Posted June 20, 2003

Solving the Mystery of the Arsenal Guns

by Randy R. McGuire, PhD


Part I:


Sources and Methodology

Background of the Arsenal

The St. Louis Arsenal in the Years Leading up to the Civil War

Go to Part I

Part II:

Events of Early 1861 Affect the St. Louis Arsenal


Go to Part II


Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Appendix D

Appendix D

Excerpts from Later Historical Works

Concerning the St. Louis Arsenal and the War in Missouri in Early 1861,

Compared and Contrasted with Significant Events of the Wider War

(Sources Published Between 1921 and the Present)


1. Stevens, Walter B. Centennial History of Missouri (The Center State): One Hundred Years in the Union, 1820-1921. (1921)

a. In the matter of property rights as well as in other relations between the United States and the states this country has traveled far since 1861 [this was written in 1921]. According to the southern rights view, the right of secession carried with it ownership of government property within the seceding state. Missouri secessionists had no doubt that the arsenals as well as other government property would belong to Missouri the day that they adopted an ordinance of secession. They had, the first two months of 1861, no doubt Missouri was going to secede. But pending that action possession of the arsenals and the disposition of the contents gave great concern. (704)

b. The United States had two arsenals in Missouri. One, the smaller, was at Liberty. This had been of considerable importance when Liberty was on the border of the Indian country and the principal frontier community, previous to the Platte purchase. At the beginning of 1861, the Liberty arsenal contained some hundreds of muskets, ten or twelve cannon and a large amount of powder for those days. (704-05)

c. But the St. Louis Arsenal was one of the most important in the whole country. Those were the days of river transportation, it must be remembered. The St. Louis arsenal was the supply depot of war material for the entire West. It occupied fifty-six acres of ground, was surrounded by a massive stone wall, except upon the river frontage. Within the enclosure were four great stone buildings forming a square. In January, 1861, the St. Louis arsenal contained 60,000 stands of arms, nearly all of them Enfield and Springfield rifles. In all of the South, outside of Missouri, there were only 150,000 muskets. In addition to these rifles the arsenal contained 1,500,000 cartridges, 90,000 pounds of powder, several siege guns, the field pieces to equip a number of batteries, a large stock of equipment of various kinds. There were ordnance shops and machinery for the manufacture of war material. The arsenal was on a slope to the river’s edge with hills of considerable height to the west and south. In the growth of the city these heights were afterwards graded down. (705)

d. Southern rights leaders in Missouri were fully agreed that the arsenals at Liberty and St. Louis, with their contents would become state property when secession took place. They disagreed as to the policy which should be pursued by them before secession. The younger and more impetuous wanted immediate action. They planned to get control of the arsenals before the state seceded. They advocated forcible seizure, arguing that such course would insure secession. The older leaders counseled waiting for secession sentiment to develop. They insisted upon legal forms. (705)

e. Frost immediately issued a confidential notice to the militia officers that "upon the bells of the churches sounding a continuous peal, interrupted by a pause of five minutes, they should assemble with their men in their armories and await further notice." A copy of the notice was carried at once to Blair. In those days each side had trusted men who reported promptly every move of one to the other. Archbishop Kenrick was seen and asked to prevent this use of the Catholic bells. Blair sent a copy of Frost’s notice to General Scott with his interpretation of it as meaning the plan of the state to get possession of the arsenal. Montgomery Blair in Washington, Governor Richard Yates of Illinois and President-elect Lincoln indorsed Frank Blair’s request that somebody be sent to supersede Bell. In a few days Major Bell was ordered East and Maj. Peter B. Hagner of the District of Columbia was sent to the arsenal as ordnance officer in control. (706)

f. General Bernard G. Farrar, late in life, gave a graphic account of what was going on in St. Louis during January and February, 1861:

"There still existed the ‘Wide Awakes,’ a political organization of 1860. To convert them into a military body was the first thought of the Committee of Safety, and active steps were taken to perfect that object. The Wide Awakes were numerous and ardent, but powerless for the want of arms. The grave situation impelled the loyalists to prompt action. In January a secret meeting of the faithful was planned. A notice to the trusted few was quietly sent out, and on a stated evening in Wyman’s hall assembled some fifteen citizens. J. J. Witzig guarded the door and admitted only those who could give the countersign. As far as I can remember, the following persons were present: Frank P. Blair, F. A. Dick, O. D. and Giles F. Filley, John How, Charles Elleard, Samuel Simmons, J. S. Merrell, B. Gratz Brown, William McKee, Benjamin Farrar, Peter L. Foy, and possibly two or three others including myself. The meeting was informal, a simple, quiet talk all round. The question of arming the Wide Awakes was the vital point. To this end it was agreed to raise money and at that meeting $400 was subscribed. It was agreed to write to Governor Yates, of Illinois, for aid, and Blair at once formulated the letter which was sent the following day by private messenger. This letter was responded to a few days later in the shape of 200 stand of arms packed in sugar hogsheads marked chinaware and consigned to O. D. Filley. Those arms were a godsend, and were quickly distributed to the Wide Awakes. The first company organized was armed and drilled in a large storeroom where now stands the Columbia theater. More money was soon raised, more guns purchased, and by the 1st of February the Union men could count on a military force of 2,000 men, mostly Germans.

"During February the secessionists fixed upon several nights for a raid on the arsenal, but spies in their camp betrayed their plans. The word was passed down South Broadway; lights gleamed in every house; shotguns and various missiles were carried to the roofs; the Wide Awakes hurried to their various posts, all ready for the fray. The secessionists, learning that their plans were known, abandoned the attempts. For over two months, 2,000 armed men on either side stood ready at a moment’s notice to engage in actual warfare.

"At that time the population of the city stood about one-third native, one-third German and one-third Irish. The native population was about one for the Union, nine for the South; the Germans were a unit for the Union; the Irish with some notable exceptions favored the South. Two of those notable exceptions were Doyle and Crickard, both Irish stone masons and builders. In May these men entered the United States treasury office, and, planting on the counter two bags of gold, said to the assistant treasurer, ‘We bring you $10,000. The government is in need of money. Please deposit as our loan.’ At that time the government credit was at a very low ebb." (709-10)

g. The best authority on "Missouri in 1861," from the southern rights point of view was Thomas L. Snead. . . . Snead knew the organization and plans of the Minute Men. He named three men as foremost in the movement—Basil W. Duke, a young lawyer from Kentucky, about twenty-five years old; Colton Greene, South Carolinian by birth, a young merchant of delicate physique and retiring manner; and Brock Champion, a bold, enthusiastic young Irishman. The organization was started on the 11th of January, the day that forty regular soldiers arrived from Newport Barracks, and marched to the custom house on Third and Olive streets to protect the sub-treasury and the $400,000 in gold. The troops had been sent as the result of a letter from the assistant United States treasurer, Isaac H. Sturgeon, to President Buchanan suggesting that such protection was advisable in view of the public excitement. If there had been wild talk before, it was nothing to what this show of authority by the government aroused. . . . General Harney, commanding the district, acted quickly. The forty regulars marched away to the arsenal and the insult to Missouri became only a reminiscence with the general public. But Duke, Greene, Champion and a few others met that day and began to plan definitely for the future. Snead said:

Never was there a finer body of young fellows than these Minute Men. Some were Missourians; some from the North; some from the South, and others were Irishmen. Among them all there was hardly a man who was not intelligent, educated and recklessly brave. Some who had the least education were as brave as the bravest, and as true as the truest. Most of them fought afterwards on many a bloody field. Many of them died in battle. Some of them rose to high commands. Not one of them proved false to the cause to which he then pledged his faith.

They established their headquarters at the old Berthold mansion, in the very heart of the city, at the corner of Fifth and Pine streets, and also formed and drilled companies in other parts of the city against the time they could arm and equip themselves. They were hardly three hundred in all, but they were so bold and active, so daring and ubiquitous, that every one accounted them ten times as numerous.

