements for the proposed meeting, without producing angry debate and probable serious consequences, determined to advise Republicans, as such, to decline participation in it. Consequently, on the morning of the meeting-day a placard was posted around the city, advising the Republicans to take no part in the meeting, which was signed by several members of the party. The meeting, however, was numerously attended, and the Crittenden resolutions were passed.

CLAIB JACKSON LOSES MUCH POWDER.

One of the measures of the Jackson-Reynolds clique was to deposit large quantities of powder in the hands of trusted friends throughout the State. Large quantities of powder were purchased in the East; and on the 15th of January, while in course of transit to St. Louis, 4,500 kegs of this powder were seized by the secessionists in New Orleans. This was a severe loss to the junta, and messengers were dispatched to recover it if possible.

PREPARATION TO CAPTURE THE ARSENAL.

The removal of Bell and the appointment of Major Hagner to command the arsenal somewhat disconcerted the conspirators; not that they had no confidence in Hagner, but they were annoyed at the idea of General Scott having an eye upon the place. The arrival of Sweeney was further displeasing to them, and they began to consider it best to have possession of the arsenal. The secessionists in the interior were constantly looking for the capture of the place, and were clamorous for its guns. Jackson was urged to act, but he withheld his sanction on the ground that the time had not yet arrived, and that it would not do for Missouri to take the initiative in the rebellion. The rebel leaders at St. Louis, however, alarmed at the growing interest of the Government in the St. Louis arsenal, began to plan its capture. Their confidence in Hagner was supreme; but what of Sweeney, who by the latter part of January had reported to Major McRae, at Jefferson Barracks, and had by that officer been ordered to relieve Lieutenant Thompson, in the command of the troops at the arsenal? They sent to ascertain. Sweeney had issued orders that no one unconnected with the arsenal should be admitted within the place, except by his own special permission. One day early in February, a man named Croghan presented himself at the west gate and demanded to see Captain Sweeney. (Sweeney had been made a Captain to fill a vacancy in his own regiment, caused by the defection and resignation of Captain Wm. Montgomery Gardiner.) Captain Sweeney soon appeared at the gate, and recognized in Croghan a former acquaintance, and the son of that Colonel Croghan who was Inspector-General of the U. S. Army, and who is known in history as the man who, with a small band, successfully held Fort Sandusky against an overwhelming force of British and Indians, in the old War of 1812. Sweeney, not thinking that the son of such a man could be a rebel against the Government, with the history of which his father's name was so imperishably interwoven, greeted him with the warmth of true soldierly friendship, and invited him to his quarters. It was a cold day, and Croghan wore a citizen's overcoat. On their way to quarters, the guards properly saluted Sweeney as they passed. Said Croghan "Sweeney, don't you think these sentinels ought to salute me —my rank is higher than yours?" at the same time throwing open his overcoat, and revealing the uniform of a rebel field officer.

"Not to such as that, by heavens!" responded Sweeney; and added: "if that is your business, you can have nothing to do with me. You had better not let my men see you with that thing on."

Croghan assured him his business in calling was one of sincere friendship; but he would remark, while on that subject, that Sweeney had better find it convenient to get out of there, and very soon, too.

"Why?" asked Sweeney.

Replied Croghan: "Because we intend to take it." Sweeney in great excitement exclaimed: "Never! As sure as my name is Sweeney, the property in this place shall never fall into your hands. I'll blow it to hell first, and you know I am the man to do it."

Yea! Croghan did know it. Returning to the city, he related the conversation to the rebel junta, and they gave the sober second thought. Croghan had been sent out as a spy, and had discovered more than he had desired. Some of the conspirators called on Ethan Allen Hitchcock, and interrogated him as to the character of Sweeney. Hitchcock gave them no comfort.

