At the outbreak of our great Civil War, things were very much mixed in Missouri. Practically there were three parties in existence; first and foremost the unconditional Union men, secondly the so-called Union men that were opposed to coercion, who ultimately all joined the rebels, and thirdly the honest and open hearted secessionists.
St. Louis in 1861, was a town of about 150,000 inhabitants the leading city of the state of Missouri, and of the greatest strategical importance, when river transportation constituted the sole means of communication in the Western States.
Situated near the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi rivers, it was the natural distributing point of the South, the South West, the West and the North West, as far as the Missouri river extended.
It was quite a manufacturing town, possessing large and well equipped foundries, which proved of great benefit in building up a river way.
Early in January, 1861, the governor, and a majority of the Legislature of Missouri, being rank rebels, passed a resolution ordering an election for a Constitutional Convention to meet in February, with the intention of passing an Ordinance of Secession by said Convention. This election was a sore disappointment to the Secessionists, the people of Missouri declaring by 60,000 majority their love for the Union.
In the southern part of the city, on the banks of the Mississippi river, is situated the U. S. Arsenal, containing about ten acres of ground surrounded by a rock wall. Some 20,000 muskets were stored in the main Arsenal building, placed there by order of that arch traitor, Floyd, Secretary of War of President Buchanan, with the intention that these muskets be turned over to the rebels.
The commandant of the St. Louis Arsenal was Major W. A. Bell of the Ordinance Department, a North Carolinian, a thorough rebel, but too much of an old soldier, and regular army officer, to turn the Arsenal over to a mob, so he agreed with Brig. Gen. D. M. Frost, commanding the Volunteer Militia of the state of Missouri, in St. Louis, to surrender to him upon proper summons.
Brig. Gen. Frost, like Major Bell, was a graduate of West Point, but had left the regular service some years before, to become a Militia General; he was a very innocent soldier who joined the Confederate Army as a general when released, after his capture in Camp Jackson, but was never heard of again during the war. Soon after the inauguration of President Lincoln, Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, being Secretary of War, Major Bell, whose disloyalty was well known in Washington, was relieved of the command of the Arsenal, and Captain Nathaniel Lyon, Co. "B," 2nd Infantry, was appointed to the command.
Here was a loyal man and a hero, who would sooner die, than surrender, and he instantly proceeded to take such measure of defense as was possible under the circumstances.
The loyal element of the citizens (mostly German-American,) had not been idle in the meantime. Everywhere in the city, except in the central portion, where the wealthier slaveholding families and strong secessionists resided, secret clubs had been organized and were drilling; young men, middle aged, and old men being initiated into the mysteries of "Hayfoot, Strawfoot."
The appointment of Captain Lyon had completely upset the plans of the rebels, who well knew that the only way to take the Arsenal from him was by force of arms.
When in April, 1861, President Lincoln called out 75,000 men to serve for 90 days, Missouri's quota was a regiment of infantry. The rebel Governor of Missouri, Claiborn Fox Jackson, refused to comply with the requisition of the War Department in an insolent message, and as Commander-in-Chief of the Missouri Militia, ordered the Volunteer Militia to assemble in a camp of instruction, near the city of St. Louis, on Monday, May 6, 1861. The camp was named Camp Jackson, in honor of the Governor, and Brig-Gen. Frost placed in command of it.
On Tuesday, May 7th, a steamboat from the South called the J. C. Swan, arrived, flying the new rebel flag, the Stars and Bars the first I had ever seen.
I had enlisted in Co. "E" 3rd Missouri Infantry, Colonel Franz Sigel, on April 27th, General Grant's birthday. Sneaking down to the Arsenal to avoid all observation, and provided with a little slip of paper of peculiar shape and color, which gained me admittance to the Arsenal, I was mustered into the service by General Schofield, then Lieutenant of Artillery on detached service at the Washington University in St. Louis.
In 1858 and 1859, I had served in the volunteer Militia of Illinois, enabling me to drill a company in Scott's Tactics, and I was made a Sergeant to drill Co. "E." Here I attracted the attention of Colonel Sigel, and on Wednesday, May 8th, he sent for me and ordered me to go to the Steamer Swan, and find out what freight she had brought to St. Louis. I had no difficulty in ascertaining that a part of her cargo consisted of Ordnance stores, taken aboard at the Baton Rouge Arsenal in Louisiana, figuring on the manifest as marble slabs, and carted out to Camp Jackson. Most of the deckhands of the Steamer were Germans and Union men and they gladly told me all they knew. I went to Camp Jackson pretending to be a recruit from the South West and anxious to enlist in the rebel militia I found a lot of old junk - guns without cartridges, shot and shell unfitted for service, the whole outfit thoroughly worthless, good only to adorn a military museum. I so reported to Colonel Sigel, handing him at the same time a sketch of the Camp, and on Thursday, May 9th, I was called before a council of war to explain the topography of the camp as shown by my little sketch.
On Friday, May 10th, the company drilling in the morning as usual, received orders at about 11 o'clock to return to our quarters, a nice little two story brick stable near the north wall of the Arsenal, standing there today. We each received a package of ball cartridges, loaded our guns and placed the rest of our ammunition in our pockets. We left the Arsenal at 1 p.m. a very motley looking crowd each in his citizen's clothes as he left his shop, his office, or his store, the only uniform thing about us being our bright shining muskets.