Like Blair and the Home Guards, they had their eyes fixed upon the arsenal and expected out of its abundant stores to arm and equip themselves for the coming fight. In that arsenal were sixty thousand good muskets, while in all the Confederate states there were not one hundred and fifty thousand more. They were barely three hundred men, and more than ten thousand stood ready to resist them, but for the love of the South, and for the love of the right, and for the honor of Missouri, they were willing to peril their lives any day to get those muskets. And they would have got them or perished in the attempt but for the advice of their leaders at Jefferson City. These counseled delay. They believed that it was better to wait till the people should, in their election of delegates to the convention, declare their purpose to side with the South. They never doubted that the people would do this; never doubted that they would elect a convention which would pledge Missouri to resist the subjugation of the South, and would put her in position to do it. Sustained by the voice of the people, and instructed by their votes, the governor would then order General Frost to seize the arsenal in the name of the state, and he, with his brigade and the Minute Men, and the thousands that would flock to their aid could easily do it. (711-12)

h. The military bill which was being pressed in the legislature aimed at more than organization in support of the southern rights movement. It was intended to abolish Blair’s Home Guards. One of its provisions was that the commanding officer in each district must disarm all bodies not ‘regularly organized and mustered into the service of the state.’ Had the bill passed in February or March it would have given Frost authority to take all the guns found in the possession of the Home Guards. Governor Yates [of Illinois] had sent two hundred muskets from Springfield. These guns had been hauled under cover of beer barrels to Turner Hall and distributed to the Home Guards. Giles F. Filley had bought fifty Sharp’s rifles, the crack fighting piece of those days, and had armed the men in his factory. A fund of $30,000 had been raised by private contributions to get more guns for the Union companies. All of this was known to Governor Jackson and the secessionists. It added to their anxiety about the military bill. The state was not well prepared for fighting. In February, Harding, who was in charge of the armory at Jefferson City, reported to the governor that the state had about one thousand muskets, two six-pounders without limbers or caissons, forty sabers and fifty-eight swords. He said these swords were of such antiquated pattern that they "would not be as useful in war as so many bars of soap."

Five companies of Minute Men were recruited in St. Louis under Captains Barret, Duke, Shaler, Greene and Hubbard. Anticipating the passage of the military bill they were mustered into state service as militia by General Frost on the 15th of February and assigned to frost’s brigade. Subsequently these five companies were joined by others and made up Bowen’s regiment. (713-14)

i. Stevens repeats the story of James Stokes removing the arms to Illinois on 25-26 April, relating details almost identical with the Chicago Tribune report. He says: "Lyon interpreted the requisition so liberally that when the Alton pushed off she carried 20,000 muskets, 500 carbines, the same number of revolvers, 110,000 cartridges and considerable other war material." Then he goes on to describe the response of the secessionists when they found out what happened:

When he learned of the shipment of arms from the arsenal and of Lyon’s elaborate plans of defense, Governor Jackson sent Harding, his quartermaster-general, to St. Louis to buy all of the guns and ammunition he could find in the stores. The general was late. St. Louisans had been buying arms for three months. There were private arsenals everywhere. Capt. Sam Gaty went into the office of his lawyer, Samuel T. Glover, on legal business. He saw a gun leaning in the corner and said something about it. "You secessionists don’t expect to drive the Union men out of St. Louis, do you?" retorted Glover. Harding found stocks in the gun stores depleted. With a good deal of trouble he bought for the state a few hundred hunting rifles, some tents and other camp equipage and seventy tons of powder. The purchases were consigned to the state authorities at Jefferson City. The shipment was made on the 7th of May and Captain Kelly’s company of the state militia, composed of fighting Irishmen, went as a guard. That was the reason this crack company was not at Camp Jackson when the capture took place. Years afterwards the militant sympathizers with the South told the story of Camp Jackson in a song which ran: ’Twas on the tenth of May

When Kelly’s men were away— (729)

Citations: None given, but the wording suggests that he followed Peckham (1866) very closely, or McElroy (1909), who also appears to have paraphrased Peckham, changing only minor portions of the text. He also quotes Snead a great deal. For the Stokes episode he seems to have followed the Chicago Tribune closely and to have consulted Snead in regard to the secessionist response to this event.


2. Reasoner, Mathew A., "The Old St. Louis Arsenal," Private Manuscript, Missouri Historical Society. (1936)

Quoting Peckham verbatim in a large excerpt, Reasoner apparently accepts the figures of "60,000 stands of arms (mostly Enfield and Springfield), 1,500,000 ball cartridges, several field pieces and siege guns, together with a large amount of machinery in the several shops, and munitions of war in abundance. In the main magazine there were 90,000 pounds of powder." (34)

Citations: Peckham and numerous other common sources.


