Building the Missouri State Guard

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Pvt. S.W. Stone and Pvt. P.S. Alexander were two friends from Moniteau County, Missouri, served with Mosby Parson’s Sixth Division of Missouri State Guard. Courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.

Just mere days after the Camp Jackson Affair on May 10, 1861 that left 26 people dead and dozens of others injured in the streets of St. Louis, the Missouri General Assembly (spearheaded by pro-secessionist Governor Claiborne Jackson) passed a “military bill” to assemble military forces on behalf of the state of Missouri to protect its citizens from Federal occupation and maintain statewide peace. Additionally, to stun pro-Union militia in St. Louis, the bill also banned the use of foreign language in militia, forcing the German immigrants that made up the militia to either speak English or disband. Appointed at the head of this new military force was former Missouri governor and Mexican War hero Sterling Price, who would command the pro-Confederate and pro-Missouri unit throughout the entirety of the Civil War. Many secessionists in Missouri were skeptical of Price’s appointment, because they feared he was pro-Union after he voted for Missouri to remain loyal back in March of 1861. However, his men grew to love their commander; Price’s paternal leadership style – both on and off the battlefield – prompted his men to affectionately call him “Old Pap.”

On May 21, 1861, Governor Jackson divided the guard into nine divisions based on geographic region, each having their own brigadier general (also appointed by Jackson). The men he chose to lead these divisions had a plethora of backgrounds, some being former military, while others were appointed for their political connections. To build his Military Staff, Price appointed Richard “Dick” Gains and A.W. Jones as his aides, with William N. Snodgrass as Surgeon-in-Chief, Harry Dwyer as the Assistant Quartermaster General, and John Reid as Chief of Commissary.

Leading the First Division of southeast Missouri was Nathaniel Watkins. Born in Kentucky in 1796, Watkins had served in the Missouri General Assembly to represent Cape Girardeau’s surrounding districts and was Speaker of the House just prior to the outbreak of war. His only military experience, however, was fifty years prior in the War of 1812. By mid-summer, Watkins resigned due to his age and Meriwether Jeff Thompson replaced him. A native of Virginia, Thompson had resided in Missouri since the Mexican War and was an ardent and vocal secessionist. Later in the road, due to his swift tactical maneuvering throughout the swamps of his district, Thompson would be nicknamed, “The Swamp Fox of the Confederacy.”The Second Division consisted of counties in the northeast, north of the Missouri River and along the Mississippi River. In command of the division was Hannibal, Missouri politician and lawyer Thomas Harris, who, at the time, served in the Missouri House of Representatives. Harris had limited military experience in the 1838 Mormon War when he was a mere 12 years old, commissioned a lieutenancy in the 12th United States Infantry Regiment in 1848, and served on the Military Committee in the Missouri House during his tenure as a Representative beginning in 1860. He would only be in command until after the First Battle of Lexington in September 1861, when he was elected to the Confederate Congress. Replacing him was Democratic politician, judge, and secessionist Martin E. Green from Lewis County. He was instrumental in recruiting for the Guard even before he was given command of the division.

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Brig. Gen. Martin E. Green commanded the Missouri State Guard’s Second Division of northeastern Missouri. He was later killed-in-action at Vicksburg in 1863. Courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.

Missouri Democratic politician and secessionist John Bullock Clark commanded the Third Division of central Missouri. Throughout the first half of 1861, Clark was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Missouri, until he led troops against the United States at the Battle of Carthage in July 1861. He was quickly expelled, but later served as a Senator and Representative in the Confederate Congress. In the Fourth Division consisted of north central counties and was commanded by native-Kentuckian and Missouri General Assemblyman William Slack. Not only was a prominent politician, Slack served in the Mexican War and commanded a company of Missouri volunteers under Sterling Price’s Second Missouri Cavalry Regiment.

West Pointer and drillmaster Alexander E. Steen commanded the Fifth Division of the Missouri State Guard, after both Missouri military heroes Alexander Doniphan and Jesse Morin declined the appointment. The Fifth Division was made up of men from northwestern Missouri. Steen commanded the division throughout the 1861 Missouri Campaign, but was mortally-wounded-in-action at Prairie Grove in December 1862. In command of the Sixth Division of central Missouri was Virginia-native Mosby Parsons, who, at the time of the Civil War, was a state senator and district attorney in Cole County. Parsons was also a veteran of the Mexican War. He commanded the division until it was absorbed into Confederate service in 1862. The Seventh Division was commanded by lawyer, state representative, and merchant James H. McBride of Texas County, Missouri. McBride was a native of Kentucky and represented the Democratic Party. His division was made up of Missourians from the south-central region of the state.

Representing the southwestern region of the state, the Eighth Division was commanded by Tennessee-native and Sarcoxie resident James S. Rains. Not only did he serve in the Missouri General Assembly to represent Newton County, he also lead the local militia until moving to California during the 1848 Gold Rush, where he lead local militia again. By 1860, Rains had returned to Missouri. Though an excellent recruiter, he was notorious for being inept to lead troops effectively into combat. Like some Missouri State Guardsmen, Rains refused to leave Missouri when the Missouri Brigade moved east of the Mississippi River. Finally, the Ninth Division of Missouri State Guard was commanded by St. Louis politician, civil engineer, and architect Meriwether Lewis Clark. However, because of strong Unionist sentiments in St. Louis and the surrounding area, the Ninth Division was never formalized.

Following the fateful June 11, 1861 meeting at the Planter’s House Hotel in St. Louis between Missouri’s pro-secessionist and pro-Union leaders, Governor Claiborne Jackson ordered State Guard Quartermaster Brigadier General James Harding to move the State Guard’s headquarters, armory, arsenal, and materiel from Jefferson City to Boonville, Missouri. Sitting atop bluffs overlooking the Missouri River, Boonville was a prime defensive position for the guard in case Union Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon’s army were to advance from St. Louis. They had to not only protect their small, ragtag army, but build it up further.

