Meeting at the Planters House

from "Struggle for Missouri" by McElroyThe Meeting at the Planters House


John McElroy

Excerpted and introduced by G.E. Rule, from “The Struggle for Missouri”, John McElroy, 1909

In 1863, at the age of sixteen, John McElroy joined an Illinois cavalry regiment. Six months later he was taken prisoner and remained so until the end of the war, spending much of the time at the infamous Andersonville prison. In 1879 he wrote a book about his experiences, “Andersonville: A Story of Rebel Military Prisons. Fifteen Months a Guest of the so-called Southern Confederacy”. In 1909 he was back with “Struggle for Missouri”, with little of his anti-Confederate heat dissipated. This book starts with a Missouri-centric history of the slavery controversy from the founding of the Republic and continues thru the Battle of Pea Ridge in March of 1862.

“The Struggle for Missouri” is dedicated “To the Union Men of Missouri”, and they get the better end of every argument or controversy in its pages. According to McElroy, the viciousness of the guerrilla war in Missouri was due to one simple fact –the mass of non-slaveholding secessionists were “White Trash” with a “dog-like fidelity” to the slaveholding upper-class secessionists. Just in case the reader might miss this vital point the first time, McElroy drives it home again and again, using “White Trash” nine times in his first chapter before settling down to just the occasional mention thereafter. This class was so relatively numerous in Missouri, according to McElroy, because most of the nice folk who were pioneering in the first half of the 1800s shunned slaveholding Missouri for more civilized places like Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas.

Despite McElroy’s “White Trash” obsession, “The Struggle for Missouri” does have virtues. The plates in it are very nice, with large, striking black & white plates of Union heroes like Blair, Fremont, Sigel, Curtis, and Schofield. There are nice plates of Claiborne Fox Jackson and Sterling Price as well. There are also two beautiful color plates –one of the fateful meeting in June of 1861 at the Planter’s Hotel, and another of the St. Louis levy packed with steamboats before the war. McElroy supports his points liberally with more (and more complete) official documents than many other contemporary works on Missouri, though he usually fails to cite exactly where he found them. His description of the Planter’s Hotel confrontation between Lyon and Price has some poetry to it, and McElroy seems to respect Sterling Price as much as it is in him to respect any Confederate.

Missouri Civil War Reader CD-ROM

Missouri Civil War Reader, Volume I now available

Cost per CD ROM is $24.95 + $4.00 priority mail shipping

“The Meeting at the Planters House” describes the fateful confrontation that was the demarcation between imperfect and uneasy peace in Missouri and outright war between Secessionists and Unionists. McElroy’s account calls on both Union and Secessionist first-hand observers to give one of the most complete and detailed descriptions of the meeting to be found. Being McElroy, and unable to do otherwise, he gives the Union side the best of it, and his description of Governor Jackson in particular makes not the slightest effort to be fair.

It seems unlikely that either side had much hope for the meeting, and that it is much more likely that both only agreed to it in hopes of maneuvering the public blame for War onto the shoulders of the other. Jackson and Price certainly would have liked to have bought more time for the Missouri State Guard to organize, but one of Lyon’s rock-ribbed demands was the immediate dispersion of the Guard. It is highly unlikely that any agreement that could have been reached would have lasted for more than a month or two, if that long.

Gov. Jackson and Gen. Price did not lose all heart at the change of commanders [from Harney to Lyon]. They seemed to have hopes that they might in some way mold Lyon to their wishes as they had Harney, and sought an interview with him. Gen. Lyon was not averse to an interview, and sent to Jackson and Price the following passport:

Headquarters, Department of the West

St. Louis, June 8th, 1861

It having haven suggested that Gov. Claiborne F. Jackson and ex-Gov. Sterling Price are desirous of an interview with Gen. Lyon, commanding this Department, for the purpose of effecting, if possible, a pacific solution of the domestic troubles of Missouri, it is hereby stipulated on the part of Brig.-Gen. N. Lyon, U.S.A., commanding this Military Department, that, should Gov. Jackson or ex-Gov. Price, or either of them, at any time prior to or on the 12th day of June, 1861, visit St. Louis for the purpose of such interview, they and each of them shall be free from molestation or arrest on account of any charges pending against them, or either of them, on the part of the United States, during their journey to St. Louis and their return to Jefferson City.

Given under the hand of the General commanding, the day and year above written.

N. Lyon

Brigadier-General, Commanding

According, on June 11th, 1861, Price and Jackson arrived at St. Louis by special train from Jefferson City, put up at the Planters’ House, and informed Gen. Lyon of their arrival. The old State pride cropped out in a little dispute as to which should call upon the other. Jackson as Planters House 1859Governor of the “sovereign and independent” State of Missouri and Price as Major-General commanding the forces, felt it was due them that Lyon, a Brigadier-General in the United States service, should visit them rather than they him at the Arsenal. Lyon’s soul going direct to the heart of the matter, was above these technicalities, waved them aside impatiently, and said that he would go to the Planters’ House and call on them.

Accompanied by Col. Frank P. Blair and Maj. Conant, of his Staff, he went at once to the Planters’ House, and there ensued a four hours’ interview of mightiest consequences to the State and the Nation.

Jackson and Price were accompanied by Col. Thomas L. Snead, then an Aid of the Governor, afterward Acting Adjutant-General of the Missouri State Guards, Chief of Staff of the Army of the West, and a member of the Confederate Congress. He makes this statement as to the opening of the conference:

“Lyon opened it by saying that the discussion on the part of his Government ‘would be conducted by Col. Blair, who enjoyed its confidence in the very highest degree, and was authorized to speak for it.’ Blair was, in fact, better fitted than any man in the Union to discuss with Jackson and Price the grave questions then at issue between the United States and the State of Missouri, and in all her borders there were no men better fitted than they to speak for Missouri on that momentous occasion.

“But despite the modesty of his opening, Lyon was too much in earnest, too zealous, too well informed on the subject, too aggressive, and too fond of disputation to let Blair conduct the discussion on the part of his Government. In half an hour it was he who was conducting it, holding his own at every point against Jackson and Price, masters though they were of Missouri politics, whose course they had been directing and controlling for years, while he was only the Captain of an infantry regiment on the Plains. He had not, however, been a mere soldier in those days, but had been an earnest student of the very questions that he was no discussing, and he comprehended the matter as well as any man, and handled it in the soldierly way to which he had been bred, using the sword to cut the knots that he could not untie.”

Really the interview soon became a parley between the two strong men who were quickly to draw their swords upon one another. The talking men, the men of discussion and appeal passed out, and the issue was in the hands of the men who were soon to hurl the mighty weapons of war.

JacksonJackson, who was a light, facile politician, used to moving public assemblies which were already of his mind, had but little to say in the hours of intense parley, but interjected from time to time with parrot-like reiteration, that the United States troops must leave the State and not enter it. “I will then disband my own troops and we shall certainly have peace.”

BlairBlair, an incomparably stronger man, but still a politician and rather accustomed to accomplishing results by speeches and arguments, soon felt himself obscured by the mightier grasp and earnestness of Lyon, and took little further part. There remained, then, the stern, portentous parley between Lyon and Price, who weighed their words, intending to make every one of them good by deadly blows. They looked into one another’s eyes with set wills, between which were the awful consequences of unsheathed swords.

Gen. Price stated at some length his proposals, and claimed that he had carried out his understanding with Gen. Harney in good faith, not violating it one iota.

Gen. Lyon asked him sharply how that could be, according to Gen. Harney’s second proclamation in which he denounced the Military Bill [recently passed by the State of Missouri] as unconstitutional and treasonable?

Gen. Price replied that he had made no agreement whatever with Gen. Harney about the enforcement or carrying out of the Military Bill.

Gen. Lyon answered this by presenting a copy of the following memorandum which had been sent by Gen. Harney as the only basis on which he would treat with Jackson and Price:

Memorandum for Gen. Price –May 21, 1861

Gen. Harney is here as a citizen of Missouri, with all his interests at stake in the preservation of the peace of the State.

He earnestly wishes to do nothing to complicate matters, and will do everything in his power, consistently with his instructions, to preserve peace and order.

He is, however, compelled to recognize the existence of a rebellion in a portion of the United States, and in view of it he stands upon the proclamation of the President itself, based upon the laws and Constitution of the United States.

The proclamation demands the dispersion of all armed bodies hostile to the supreme law of the land.

Gen. Harney sees in the Missouri Military Bill features which compel him to look upon such armed bodies as may be organized under its provisions as antagonistic to the United States, with the meaning of the proclamation, and calculated to precipitate a conflict between the State and the United States.

