Many of us know the story of the infamous Planter’s House Hotel meeting on June 11, 1861. The six most-influential political and military leaders in the State of Missouri at the start of the American Civil War – Major General Sterling Price, Governor Claiborne Jackson, Thomas Snead, Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, Colonel Francis P. Blair, and Major Horace Conant – met in St. Louis’ Planter’s House Hotel to prevent the outbreak of war within the state’s borders. Five of the six attendees of the meeting are very well known in Missouri Civil War lexicon. The only one who many are not aware of is Major Horace Conant, Nathaniel Lyon’s aide.
After Nathaniel Lyon was promoted to brigadier general and assumed command of the Department of the West, Governor Claiborne Jackson requested a meeting with Union officials in St. Louis. Since the infamous Camp Jackson Affair on May 10, 1861, the political and military situation in Missouri was spiraling out of control for both sides. The fact that U.S. volunteers (mainly German immigrants and recruited by Lyon) opened fire on a crowd of rowdy civilians (someone in the crowd supposedly fired a shot) in St. Louis, killed 28 and wounded around 75. The casualties included women and children. For many conditional Unionists and secessionists, this was the spark that made them solidify their allegiance to their fellow slave-holding states – and most of all, to Missouri. One of the conditional Unionists was Sterling Price, Missouri’s former governor and Mexican War hero. Now, he was in command of the Governor’s defense force: the Missouri State Guard.
The next day, the Missouri General Assembly passed “An act to raise money to arm the State, repel invasion, and protect the lives and property of the people of Missouri” – simply titled the Military Bill – which gave the Governor extended military powers and formed the Missouri State Guard out of the state’s standing militia. It also promoted Sterling Price to major general of the State Guard. The goal was to protect Missouri’s civilian population and repel Federal troops from occupying the state.
Over the course of the next month, Sterling Price was sent by Governor Jackson to meet with the Department of the West commander Brig. Gen. William Harney (Lyon will replace Harney on May 31, 1861) to negotiate the role and power of Federal troops in the state. To say the least, Price and Jackson were concerned, particularly after Harney declared: “The military force stationed in this department by authority of the Government and now under my command will only be used in the last resort to preserve the peace. I trust I may be spared the necessity of resorting to martial law, but the public peace must be preserved and the lives and property of the people protected.” On May 21, Price and Harney made a series of agreements limiting Federal authority and giving the State Guard more power. Harney promised to not interfere with Federal troops as long as Price maintain order with his State Guard. Harney hoped to disband the State Guard, but Price would not budge, only ordering the nine divisions back to their regional districts. Known as the Price-Harney Agreement, this series of negotiations would force Lyon to radically act.
That is where the story of the Planter’s House Hotel meeting begins again. On May 31, 1861, Lyon replaced Harney as the commander of the Department of the West, particularly due to the Lincoln Administration’s distrust in Harney’s loyalty. When Lyon, Blair, and Conant met with Price, Jackson, and Snead on June 11, they hoped to maintain Federal authority and force the pro-secessionist leaders to concede. Jackson promised to disband the State Guard, not allow Confederate troops into the state, and to protect pro-Union Missourians, but told Lyon that he needed to disband the Home Guard, as well. After listening to the discussion (without speaking much) for four hours, Lyon made his position known.
“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 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 see you, and you, and you, and you, [pointing to each man in the room] and every man, woman, and child in the State dead and buried. This means war. In an hour one of my officers will call for you and conduct you out of my lines.”
Now knowing more about the precursor to the meeting and about the meeting itself, we will tackle the story of 28-year-old Major Horace Artemas Conant. Born in Leominster, Massachusetts on February 7, 1833, Horace married Lydia Augusta Sisson in Jefferson County, Kentucky on December 18, 1856. By the next year, the newly-married couple were living in St. Louis, Missouri, where they had their first and only child Heywood on Christmas Day in 1857. On May 12, 1861, Conant was appointed Paymaster of the First Brigade, Missouri Volunteers and an Aide to Nathaniel Lyon.
At the end of 1861, he served as Adjutant General on Col. John Wyman’s staff throughout Fremont’s Springfield Campaign, until appointed to the Missouri State Militia by Governor Hamilton Gamble.
One year later, he resigned from the militia and was appointed Quartermaster of the 12th Missouri Infantry, ranked captain. He eventually was promoted to serve on General Silas Casey’s staff based in Washington. According to his wife’s Widow Pension, Conant died on October 5, 1862 in Washington from an infection of the bowels. One affidavit in the pension file described his illness: “Found him very sick with inflammation of the bowels. His nurse was Nrs M.E.W. Strange. Capt. Conant had diarrhea, [illegible], vomiting, and extreme restlessness.” He passed away on October 5, and is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Conant’s wife claimed pension as early as late 1863, and was living in Burlington, New Jersey.
B. Gratz Brown, well-known Missouri lawyer, senator, and later governor, even wrote a personal note to Conant’s widow, describing his character:
“I knew him well both as a civilian and soldier! That he was of high esteem with all his associates; much beloved and well respected.”
Brown even offered to assist Lydia in requesting a higher pension amount than the $20 she would receive per month. Unfortunately, we do not know much about Lydia after she requested more for her pension allowance.
Though short, my goal in this post was to share the largely forgotten story of Major Horace Artemas Conant, the sixth person at the Planter’s House Hotel meeting on June 11, 1861. A tragic story, Conant served in many capacities in the U.S. Army, until finally succumbing to disease like two-thirds of Civil War soldiers’ deaths.
Sources and For More Information:
Dick Titterington, “Missouri Goes to War,” The Civil War Muse, accessed January 10, 2019, http://www.thecivilwarmuse.com/index.php?page=missouri-goes-to-war
Jeffrey L. Patrick, Campaign for Wilson’s Creek: The Fight for Missouri Begins (Buffalo Gap, TX: McWhiney Foundation Press, 2011.
Service Record for Horace A. Conant, National Archives and Records Administration, Fold3, accessed January 10, 2019.
Tim O’Neal, “A Look Back • Fateful meeting in a St. Louis hotel: ‘This means war,’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 5, 2011, accessed January 10, 2019, https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/a-look-back-fateful-meeting-in-a-st-louis-hotel/article_8dd04ede-0447-59d9-bf21-65ec1de4f472.html
Widow’s Pension for Lydia Augusta Conant, National Archives and Records Administration, Fold3, accessed January 10, 2019.