It was confidently believed that a certain night was fixed upon for an attack, and the Safety Committee prepared to assist Sweeney. On the night of the expected attack, Sweeney had his men (forty unassigned recruits in all) prepared for valiant fight and resistance; and beyond the walls of his garrison there were over five hundred Union Guards keeping holy vigil over the passing hours. The night passed away, however, without any disturbance, although unusual activity prevailed until a late hour in the headquarters of the minutemen. The threatened attack was postponed, and the favorable hour was forever gone.

THOROUGH UNION ORGANIZATION.

In the meantime the organization of Black Rifles, Union Guards, Lafayette Guards, Mounted Rangers, and others of the Union host proceeded quietly, and with great rapidity and enthusiasm. The hopes and anticipations of the leading loyalists were more than realized. It was felt, shortly after the arrival of Lyon, that in St. Louis the Wide Awakes were more than a match for the minute-men, and the Safety Committee were in constant communication with prominent men of the Western States, who were prepared to render efficient service at a moment's notice. The Committee also had engaged the services of a corps of experienced detectives, and paid them from its own private funds. By this means many of the movements of the conspirators were instantly communicated, and their plans frustrated. Whenever there was any activity at the Berthold mansion, or around the offices and residences of prominent or known secessionists, there was corresponding activity in the drill-rooms of the Union Guards. The first indications of real cause for serious alarm would have prompted energetic action, and the several railroads leading into the city from the East would have been speedily thronged by patriot Northmen, rushing to the field in defense of their brother freemen, who were endeavoring in Missouri to uphold the national Union.

The spies of the minute-men were also always on the alert, and such men as Messrs. How, Glover, Broadhead, Blair, Able, the Filleys, Simmons, Brown, and others were tracked in their every movement. The houses of Mr. How and Mr. G. F. Filley, on Lucas Place, were always watched, as were also the residences of Broadhead, O. D. Filley, and Blair. All these were noticed, and probably others were equally as closely spied. The arsenal was watched by regular guards, officially detailed and relieved.

DARK DAYS.

From all parts of the State letters reached Mr. Blair, asking for advice, and begging aid and comfort. I have a great number of these letters before me as I write. Any one of them is an index to the contents of all. Secession was rampant everywhere. Families were removing to more congenial sections. Union men dared not utter their convictions. In all places the secesh were noisy and undisturbed. The enemies of the Government were rapidly providing themselves with arms and ammunition, and preparing for organization under the new military bill, which they confidently expected would speedily pass the Legislature. Dreading the intolerance and the oppression of the oligarchy, the opponents of secession (other than the Republicans) clung to the Crittenden compromise as the only safe method of explaining their position against the secession furore. It is difficult to obtain the records of any meeting, outside of the city of St. Louis, where a stand for unconditional Unionism was taken, where the genuine Union feeling was expressed; and I am confident no such meeting was ever held. To those not in the secret, it seemed as if secession in Missouri was an accomplished fact; and so certain were Jackson, Reynolds & Co. that the people would decide in their favor, that they willingly submitted the question of a convention to a vote of the State.

ARRIVAL OF CAPTAIN LYON AT THE ARSENAL.

On the 6th of February, 1861, there arrived at the St. Louis arsenal a company of regulars from Fort Riley, all old soldiers, and superbly disciplined. This company (eighty enlisted men) added materially to the force to whose charge was committed the safety of the arsenal. But the great demand and expectation of the Unionists were not to be so much gratified by the numerical strength Government was crowding into that valuable place as in the calibre of the officer whose commands those men obeyed. His arrival, announced to the Union clubs, was greeted with an enthusiasm that welled forth from the deepest recesses of the loyalist's soul; and the secessionists, in Berthold mansion and State capitol, learned to fear and appreciate NATHANIEL LYON.

EARLY LIFE AND CAREER OF LYON.

Nathaniel Lyon was born in Ashford, Windham county, Connecticut, July 14, 1819. He was the. son of Amasa Lyon, a man of some prominence in his county, and for many years a magistrate. The mother of Nathaniel belonged to the Knowlton family, and ancestors and relatives on either side had been distinguished in earlier clays by their fidelity to freedom, and valuable service to the Federal cause in the council and the field.