3. Shoemaker, Floyd Calvin. Missouri and Missourians: Land of Contrasts and People of Achievements. Vol. I. (1943)

a. Both factions in the State had cast covetous eyes on the St. Louis arsenal, the only place in the State besides the Liberty arsenal, where any considerable amount of military stores was kept. It was for the purpose of preventing the St. Louis arsenal, with its store of ammunition and 40,000 guns, from falling into southern hands, as well as to keep Missouri in the Union, that Blair’s forces were being prepared. Blair had an able ally in Captain Nathaniel Lyon, who had been sent to St. Louis on February 6 with a company of eighty regulars from Fort Riley, Kansas, by General Winfield Scott, whom Blair had warned of the critical situation in Missouri. . . . (834)

b. Altogether, then, there were six companies of southern sympathizers in St. Louis, comprising about three hundred men, with approximately fifty in each company, together with about 400 regular militia men under General Daniel M. Frost. Blair’s force, combined with the regular army force under Lyon, totaled about 7000 men, or ten times that of Frost. (835)

c. On April 20 the United States arsenal at Liberty was seized by some 200 men from Clay and Jackson counties who were southern sympathizers, and the arms and ammunition at the arsenal were confiscated. (835)

d. . . . About the same time Jackson ordered the various companies of the state militia to go into camp for six days in their respective districts on May 3. . . . Although Governor Jackson was strictly within his legal powers in ordering this encampment of the militia, there can scarcely be any question that in ordering the establishment of Camp Jackson at St. Louis he was looking toward the capture of the United States arsenal. That the establishment of the camp was a move toward the capture of the arsenal would seem to be borne out by the fact that the governor, on the same day he had refused Lincoln’s call for troops, had applied to the Confederate government for siege guns and ammunition to equip General Frost’s command. . . . Both Blair and Lyon were aware of this move and took steps to protect the arsenal. Earlier in the month of April, following Jackson’s refusal to honor Lincoln’s call for volunteers, Blair had offered his regiments of "Wide Awakes" as Missouri’s quota of federal troops. Lincoln at once accepted the offer and the men were mustered into the United States Army and supplied with arms from the St. Louis arsenal. The remainder of the munitions and military stores were secretly placed on board the steamer City of Alton on the night of April 26 and transported to Illinois. . . . The incentive for Governor Jackson’s attempt to seize the arsenal was now removed, and the Unionists no longer had this threatened seizure as an excuse to clash with the state militia. Nevertheless the "Camp Jackson affair" occurred, which indicates that Blair and Lyon actually were determined not to allow a pro-southern movement to gain strength, and also that the two men regarded the state militia as a dangerous element which should be subdued. (835-36)

Citations: Shoemaker cites all of the usual sources prior to his time (1943) except Peckham. Since he chooses the 40,000 figure for small arms at the arsenal, he presumably accepted Frost’s letter of January 26, 1861, as authoritative.


4. Catton, Bruce. The Coming Fury. (1961)

Bruce Catton’s account of the situation in the West is amazing for its perceptive detail, especially considering that his is an account of the entire war, not simply a telling of the struggle in the West. Many of Catton’s sources are found in obscure archival collections in addition to the usual suspects. Catton settles on 30,000 small arms as closest to the true figure:

a. Jackson’s plan had to do with the United States Arsenal in St. Louis. This institution contained a good store of weapons – probably 30,000 infantry muskets, by the best estimate, together with ammunition and other items of equipment – and if state troops controlled by a secessionist governor could get those arms, the Federal power in Missouri would be overthrown. Jackson was asking Davis for the loan of some field artillery, along with a few mortars if possible. (371)

b. Governor of Illinois at this time was Richard S. Yates. . . . He would do anything he could to help Unionists gain the upper hand in St. Louis, and now – by prearrangement with the Blair-Lyon team – he sent Captain James H. Stokes, of the Illinois militia, down to St. Louis on a steamer to help get those muskets out before Governor Jackson could seize them. Captain Stokes took his steamer to the wharf on the night of April 25, and before daylight more than 20,000 muskets and 110,000 cartridges had been put aboard. The steamer then went upstream, got to a railhead at Alton, on the Illinois side, and trans-shipped the arms to Springfield. . . . By the end of April the muskets were gone, except for those that had been retained to arm Blair’s German regiments and other "loyal citizens," and General Frost’s state troops had not yet made their camp on the site commanding the arsenal. (374-75)

