Missouri in the American Civil War

Missouri in the American Civil War
Confederate States
in the
American Civil War

South Carolina
North Carolina

Dual governments


Border states

West Virginia



In the Civil War, Missouri was a border state that sent men, armies, generals, and supplies to both opposing sides, had its star on both flags, had separate governments representing each side, and endured a neighbor-against-neighbor intrastate war within the larger national war.

By the end of the Civil War Missouri had supplied nearly 110,000 troops to the Union and about 40,000 troops for the Confederate Army. There were battles and skirmishes in all areas of the state, from the Iowa and Illinois border in the northeast to the edge of the state in the southeast and southwest on the Arkansas border. Counting minor engagements, actions and skirmishes, Missouri saw over 1,200 distinct fights. Only Virginia and Tennessee exceeded Missouri in the number of clashes within the state boundaries.

The first major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi River was on August 10, 1861 at Wilson's Creek, Missouri, whereas the largest battle in the war west of the Mississippi River was the Battle of Westport at Kansas City in 1864.



Missouri Compromise

Missouri was initially settled by slave-holding Southerners coming up the Mississippi River and Missouri River. Missouri entered the Union in 1821 as a slave state following the Missouri Compromise of 1820, in which it was agreed that no state north of Missouri's southern border with Arkansas could enter the Union as a slave state. Maine entered the Union as a free state in the compromise to balance Missouri.

Bleeding Kansas

One of the biggest areas of concerns for Missouri slave-holders was a Federal law that decreed that if a slave physically entered a free state, he or she was free. The Underground Railroad, in which slaves gained their freedom by heading north, was already becoming established in the state. The slaveholders were particularly concerned about the prospects of the entire western border becoming a conduit for the Underground Railroad if those new states entered the U.S. as free states. In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act nullified the Missouri Compromise and said the two states could decide on their own whether to enter as a free or slave state. The result was a de facto war between pro-slavery residents of Missouri (called Border Ruffians) and Kansas free staters to influence how Kansas entered the Union. Most of these conflicts involved attacks and murders of individuals on both sides, with the Sacking of Lawrence by pro-slavery forces and the Pottawatomie Massacre by John Brown being the most notable. Kansas initially approved a pro-slavery constitution called the Lecompton Constitution, but, after the U.S. Congress rejected it, the state approved a free-state Wyandotte Constitution.

Old Courthouse in St. Louis where the Dred Scott case was argued

Dred Scott Decision

Against the background of Bleeding Kansas, the case of Dred Scott, a slave who in 1846 sued in St. Louis, Missouri, for his freedom because he had been taken to a free state, reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court in 1857 ruled that slaves would not be free simply if they entered a free state, negating the earlier Federal law. While the decision helped calm the skirmishes between Missouri and Kansas residents, it was to enrage abolitionists and ratchet up the vitriolic rhetoric that was to lead to the war.

Pony Express

Ulysses S. Grant

With war storm clouds brewing in 1860, the government sought to communicate more quickly with San Francisco, California. In 1860 it took 25 days for a message to reach the coast from Missouri. The firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell proposed to do it in 10 days with a relay system of horses from what was then the furthest west terminus of a railroad at St. Joseph, Missouri. The resulting Pony Express began operations on April 3, 1860. Ulysses S. Grant's first commission in the Civil War was to protect the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, which was delivering its mail.

Armed neutrality

By 1860, Missouri's initial southern settlers had been supplanted with a more diversified non-slave holding population, including many northerners, German and Irish immigrants. With war seeming inevitable, Missouri thought it could stay out of the conflict by remaining in the Union, but staying neutral—not giving men or supplies to either side and pledging to fight troops from either side who entered the state. The policy was first put forth in 1860 by outgoing Governor Robert Marcellus Stewart, who had Northern leanings. It was notionally reaffirmed by incoming Governor Claiborne Jackson, who had Southern leanings. Jackson however, stated in his inaugural address that in case of Federal "coercion" of southern states, Missouri should support and defend her "sister southern states". A Constitutional Convention to discuss secession was convened with Sterling Price presiding. The delegates voted to stay in the Union and supported the neutrality position.

