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Appomattox Court House ___________________________
* Gray sections are missing and need authors.
To Control the Frontier: Military Operations in Spring-Summer 1861 Missouri
To Control the Frontier: Military Operations in Spring-Summer 1861 Missouri
by Caleb Greinke

"Sir--Your requisition is illegal, unconstitutional and revolutionary; in its object inhuman & diabolical. Not one man will Missouri furnish to carry on any such unholy crusade against her Southern sisters," once spoke Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson in response to Abraham Lincoln's call for 75,000 recruits to quell the Rebellion. As if to cement his already treasonous position, Jackson would add for good measure to all of Missouri, "Rise then, and drive out ignominiously the invaders who have dared desecrate the soil which your labors have made fruitful, and which is consecrated by your homes!" Clearly, Jackson was rearing for a fight -- and surely enough, he would have it and much, much more.

Following the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln to the office of the presidency, the border slave-holding state of Missouri was among those states considering secession from the United States Union. Missouri, who's only major political controversy in the election was whether to vote for Douglass or Breckenridge, for Lincoln was out of the question, began the long arduous build-up to that eventual day of war. In mostly Pro-Union St. Louis, the citizenry had reacted by forming military societies in the interests of preservation of the country, headed by politicians and teachers alike. Among the most fervent Pro-Union men in the city were the immigrant Germans who were the most active in the formation of these military societies, and who, in some cases, were well-versed in military theory thus giving the raw recruits of St. Louis much needed training which would service them well in the coming skirmishes and battle of 1861 Missouri. Southern sympathizers, likewise formed their own local militias throughout the state which would eventually answer the call for troops from the State Governor later in the year. The only clear thing that all of Missouri was preparing for War.

So enraged by the Federal Governments persistence against rebellion became the state's pro-secession populace that Governor Jackson was compelled to call out the state militia for the purposes of defense against Federal authorities who now were active in St. Louis. Among these newly arrived Federal Authorities was Captain Nathaniel Lyon of Ashford, Connecticut. Lyon, who commanded a company of the 2nd United States Regular Infantry out of Fort Riley, Kansas, quickly came calling in Missouri to lend his services to Abe Lincoln. Lyon had graduated 11th out of 52 cadets in his West Point class of 1841, soon after being stationed in Florida in the last days of the Seminole War. The flaming red bearded Lyon quickly made a name for himself in the Mexican War as a Lieutenant of Company D of the second infantry in which he was made a Brevet Captain for gallant action at Contreras, Churubusco, and the assault on Mexico City in which he was wounded. Following the War, Lyon was active in campaigns against the Indians in California where he participated in the Indian massacre at Clear Lake. Thereafter he was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas where he quickly became involved in the "Bleeding Kansas" affair of the 1850's during which Lyon had turned from a Pierce-supporting Democrat to a staunch abolitionist Republican.

Lyon, in conjunction with Missouri Congressman Francis P. Blair Jr., moved to raise volunteer all-German regiments in and around St. Louis for the defense of the local arsenal, which held thousands of small arms, hundreds of artillery pieces, and over a million rounds of ammunition. Both knew that if the arsenal were to fall into the hands of the State Militia (henceforth known as the Missouri State Guard) the Federals in the state would have double the problem they were already facing. The state legislature had not yet apportioned funds to arm the Missouri State Guard. This dilemma obviously made the arsenal at St. Louis a major target.

One of the several training camps that had sprung up across Missouri was just outside of St. Louis. Aptly named Camp Jackson, it was positioned in such a location that it could be a major threat to the safety of the arsenal making it target number one for Lyon's plans. The first move was to transfer excess weapons across the Mississippi River to safety in Illinois, thereby leaving just enough arms to equip new volunteers who were quickly being mustered. On May 8, 1861, as per tradition, Lyon disguised himself as a woman under a heavy veil and drove by wagon into Camp Jackson to spy on State Guard preparations. With a basket of eggs by his side for sale with a pistol conveniently hidden underneath, he gained entrance very briefly and was able to gage the situation quickly -- it was possible for the camp to be taken by force.

On the morning of May 10th, Lyon called his men to arms and proceeded to Camp Jackson whereupon arrival he promptly surrounded the entire camp and Lyon called for its immediate unconditional surrender. At once the message was sent to the militia commander, Brigadier General Daniel Marsh Frost, who requested time to consider the demand. Lyon's response was concise: surrender in ten minutes or he shall fire upon Camp Jackson. Faced with superior government troops and being outnumbered, Frost surrendered his men, who were thence paroled.

It was at this time that the crowds of onlookers turned violent. The southern-sympathizing citizens of the city had turned out to yell insults at the German regiments and while doing so, a large number threw rocks and bricks at the troops. One drunken mob member tried to make it past the Federal troops who were guarding the soon-to-be-released militiamen. He was refused passage and pushed back. The man then pulled out a pistol and promptly shot a German officer, though not fatally. The Federal troops were ordered to return fire. As fate would have it, 28 onlookers would be killed that night.

Furious, Governor Jackson called the State Legislature into a Special Session to pass military bills in defense of the state. 10,000 was set "to encourage Indians in the territory to retaliate against Kansans," 1,000,000 to be borrowed from banks and a final 1,000,000 to be "raised by bonds for a state army."

All across Missouri, old and young men alike came together to join the gathering Missouri State Guard at the call of the governor. Local towns became assembly points, each county raising their own special companies of recruits. The men trained under deplorable conditions. The state, in all of its rush to war, had not set appointed money for uniforms or equipment, and above all, arms. By the time that Lyon was beginning his offensive, the men were serving in their civilian articles of clothing, and carried a wide assortment of weapons that they could scrounge from home. Among these items were shotguns, squirrel guns, flintlocks, Kentucky Rifles, Mississippi Rifles, whatever outdated smoothbore muskets that had been recently confiscated from the Liberty Arsenal in Clay County, and even clubs and pitchforks.

It was at this moment of open Missouri Rebellion that Federal authorities grasped the graveness of the situation. They would have to act, and act fast, lest Missouri get its own star in the Stars and Bars.

* * *

Copyright © 2005 Caleb Greinke.

Written by Caleb Greinke. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Caleb Greinke at:

About the author:
Caleb Greinke is a student with interest in Georgian Era and Early American military history. He writes from Kansas City, Missouri.

Published online: 08/21/2005.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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