He laments the tendency of things, and most cordially and earnestly invites the cooperation of Gen. Price to avert it.

For this purpose, Gen. Harney respectfully asks Gen. Price to review the features of the bill, in the spirit of law, warmed and elevate by that of humanity, and seek to discover some means by which its action may be suspended until some competent tribunal shall decide upon its character.

The most material features of the bill calculated to bring about a conflict are, first, the oath required to be taken by the Militia and State Guards (an oath of allegiance to the State of Missouri without recognizing the existence of the Government of the United States); and, secondly, the express requirements by which troops within the State not organized under the provisions of the Military Bill are to be disarmed by the State Guards.

Gen. Harney cannot be expected to await a summons to surrender his arms by the State troops.

From this statement of the case the true question becomes immediately visible and cannot be shut out of view.

Gen. Price is earnestly requested to consider this, and Gen. Harney will be happy to confer with him on the subject whenever it may suit his convenience.

N.B. –Read to Gen. Price in the presence of Maj. H.S. Turner, on the evening of the 21st of May.

Naturally this threw Gen. Price into much confusion, and his face reddened with mortification, but after a few minutes he said that he did not remember hearing the paper read; that it was true that Hitchcock and Turner had come from Gen. Harney to see him, but he could recall nothing any such paper being presented. The discussion grew warmer as Gen. Lyon felt more strongly the force of his position. Gen. Price insisted that no armed bodies of Union troops should pass through or be stationed in Missouri, as such would occasion civil war. He asserted that Missouri must be neutral, and neither side should arm. Gov. Jackson would protect the Union men and would disband his State troops.

Gen. Lyon opposed this by saying, in effect:

That if the Government withdrew its forces entirely, secret and subtle measures would be resorted to to provide arms and perfect organizations which, upon any pretext, could put forth a formidable opposition to the General Government; and even without arming, combinations would doubtless form in certain localities, to press and drive out loyal citizens, to whom the Government was bound to give protection, but which it would be helpless to do, as also to repress such combinations, if its forces could not be sent into the State. A large aggressive force might be formed and advanced from the exterior into the State, to assist it in carrying out the Secession program; and the Government could not, under the limitation proposed, take posts on these borders to meet and repel such force. The Government could not shrink from its duties nor abdicate its corresponding right; and, in addition to the above, it was the duty of its civil officers to execute civil process, and in case of resistance to receive the support of military force. The proposition of the Governor would at once overturn the Government privileges and prerogatives, which he (Gen. Lyon) had neither the wish nor the authority to do. In his opinion, if the Governor and the State authorities would earnestly set about to maintain the peace of the State, and declare their purposes to resist outrages upon loyal citizens of the Government, and repress insurrections against it, and in case of violent combinations, needing cooperation of the United States troops, they should call upon or accept such assistance, and in case of threatened invasion the Government troops took suitable posts to meet it, the purposes of the Government would be subserved, and no infringement of the State rights or dignity committed. He would take good care, win such faithful cooperation of the State authorities to this end, that no individual should be injured in person or property and that the utmost delicacy should be observed toward all peaceable persons concerned in these relations.”

Gen. Lyon based himself unalterably upon this proposition, and could not be moved from it by anything Price or Jackson could say.

Gov. Jackson entered into the discussion again to suggest that they separate and continue the conference further by correspondence; but Lyon, who felt vividly that the main object of the Secessionists was to gain time to perfect their plans, rejected this proposition, but said that the was quite willing that all those present should reduce their views to writing and publish them; which, however, did not strike Jackson and Price favorably. As to the close of the interview, Maj. Conant says:

“As Gen. Lyon was about to take his leave, he said: ‘Gov. Jackson, no man in the State of Missouri has been more ardently desirous of preserving peace than myself. Heretofore Missouri has only felt the fostering care of the Federal Government, which has raised her from the condition of a feeble French colony to that of an empire State. Now, however, from the failure on the part of the Chief Executive to comply with constitutional requirements, I fear she will be made to feel its power. Better, sir, far better, that the blood of every man, woman and child of the State should flow that that she should successfully defy the Federal Government.’”

Col. Snead has published this account of the close of the conference:

“Finally, when the conference had lasted four or five hours, Lyon closed it, as he had opened it, ‘Rather,’ said he (he was still seated, and spoke deliberately, slowly, and with a peculiar emphasis), ‘rather than concede to the State of Missouri the right to demand that my Government shall not enlist troops within her limits, or bring troops into the State whenever it pleases, or move its troops at its own will into, out of, or through the State; rather than concede to the State of Missouri for one single instant the right to dictate to my Government in any matter however unimportant, I would (rising as he said this and pointing in turn to every one in the room) see you, and you, and you, and you, and every man, woman, and child in the State, dead and buried.’

“Then turning to the Governor, he said: ‘This means war. In an hour one of my officers will call for you and conduct you out of my lines.’

“And then, without another word, without an inclination of the head, without even a look, he turned upon his heel and strode out of the room, rattling his spurs and clanking his saber, while we, whom he left, and who had known each other for years, bade farewell to each other courteously and kindly, and separated –Blair and Conant to fight for the Union, we for the land of our birth.”

When the great American painter shall arise, one of the grandest of themes for his pencil will be that destiny-shaping conference on that afternoon in June, 1861. He will show the face of Gov. Jackson as typical of the class of Southern politicians who raised the storm from the unexpected violence of which they retreated in dismay. There will be more than a suggestion of this in Jackson’s expression and attitude. He entered the conference full of his official importance as the head of the great Sovereign Sate, braving the whole United States, and quite complacent as to his own powers of diction and argument. He quickly subsided, however, from the leading character occupying the center of the stage to that of chorus in the wings, in the deadly grapple of men of mightier purpose –Lyon and Price, who were to ride the whirlwind he had been contriving, and rule the storm he had been instrumental in raising.

Even Blair, immeasurably stronger mentally and morally than Jackson –Blair, tall, sinewy, alert, with face and pose revealing the ideal leader that he was—even he felt the presence of stronger geniuses, and lapsed into silence.

The time for talking men was past. Captains of host were now uttering the last stern words, which meant the crash of battle and the death and misery of myriads. Hereafter voices would be swords, and arguments flame from the brazen mouths of cannon hot with slaughter.

General Sterling PriceSterling Price, white-haired, large of frame, imposing, benignant, paternal, inflexible as to what he considered principle, was to point the way which 100,000 young Missourians were to follow through a thousand red battlefields.

General Nathaniel LyonNathaniel Lyon, short of stature, red-haired, in the prime of manhood and perfected soldiership, fiery, jealous for his country’s rights and dignity, was to set another 100,000 young Missourians in battle array against their opponents, to fight them to complete overthrow.

After they withdrew from the conference, Gov. Jackson, as Price’s trumpeter, sounded the call “to arms” in a proclamation to the people of Missouri.

General John McNeil – Bio of Butcher of Palmyra

A bio of General John McNeil

“The Butcher of Palmyra”

McNeil, John, brigadier-general, was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Feb. 14, 1813. He learned the hatter’s trade in Boston, Mass., engaged in the business first in New York city and subsequently for many years in St. Louis, Mo., and was a member of the Missouri legislature, 1844-45. He was president of the Pacific insurance legislature, 1855-61. He was captain of a volunteer company early in 1861, was promoted colonel of the 3d regiment, U. S. reserve corps, and on July 17, 1861, he defeated, with about 600 men, the Confederate forces under Gen. David B. Harris at Fulton, Mo. He was then placed in command of the city of St. Louis by Gen. Fremont, and on Aug. 3, 1861, he was appointed colonel of the 19th Mo. volunteers. In 1862 he took command of a cavalry regiment, and of the district of northeast Missouri, which he cleared of guerrillas. He was commissioned brigadier-general of volunteers, Nov. 29, 1862; was ordered into southeastern Missouri in December of that year, and in the spring of 1863 he held Cape Girardeau with 1,700 men against Gen. Marmaduke’s force of 10,000. In 1864 he was appointed to command the district of Rolla, Mo., and with the assistance of Gen. John B. Sanborn, Clinton B. Fisk and E. B. Brown he saved the capital from Price’s army. Afterwards he joined his cavalry force with that of Gen. Brown and participated in the campaign which led to the defeat of Price’s army at Newtonia, Oct. 28, 1864. He then commanded central Missouri until April 12, 1865, when he resigned. He was given the brevet rank of major-general of volunteers in recognition of faithful and meritorious services during the war, to date from the day of his resignation. Gen. McNeil was clerk of the criminal court in St. Louis county, 1865-67; sheriff of the county, 1866-70, and clerk of the criminal court again, 1875- 76. He was in 1876 commissioner to the Centennial exhibition in Philadelphia was an inspector in the U. S. Indian service in 1878 and 1882, and at the time of his death was superintendent of the United States post-office, St. Louis branch. He died in St. Louis, Mo., June 8, 1891.