Presidential electoral votes by state in 1860.

In the United States presidential election, 1860, Abraham Lincoln received only 10 percent of the state's votes, while 71 percent favored either John Bell or Stephen A. Douglas, both of whom wanted the status quo to remain (Douglas was to narrowly win the Missouri vote over Bell—the only state Douglas carried besides New Jersey) with the remaining 19 percent siding with Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge.

Missouri demographics in 1860

According to the 1860 U.S. Census, Missouri's total population was 1,182,012, of which 114,931 (9.7%) were slaves. Most of the slaves were in rural areas rather than cities.

Of the 299,701 responses to "Occupation", 124,989 listed "Farmers" and 39,396 listed "Farm Laborers." The next highest categories were "laborers" (30,668), "Blacksmith" (4,349), and Merchants (4,245).

Less than half the state was listed as native born (475,246, or 40%). Those coming from other states listed: Kentucky (99,814), Tennessee (73,504), Virginia (53,937), Ohio (35,380), Indiana (30,463), and Illinois (30,138), with lesser amounts from other states.

906,540 (77%) were listed as being born in the United States. Of the 160,541 foreign born, residents came from the German states (88,487), Ireland (43,481), England (10,009), France (5,283), and Switzerland (4,585), with lesser amounts from other countries.

Biggest Cities:

Biggest counties:

Most slaves:

Civil War

Conflicts and battles in the war were divided into three phases, starting with the Union removal of Governor Jackson and pursuit of Sterling Price and his Missouri State Guard in 1861; a period of neighbor-versus-neighbor bushwhacking guerrilla warfare from 1862 to 1864 (which actually continued long after the war had ended everywhere else, until at least 1889); and finally Sterling Price's attempt to retake the state in 1864.

During the war thousands of black refugees poured into St. Louis, where the Freedmen's Relief Society, the Ladies Union Aid Society, the Western Sanitary Commission, and the American Missionary Association (AMA) set up schools for their children.[2]

Missouri and the Election of 1860

In the election of 1860, Missouri’s newly elected governor was Claiborne "Fox" Jackson, a career politician and an ardent supporter of the South. Jackson campaigned as a Douglas Democrat, favoring a conciliatory program on issues that divided the country. After Jackson’s election, however, he immediately began working behind the scenes to promote Missouri’s secession.[3] In addition to planning to seize the federal arsenal at St. Louis (see below), Jackson conspired with senior Missouri bankers to illegally divert money from the banks to arm state troops, a measure that the Missouri General Assembly had so far refused to take.[4]

Eviction of Governor Jackson

Claiborne Fox Jackson

Camp Jackson Affair

Sterling Price

Missouri's nominal neutrality was tested in a conflict of over the St. Louis Arsenal. The Federal Government reinforced the Arsenal's tiny garrison with several detachments, most notably a force from the 2nd Infantry under Captain Nathaniel Lyon. Concerned by widespread reports that Governor Jackson intended to use the Missouri Volunteer Militia to attack the Arsenal (and capture its 39,000 small arms), Secretary of War Simon Cameron ordered Lyon (by that time in acting command) to evacuate the majority of the munitions to Illinois. 21,000 guns were secretly evacuated to Alton, IL on the evening of April 29, 1861. At the same time, Governor Jackson called up the Missouri State Militia under Brig. Gen. Daniel M. Frost for maneuvers in suburban St. Louis at Camp Jackson. These maneuvers were perceived by Lyon as an attempt to seize the arsenal. On May 10, 1861, Lyon attacked the militia and paraded them as captives through the streets of St. Louis and a riot erupted. Lyon's troops, mainly German immigrants, opened fire on the attacking crowd killing 28 and injuring 100.