Our departure from the Arsenal was witnessed by the future Commanding General of the U.S. Army, General U.S. Grant, who as a citizen spectator stood opposite the Arsenal gate. My regiment the 3rd Missouri Infantry Colonel Franz Sigel, marched north on Broadway, on 5th St., to Elm, west on Elm Street to 10th, north on 10th, to Olive, west on Olive to 30th Street or Garrison Avenue, where the northeast corner of Camp Jackson was located. There we deployed and formed a line on the east side of the camp while the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Infantry, Missouri Volunteers, one battalion of regulars, four regiments of homeguards, and four 12-pound howitzers surrounded the camp on the south, north and west sides. No war having been declared, we did not march as an army, but as a posse comitatus, accompanying the U.S. Marshal, serving a writ of replevin on General Frost, to recover the old junk stolen from the U. S. Arsenal at Baton Rouge, and incidentally informing General Frost that he had 30 minutes time in which to surrender, or General Lyon would open fire on him and his troops. Being greatly outnumbered and totally surrounded, General Frost decided to surrender. When his disarmed soldiers marched out of the camp, the 3rd Missouri Infantry marched in and occupied the same. Here a deplorable accident happened. Some rebel scoundrel, perched in a tree, fired his pistol on our troops and wounded Capt. Blandowsky of the 3rd Missouri, who soon died of this wound. This shot started a general fusillade, we volunteers shooting more at each other than at the crowd of citizens gathered at the east end of the camp, towards the city, to witness the surrender.
Amidst that crowd was my future Corps Commander, General W. T. Sherman leading his oldest boy Thomas, by the hand. Thus by a very strange coincidence the two greatest Generals of the Union Army were citizen spectators of my first military exploit. After the firing ceased, at about 5 p.m., General Frost and his 1,200 men started for the Arsenal as prisoners of war under the escort of the regulars.
The guns, the 1st Missouri infantry, Colonel Blair, the 2nd Missouri Infantry, Colonel Boernstein and the Homeguards, the 3rd Missouri and the 4th Missouri, Colonel Nic. Schuttner under command of Colonel Sigel, remained to garrison the camp. During the evening we heard rumors from the city, that the secessionists had organized a big mob at the Planters' House, under the lead of Dr. McDowell, for the purpose of "killing all the Dutch" they could get hold of in revenge for the capture of Camp Jackson. This Dr. McDowell, an out and out rebel, was the owner of McDowell's Medical College on 8th and Gratiot Street, soon confiscated by tile government and utilized as a military prison during the whole war. At 11 p.m., Colonel Sigel sent for me and told me to go to the Arsenal and report to General Lyon that everything was quiet in the camp, and to ask for instructions for the next day.
I was an ardent Union man, and ready to shed my last drop of blood in defense of the Union, but in view of the mob down town, I was not ready at all to be a murdered Dutchman that night, and I tried to get out of the job by telling Colonel Sigel I had no arms except my big 69 calibre musket which I could not well handle in the carriage that was to take me to the Arsenal, so Colonel Sigel handed me his own revolver and I had to go. It was raining pitch forks, and I never met a human being, not even a policeman, until the sentinel at the Arsenal gate halted me.
I made my report to General Lyon, who expressed his astonishment that Colonel Sigel had sent a noncommissioned Officer, and ordered me to inform Colonel Sigel that he should procure all the vehicles he needed, load up all the arms, tents, and other stuff in the captured camp, and march back to the Arsenal as soon as he was ready.
Having made my report to Colonel Sigel, he sent me back to the city to procure a sufficient number of vehicles. I did not know a soul in the city that owned a horse and wagon for hauling purposes, but undismayed, I returned to the city, drove to Frenchtown, where nobody but Germans lived, and of course found a saloon where a party of patriotic Germans still celebrated the Union victory, at 2 o'clock in the morning. To them I stated my dilemma offering big pay in Uncle Sam's name for the use of horses and wagons and they assured me they would attend to the matter, and I finally returned to Camp Jackson. Shortly after daylight my teams commenced to arrive, first singly, then in pairs, then by the dozens and before 8 a.m., there were several hundred collected no doubt in consequence of my liberal offer of money. Soon we commenced loading the wagons and by 10 a.m. the whole camp was on wheels, lock stock and barrel, horse, foot and dragoons, each wagon loaded with a few tents or guns or muskets or some of that old junk from Baton Rouge Arsenal, and we commenced our return march to the Arsenal, east on Market Street to 14th, south on 14th to Chateau Avenue. east in Chateau Avenue to Broadway or 5th Street, and thence south to the Arsenal. On our whole road we found sour and ugly faces, and anything but blessings for the Dutch, but entering Frenchtown, at Broadway and Chateau Ave., we marched along a regular "Via Triumphalis," a genuine road of triumph for a mile and a half, every man, woman and child was cheering, yelling, romping, laughing, waving flags, hand-kerchiefs, towels, tablecloths, anything that came to hand. We arrived at the Arsenal about noon.
The capture of Camp Jackson was no great military deed, but it has this distinction that it started a train of events which directly prevented the secession of Missouri, and indirectly the secession of the other so called Border Slave States, Kentucky and Maryland and Delaware.
It is also remarkable in this that it is the first instance in the history of our Great Civil War where United States troops struck out from the right shoulder and gave the rebels a black eye, while up to this time, it had always been the reverse.
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Wisconsin Commandery, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States
Lademann, O.C. 1914. THE CAPTURE OF CAMP JACKSON, ST. LOUIS, War Papers Read before the Commandery of the State of Wisconsin, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Burdick and Allen, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Volume 4, pp.69-75.
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