The Union Army A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States 1861-65

8 vols, Federal Publishing, 1908

Palmyra Massacre

The Palmyra Massacre

Palmyra, Missouri

1869 map, fairgrounds in foreground

Map link–follow this link and search “Palmyra” to see closer views of map

October 18, 1862, in Palmyra, Missouri, ten prisoners were shot in retaliation for the presumed murder of a local Union man. General John McNeil became known as the “Butcher of Palmyra” and was denounced in newspapers both in the Union states and in other countries. Confederate enlistments, and reenlistments, increased after the massacre. Further Reading: Forty-Six Years in the Army by John McAllister Schofield

With Porter in North Missouri: A Chapter in the History of the War Between the States
by Joseph A. Mudd

Available from Camp Pope Bookshop

“The madness of rebellion has become so deep seated that ordinary methods of cure are inadequate.”

Palmyra Courier, October 18, 1862

“…here in Missouri our Government commenced by extending toward the rebels in our midst every kindness.”

William R. Strachan, Provost Marshal, Palmyra, Missouri

“…cherishing, as I do, the firm conviction that my action was the means of saving lives and property of hundreds of loyal men and women, I feel that my act was the performance of a public duty.”

John McNeil, in a July 1889 response to an article in “The Century” magazine

Bio of General John McNeil

SAINT LOUIS, MO., June 12, 1862.

Colonel McNEIL, Palmyra, Mo.:

I want you to take the field in person, with as much of your force as can be spared, and exterminate the rebel bands in your division…

Don’t rest until you have exterminated the rascals.



PALMYRA, MO., October 8, 1862


SIR: Andrew Allsman, an aged citizen of Palmyra and a non-combatant having been carried from his home by a band of persons unlawfully arrayed against the peace and good order of the State of Missouri and which band was under your control, this is to notify you that unless said Andrew Allsmart is returned unharmed to his family within ten days from date ten men, who have belonged to your band and unlawfully sworn by you to carry arms against the Government of the United States and who are now in custody, will be shot, as a meet reward for their crimes, among which is the illegal restraining of said Allsman his liberty, and, if not returned, presumptively aiding in his murder.

Your prompt attention to this will save much suffering.

Yours, &c.,


Provost-Marshal. General District Northeast Missouri

Per order of brigadier-general commanding McNeil’s column.

headquarters of

Provost Marshal

Colonel William Strachan,

Palmyra, Missouri

Palmyra memorial statue

Vindication of General McNeil

(newspaper editorial by William R. Stachan, Provost Marshal of Palmyra–portions not directly related to Palmyra and McNeil were deleted)

Palmyra, Mo., December 10, 1862.

To the Editor of the New York Times:

SIR: Noticing in your issue of December 1 an extended extract from foreign papers, accompanied by an editorial, upon the execution of ten rebels at this place…

Now, Mr. Editor, here in Missouri our Government commenced by extending toward the rebels in our midst every kindness, and a degree of clemency that soon caused it to be much safer, in every part of our State, to be a rebel than to be a Union man. Every neighborhood was coerced, whilst the Government was maintaining within the State a large force, at no time less than 50,000 men, and often largely over-running those figures. Still treason continued rampant, traitors publicly held forth on the clemency with which they were treated, regarding it as proof and confession of the weakness of the Government, that she dare not hurt anyone. Union men and their families were forced to leave their homes and their all and fly for protection and for life to the loyal States…  Will our Government never understand our situation? Will it continue to strengthen the cause of the robbers and murderers? What is to become of us?

…Finally, General Schofield, whom all who know must admit to be a gentleman of remarkable kindness of heart, began to come up to the exigency of the times, and issued General Orders, No. 18, an extract from which appears hereinafter. That order has, I believe, never been countermanded, and is in force to this day…

I could give a long list of crimes the most horrid committed by these scoundrels, that would make even fiends in hell shudder…. all this in a State that refused to secede from the Union, hundreds of miles inside of the Federal lines…

In the particular case of Andrew Allsman, he was a man upward of sixty years of age, taken from his family and murdered. Of the ten men executed, one of them was one of the party who murdered Mr. Pratt, above alluded to [deleted]. The other nine men were all caught with arms, and all of them had been once pardoned for their former treason by taking the oath of allegiance to the United States, and had deliberately perjured themselves by going out again–the very oath they took expressly stipulating that “death would be the penalty for a violation of this their solemn oath and parole of honor.” Now, sir, are such men entitled to the consideration of honorable warfare (as you seem to think in your criticisms), or are they not rather to be treated as outlaws and beyond the pale of civilization? And, sir, living as we do in Missouri, in times of red revolution, assassination, rapine, in violation of all laws, both human and divine, acts of justice necessarily assume the garb of severity, and the more severe to the criminal the more merciful to the community. And now, in view of the facts that I have alluded to, publishing as you do a loyal paper in a loyal State, a thousand miles removed from the scenes of these outrages, can you unthinkingly join in the howl raised by the full-fledged and semi traitors in our midst against such or any other acts that insure the punishment of treason and traitors?

…What is war? Is it anything but retaliation? Must we allow our enemies, the enemies of liberty and republicanism, to outrage all the laws of war, and not take some steps to show them the propriety of adhering to those laws?

…Mr. Editor, if you could have been a witness to many scenes that attended General McNeil’s visit to the various posts of his district, made but two weeks since, when he traversed the whole country on horseback, attended by but two orderlies, when old men would come out of their farm houses, shake hands with the general, call down blessings upon him, ask him to delay so that their wives could come out and thank him for executing justice…

Bio of General McNeil

General McNeil has even in the early part of this terrible war been censured from headquarters for being too lenient toward the rebels. Time and experience proved to him that in order to save bloodshed it was necessary to show some examples of severe punishment, and the result, in giving security to persons and property of loyal men in our section, has amply justified the steps taken by him. Do you suppose that a rebellion that in this late day has ventured to employ the scalping knife of the savage in its service, that commenced in fraud, that has sustained itself from the commencement by robbery, that has practiced extermination and banishment and confiscation toward citizens that ventured to remain true to their original allegiance, can be put down without somebody being hurt? Let me ask of you to do justice to a kind and brave officer, who has simply dared to do his duty, and in doing so has obtained the thanks and deepest feelings of gratitude from every loyal man in Northern Missouri…

…These terrible “butcheries” (i.e., the just punishing of guerrillas, assassins, and violators of parole) have finally restored safety here. Since the public execution of the ten men at Palmyra, not a murder nor a single personal outrage to a Union man has been committed in Northeastern Missouri, or since the rebels learned what would be the price of a Union man’s life, three months ago, for it is that time since official notice was served on them of what would be done if Allsman was not returned to his home, and that the decimal system would be carried out for each loyal noncombatant that should subsequently be murdered by them, so long as guerrillas could be found in the district. “Verily a tree shall be known by its fruits? A wise punishment has once more enabled the dove of peace to hover over our households, unterrified. Guerrillas in this district found their vocation gone. Traitors began at last to recognize that the oath of loyalty meant something…

In conclusion, Mr. Editor, if you are correct in your denunciations of what you term a “butchery,” do not waste your anathemas upon General McNeil alone because he saw proper to teach traitors that the life of an unarmed non-combatant Union man, a loyal citizen of the United States, was a sacred thing–that murderers should not take it with impunity–but bestow some of it upon equally gallant and meritorious officers like General Merrill, who executed ten of those perjured scoundrels at Macon City, and General Schofield, who issued Orders No. 18, or General Halleck, whose orders touching bridge-burners and guerrillas I had supposed until now even the editor of the Times approved of.


Provost. Marshal, Palmyra

Palmyra Monument, inscription:

Erected to the Memory of

Capt. Thomas A Sidenor

Willis T. Baker

Thomas Humston

Morgan Bixler

John Y. McPheeters

Hiram T. Smith

Herbert Hudson

John M. Wade

Francis M. Lear

Eleazer Lake

From the Palmyra, Missouri Courier.