Citations: Snead, Sherman’s Memoirs, Chicago Tribune article, John Fiske, Francis Grierson, Rombauer, Anderson, Moore’s Rebellion Record, and numerous primary documents from various archives. Catton has digested his sources well and written a captivating and detailed account of the events in St. Louis early in the war.


5. Iverson, Harold E., The History of the St. Louis Arsenal, 1826-1861. Washington University Master’s Thesis. (1963)

Harold Iverson is one of the few voices to support the idea that the St. Louis Arsenal held less than 60,000 small arms in the opening days of the war. In his thesis he states:

a. Accounts of the amount of arms and ammunition at the arsenal generally state "60,000 stands of arms, nearly all of them Enfield and Springfield rifles," 1,500,000 cartridges, 90,000 pounds of powder, several siege guns, the field pieces to equip a number of batteries, a large stock of equipment of various kinds, and the ability to make war materials were on hand in January, 1861. (362-63)

b. In a footnote commenting on the above commonly-received statement on the status of arms at the arsenal, Iverson gives his own opinion:

Stevens, op. cit., I, 705. The figures appearing in Stevens, Centennial History of Missouri are duplicated in nearly all accounts of the Civil War in Missouri, indicating a common source. The specific item in question, which appears to originate from the common sources, is the figure of 60,000 muskets, or 60,000 Enfield and Springfield rifles. This description is generally incorrect, both as to the number of shoulder weapons and their description. By 1861, muskets in the army [were] inventoried in insignificant numbers, having been sold or converted to the percussion and rifled principles. Enfield rifles were on hand in the army, but they were only in the Eastern arsenals in test quantity, and they did not make a significant appearance in military inventories until the Civil War, and then primarily in the Confederate States Army. More likely, the arms in question were national armory and contract rifles, probably Model 1841, or converted muskets. See pages 201 and 285 [of this thesis]. A more accurate figure as to the number of arms on hand at the arsenal of all kinds, to include muskets, rifles, and pistols, was around 40,000. Scharf, op. cit., 485 [where Scharf quotes General Frost’s January 24, 1861 letter to Governor Jackson, stating that there were 40,000 small arms in the arsenal at that time]. The amounts generally given for cartridges and powder are reasonable. The amount of powder was substantiated in a letter from Hagner to Headquarters, Department of the West, dated April 9, 1861, when at that time "about 1,000 barrels of powder" were at the Jefferson Barracks magazines. That would be nearly one hundred thousand pounds of powder. Hagner to Department of the West, April 9, 1861, Jefferson Barracks Papers, MSS., Missouri Historical Society. (363)


6. Vogelgesang, Ernest John. History of the St. Louis Arsenal, 1861-1877. Washington University Master’s Thesis. (1963)

In his thesis on the arsenal, covering the Civil War years, Ernest Vogelgesang came very close to solving the mystery of the number of guns at the arsenal. He had the key to the answer, but instead attempted to reconcile the large difference in numbers stated by the various sources:

a. By the year 1861 the St. Louis Arsenal was one of the most important arsenals in the country. Its location, in the days of river transportation, not far from the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and yet in close proximity to the port of St. Louis, were factors that made the St. Louis Arsenal the United States Army’s supply depot for the entire West. Its importance is indicated by the report of the Chief of Ordnance in November, 1859. That year he reported to the Secretary of War that the St. Louis Arsenal had on hand 33,015 muskets and 719 rifles, serviceable weapons only being included. Just over a year later, on January 21, 1861, he reported the total number of serviceable muskets and rifles in the Federal arsenals in Missouri as 38,141, excluding flintlock and other patent arms. In the same report he listed the number of artillery pieces as eleven. Yet the historian Stevens stated that in January, 1861, the St. Louis Arsenal contained the following principal items: 60,000 stands of arms (mostly Enfield and Springfield rifles), a million and one half cartridges, and 90,000 pounds of powder. In addition, there were field and siege artillery to equip several batteries and large stocks of other ordnance equipment. Most important, the arsenal had shops and machinery for the manufacture and repair of war materiel. The importance of this installation to either the Union or the Confederacy, but especially the latter, is indicated by the fact that at this time there were only 150,000 muskets in the arsenals of all the South exclusive of those in the St. Louis Arsenal.