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A modern-day sketch of Confederate recruits in training, which would have been similar to the training the Missouri State Guard received at Cowksin Prairie. Courtesy of Civil War Scholars.

When Major General Sterling Price, Governor Jackson, and one company of militia arrived at Jefferson City, they developed a plan to recruit the pro-slavery and pro-secession men of the “Boone’s Lick” region – more commonly known as “Little Dixie” today. The region sat along the Missouri River, and its fertile soil made it ideal for the farming of tobacco, hemp, corn, and certain types of cotton. Though slavery flourished in this region by the outbreak of the Civil War, it was also along the Santa Fe Trail, which connected westward settlers to the Oregon and California Trails.

With the abundance of slave owners and supporters of the “peculiar institution” and secession, Boone’s Lick was Price’s and Jackson’s initial target for recruitment of the State Guard. One way they raised forces was through the local newspapers in the region. The Glasgow Times, on June 13, published Sterling Price’s proclamation, which strived to show Missourians that “the people . . . cannot be forced under the terrors of a military invasion into a position not of their free choice . . . all citizens of whatever opinions in politics or religion be protected.” [2] Even young Samuel Clemens – famously known as Mark Twain – answered the call for duty from the proclamation, as Union troops occupied his hometown of Hannibal. Lieutenant Governor Thomas Reynolds and emissary Edward Cabell traversed their way to the new Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia to negotiate with president-elect Jefferson Davis about Missouri’s secession and the need for manpower. Soon after those talks, Davis ordered Brig. Gen. Benjamin McCulloch and his army in Arkansas to aid Price’s Guard in any way he could. Though McCulloch was weary and hesitant to assist the rag-tag and ill-equipped Guard, his additional 5,000 troops were crucial for Confederate victory in Missouri.

On June 12, Jackson issued a call for 50,000 troops. Additionally, Price issued orders to his nine division commanders to assemble their forces. The Third Division was also ordered to hold Boonville and protect the Guard’s supplies and materiel. At the same time, Lyon’s army advanced – by steamboat – to Jefferson City with 1,700 militiamen and U.S. Regular troops to break “up the hostile organizations which I had reason to believe had been formed in those parts of the State to resist the authority of the Government.”[1] Unfortunately for the Guard, Lyon not only seized 4,000 accouterments from the state capital, but also seized control of the Missouri Pacific Railroad line and Jefferson City. The State Guard would never reclaim the capital city again.

It also prevented Harding from being able to properly equip the State Guard with uniforms, weapons, and accouterments. Instead, the nine divisions were essentially responsible for arming and clothing their own men. Though some of the units received weapons and munitions from the captured Liberty Arsenal, many were still unarmed or without updated weapons. Samuel Clemens was only armed with a squirrel rifle and a mule.[3] As seen throughout the advance to southwestern Missouri and Wilson’s Creek, roughly two-thirds of the army were properly armed.

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Major General Sterling Price in Confederate general-officer’s uniform after he had accepted a commission into the Confederate Army late in 1861. Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society.

As Price’s men moved southwest to the Missouri-Indian Territory border, they recruited men from local communities, calling for them to protect their home state, even if they had no ties to the Confederacy. Even after the victories at Wilson’s Creek and Lexington in the early fall of 1861, the commanders of the various military districts issued proclamations to the local civilians to recruit 50,000 more men for the cause. In his Sixth District, Brig. Gen. Parsons called upon the military-aged men, saying:

“We have come upon the borders of your military district. Our soldiers are as energetic, as brave, as willing, and as anxious to meet the enemy as ever, and they will meet him, and vanquish him, too, if he dares present a hostile front. But then, my countrymen, let me appeal to you. Do you intend to live in ease, in winter comforts, and far from danger, by your own firesides and with your own families, and allow these veterans of five battles still to war for your security, your lives, and your property? I believe you will not.”[4]

Though the district commanders pleaded with their respective communities to recruit more men for the guard, just 5,000 had responded. To plead the people of Missouri, Price released a proclamation, reading:

“Citizens of Missouri, I call upon you by every consideration of interest, by every desire for safety, by every tie that binds you to home and country, delay no longer . . . Commend your homes to the protection of God, and merit the admiration and love of childhood and womanhood by showing yourselves men, the sons of the brave and free, who bequeathed to us the sacred trust of free institutions. Come to the army of Missouri, not for a week or month, but to free your country.”[5]

Disenchantment ran rampant across Missouri’s pro-secession civilians and soldiers at this point in the war. Expiring enlistments and fear of the loss of property led Price to reconsider how he wanted to command the Guard. Throughout their winter encampment, Price began recruiting men from his own command for Confederate State service, particularly because the exiled Missouri General Assembly in Neosho officially voted for secession in October and was admitted at the end of November. Though the Missouri State Guard still remained as a unit in 1862, it was merged with the Army of the West under Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn and would make up the bulk of Price’s Army of Missouri in 1864.


Sources:
1. Nathaniel Lyon, Report, June 22, 1861, in The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records, ser. 1, vol. 3 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1881), 11. 
2. The Glasgow Times, Glasgow, Missouri, June 13, 1861, Newspapers.com.
3. Terrell Dempsey, “Why Samuel Clemens Was Never a Confederate,” Mark Twain Forum. 2001, http://www.twainweb.net/filelist/1861.html.
4.  M.M. Parsons, Address, Camp on Cedar Creek, November 24, 1861, in OR, ser. 1, vol. 3 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1881), 756. 
5. Sterling Price Proclamation, November 26, 1861, in OR, ser. 1, vol. 8 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1881), 695. 


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