Saturday last, the 18th instant, witnessed the performance of a tragedy in this once quiet and beautiful city of Palmyra, which, in ordinary and peaceful times, would have created a profound sensation throughout the entire country, but which now scarcely produces a distinct ripple upon the surface of our turbulent social tide.

It will be remembered by our readers that on the occasion of Porter’s descent upon Palmyra, he captured, among other persons, an old and highly respected resident of this city, by name Andrew Allsman. This person formerly belonged to the Third Missouri Cavalry, though too old to endure all the hardships of very active duty. He was, therefore, detailed as a kind of special or extra provost-marshal’s guard or cicerone, making himself generally useful in a variety of ways to the military of the place. Being an old resident, and widely acquainted with the people of the place and vicinity, he was frequently called upon for information touching the loyalty of men, which he always gave to the extent of his ability, though acting, we believe, in all such cases with great candor, and actuated solely by a conscientious desire to discharge his whole duty to his Government. His knowledge of the surrounding country was the reason of his being frequently called upon to act as a guide to scouting parties sent out to arrest disloyal persons. So efficiently and successfully did he act in these various capacities, that he won the bitter hatred of all the rebels in this city and vicinity, and they only waited the coming of a favorable opportunity to gratify their desire for revenge. The opportunity came at last, when Porter took Palmyra. That the villains, with Porter’s assent, satiated their thirst for his blood by the deliberate and predetermined murder of their helpless victim no truly loyal man doubts. When they killed him, or how, or where, are items of the act not yet revealed to the public. Whether he was stabbed at midnight by the dagger of the assassin, or shot at midday by the rifle of the guerrilla; whether he was hung and his body hidden beneath the scanty soil of some oaken thicket, or left as food for hogs to fatten upon, or whether, like the ill-fated Wheat, his throat was severed from ear to ear, and his body sunk beneath the wave, we know not. But that he was foully, causelessly murdered it is useless to attempt to deny.

When General McNeil returned to Palmyra, after that event, and ascertained the circumstances under which Allsman had been abducted, he caused to be issued, after due deliberation, the following notice:

“PALMYRA, MO., October 8, 1862.


“SIR: Andrew Allsman, an aged citizen of Palmyra, and a non-combatant, having been carried from his home by a band of persons unlawfully arrayed against the peace and good order of the State of Missouri, and which band was under your control, this is to notify you that unless said Andrew Allsman is returned, unharmed, to his family within ten days from date, ten men, who have belonged to your band, and unlawfully sworn by you to carry arms against the Government of the United States, and who are now in custody, will be shot as a meet reward for their crimes, among which is the illegal restraining of said Allsman of his liberty, and, if not returned, presumptively aiding in his murder.

“Your prompt attention to this will save much suffering.

“Yours, &c.,


“Provost-Marshal-General, District of Northeastern Missouri.

“Per order of brigadier-general commanding McNeil’s column.”

A written duplicate of this notice he caused to be placed in the hands of the wife of Joseph C. Porter, at her residence in Lewis County, who it was well known was in frequent communication with her husband. The notice was published widely, and as Porter was in Northern Missouri during the whole of the ten days subsequent to the date of this notice, it is impossible that, with all his varied channels of information, he remained unapprised of General McNeil’s determination in the premises.

Many rebels believed the whole thing was simply intended as a scare, declaring that McNeil did not dare [?] to carry out the threat.

The ten days elapsed, and no tidings came of the murdered Allsman. It is not our intention to dwell at length upon the details of this transaction. The tenth day expired with last Friday. On that day ten rebel prisoners, already in custody, were selected to pay with their lives the penalty demanded. The names of the men so selected were as follows: Willis Baker, Lewis County; Thomas Humston, Lewis County; Morgan Bixler, Lewis County; Herbert Hudson, Rails County; John M. Wade, Rails County; Marion Lair, Rails County; Capt. Thomas A. Sidner, Monroe County; Eleazer Lake, Scotland County, and Hiram Smith, Knox County. These parties were informed on Friday evening that unless Mr. Allsman was returned to his family by 1 o’clock on the following day, they would all be shot at that hour. Most of them received the announcement with composure or indifference. The Rev. James S. Green, of this city, remained with them during that night, as their spiritual adviser, endeavoring to prepare them for their sudden entrance into the presence of their Maker. A little after 11 a.m. the next day, three Government wagons drove to the jail; one contained four and each of the others three rough board coffins. The condemned men were conducted from the prison and seated in the wagons, one upon each coffin. A sufficient guard of soldiers accompanied them, and the cavalcade started for the fatal grounds. Proceeding east to Main street, the cortege turned and moved slowly southward as far as Malone’s livery stable; thence turning east, it entered the Hannibal road, pursuing it nearly to the residence of Col. James Culbertson; there, throwing down the fences, they turned northward, entering the fair grounds (half a mile east of the town), on the west side, and, driving within the circular amphitheatrical ring, paused for the final consummation of the scene.

The ten coffins were removed from the wagons and placed in a row 6 or 8 feet apart, forming a line north and south, about 15 paces east of the central pagoda or music stand, in the center of the ring. Each coffin was placed upon the ground, with its foot west and head east. Thirty soldiers of the Second Missouri State Militia were drawn up in a single line, extending north and south, facing the row of coffins. This line of executioners ran immediately at the east base of the pagoda, leaving a space between them and the coffins of 12 or 13 paces. Reserves were drawn up in line upon either bank [flank] of these executioners.

The arrangements completed, the doomed men knelt upon the grass between their coffins and the soldiers, while the Rev. R. M. Rhodes offered up a prayer. At the conclusion of this, each prisoner took his seat upon the foot of his coffin, facing the muskets which in a few moments were to launch them into eternity. They were nearly all firm and undaunted, two or three only showing signs of trepidation.

The most noted of the ten was Capt. Thomas A. Sidner, of Monroe County, whose capture at Shelbyville, in the disguise of a woman, we related several weeks since. He was now elegantly attired in a suit of black broadcloth, with a white vest. A luxurious growth of beautiful hair rolled down upon his shoulders, which, with his fine personal appearance, could not but bring to mind the handsome but vicious Absalom. There was nothing especially worthy of note in the appearance of the others. One of them, Willis Baker, of Lewis County, was proven to be the man who last year shot and killed Mr. Ezekiel Pratt, his Union neighbor, near Williamstown, in that county. All the others were rebels of lesser note, the particulars of whose crimes we are not familiar with.

A few minutes after 1 o’clock, Colonel Strachan, provost-marshal-general, and Reverend Rhodes shook hands with the prisoners, two of them accepting bandages for their eyes. All the rest refused. A hundred spectators had gathered around the amphitheater to witness the impressive scene. The stillness of death pervaded the place. The officer in command now stepped forward, and gave the word of command, “Ready, aim, fire.” The discharges, however, were not made simultaneously, probably through want of a perfect previous understanding of the orders and of the time at which to fire. Two of the rebels fell backward upon their coffins and died instantly. Captain Sidner sprang forward and fell with his head toward the soldiers, his face upward, his hands clasped upon his breast and the left leg drawn half way up. He did not move again, but died immediately. He had requested the soldiers to aim at his heart, and they obeyed but too implicitly. The other seven were not killed outright, so the reserves were called in, who dispatched them with their revolvers.

It seems hard that ten men should die for one. Under ordinary circumstances it would hardly be justified; but severe diseases demand severe remedies. The safety of the people is the supreme law. It overrides all other considerations. The madness of rebellion has become so deep seated that ordinary methods of cure are inadequate. To take life for life would be little intimidation to men seeking the heart’s blood of an obnoxious enemy. They could well afford to make even exchanges under many circumstances. It is only by striking the deepest terror in them, causing them to thoroughly respect the lives of loyal men, that they can be taught to observe the obligation of humanity and of

Missouri Oath of Loyalty

The Missouri Oath of Loyalty of 1865

By Galusha Anderson

Excerpted and Introduced by G.E. Rule

from “The Story of a Border City During the Civil War”, Galusha Anderson, 1908

Galusha Anderson 1861

Galusha Anderson 1861

Bio of Galusha Anderson

Galusha Anderson was a Baptist minister in St. Louis from 1858-1866. His decidedly pro-Union “The Story of a Border City During the Civil War” has many faults. Anderson’s opinion of his own importance in events is exaggerated, and at times the reader would be forgiven for thinking that Blair, Lyon, Fremont, Schofield, Rosecrans, et al could have just stayed in bed –it was really Galusha who held the fate of the Union cause in Missouri in his strong hands. At one point he has an agitated southerner blame his preaching for the Union seizure of Camp Jackson. One suspects Anderson would not want to discourage his readers from reaching the same conclusion. Describing his first blast from a St. Louis pulpit against the heresy of secession, Galusha reports the event with a freighted solemnity and attention to minute detail most historians would reserve for the third day at Gettysburg or the final scene at Appomattox.

