A Missourian Describes Why He Joined the State Guard and the Confederate Army


The First Missouri Brigade at Prairie Grove, Arkansas. Courtesy of Andy Thomas, artist.

Unlike much of the South in the spring of 1861, Missourians stood dominantly neutral and conditional Unionist, though she was a fellow slaveholding state. The Missouri Constitutional Convention voted to remain with the Union, an overwhelming 98 to 1 in March. However, in May, when Federal troops fired into a crowd of civilians after capturing several hundred pro-secessionist troops (sanctioned by Governor Claiborne Jackson), hearts and minds changed drastically. Many conditional Unionists and those unsure about Missouri’s role in the war became pro-secessionist and desired to throw out Federal troops in their state. It was a game of revenge.

For nineteen-year-old Ephraim McDowell Anderson of Lafayette County, Missouri, everything changed for him after Camp Jackson. In his post-war memoir (1868), Anderson recalled his personal – and the Governor’s – anger, bitterness, and temperament against Federal authorities.

Under these circumstances, this premeditated blow was struck. There could be no question as to the result. Prompt, inevitable resistance was expected: the dignity, pride, and character of the commonwealth would demand this, and the slightest sense of duty and fidelity in its government would insure it. Following instantly upon the assured action of the Governor, the immediate seizure of the State Government by Federal officers was to be carried out, and in its defenceless [sic] condition, the subjection of the property of its citizens to military spoliation and their lives to lawless and unpunished assassination would be fully and triumphantly accomplished.

When Governor Jackson called for 50,000 troops to defend Missouri,

The hopes of peace, an anxious solicitude that the Federal Government would wisely act in these perilous times, reigned in the breasts of our people, but thenceforth they were to become accustomed to the neighing of the war steed and the tramp of marching legions. While those of maturer age and less ardent temperament were roused to action, the young and impetuous spirits who had thought “the big wars that make ambition virtue,” or who “had heard of battles and longed to follow to the field” at once rushed to arms, and prepared to enter upon that scene whose long and gloomy vistas are now tracked with blood, and shadowed by the ghosts of the dead.

Ephraim McDowell Anderson served in the Missouri State Guard and the First Missouri Confederate Brigade throughout the entirety of the war. In December 1861, the State Guard began recruitment for Confederate service and Anderson joined. He wrote about “the motives and reasons which influenced me in an act of grave responsibility,”

 The doctrine of State rights has been settled by arms, adversely to the States. The whole fabric has been tumbled to the ground, and the states are now nothing,

Anderson went on to look at the Founding Fathers and the Early Republic — a common comparison made by soldiers of both sides justifying their particular cause.

Such were the principles presented to the nation, vindicating the doctrine of State rights, and supported by the ablest minds and the best patriots of those times.

One interesting omission in Anderson’s decision to remain with the Southern Confederacy and join their forces is the issue of slavery. Though slavery was central to the state’s economy and its own identity, Camp Jackson was the lighting bolt that triggered many Missourians to join Governor Jackson’s call to arms. For these Missourians, the immediacy of Camp Jackson encouraged them to rally behind Governor Jackson and Price. Looking back less than ten years prior, the issue of slavery rocked the world of Missourians along the border, especially those who owned slaves or were reliant upon slave labor. The use of Federal troops fighting Missourians in the name of abolition also turned Missourians away. There were certainly a plethora of issues that affected Missourians of both sides. It was all based upon their personal experiences.

Since this is a post-war account – and at the time that Southern writers and veterans were dismissing slavery in their narratives – it is hard to say the degree in which Anderson was motivated to join the State Guard by slavery. Based on other pro-secessionists, anti-slavery-ites, and Confederates, slavery was at the core of these issues. Slavery certainly remained at the foundation of the sociopolitical issues Anderson brings up in his memoirs.

We do know that Anderson was loyal to the Confederate cause throughout the remainder of his life. Not only did he assert this loyalty in his memoir, he also lived at the Confederate Soldier’s Home in Higginsville, Missouri, where he is buried.

1. Ephraim McD. Anderson, Memoirs: Historical and Personal; Including the Campaigns of the First Missouri Confederate Brigade (St. Louis, MO: Times Printing Co., 1868).

2 thoughts on “A Missourian Describes Why He Joined the State Guard and the Confederate Army

  1. Doug Gifford

    A good article but let me make one correction. The state legislature did not vote to remain in the Union-that body was decidely pro-secession. The legislature created a state convention (sometimes erroneously called the constitutional convention) to examine Missouri’s relationship to the federal government. Governor Jackson and the legislature expected the convention to vote for secession. However, that body voted 98-1 against secession at that time.


    1. kpawlak1863 Post author

      Thanks for reading and for commenting! That was just a typing error on my part, but you are 100% correct that it was the Constitutional Convention called to vote on secession by Governor Jackson. They voted 98-1 in March, arguing there was no legitimate reason to leave the Union yet. But, they would if the government interfered against their neutrality. Interesting stuff! Have you had the chance to read the reports of the first Constitutional Convention? They’re on Google Books for free. Very interesting to read!



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