The youth of Nathaniel was passed at his home in Ashford, until, in his eighteenth year, he entered the Military Academy at West Point, from which he emerged a graduate in 1841, being the eleventh in his class. He was appointed to be a Lieutenant in the Second United States Infantry, and ordered to Florida, where he was engaged in the latter part of the Seminole War. At the close of that war he was for a short season in Oregon; but some time after the commencement of the Mexican War he reported to General Taylor, and was afterward transferred to the column headed by General Scott. His gallant conduct along the line of Scott's approach to the city of Mexico, and in the very streets of that city, won for himself the applause of his comrades, and from a grateful Government the increased rank of a Captain by brevet. In 1851 this brevet title gave way to a full commission, and Captain Lyon was ordered to California, where was committed to him the charge, with two small companies, of protecting an exposed frontier against marauding bands of Indians. Afterward removed to the western border of Kansas and Nebraska, we find him, in the fall of 1860, sustaining the Republican party by contributions to the Republican press.

He was at Fort Riley when the order reached him to move with his company, with the greatest dispatch, to the St. Louis arsenal.

LYON AND BLAIR.

Upon his arrival in St. Louis, Captain Lyon at once called upon Mr. Blair, and from him learned the exact condition of affairs, both in the city and throughout the State. Thus between these two men was formed an intimacy, which speedily ripened into the warmest friendship and the most profound mutual respect and confidence. As the plot thickened, and the changing days developed new conditions, Blair was the trusted, confidential adviser, sought for in every instance, and in every instance upholding and sustaining. This confidence, this reliance, this friendship was never weakened by the clashing of opposing opinions, or by the selfishness which generally obtains in men flattered by official position and power.

LYON AND THE SAFETY COMMITTEE.

Captain Lyon also sought acquaintance with the members of the Safety Committee, and with them frequently visited the several armories where the Union Guard were secretly drilling, or awaiting orders to disperse. On many occasions he acted as drill-master, and took great interest in the establishment of proper discipline. He met quite often, in their secret meetings, with the prominent Republicans of the city, and was a source of great comfort and hope to many of the timid, by his thorough comprehension of the situation, and his cheerful declaration of ability to remain its master.

REVIEW OF LYONS CHARACTER.

When Lyon entered the St. Louis arsenal, his character was already formed. He had learned the business of a soldier by hard service in the Seminole and Mexican wars, and in fighting Indians in California and on the Plains.

In his profession he had sustained himself as an officer of skill and energy, and of undaunted bravery. He was reputed a man of great force of character, and of active thought. He was bold, yet cautious; his boldness avoiding temerity, as his caution gave no savor of cowardice. His courage was not, as it is in some, mere brute force; it was more the result of pride and active self-consciousness. At Contreras (where he attempted by a bold dash to capture a battery), and at the Belen Gate (where he was wounded), he acted upon deliberation. He recognized the mandates of duty and exulted in obedience, yet he held there were instances in history where obedience was criminal. Devoted to his calling, he was jealous of its reputation, as well as of his own, and in his exercise of command he never forgot to be a gentleman.

During the years which intervened from 1841 to 1860, there were many hours in which he had availed himself of the opportunity to improve in intellectual attainments. His writings (or rather "squibs" for a country newspaper) do not display his mental possibilities; and yet there is a vigor and a consciousness of reasoning about them which betray the characteristics of considerable genius. His letters, his official orders and instructions, all evince a desire to avoid display. His anxiety was to secure your understanding by straight marches to your reason; and so he accomplished that, others were left to excite the emotional nature, if they chose to do so, by reaches into the realms of poetry and romance.

This latter is apparent in his manifest scorn to adopt any device to accomplish even the best object. For a paper published in 1860, called the "Manhattan Express," he wrote an article in favor of the Republican cause, in which I find the following: "We prefer to advocate our principles, and win support for them by their own commendable features, rather than expose and denounce the detestable iniquities of our opponents, for the purpose of creating an aversion toward them." This is the language of a generous nature, free from guile.