On the plus side, Anderson does have a fine eye for detail and his book is filled with many interesting anecdotes of life in St. Louis during the Civil War. Galusha’s Union sources (men like James O. Broadhead were his parishioners) seem to be excellent and allow the reader a valuable insight into the thinking of the pro-Union population of St. Louis. For those interested in the topic, Rev. Anderson’s book has many revealing stories of the stresses –and sometimes fractures– that can occur in “Christian fellowship” during a time of political upheaval.

The Missouri Loyalty Oath of 1865 can only be interpreted as an extreme and vindictive attempt to exclude any but the staunchest Unionist from public life in Missouri after the war. It is an abomination to the modern eye schooled by the ACLU to consider even most pornography as untouchable by government power under the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A secret police the Third Reich or Stalinists would admire would have been required to enforce it effectively. It reads better as a script for a Monty Python or Saturday Night Live skit than a serious governing document. One can concede that it may have been only prudent at that time and in that place to suspend the franchise of Confederates who had recently borne arms against the United States and still find the Missouri Oath of Loyalty a breathtakingly oppressive instrument. It says much of the mood of the times in Missouri in 1865 that when the Missouri Supreme Court attempted to overturn the Oath, they were all immediately removed from the bench! What is interesting in the account given by Anderson –a Union man who would never accept second place to anyone in his loyalty to the U.S.—is that he clearly believed the Oath was a gross mistake and a grave injustice to many fine citizens of Missouri.

In fact, no less a Union personage than Major-General Frank Blair –who had done more than all of Missouri’s Radical Republicans combined to keep her in the Union when the issue was in doubt in early 1861– declined to take the Oath in 1865 and was refused the right to vote.  When asked why he would not take the Oath, Blair cheerfully explained that while he would gladly take an Oath professing his loyalty to the Union and Missouri going forward, the fact of the matter was that he had taken up arms against the government of Missouri in May and June of 1861 (see Blair and Lyon Save the Union) and hence could not meet the draconian terms of the current Oath.  The radicals were not amused by this perfectly valid point that vividly illustrated the ridiculousness of their Oath, but refused to bend.

In excerpting from Anderson’s book the section concerning the Missouri Oath of Loyalty of 1865, there is always the danger the resulting piece may give an impression unintended by the author of the original work had he the opportunity to write on the Loyalty Oath solely instead of as part of a larger work. Any perceived problems of that sort should be laid at the door of the editor, not the author.

Missouri Civil War Reader CD-ROM

Missouri Civil War Reader, Volume I now available

The Fight for Missouri by Thomas L. Snead, 1886

The Struggle for Missouri by John McElroy, 1909

The Story of a Border City During the Civil War by Galusha Anderson, 1908

The Crisis by Winston Churchill, 1901

Basil Duke in Missouri by Gen. Basil Wilson Duke, 1911

The Brown-Reynolds Duel, 1911

Cost per CD ROM is $24.95 + $4.00 priority mail shipping

If, after eliminating from the Constitution of the State all that pertained to involuntary servitude, thus making it consonant with the [Missouri] Ordinance of Emancipation, the [Missouri Constitutional] Convention had adjourned sine die, it would have covered itself with imperishable glory. But the act of the legislature by which it was created gave to it almost unlimited powers. It was especially called upon so to amend the Constitution that the elective franchise should be preserved in its purity to all loyal citizens, and to make such other amendments as it might think “essential to the public good”. Under this last clause apparently there was nothing that they might not legally do, and in their remaining work they went to the full limit of their powers. Instead of simply revising the old Constitution they in fact made a new one, and in spots it was admirable. It contained the most progressive doctrines of popular government; but in prescribing who should be legal voters their enactments were so extreme that they appear to us now quite ludicrous. To justify this statement we venture to give in full sections 3 and 6 of article II of the Constitution, together with the prescribed oath, believing that any intelligent reader who begins the perusal of them will proceed with increasing interest to the last line.

Sec 3. At any election held by the people under this Constitution, or in pursuance of any law of this State, or under any ordinance or by-law of any municipal corporation, no person shall be deemed a qualified voter, who has ever been in armed hostility to the United States, or to the lawful authorities thereof, or to the Government of this State; or has ever given aid, comfort, countenance, or support to persons engaged in any such hostility; or has ever, in any manner, adhered to the enemies, foreign or domestic, of the United States, either by contributing to them, or by unlawfully sending within their lines, money, goods, letters or information; or has ever disloyally held communication with such enemies; or has ever advised or aided any person to enter the service of such enemies; or has ever, by act or word, manifested his adherence to the cause of such enemies, or his desire for their triumph over the arms of the United States, or his sympathy with those engaged in exciting or carrying on rebellion against the United States; or has ever, except under overpowering compulsion, submitted to the authority, or been in the service, of the so-called “Confederate States of America”; or has left this State, and gone within the lines of the armies of the so-called “Confederate States of America,” with the purpose of adhering to said States or armies; or has ever been a member of, or connected with, any order, society, or organization, inimical to the Government of the United States, or to the Government of this State; or has ever been engaged in guerrilla warfare against loyal inhabitants of the United States, or in that description of marauding commonly known as “bushwhacking;” or has ever knowingly and willingly harbored, aided, or countenanced, any person so engaged; or has ever come into or left this State for the purpose of avoiding enrollment for or draft into the military service of the United States; or has ever, with a view to avoid enrollment in the militia of this State, or to escape the performance of duty therein, or for any other purpose, enrolled himself, or authorized himself to be enrolled, by or before any officer, as disloyal, or as a Southern sympathizer, or in any other terms indicating his disaffection to the Government of the United States in its contest with rebellion, or his sympathy with those engaged in such rebellion; or, having ever voted at any election by the people in this State, or in any other of the United States, or in any of their Territories, or held office in this State, or in any other of the United States, or in any of their Territories, or under the United States, shall thereafter have sought or received, under claim of alienage, the protection of any foreign government, through any consul or other officer thereof, in order to secure exemption from military duty in the militia of this State, or in the army of the United States; nor shall any such person be capable of holding, in this State, any office of honor, trust, or profit, under its authority; or of being an officer, councilman, director, trustee, or other manager of any corporation, public or private, now existing or hereafter established by its authority; or of acting as a professor or teacher in any educational institution, or in any common or other school; or of holding any real estate, or other property, in trust for the use of any church, religious society, or congregation. But the foregoing provisions in relation to acts done against the United States shall not apply to any person not a citizen thereof, who shall have committed such acts, been naturalized, or may hereafter be naturalized, under the laws of the United States, and who has, since such acts, been naturalized, or may hereafter be naturalized, under the laws of the United States; and the oath of loyalty hereinafter prescribed, when taken by such person, shall be considered as taken in such sense.

Sec. 6 The oath to be taken as aforesaid shall be known as the Oath of Loyalty, and shall be in the following terms:

I, A. B., do solemnly swear, that I am well acquainted with the terms of the third section of the second Article of the Constitution of the State of Missouri, adopted in the year eighteen hundred and sixty-five, and have carefully considered the same; that I have never, directly or indirectly, done any of the acts in said section specified; that I have always been truly and loyally on the side of the United States against all enemies thereof, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the United States, and will support the Constitution and laws thereof, as the supreme law of the land, any law or ordinance of any State to the contrary notwithstanding; that I will, to the best of my ability, protect and defend the Union of the United States, and not allow the same to be broken up and dissolved, or the Government thereof to be destroyed or overthrown, under any circumstances, if in my power to prevent it; that I will support the Constitution of the State of Missouri; and that I make this oath without any mental reservation or evasion, and hold it to be binding on me.