The next day, the Missouri General Assembly authorized the formation of a Missouri State Guard with Sterling Price as its commander to resist invasions from either side (but initially from the Union army). William S. Harney, Federal commander of the Department of the West, moved to quiet the situation by agreeing to the Missouri neutrality in the Price-Harney Truce. However Abraham Lincoln overruled the truce agreement and relieved Harney of command and replaced him with Lyon. On June 11, 1861, Lyon met with Governor Jackson and Missouri State Guard commander Major General Sterling Price at St. Louis' Planter's House hotel. The meeting, theoretically to discuss the possibility of continuing the Price-Harney Truce between U.S. and state forces, quickly deadlocked over basic issues of sovereignty and governmental power. Jackson and Price, who were working to construct the new Missouri State Guard in nine military districts state-wide, wanted to contain the Federal toe-hold to the Unionist stronghold of St. Louis. Jackson demand that Federal forces be limited to the boundaries of St. Louis, and that pro-Unionist Missouri "Home Guards" in several Missouri town be disbanded. Lyon refused, and stated that if Jackson insisted on so limiting the power of the Federal Government "This means war". After Jackson was escorted from the lines, Lyon began a pursuit of Jackson and Price and his elected state government through the Battle of Boonville and Battle of Carthage (1861). Jackson and the pro-Confederate politicians fled to the southern part of the state. Jackson and a rump of the General Assembly eventually set up a government-in-exile in Neosho, Missouri and announced an Ordinance of Secession. This government was recognized by the Confederacy, despite that fact that the "Act" was not endorsed by a plebiscite (as required by Missouri state law) and that Jackson's government was all but powerless inside Missouri.

Union provisional government

On July 22, 1861, following Lyon's capture of the Missouri capital at Jefferson City, the Missouri Constitutional Convention reconvened and declared the Missouri governor's office to be vacant. On July 28, it appointed former Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Hamilton Rowan Gamble as governor of the state and agreed to comply with Lincoln's demand for troops.

Battle of Wilson's Creek

Nathaniel Lyon

The biggest battle in the campaign to evict Jackson was the Battle of Wilson's Creek near Springfield, Missouri, on August 10, 1861. The battle marked the first time that the Missourians had sought formal help from the Confederate States of America. There were more than 1,300 casualties on the Union side, including Lyon who was fatally shot. The Confederates lost 1,200 men. Although Price's army won the battle, he did not pursue the retreating Federals. Subsequently, he launched an invasion into northwestern Missouri to recapture the state, culminating in the Battle of Lexington on September 20. Thereafter, Price began a withdrawal of the main Missouri State Guard units from the state.

Small remnants of the Missouri Guard remained in the state and fought isolated battles throughout the war. Price soon came under the command and control of the Confederates. In March 1862, any hopes for a new offensive in Missouri were dimmed in the Battle of Pea Ridge just south of the border in Arkansas. The Missouri State Guard was to stay largely intact as a unit through the war and was to suffer heavy casualties in Mississippi in the Battle of Iuka and Second Battle of Corinth.

Fremont Emancipation

John C. Frémont replaced Lyon as commander of the Department of the West. Following the Wilson's Creek battle, he imposed martial law on the state and issued an order freeing the slaves of Missourians who were in rebellion.

"The property, real and personal, of all persons in the State of Missouri who shall take up arms against the United States, and who shall be directly proven to have taken active part with their enemies in the field, is declared to be confiscated to the public use; and their slaves, if any they have, are hereby declared free."[5]

This was not a general emancipation in the state as it did not extend to slaves owned by citizens who remained loyal. It did, however, exceed the Confiscation Act of 1861 which only allowed the United States to claim ownership of the slave if the slave was proven to "work or to be employed in or upon any fort, navy-yard, dock, armory, ship, entrenchment, or in any military or naval service whatsoever, against the Government and lawful authority of the United States."[5] Lincoln, fearing the emancipation would enrage neutral Missourians and slave states in Union control, granted Governor Gamble's request to rescind the emancipation and ease martial law.

Confederate Government of Missouri

In October 1861, the remnants of the elected state government that favored the South (including Jackson and Price) met in Neosho, and voted to formally secede from the Union. The measure gave them votes in the Confederate Congress, but otherwise was symbolic since they did not control any part of the state. The capital was to eventually move to Marshall, Texas. When Jackson died in office in 1862, his lieutenant governor, Thomas Caute Reynolds, succeeded him.