As they came to understand Lyon better, the Unionists became jubilant and more confident. He was what was wanted at the time, a man of unquestionable loyalty and patriotism. Such was his exhibition of zeal and energy, so completely did he enter into the very spirit and work of the real Unionists, so thoroughly did he seem to grasp the question at issue and understand the necessities of the case, that he left no room for doubt or equivocation. His soldierly bearing and scholarly culture were not the only incentives to the respect and esteem he so absolutely commanded. He had a clear perception of what was required. He saw the chivalry in arms, arrogant and presumptuous, determined on victory; if not to be achieved by threats, then by force. He despised their threats, as he sought the means to resist and overcome their force. He knew them to be as self-confident as they were insolent. In Kansas he had seen their disregard of law, and their contempt for order. He had ever before him the reply of Brooks to the argument of Sumner, and the apotheosis of the ruffian. He knew that the time had come for fight, and that every delay but prolonged the struggle. It was a good thing for Charleston that Moultrie and Sumter were not commanded by Nathaniel Lyon; not, perhaps, that he would certainly have prevented the capture of those forts, but they would have been defended with more dignity; and if South Carolina rebels had prevented him from provisioning his posts, there would have been another Camp Jackson or a desolated Charleston. What was his own life to the lesson such conduct would furnish to future times!

Short in stature, of slender build, face long and narrow, but full, high forehead, spreading out from the base, with every phrenological organ well defined; coarse sandy hair, and whiskers almost red; keen, deep-set blue eyes; an expression of countenance now thoughtful, now luminous, never troubled; in manner quick, nervous, yet always with seeming consideration—such was the outer man. In his social intercourse with men, he was genial and obliging; his conversation at times sparkled with originality and genuine wit. In the company of any capable of talking with him intelligently, he spoke with great earnestness and enthusiasm.

There was no craft or guile about him. You knew at once exactly what he wanted and what he meant; and yet, to serve any great purpose, he could be reticent enough. No man more than he loved good company. In his habits he was perfectly plain; he never troubled himself about his mess; a bed, a cot, the floor, the ground, all the same, as, when sleep came, he found either.

Among the authors, his great favorite was Shakespeare. He could quote it from memory by the hour. He sought with avidity what are called "standard works," and read history as if in the personal presence of its actors. He betrayed deep emotion when suggestions occasioned the review of some noble acts, performed by earth's heroes in the past; and under the inspiring influence of their sufferings and persecutions, he himself resolved to dare and do. One, to hear him, when thus excited by the noblest instincts of human nature, would almost imagine he was in the cell when Socrates drank the hemlock; with Luther when, in obedience to conviction, he defied the power of the Roman Church; with Hampden when he repudiated the assumptions of the Crown and fell, fighting for the right, at Chalgrove. This Self-identification with historic characters moved him to loftier effort in his own sphere of action. He felt, indeed, as if "forty generations were looking down upon him." So he performed his duty, he cared very little for human notice; and when he felt called upon, in the interest of truth, to do a certain thing, he never hesitated to assume any responsibility. We shall learn this as this narrative progresses.

I have heard it said that Lyon was an atheist. They are ignorant of the man who assert this of him. He had profound reverence for the Bible; and, when, at Boonville, he was called upon to decide the fate of some youths whom he had taken prisoners, he dismissed them, after presenting most of them with copies of the Bible, which had been forwarded by some religious association. Atheist! why his whole life was a recognition of the Divine!