We see from this how intensely in earnest were the delegates of the Convention. But this oath was not wholly a creation of theirs. It had a gradual growth. We have seen with what imperativeness General Halleck demanded an oath of allegiance of all officers of the State, county and city, without which they were not permitted to exercise their functions. The generals of the department that came after him rigorously maintained the same policy. The first sovereign Convention adopted it and strenuously enforced it by the sword. This Convention, receiving it from the first, with wonderful genius for probing the conscience, elaborated it. Under its manipulation the oath became retrospective, introspective and prospective. No man could take it without perjury, who by word or act had been in the past, was in the present, or should be in the future, disloyal to the government of the United States. It not only prohibited one who could not subscribe to it from voting, but also from holding any government office of whatever grade, teaching in any school or preaching the gospel. And to make sure that the fountains of justice should be freed from every suspicion of disloyalty, the Convention vacated the offices of the judges of the Supreme Court, circuit and county courts, and special courts of record throughout the State, and of all clerks of courts, county recorders, and circuit attorneys and their assistants, and “empowered and directed” the Governor of the State to fill these offices so vacated by his appointment. Since most judges and subordinate officers of the courts were unable to subscribe to the oath of loyalty without perjury, the Convention was determined that court officials should be appointed that could. And thinking it unsafe to wait for the slow process of a popular election and probably fearing, if they should, that the elections might not go according to their liking, they took a short cut to clean the Augean stables. It looked like revolution. At all events the Convention went to the full limit, if not beyond the limit, of its powers. The judges of the Supreme Court resisted what they regarded a gross usurpation of authority; but their resistance was vain. They were arrested and tried before the City Recorder as disturbers of the peace, and so sank from public view.

While the Convention designated the oath the “Oath of Loyalty”; the people, seizing upon its exact intent, called it the Test Oath. Its object was to test the loyalty of those who were required to take it. But the oath was too indiscriminate. It did not sufficiently recognize different degrees of guilt. Many in our city and State who were at first swept by the excitement of the hour into the ranks of the secessionists, soon saw their error and thereafter loyally supported the Federal government. Others had at times expressed their sympathy with secessionism, but in all their overt acts had been faithful to the Union. It would naturally have been expected that ordinarily wise and humane legislators would have provided for the full, unconditional pardon of such men. But no; this oath of loyalty was pitiless. It made not the slightest provision for the penitent. The majority of the convention seem to have proceeded on the assumption that men who had been guilty of rebellion in any degree, if they had but expressed a sympathetic emotion in its behalf, were unfit either to vote or teach or preach.

And, for a decade, the most genuine and heart-felt repentance would be altogether vain; since the Convention provided, in the 25th section of the second article of the Constitution, that the General Assembly of the State might repeal the provisions of the oath, so far as the affected voters, after 1871, but so far as they pertained to lawyers, school teachers and ministers not till after 1875. Therefore irrespective of the degree of his guilt, to the attorney, the pedagogue or the preacher, these astute constitution-makers, with a scent for disloyalty keener than that of a hound, for ten long years, granted “no place of repentance,” even though he should seek it “diligently with tears.”

* * *

But after the Emancipation Act was passed, the Convention, having, against the earnest protest of some of its own members, doggedly set itself to the work of making a new Constitution, lost, to a large extent, the confidence of many of the best loyal men of the State. Even a goodly number of the delegates that composed it became to the extent of their power obstructionists. Absenteeism grew apace, and only by the rigid enforcement of the rules could the Convention be saved from disastrous disintegration. Some of its members fell into a vein of ridicule and one of them offered a string of satirical resolutions, which, though unmitigated balderdash, the Convention complacently spread on its minutes.

Most of the constituents of the Convention, while generously recognizing the great merit of much of its work, were often ashamed of what it did and said. In fact its debates were never published, beyond the brief and imperfect reports of them in the daily papers. In explanation of this curious fact, it was hinted that the leaders of the Convention were so mortified by them, that they managed to suppress the whole, both good and bad together.

* * *

But blessed be the Supreme Court of the United States! About three years after the new Constitution had been ratified by the people, it declared by barely one majority that the notorious test oath was unconstitutional. A multitude in our State ever after held in grateful memory that one Federal judge, who tipped the scales against the oath that had too long been a thorn in the body politic.

Thomas L Snead – Bio

A bio of Thomas L. Snead

SNEAD, THOMAS LOWNDES, soldier, lawyer, author, was born Jan. 10, 1828, in Henrico County, Va. He was a St. Louis lawyer who served in the Confederate army, and after 1865 resumed his profession in New York City. He was the author of  The Fight for Missouri in 1861. He died Oct. 17, 1890, in New York City.

Herringshaw, Thomas William

Herringshaw’s Encyclopedia of American Biography of the Nineteenth Century

American Publishers Association, 1902

Snead, Thomas L., Prices Division

rank at induction: Major

rank at discharge: Actg. Asst General

“Maj. Thomas L. Snead, senior assistant adjutant general of my command, to whom I have been often indebted for vigorous support in hours of perilous trial (apart from the intelligent and faithful performance of the responsible and onerous duties of his office), surpassed himself this day in the intrepid manner with which he bore himself throughout the conflict, rallying the troops again and again, and urging them forward to the scene of action. In this work, under the hottest fire of the enemy, and until we had swept their intrenchments and carried the hill, he was faithfully, fearlessly, and gallantly assisted by Maj. L. A. Maclean, assistant adjutant-general.”

Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, July 4, 1863

Review of “Fight For Missouri” by Thomas L. Snead

Overland monthly and Out West magazine, volume 8, issue 4, July 1886

This is a book of rare merit. It covers a limited period of history, but deals with matters pregnant with the fate of the nation. In the desperate struggle for the preservation of the Union, the adhesion of Missouri to the national cause more than offset the disaster and disgrace of Bull Run. In the beginning of 1861, our author was the editor and proprietor of a secession newspaper in St. Louis, and took a permanent part in the effort to disrupt the Union. Now, after the lapse of twenty-five years, he tells the story of the struggle, from the election of Lincoln to the battle of Wilson’s Creek, on the part of himself, Governor Jackson, Lieutenant-Governor Reynolds, and other States-rights leaders, backed by a large part of the people of the State, to carry Missouri out of the Union. How and why they failed is made clearly to appear. It is the finest tribute to General Lyon and Frank P. Blair yet written, for it is the tribute of an honorable foe, who admits that every scheme and every plan formed by the Secessionists of Missouri were divined and frustrated by the penetration and resolute courage of these two men. No man can rise from its perusal without feeling profound respect and admiration for General Lyon. Our obligations to him are indeed great, and no men are more conscious of it than the foes whom he foiled. To him and to Blair belong the principal credit of saving Missouri to the Union. General Sterling Price was originally strongly opposed ot secession, but the claims of blood and association were too strong for him, when he saw that war was inevitable, and like Lee, he drew his sword but reluctantly, for the defense, as he thought, of kindred and country. His noble, generous character and magnificent courage receive fitting eulogy from our author. The battle of Wilson’s Creek, coming so shortly after Bull Run, showed the metal of which our northern soldiers were made, and is here graphically, and no doubt accurately, described. Impartiality, as near as is possible to attain, careful work, personal knowledge, and a pleasant style, commend the work of our author to his countrymen.

The Minute Men

The Minute Men

By Thomas L. Snead

A bio of Thomas L. Snead

Excerpted and Introduced by G.E. Rule

from “The Fight For Missouri”, Thomas L. Snead, 1886

Missouri Civil War Reader CD-ROM

Missouri Civil War Reader, Volume I now available

The Fight for Missouri by Thomas L. Snead, 1886

The Struggle for Missouri by John McElroy, 1909

The Story of a Border City During the Civil War by Galusha Anderson, 1908

The Crisis by Winston Churchill, 1901

Basil Duke in Missouri by Gen. Basil Wilson Duke, 1911

The Brown-Reynolds Duel, 1911

Cost per CD ROM is $24.95 + $4.00 priority mail shipping

Thomas L. Snead was, successively, a pro-Breckinridge newspaperman, aide to Governor Claiborne Jackson, adjutant to General Sterling Price, and CSA Congressman from Missouri. His “The Fight for Missouri: From the Election of Lincoln to the Death of Lyon” is the best first hand account of events in Missouri from late 1860 until August of 1861. Predictably, many Pro-Union partisans regard Snead as hopelessly biased towards the secessionist’s point of view. More surprisingly, some Pro-Confederate partisans consider that by 1886 Snead was too much of a “reconstructed Rebel” and not strident enough in defending the secessionist point of view. Snead himself was not above playing hardball during the war, signing the order in 1863 on behalf of General Sterling Price directing Captain Thomas E. Courtenay to raise a corps of 20 men for secret service to engage in sabotage behind Union lines in the Trans-Mississippi.