Western Sanitary Commission

The Western Sanitary Commission was a private agency based in St. Louis that was a rival of the larger U.S. Sanitary Commission. It operated during the war to help the U.S. Army deal with sick and wounded soldiers. It was led by abolitionists and especially after the war focused more on the needs of Freedmen. It was founded in August 1861, under the leadership of Reverend William Greenleaf Eliot (d. 1886), to care for the wounded soldiers after the opening battles. It was supported by private fundraising in the city of St. Louis, as well as from donors in California and New England. Parrish explains it selected nurses, provided hospital supplies, set up several hospitals, and outfitted several hospital ships. It also provided clothing and places to stay for freedmen and refugees, and set up schools for black children. It continued to finance various philanthropic projects until 1886.[6][7]

Guerrilla warfare

William T. Anderson

The Battle of Wilson's Creek was the last large scale engagement in the state until Price returned in 1864 in a last ditch attempt to capture the state. Between 1862 and 1864, the western parts endured guerrilla warfare in which southern partisan rangers and Bushwhackers battled the Kansas irregulars known as Jayhawkers and Redlegs or "Redleggers" (from the red gaiters they wore around their lower legs) and the allied Union forces. Although guerrilla warfare occurred throughout much of the state, most of the incidents occurred in northern Missouri and were characterized by ambushes of individuals or families in rural areas. These incidents were particularly nefarious because their vigilante nature was outside the command and control of either side and often pitted neighbor against neighbor.

Among the more notorious incidents of guerrilla warfare were the Sacking of Osceola, burning of Platte City and the Centralia Massacre. Among the famous bushwhackers were Quantrill's Raiders and Bloody Bill Anderson.

George Caleb Bingham painting of General Order No. 11. In this famous propaganda work General Thomas Ewing is seated on a horse watching the Red Legs.

General Order No. 11

In 1863 following the Lawrence Massacre in Kansas, Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr. accused farmers in rural Missouri of either instigating the attack or supporting it. He issued General Order No. 11 which forced the evacuation of all residents of rural areas of the four counties (Jackson, Cass, Bates and Vernon) south of the Missouri River on the Kansas border to leave their property, which was then burned. The order applied to farmers regardless of loyalty, although those who could prove their loyalty to the Union could stay in designated towns and those who could not were exiled entirely. Among those forced to leave were Kansas City founder John Calvin McCoy and its first mayor, William S. Gregory.

Price's Raid

Price's Raid in the Western Theater, 1864

With the Confederacy clearly losing the war in 1864, Sterling Price reassembled his Missouri Guard and launched a last gasp offensive to take Missouri. However, Price was unable to repeat his 1861 victorious campaigns in the state. Striking in the southeastern portion of the state, Price moved north, and attempted to capture Fort Davidson but failed. Next, Price sought to attack St. Louis but found it too heavily fortified and thus broke west in a parallel course with the Missouri River. This took him through the (relatively) friendly country of the "Boonslick", which had provided a large percentage of the Missouri volunteers who had joined the CSA. Ironically, although Price had issued orders against pillage, many of the pro-Confederate civilians in this area (which would be known as "Little Dixie" after the war) suffered from looting and depredations at the hands of Price's men.[8]

The Federals attempted to retard Price's advance through both minor and substantial skirmishing such as at Glasgow and Lexington. Price made his way to the extreme western portion of the state, taking part in a series of bitter battles at the Little Blue, Independence, and Byram's Ford. His Missouri campaign culminated in the battle of Westport in which over 30,000 troops fought, leading to the defeat of the Southern army. The Missourians retreated through Kansas and Indian Territory into Arkansas, where they stayed for the remainder of the war.


Jesse James

Since Missouri had remained in the Union, it did not suffer outside military occupation or other extreme aspects of Reconstruction. The immediate post-war state government was controlled by Republicans, who attempted to execute an "internal reconstruction", banning politically powerful former secessionists from the political process and empowering the state's newly emancipated African-American population. This led to major dissatisfaction among many politically important groups, and provided opportunities for reactionary elements in the state.