No man cared less for the applause of men; no man sought more the approval of his own conscience. But he was no theologian, and cared very little for the Churches. He felt there was a Supreme Being, omnipresent and omniscient, who cared for him, and who upheld him, and whose divine purpose moves with mysterious power through human history. The flower blossoming by the wayside, the busy crowds along the city thoroughfare, all served some great purpose of the Divine. But he cared very little for philosophical interpretations. He would not quarrel with you as to names; you might call that divinity Brahma, or Vishnu, or God. He would not assert nor deny, and confessed bewilderment whenever he engaged in religious argument. Therefore he declined to argue. He agreed with you as to the "Great First Cause;" why force him to recognize human utterances? He felt the DIVINE within him, moving him to stand by the right; and around him, in every demonstration of nature, in day and night, the changing seasons and the rolling years. He surrendered himself to an impenetrable mystery, confident of his own helplessness, and that all would come right if he did right. He studied abstract philosophy only to become more undecided as to form; but he never failed to hear the "beatings of the Great Heart of the universe." Lyon was not disposed to look upon the dark side of current events. The past was productive, to be sure, of much evil, but out of that very evil there has been evolved much good. Star-chamber sentences of persecution and death had caused the embarkation at Delft Haven, and the struggle which followed it, in New England, between civilization and barbarism. The encroachments of monarchy gave Hampden and Washington to history, and to ourselves nationality. He saw the inordinate ambition of the slaveholder, invoking the agency of civil war; and, anticipating Sumter, he prophesied immediate universal freedom. As in the natural world, by an eternal law, black clouds must alternate with golden sunshine, so in the moral, oppressive tendencies must pass away before the sublimities of great popular reactions. Good out of everything—what a beautiful faith! In what a glorious light to move and act! Good, working in a ceaseless current through every time! Good! even out of that desolation which sat in triumph over Calvary; out of dark and bloody ages; out of this stupendous rebellion, with its cost of blood and tears!

LYON, AND THE STARS AND STRIPES.

When he arrived at the arsenal, the flag of the rebellion was flying from the roof of the Berthold mansion. He had no force at his command to tear it down. Nothing grieved him so much, for there was nothing on earth that he loved so much as the insignia of the Republic. Maintaining the honor of that flag, he had "many times and oft" risked his life in the heat of awful battle. The utter contempt exhibited by the traitors for the "Stars and Stripes," their efforts to humiliate and trample upon them, was one of the most singular anomalies of that ceaseless rebellion.

A HUNGARIAN LEGEND.

There is a Hungarian legend which runs somewhat in this wise: In a village near the Turkish frontier of Hungary, there was a cathedral, which of itself possessed no peculiar merit attractive to the stranger, but which was noted far and wide for its possession of an organ, of peculiar sweetness and volume. Pilgrims from every section delighted in its wonderful melody and exquisite workmanship. Some saint, it was thought, presided at the keys, some holy atmosphere glided through the pipes. News came that the Turks were advancing upon Hungary, and the villagers were flying in every direction. But some faithful few, more devoted than the rest, sought to preserve the beloved organ from the sacrilegious hands of the infidel. And so at night, when the storm-king reigned, and the tempest drove its chariots fiercely through the Hungarian forest, they took the organ out into the neighboring swamp and buried it there. Time passed on; war gave way to peace; the Turks retired to their own dominions, and the wandering villagers returned to their homes; but upon searching for the organ it could nowhere be found. Those who had consigned it to the swamp were dead, and no living hand could point out its secret resting-place. The legend goes on to say, that at night, when the storm rages with fearful violence, and the lightning and the thunder strike terror to the heart of the weary and way-worn traveler journeying through that dismal forest, an organ of indescribable elegance, and blazing with light, arises out of the adjacent swamp, and discourses to the startled ear music of the most bewitching sweetness. So this old starry banner of ours, rich with the recollection of Revolutionary times, trampled and spat upon by insolent traitors, echoed the eloquence of ancient valor along the ranks of our own volunteers, and inspired the children of the North to the performance of deeds of imperishable glory.

LYON AT THE ARSENAL.