The Minute Men were the pro-secessionist group organized in St. Louis in January of 1861. Their stated purpose was to gain control of St. Louis, and its well-stocked arsenal, for the secessionist cause. Many of them went on to impressive careers with Bowen, Shelby, Morgan, and others. In excerpting from Snead’s book those sections concerning the Minute Men, there is always the danger that the resulting piece may give an impression unintended by the author of the original work had he the opportunity to write on the Minute Men solely instead of as part of a larger work. Any perceived problems of that sort should be laid at the door of the editor, not the author.

The St. Louis secessionists were no less active than the Union men. There were few in number; but most of them were young, ardent, and full of zeal. They regretted the determination of the Cotton States to secede. They would rather have had them remain within the Union, and fight within it for their constitutional rights. But they believed nevertheless that these States had the right to secede and to establish a separate Government if they chose to do so. Whether this was a constitutional right, or a revolutionary right they did not care; nor ought they to have cared. For the God-given right of revolution is a higher and a more sacred right than any which is based upon the mere bargainings and concessions of men. The people who abandon it or fear to assert it always lose their freedom sooner or later and sink surely to the condition of serfs or slaves. To the exercise of this natural right in 1776 the Republic owes its existence. To the assertion of it by the South in 1861 the Republic owes its present grandeur, and its perfect unity.

When South Carolina seceded these young St. Louisians no longer doubted that all the Cotton States would secede and form a Southern Confederacy, that between this Confederacy and the Union war would ensue, and that in this war the whole country would take part. For themselves they were resolved to fight with and for the South, among whose people and upon whose soil most of them had been born.

Throwing aside all vain regrets and bravely accepting the inevitable, they began at once to fit themselves for war; began to learn the rudiments of the art in the school of the soldier. They were very few, however, till Sturgeon’s folly [U.S. Assistant Treasurer who had requested Federal troops to guard the treasury in St. Louis. These troops, forty in number, arrived in St. Louis on January 11th, 1861 –ed.] set fire to the passions of men and lit the flames of civil war on the soil of Missouri. Many then joined their ranks –many who had hitherto held aloof for love of the Union or for the sake of peace, but who now despaired of both.

Basil W. DukeAmong these was Basil Wilson Duke, a young lawyer from Kentucky. He was about twenty-five years of age, able, enterprising, and bold; giving promise, even then, of those soldierly qualities which eventually made him John Morgan’s most trusted lieutenant and the brilliant commander of a Confederate cavalry brigade. In the presidential election he had supported Douglas with great zeal and some eloquence, and since then had earnestly deprecated disunion and striven to stay the current that was setting toward secession in Missouri. Now he awoke suddenly to the conviction that the North was going to make war upon the South. That was enough for him. To go with his people when they were attacked; to stand by them when they were in danger, uncaring whether they were right or wrong; to share their perils, and to fight with them against their foes, was with him an instinct and a duty. He at once joined the small band of secessionists and became their most conspicuous leader. Among them he found men as brave and as earnest as he; some of them with ability equal to his own, and talents as useful, perhaps, though not so brilliant and attractive.

One of these, Colton Greene, was a prosperous young merchant, hardly as old as Duke. A South Carolinian by birth, he sympathized earnestly with the people of that State and justified their conduct in seceding. With a rather delicate physical organization, and of a retiring disposition, he possessed the sensibilities, a cultivated intellect which was both sharp and strong, courage, and determination. He was, withal, painstaking, laborious and earnest, upright and honorable.

These two, with Rock Champion a great-hearted young Irishman, and a few others as daring, were as quick to organize the Secessionists into Minute Men as Blair had been to organize his Wide-Awakes into Home Guards; and they did it boldly and openly, beginning it the very day that the Federal troops arrived at St. Louis.

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 that 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 love of the South, and for 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 gotten 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.

In anticipation of all this and of the passage of the military bill, one of whose provisions required, as has been told, the disbandment of all unauthorized military companies, the Minute Men were now organized, according to law, and five companies duly mustered into the State service by General Frost on the 13th of February.

These companies –Captains Barret, Duke, Shaler, Green and Hubbard—were then formed into a battalion, of which Captain James R. Shaler was elected major, and were assigned to Frost’s Brigade. They afterwards formed part of Bowen’s Regiment.

* * *

An event which happened on the day that Lincoln was inaugurated, and on which the State Convention began its sessions at St. Louis (March 4th), came very near precipitating the conflict in Missouri, and gave Blair and Lyon good cause to press their demands upon the Government.

St. Louis CourthouseDuring the preceding night some of the Minute Men (Duke, Green, Quinlan, Champion, and McCoy) raised the flag of Missouri over the dome of the Courthouse, and hoisted above their own headquarters a nondescript banner, which was intended to represent the flag of the Confederate States. The custodian of the Courthouse removed the state flag from that building early in the morning; but the secession flag still floated audaciously and defiantly above the Minute Men’s headquarters, in the very face of the Submissionists’ Convention, of the Republican Mayor, and his German police, of the department commander, and of Lyon and his Home Guards; and under its folds there was gathered as daring a set of young fellows as ever did a bold, or a reckless deed. They were about a score at first, but when an excited crowd began to threaten their quarters, and the rumor to fly that the Home Guards were coming to tear down their flag, the number of its defenders grew to about one hundred. They all had muskets of the latest and very best pattern. On the floors of the upper rooms were heaps of hand grenades. In the wide hall was a swivel, double-shotted, and so planted as to rake the main entrance if any one should be brave enough to try to force it. At every window there were determined men, with loaded muskets, and fixed bayonets; behind them were others, ready to take the place of any that might fall; and in all the building there was not a man who was not ready to fight to the death, rather than submit to the rule of Abraham Lincoln; nor one who would have quailed in the presence of a thousand foes, nor one of them that survives today, who would not fight just as willingly and just as bravely for the flag of the Union. Outside, too, throughout the ever-growing crowd, other Minute Men were stationed, to act as the emergency might require.

Before the hour of noon had come all the streets in the vicinity were thronged with excited men, some drawn thither by mere curiosity and by that strange magnetism which mobs always exert; some to take part with the Minute Men, if “the Dutch” should attack them; some to tear down “the rebel flag,” and to hang “the traitors,” who had dared to raise it on the day of Lincoln’s inauguration.

Everything betokened a terrible riot and a bloody fight. The civil authorities were powerless. It was to no purpose that they implored the crowd to disperse; in vain that they begged the Minute Men to haul down their flag. The police could do nothing. The Home Guards did not dare to attack, for their leaders knew that the first shot that was fired would bring Frost’s Brigade, which was largely composed of Minute Men, to the aid of their friends, and that they would also be reinforced by the Irish, between whom and the German Home Guards there was the antipathy of both race and religion. Only once did any one venture to approach the well-guarded portals of the stronghold. The rash fools that did it were hurled back into the street, amid the jeers and laughter of the crowd. Blair and the Republican leaders, unwilling to provoke a conflict, kept their followers quiet, and finally towards midnight the crowd dispersed. The next day’s sun shone upon the rebel flag still flying above the roof of the Minute Men’s quarters. But Duke and Greene were unhappy, for they had hoped to bring on a fight, in which they would have been reinforced by Frost’s Brigade, and the Irish and many Americans, and in the confusion to seize the arsenal, and hold it till the Secessionists of the State could come to their aid. They were, nevertheless, greatly elated because the people believed more than ever that there were thousands of Minute Men, instead of hundreds.

* * *

On the same day that the Governor refused to comply with the requisition for troops [On April 17th, 1861 Governor Jackson sent a strongly worded refusal of the Federal requisition of four regiments from Missouri to put down the Rebellion –ed.], he sent Captains Greene and Duke to Montgomery, with an autograph letter to the President of the Confederate States, requesting him to furnish those officers with the siege guns and mortars which General Frost wanted for the proposed attack upon the arsenal; and Judge William M. Cooke was sent to Virginia upon a similar errand.

* * *

On reaching the Confederate capital they laid their requests before the President and his Cabinet, and explained to them the purpose for which they wanted the guns and mortars. Mr. Davis, who had, at one time, been stationed at St. Louis, and was familiar with the ground, approved the plan, and ordered the commandant of the Baton Rouge Arsenal to supply the requisition. He also wrote to the Governor of Louisiana, and asked him to render such assistance as he could to the Missouri officers.

* * *

The arms and ammunition were procured at Baton Rouge and shipped to St. Louis as merchandise, and consigned to well-known Union men. At St. Louis they were turned over (May 8th) to Major Shaler, of Frost’s Brigade, and taken to Camp Jackson.

Blair and Lyon Save the Union

illustration from “Struggle for Missouri” by John McElroy, 1909 “Rather than concede to the State of Missouri for one single instant the right to dictate to my Government in any matter however unimportant, I would  see you, you, you and every man, woman, and child in the state dead and buried.