The Democrats were to return to being the dominant power in the state by 1873 through an alliance with returned ex-Confederates (almost all of whom had been part of the pro-slavery Anti-Benton wing of the Missouri Democratic Party prior to the Civil War). The reunified Democratic Party exploited themes of: racial prejudice; a (largely fictional) version of a Missouri "Lost Cause" which purported Missourians as victims of Federal tyranny and outrages; and depiction of Missouri Unionists and Republicans as traitors (to the state) and criminals. This capture of the historical narrative was largely successful, and secured control of the state for the Democratic Party through the 1950s. The ex-Confederate/Democratic resurgence also defeated efforts to empower Missouri's African-American population, and ushered in the state's version of Jim Crow legislation. (This was motivated both by widespread racial prejudice and concerns that former slaves were likely to be reliable Republican voters.)

Many newspapers in the 1870s Missouri were vehement in their opposition to national Radical Republican policies, for political, economic, and racial reasons. The outlaws James-Younger gang was to capitalize on this and become folk heroes as they robbed banks and trains while getting sympathetic press from the state's newspapers—most notably the Kansas City Times. Jesse James, who killed with bushwacker Bloody Bill Anderson at Centralia, was to excuse his murder of a resident of Gallatin, during a bank robbery, saying he thought he was killing Samuel P. Cox, who had hunted down Anderson after Centralia. In addition, the vigilante activities of the 'Bald Knobbers' in south-central Missouri during the 1880s have been interpreted by some as a further continuation of Civil War related guerrilla warfare.[9]

References and notes

  1. ^ Fulton, by far the current largest city was not listed in the printed list. Other cities/towns in Callaway were Bourbon (1,689); Cedar (1,639); Catesausdlsein (1,993); Liberty (1,448); Round Prairie (955).
  2. ^ Lawrence O. Christensen, "Black Education in Civil War St. Louis," Missouri Historical Review, April 2001, Vol. 95 Issue 3, pp 302-316
  3. ^ Phillips, Christopher. Missouri's Confederate: Claiborne Fox Jackson and the Creation of Southern Identity in the Border West. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-8262-1272-6.[page needed]
  4. ^ Geiger, Mark W. Financial Fraud and Guerrilla Violence in Missouri’s Civil War, 1861-1865. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-300-15151-0.[page needed]
  5. ^ a b "The Beginning of the End". Harper's Weekly, Sept. 14, 1861. 2nd paragraph.
  6. ^ William E. Parrish, "The Western Sanitary Commission," Civil War History, March 1990, Vol. 36 Issue 1, pp 17–35
  7. ^ W.S. Rosecrans, "Annual Report of the Western Sanitary Commission for the Years Ending July, 1862, and July, 1863"; "Circular of Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair, to Be Held in St. Louis, May 17th, 1864" The North American Review, Vol. 98, No. 203 (Apr., 1864), pp. 519-530 in JSTOR
  8. ^ After Price's return south, the issue of looting and murder during "independent scouting" would become a major embarrassment during the court martial inquest into the failure of Price's Raid. Price's officers blamed these bad actions on the low quality of some of the men who composed Price's force.
  9. ^ The political orientation of post-war "armed resistance" was different in the rugged south central part of the state. In this case, notionally pro-Union "Bald Knobbers" were (supposedly) resisting the political resurgence of formerly pro-secessionist "anti-Bald Knobbers". This violence may have had more to do with struggles for local power by group and family alliances, that with war-time politics.


  • Fellman; Michael. Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri during the American Civil War (1989).
  • Hess, Earl J. "The 12th Missouri Infantry: A Socio-Military Profile of a Union Regiment," Missouri Historical Review 76 (October 1981): 53–77.
  • Lause, Mark A. Price's Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri (University of Missouri Press; 2011), 288 pages
  • Parrish, William E. A History of Missouri, Volume III: 1860 to 1875 (1973, reprinted 2002) (ISBN 0-8262-0148-2)
  • Phillips, Christopher. Missouri's Confederate: Claiborne Fox Jackson and the Creation of Southern Identity in the Border West. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000. (ISBN 978-0-8262-1272-6)
  • Geiger, Mark W. Financial Fraud and Guerrilla Violence in Missouri’s Civil War, 1861–1865. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010. (ISBN 9780300151510)

See also

External links

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