Captain Lyon was soon re-enforced by some forty men under Lieut. Lothrop, and an additional squad of unassigned recruits, from Newport and Jefferson Barracks. Also, Captain Saxton soon arrived with more men, and Captain Totten, who had surrendered Little Rock. Sweeney (promoted to a captaincy in February), Saxton, Lothrop, and Lyon himself engaged earnestly in the work of organizing the force at hand, and subjecting them to proper drill and discipline. Upon the Safety Committee devolved the work of watching the conspirators in the city, while Lyon engaged himself to protect the arsenal. He soon saw that he was powerless in case of the anticipated attack, and met with no sympathy from Major Hagner, who commanded the post. To remedy this, Mr. Blair, failing to get prompt responses to his important letters to Washington, concluded to visit the national Capital in person, for the purpose of securing for Captain Lyon the necessary authority to act in any emergency as circumstances might demand.

Previous to visiting Washington, Mr. Blair saw Mr. Lincoln at Springfield, and made him fully to understand not only the conduct and the designs of the secessionists, but also the firm determination of the Union men and their intended action. The following letter, written by Captain Lyon shortly after Mr. Blair's departure, will explain affairs in the arsenal at that time

[COPY.]

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, and which, in view of the cause of our country and humanity, the disgrace and degradation to which the Government has been subject by pusillanimity and treachery, we are how called upon to make, 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; by which I mean such force as would not be overcome by our sympathizing friends outside.

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 the command, and, under the sixty-second article of war, can only have it by a special assignment of the President, which I do not believe has been made; but that the announcement of Gen. Scott that the command belongs to Major Hagner is his own decision, and done in his usual sordid spirit of partisanship and favoritism to pets, and personal associates, and toadies; nor can he, even in the present straits of the country, rise above this, in earnest devotion to justice and the wants of his country. If Mr. Lincoln chooses to be deceived in this respect, as I fear he will be, he will yet repent of it in misfortune and sorrow; for neither supercilious conceit nor unscrupulous tyranny was ever a wail for patriotism or ability. Major Hagner 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. With respect to those men discharged, either an investigation should be ordered, or all who remain be discharged; this latter would be the better plan, and save Government an expense for which they are rendering no necessary or compensating service.

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; but most, I concern myself with a view to sustain the Government here, and trust to such measures as may be found available.

Yours truly,

N. LYON.

LYON IN COMMAND OF THE ARSENAL DEFENSES.

Mr. Blair, in Washington, did not succeed with the Buchanan administration in effecting the objects of his journey; but as soon as Mr. Lincoln got the machinery of his own administration started, he ordered that Captain Lyon be placed in charge of the defenses of the arsenal. The order reached General Harney about the middle of March, and was construed by that officer in its literal sense, viz. that Captain Lyon's command included only the troops in the arsenal and that particular post. By instructions of General Harney, therefore, Major Hagner issued the following:

[COPY.]

ST. LOUIS ARSENAL, March 19, 1861. Post Order No. 58.

In compliance with Special Order No. 74, War Department, Adjutant-General's Office, dated Washington, March 13, 1861, assigning to Captain N. Lyon, Second Infantry, the command of the troops and defenses of this post, the undersigned turns over to Captain Lyon all command and responsibility, not appertaining to the commanding officer of the arsenal and his duties as an officer of ordnance.

By order of MAJOR HAGNER,

M. H. WRIGHT, Lieutenant and Post Adjutant.

HE IS THWARTED BY HAGNER.

Captain Lyon assumed command, in accordance with the above, but, in his endeavors to prepare suitable defenses, found himself thwarted. This occasioned the following letter, written on the morning of April 6:

[COPY.]

ST. LOUIS ARSENAL, April 6, 1861.