“This means war.”Brigadier-General Nathaniel Lyon

to Claiborne Jackson, Sterling Price, and Francis P. Blair, Jr. at the Planters House in St. Louis, Missouri, June 1861

by G. E. Rule

Further Reading: Damned Yankee: The Life of General Nathaniel Lyon
by Christopher Phillips

Frank Blair: Lincoln’s Conservative by William Earl Parrish

In January of 1861, Frank Blair’s Unionist cause in Missouri was sorely beset by a host of problems.  The incoming governor of the state, Claiborne Jackson, was a known secessionist. So was a majority of the state legislature.  “Unconditional Union” men made up a small minority of the population of the state, and an even smaller minority of the ruling class.  The Union commander of the tiny force guarding the vitally important St. Louis arsenal was politically unreliable and prepared to hand over the arsenal to the commander of the Missouri State Guard should the latter demand it on authority of the state government.  It appeared highly unlikely that Missouri, and vital St. Louis, could be kept in the Union.

Yet by June, a mere five months later, St. Louis was secure, and the 60,000 muskets in the arsenal were denied to the Confederacy by the fiery new Union commander, Nathaniel Lyon. Commanding regiments largely raised by Blair, Lyon put Governor Jackson and the secessionist members of the state legislature to flight from the state capitol never to return, and Union control—though shaky at times and tenuous in some sections of the state—was never again seriously threatened in Missouri.

It is hard to overestimate the importance this victory had on the course of the war.  The 60,000 muskets in the arsenal would have increased the number available in the entire Confederacy by over one-third at a time when each one was practically worth its weight in gold.  Control of St. Louis for the CSA would have meant control of the Missouri River and a connecting of the heavily pro-confederate population north of that river with the rest of the south.  The industry of St. Louis would have been a huge addition to the lightly industrialized Confederacy, and the further choking of the Mississippi river very possibly may have given critical mass to the idea of a CSA-friendly “Northwest Confederacy” of the states of what we today would call the Midwest.  Such a movement, had it come to fruition, would clearly have made it impossible for the rest of the northern states to prosecute the war with any hope of success.

While Grant and Sherman are often given enormous credit for winning the war for the Union in 1863-1865, it is perhaps not unfair to say that Frank Blair and his champion Nathaniel Lyon saved the Union in the early months of 1861.

For an opposing viewpoint see “Securing Missouri for the Union” (off-site)

Governor of Missouri, Claiborne Fox Jackson

When asked by Lincoln to supply four regiments to the Union Army, Governor Jackson said, “Your requisition, in my judgment, is illegal, unconstitutional, and revolutionary in its objects, inhuman and diabolical, and cannot be complied with.”

Frank Blair raised seven regiments for the Union in St. Louis when the governor refused the Federal call for troops from Missouri to put down the rebellion

After the war, Major-General Frank Blair –who had done more than all of Missouri’s Radical Republicans combined to keep her in the Union when the issue was in doubt in early 1861– declined to take the Oath of Loyalty in 1866 and was refused the right to vote.  When asked why he would not take the Oath, Blair cheerfully explained that while he would gladly take an Oath professing his loyalty to the Union and Missouri going forward, the fact of the matter was that he had taken up arms against the government of Missouri in May and June of 1861 and hence could not meet the draconian terms of the current Oath.

John Charles Fremont – Bio

A bio of John Charles Fremont


Fremont, John C., major-general, was born in Savannah, Ga., Jan. 21, 1813 and was educated at Charleston college, from which he was expelled before graduation, although subsequently, in 1836, he was given his degree by the college authorities. He became teacher of mathematics on the sloop-of-war “Natchez” in 1833, on which he took a two-year cruise, and, on returning, passed the necessary examination and was appointed professor of mathematics in the U. S. navy.

He was commissioned 2nd lieutenant in the U. S. topographical engineers in 1838, while engaged in exploring the country between the Missouri and the northern frontier, and in 1842, having suggested a geographical survey of all the territories of the United States, he was sent at the head of a party of 28 men to explore the Rocky mountain region. In accomplishing this he ascended the highest peak of the Wind River mountains, which was afterwards known as Fremont’s peak. He next explored the territory between the Rocky mountains and the Pacific, then a region almost unknown, and early in 1843 started with a party of 39 men, and, after a journey of 1,700 miles, reached Great Salt lake. It was his report of this region which gave to the Mormons their first idea of settling in Utah. He proceeded thence to the tributaries of the Columbia river and in November started upon the return trip, but, finding himself confronted with imminent danger of death from cold and starvation, turned west, and, after great hardship, succeeded in crossing the Sierra Nevada range and in March reached Sutter’s fort in California. His return journey was conducted safely by the southern route, and he reached Kansas in July 1844.

He went on another exploring expedition in 1845, spending the summer along the continental divide and crossing the Sierras again in the winter. Upon refusal of the Mexican authorities to allow him to continue his explorations, he fortified himself with his little force of 64 men on a small mountain some 30 miles from Monterey, but when the Mexicans prepared to besiege the place he retreated to Oregon. He was overtaken near Klamath lake, May 9, 1846, by a courier with dispatches from Washington, directing him to watch over the interests of the United States in the territory, there being reason to fear interference from both Great Britain and Mexico. He promptly returned to California, where the settlers, learning that Gen. Castro was already marching against the settlements, flocked to his camp, and in less than a month Northern California was freed from Mexican authority. He received a lieutenant-colonel’s commission, May 27, and was elected governor of the territory by the settlers July 4. Learning on July 10 that Com. Sloat, commanding the American squadron on the Pacific coast, had seized Monterey, Fremont joined him and, when Com. Stockton arrived with authority to establish the power of the United States in California, Fremont was appointed by him military commandant and civil governor. Near the end of the year Gen. Kearny arrived with a force of dragoons and said that he had orders also to establish a government. Friction between the two rival officers immediately ensued, and Fremont prepared to obey Stockton and continued as governor in spite of Kearny’s orders. For this he was tried by court-martial in Washington, and, after a trial which lasted more than a year, was convicted, Jan. 31, 1847 of “mutiny,” “disobedience to the lawful command of a superior officer,” and “conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline,” and was sentenced to dismissal from the service. President Polk approved of the conviction for disobedience and mutiny, but remitted the penalty and Fremont resigned.

In Oct., 1848, Fremont started on an independent exploring expedition with a party of 33 men, and reached Sacramento in the spring of 1849 after more severe sufferings than those experienced on any of his earlier expeditions. He represented California in the United States senate from Sept., 1850, to March, 1851, and in 1853 made his fifth and last exploring expedition, crossing the Rocky mountains by the route which he had attempted to follow in 1848.

FremontFremont’s known opposition to slavery won him the presidential nomination of the Republican party in 1856, but in the election he was defeated by Buchanan, who received 174 electoral votes to Fremont’s 114. Soon after the beginning of the Civil war Fremont was appointed major-general in the regular army and assigned to command the newly organized Western Department with headquarters at St. Louis. Soon after the battle of Wilson’s creek, Aug. 10, 1861 he proclaimed martial law, arrested active secessionists, suspended the publication of papers charged with disloyalty, and issued a proclamation assuming the government of the state and announcing that he would free the slaves of those in arms against the Union. This proclamation he refused to withdraw, and on Sept. 11, the president annulled it as unauthorized and premature.

Fremont was relieved of his command, Nov. 2, 1861, many complaints having been made of his administration, but in March, 1862, he was placed in command of the Mountain Department of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Early in June he pursued the Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson for 8 days, finally engaging him at Cross Keys, June 8, but permitted him to escape with his army.

When the Army of Virginia was created June 26, to include Gen. Fremont’s corps, with Pope in command, Fremont declined to serve on the ground that he outranked Pope, and for sufficient personal reasons. He then went to New York where he remained throughout the war, expecting a command, but none was given him. He was nominated for the presidency, May 31, 1864, by a small faction of the Republican party, but, finding but slender support, he withdrew his name in September.

He subsequently became interested in the construction of railroads and in 1873, was prosecuted by the French government for alleged participation in the swindles connected with the proposed transcontinental railway from Norfolk to San Francisco, and was sentenced on default, to fine and imprisonment, no judgment being given on the merits of the case.

Gen. Fremont was governor of Arizona in 1878-81, and was appointed major-general on the retired list by act of Congress in 1890. He died in New York City, July 13, 1890.

The Union Army A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States 1861-65

Federal Publishing, 1908