b. In footnote 15, page 8, Vogelgesang comments erroneously on the Liberty Arsenal, which is included in the 1861 inventory:

"The other Federal arsenal in Missouri, a small one located at Liberty, Missouri, contained at this time only a few hundred muskets and perhaps a dozen cannon."

Reports from 1861 put the number of small arms in the Liberty Arsenal at 1,500 and the number of cannons, probably two.

c. In footnote 16 on page 8, Vogelgesang comments on Stevens’s inflated number of small arms at the arsenal, giving him the benefit of the doubt, while failing to recognize Stevens’s source for the figure:

"Stevens’s total of 60,000 arms is somewhat greater than the totals given by the Chief of ordnance in 1859 and 1861. Stevens must be including all types of small arms in his figure of 60,000 flintlock, patent, revolvers, etc. Stevens’s primary source is unknown to this author."

It is highly doubtful, however, that the number of weapons unreported by the Chief of Ordnance would exceed 20,000. In fact, patent weapons and even muskets converted to percussion systems were usually reported. So this was not a valid reason for supposing that Stevens’s figures might be correct. In fact, it is quite clear that Stevens was simply passing on, without question, Peckham’s original figures. In spite of all this, however, the present author must give credit where it is due. It was Vogelgesang’s figures that alerted this author to the truly crucial information that solves the mystery of the number of arsenal guns. The federal inventories hold the key to this answer in the 1859 and 1861 reports. These are the figures that should be believed over the failing recollections of James Peckham.


7. Nevin, David, and the Editors of Time-Life Books. The Civil War: The Road to Shiloh—Early Battles in the West. (1983)

Here is another rare voice that places the number of small arms at the arsenal closer to 30,000. The author does not, unfortunately, cite his source of information, but he has clearly done the math and has come up with his own figure:

Early in the struggle, [Frank P.] Blair heard of a secessionist plot to seize the St. Louis Arsenal, a major depot for the Western frontier. The arsenal held 34,000 rifles and muskets, 1,500,000 cartridges, 90,000 pounds of powder and plenty of artillery, and if the secessionists could overpower the handful of troops guarding the arsenal, they could equip an army and control the state. (13)


Damned Yankee

Damned Yankee: The Life of General Nathaniel Lyon

by Christopher Phillips

available from

8. Phillips, Christopher. Damned Yankee: The Life of General Nathaniel Lyon. (1990)

Christopher Phillips has written probably the best biographical account on Nathaniel Lyon that has ever been published. It is balanced, detailed, and apparently accurate in every known detail of Lyon’s life. The only detail with which the present author takes issue is that concerning the number of guns (large and small) which Phillips places in the arsenal. In every other particular this is an outstanding work.

a. And in the St. Louis Arsenal, the secessionists had their eyes on a most worthy prize. Its sixty thousand muskets, ninety thousand pounds of powder, one-and-a-half million ball cartridges, forty field pieces, siege guns, and machinery for the manufacture of arms represented the largest federal arsenal in the South. Yet guarding the valuable stores housed in the compound was a garrison of a handful of men; the arsenal’s commander, William H. Bell, lamented that he had ‘only one man to walk the grounds at night to keep out intruders.’ Equally unprepared for the attack was the federal subtreasury, located downtown, which housed over one million dollars in gold and silver. Between the two installations, the federal government stood to lose a weighty cache quite easily, had it not been for the perspicacity of the assistant U. S. Treasurer, Isaac Sturgeon. (138)