DEAR SIR—I am aware that I am indebted to you for changing the command of the troops at this post; and though anxious for it, in view of what I regarded the interest of the service, I was so upon the ground of' being untrammeled in the use of the means available for the purpose. But with the orders of General Harney, a copy of which I inclose, 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 most needed for defense, and where position would be most important; but Major Hagner as 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, and then getting issues made in conformity thereto. 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 with Major Hagner in control of these means, and controlled only through General Harney upon my requisitions, and, furthermore, liable to oppose me with his men and means in our greatest extremities. I feel embarrassed, and would be glad of any relief from this anomaly, even if the service cannot be bettered. But I fear the monopoly of the ordnance department is somewhat a power above the Government, with which the Government is afraid to deal, so as to secure its own interests irrespective of individual clamor. 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. I have felt disposed to remonstrate officially against this awkwardness, but have been restrained by the idea that, as matters have heretofore been, there was no great need of troubling myself with defenses here, and that I laid myself liable to rebuke for gratuitous concern for Government interests which those of higher rank and responsibility do not feel. And, in fact, being under orders to go up to Fort Leavenworth, before a Court of Inquiry there on the 15th instant, I supposed whatever I might wish and do in the meantime might, in other hands, be perverted, or fall short of an efficient application, and my ardor has been somewhat abated. But the new organization of the Metropolitan Police system seems to embolden the secessionists so much as to fill me with deep concern to be prepared for them, and I am on this account prompted to write you. Of course, in all military matters there should be one commander, and no such absurd thing as a division that shall render it liable to an entire perversion of its purposes. 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.

As the matter now stands, would it not be well for the Secretary of War to order that his Special Order No. 74, giving me command of the troops and defenses at this post, should have no exception in men and means necessary for this purpose? I regret I have been obliged to obtrude so much upon your attention, and with many thanks for your personal kindness, believe me,

Yours truly,

N. LYON.

Hon. F. P. BLAIR, Jr., Washington, D. C.

The following letter will also explain the condition of affairs at the arsenal and in the city:

ST. LOUIS, April 6, 1861.

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.

Hon. F. P. BLAIR, Jr., Washington City.

LYON TO BLAIR—HE HAS NO CONFIDENCE IN ARMY OFFICERS WHO SURRENDER, WITHOUT RESISTANCE, TO UNDISCIPLINED MOBS.

ST. LOUIS, April 6, 1861.

DEAR Sir.—Since writing you to-day 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, a copy of which I inclose, 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 encumbrance. He is to come down to-morrow and confer upon measures of defense.

Yours truly,

N. LYON.

Hon. F. P. BLAIR, Jr., Washington, D.C.

P.S.—I would advise our new War Department to suspend from official authority all those officers who have given up arsenals, forts, troops, &c., to the enemy, till an official investigation shall acquit them of blame. This is necessary to show that the Government has some resolution, and would have a wholesome effect upon the rest of the army, and would likely subdue the semisecession spirit of the officers from Southern States, still remaining in the army, who by the examples given of yielding up Government property, see that they can with impunity hold their places in the army, only to subserve this secession work. The new administration will have much on its hands, but as the wrongs of Kansas have been the foundation and, main capital of the Republican party, her condition should be attended to; and I refer now to this matter because I have so lately seen something there of the action of the corrupt officials of the Buchanan administration. The Indian agents, Clover and Cowert, should at once be dismissed; as also the Commissioner, Greenwood. He and Cowert, as you may remember, perpetrated that inhumanity of turning people out of doors and burning their houses, under pretense of their having violated Indian treaties, but notorious pro-slavery men were undisturbed. Two men, notorious for their border-ruffian outrages upon Kansas people, were rewarded by an appointment each, as a sutler; one, whose name is Gordon, for Fort Larned, and the other, Miller, for Fort Wise; these appointments were both made by Secretary Floyd, and in violation of the army regulations; both should be promptly removed.

Yours, &c.,

N. LYON.

 

 

 

 


©2002 G. E. Rule

No reproduction or distribution without consent of author.

Feel free to link to this or any other page on the site.

Please don't hyperlink to pictures, query for copying permission.

Return to Civil War St. Louis

Hit Counter

Total site hits

Hit Counter

since January 25, 2001

 

Other websites by the webmasters of Civil War St. Louis:

D. A. Houdek

The Heinlein Archives

The Heinlein Society

The Heinlein Prize

Butler Public Library

Caltronics Assembly & Design, Inc.

Laura Ingalls Wilder