b. In the midst of this widening chasm in the city’s population, Lyon and his company [of eighty men] arrived in St. Louis [on February 7]. Prompted by Frank’s urgent pleas for reinforcements, Montgomery Blair had used his heavy oar to persuade Buchanan to send additional troops to St. Louis. Upon reaching the arsenal, Lyon released his men to the enlisted men’s barracks and hastily surveyed the grounds. Covering an area of roughly fifty-six acres, the arsenal compound sat next to the river on low, sloping ground. A massive limestone wall, ten feet high and three feet thick, enclosed the grounds on its land sides, broken only on the west wall by its Carondelet Street entrance: a double-doored gate fashioned ornately of wrought iron and concrete. Along the river’s front ran a stout wooden-plank fence, and in its center a water gate opened to the wharf. Inside the walls of the compound was an assortment of buildings, including a foundry, workshops, warehouses, and four stone barracks for enlisted men. Everywhere Lyon looked he saw neat, elongated pyramids of artillery ammunition—shot and shell of all sizes—often limiting passage to designated aisleways between the stone slabs on which the shells were stacked. At the center of it all lay the administration building. Exactly when the confrontation took place is not known, but within hours of his arrival in St. louis, Lyon had already kicked up a row with the arsenal’s commandant.

Bvt. Maj. Peter Hagner had held his present post for just over a week, having been transferred from Fort Leavenworth, where he had commanded its arsenal. He was keenly aware of the need for additional defense at the St. Louis Arsenal. Two days earlier he had recommended to the department commander, Gen. William S. Harney, that more men be sent to the compound so that a greater vigilance could be maintained, especially at night. Now he received an entire company. Hagner’s career paralleled Lyon’s in many ways. . . . Hagner gained a full commission as captain of ordnance on July 10, 1851, but his rank of brevet major, received in 1847 [for gallantry in the Mexican War], superceded his official rank—or so he thought.

When Lyon learned that Hagner’s rank was only a brevet, he questioned him brashly about his date of promotion to captain. Once that was learned, Lyon informed the commandant brusquely that according to Article of War 62, his own commission, dated June 11, 1851, gave him overall command of the arsenal. Quickly outraged at the officiousness of the newly arrived captain, Hagner retorted that his rank of brevet major made him the undisputed ranking officer at the arsenal. Lyon then declared that he would not respect a brevet ranking. He refused to be subordinate in this case and would at once take the matter up with General Harney. . . . [But] Harney also remembered from Kansas the impertinence of his subordinate, and the commander of the politically sensitive Department of the West curtly denied Lyon’s demand for command of the arsenal. Not satisfied with his commander’s answer, Lyon went over his head and wired Washington for a ruling on the matter. While he waited for an answer, Lyon was forced to retain command of his company only, while Hagner commanded the entire garrison. In the meantime he began to think of a more effective method of combating the problem. (141-43)

c. Within days of his arrival in St. Louis, Lyon was introduced to Blair and the Committee of Safety. . . . When Lyon met Blair the two hit it off immediately. Because of his influence in high places, Blair would quickly prove the most important acquaintance Lyon had ever made.

At their meeting, Lyon learned just how active both Blair and the committee had been in organizing for the city’s defense. Since the organizational meeting, they had enlisted sixteen companies of Union Guards, representing over fourteen hundred men. Predominantly Germans, their growing numbers forced them to expand from Turner’s Hall, and they began drilling in all parts of the city: in foundries, breweries, private homes, the Yaeger Garden, and even at Washington Hall. Blair had managed to enlist enough private subscriptions from St. Louis to purchase seventy muskets, but his real coup came by convincing Illinois governor Richard Yates to send him two hundred muskets from that state’s militia. They arrived at Turner’s Hall packed in beer barrels and were quickly distributed. . . .

Realizing that a military officer in his camp could gain the munitions his Germans needed to save the city from its secessionists, Blair turned to Lyon. And in the Connecticut captain, he found an ally as passionate in his convictions as himself. Unlike the city’s conservative element, Lyon heartily endorsed all that Blair had done. He assured him that if the necessity arose he was ready to assume command of both the arsenal and the Germans to support the government. Muskets, however, Lyon could not yet provide, though he wanted nothing more. However, he hinted that if Blair’s influence could effect a favorable solution to the arsenal’s pernicious command situation, they might then talk about guns. (143-44)

9. Fishel, Edwin C. The Secret War for the Union. (1996)

In the early days of the Civil War, both sides were scrambling to come up with the arms and equipment to outfit the flood of volunteers responding to the call of their countries. As each side squared off against the other there were constant attempts to estimate the strength and intentions of the enemy forces. Both sides were woefully inadequate at second-guessing their opponents and many foolish moves were made on the basis of inaccurate information. Military intelligence was in its infancy in the early days of the war. The present work is an excellent source of information about the attempts of the Union to develop a sophisticated and viable intelligence apparatus. In the following passage, the author illustrates the situation on both sides of the conflict in the Eastern Theater where a lack of armaments and inadequate intelligence contributed to the period of "phony war" or "Sitzkrieg" experienced in the months immediately following the first battle of Bull Run. It also shows what little appreciation the Eastern commanders had for the desperate situation in Missouri and the West.

General George B. McClellan, Commander of Federal forces early in the war, became infamous for his inability to divine an accurate estimate of the size of the Confederate forces opposing him or of their capabilities or intentions. He was the author of numerous false alarms, who eroded the readiness of his forces by "crying wolf" too many times. After another false alarm on 13 September 1861, McClellan " wrote Secretary [of War, Simon] Cameron, ‘The movement of the enemy so far as discovered by us and information reaching us from many directions and sources all indicated that the enemy intend at a very early date to advance; even that he has already commenced the movement.’ He thought it ‘more than probable’ that the Confederates has concentrated all their force in his front and had been reinforced by troops from Missouri. Estimating the enemy’s disposable force at twice the size of his own, he asked for the transfer from Missouri of 25,000 troops, half the number of Federals he understood General John Charles Fremont had in the vicinity of St. Louis. McClellan gave no indication of the source or reliability of the reports that led to this panicky letter.

McClellan was not the only army commander taking stern measures against attacks that the enemy was not planning. During the early weeks of this period of Federal alarms, the Confederates were worrying about a second Union advance. On August 11 [General P.G.T.] Beauregard repositioned his forces ‘in order to prevent a coup de main from McClellan.’ But this defensive turn of mind did not last; by the end of September the Confederates had a main line centering on Fairfax Court House, with eleven infantry regiments and all of Stuart’s cavalry manning the advance posts whose activities were so annoying to the Yankees. Some of the movements into those positions were the probable cause of McClellan’s September 13 alarm. There was more than insolence and intimidation in the Rebels’ minds; the new line would afford more advantageous jumpoff positions for the advance that their generals had been criticized for not making immediately after routing the enemy at Bull Run. Johnston and Beauregard pleaded for reinforcements to make such an advance possible, and at the end of September President Davis came to Centreville to confer with them. Until the uncertain time when a great influx of weapons should arrive from Europe, Davis could send only as many reinforcements, 2500, as he had weapons to arm them with. Crossing the Potomac with an army not greatly reinforced meant ‘almost certain destruction’; ‘it was felt that there was no other course left but to take a defensive position and await the enemy.’ The Flint Hill-Fairfax-Sangster’s Station line was not suited to defensive purposes, and on October 17-19 the main line was drawn back to a base on Centreville with Cavalry pickets as far forward as Fairfax. For a month or more McClellan had been over-rating the Confederates’ capabilities but not their offensive dreams and schemes." (81-82)


Lion of the Valley

Lion of the Valley, St. Louis, Missouri, 1764-1980

by James Neal Primm

available from

10. Primm, James Neal, Lion of the Valley: St. Louis Missouri, 1764-1980. 3rd ed. (1998)

The St. Louis Arsenal was the largest military storehouse in the slave states, and its possession was considered vital by the Confederacy. It held sixty thousand Springfield and Enfield rifles, 1.5 million cartridges, ninety thousand pounds of powder, and artillery pieces." (234)

Citations: For his chapter on the Civil War in St. Louis, Primm consulted Galusha Anderson, although he apparently does not accept Anderson’s estimate of 30,000 rifles. Primm also consulted Rombauer, Iverson and several sources not listed in Rule’s article. Primm’s wording, however, most closely parallels McElroy, although this source is not credited in his bibliography.

Part I:


Sources and Methodology

Background of the Arsenal

The St. Louis Arsenal in the Years Leading up to the Civil War

Go to Part I

Part II:

Events of Early 1861 Affect the St. Louis Arsenal


Go to Part II


Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Appendix D


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