A State Divided: The Civil War in Missouri
Jefferson City witnessed many dramatic events during the Civil War. In the early months of the war, Secessionists and Unionists engaged in a tense contest for dominance. It ended in the hasty flight of the elected pro-Southern government and its replacement by a military backed provisional Unionist government. Once the federals gained control, defense of the city became a priority as the provisional government struggled to maintain control in a deeply divided and war-torn state.
The Secession Question
Pro-Southern Clairborne Fox Jackson was voted in as Missouri's governor in the 1860 elections. The General Assembly consisted of a majority of men who were conditional Unionists, pro-Union but against forcing seceding states to remain in the Union. A small minority were unconditional Unionists. The remaining members were pro-Southern. The most pressing question facing the state government was whether or not Missouri should secede. To settle the matter, Gov. Jackson set up a specially elected state convention that first met in Jefferson City on Feb. 28, 1861. After moving to St. Louis, the convention decided Missouri should remain in the Union. It also took the stance that the federal government should not prevent states from seceding. Events quickly proved that such a neutral position was impossible to maintain.
Creation of the Missouri State Guard
The legislature resisted Gov. Jackson's military bill to reorganize local militias into a more powerful state guard. Jackson wanted a military with enough muscle to enforce secession. On May 10, 1861, federal forces in St. Louis, suspecting a secessionist plot, captured a brigade of local militia encamped at Camp Jackson without a shot fired. While federal troops were escorting the prisoners through St. Louis, civilians instigated a riot that left 28 civilians dead at the hands of the federals.
In Jefferson City, the legislature was debating Jackson's bill when they received news of the Camp Jackson affair. Less than 15 minutes later, they passed it and gave Jackson emergency power to create the Missouri State Guard. Jackson appointed Sterling Price, Mexican war hero and popular ex-governor, as major general in command. A month later, Gov. Jackson and Gen. Price met with St. Louis unionists U.S. Congressman Frank Blair, Jr., and U.S. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon in St. Louis. At the conclusion of the meeting, Lyon dramatically declared war on Jackson's government. The legislature could no longer remain neutral.
Occupation of Jefferson City
In 1861, Jefferson City had a large German-American population that was strongly pro-Union. Jackson temporarily removed the government to pro-Southern Boonville, Mo. Boxing up official papers and the state seal, Jackson and the other pro-Southern members of the state government evacuated the capital on June 13. Two days later, Lyon, Blair and 2,000 troops arrived in Jefferson City by steamboat. Lyon and his men pursued Jackson and the State Guard. A federal detachment of three companies under command of Col. Henry Boernstein remained in the capital city. Federal troops, supported by Missouri Home Guard and Enrolled Missouri Militia, occupied the city for the rest of the war.
Despite federal occupation, there were many anxious moments for the citizens of Jefferson City. As the capital city, pro-Southern action around the state was always a matter of concern. Gen. Price in particular had a strong desire to reclaim Missouri for the South.
U.S. Gen. John C. Fremont arrived in Jefferson City in late September 1861 at the head of 15,000 troops. They began building the first fortifications. After Gen. Price's recent victory at the Battle of Lexington, federal commanders were worried that he might attack the capital. To counter this, Fremont constructed a ring of fortifications around Jefferson City. Thousands of troops and five artillery batteries protected it. Price turned south on Sept. 30 and postponed his confrontation with Jefferson City to another day.
In the fall of 1863, Gen. Price sent his best cavalry leader, Joseph O. Shelby, out of Arkansas on a daring raid into Missouri. Shelby stated that one of his aims was to fly the Confederate National Flag from the Capitol dome. His raiders got as close as Tipton, 35 miles away. Alarmed soldiers frantically prepared to defend Jefferson City. Shelby chose to avoid the battle-ready troops and headed for pro-Southern Boonville.
Jefferson City's greatest peril during the Civil War came in the fall of 1864. In late September, Price crossed from Arkansas into Missouri with a force of 12,000 soldiers. One of their objectives was to capture either St. Louis or Jefferson City. Price's troops suffered a setback at the Battle of Pilot Knob on Sept. 27 where they lost about a thousand men. Deciding that St. Louis was too heavily defended, Price turned toward Jefferson City.
While Price advanced toward the capital city from the east, Union troops rushed to defend Jefferson City. Seven thousand troops gathered in the city, and another 7,000 were on the way. In the meantime, soldiers and civilians shored up existing fortifications and erected new ones. Five earthen forts connected by rifle pits ringed the city and discouraged attack from any direction.
On Oct. 6, federal scouts on the Osage River were forced back by advance elements of Price's army under Shelby. The next day, after a brisk skirmish, Confederate forces pushed across the Moreau River to a point only five miles from Jefferson City. By midday, they had gained the heights on the south and east outskirts of the city. Price could see that it was strongly defended. He abandoned the objective of seizing the capital. With the departure of Price's troops on Oct. 8, 1864 the military threat to Jefferson City ended. The state capital enjoyed relative peace for the rest of the Civil War.
Missouri's Two Governments
In October, 1861, the remnants of Gov. Jackson's government assembled in southwest Missouri, first at Neosho and then at Cassville. They passed an Ordinance of Secession and voted to make Missouri the 12th Confederate state. The secessionist government was always to be a government in exile. Jackson died in late 1862, and Lt. Gov. Thomas Reynolds replaced him. The seat of this government shifted from one place to another and was finally located in Marshall, Texas, late in 1863.
The state convention that had decided that Missouri should remain in the Union was reconvened to establish a new Unionist government in Jefferson City. On July 30, 1861, the convention declared the executive offices and General Assembly to be vacated. The next day they appointed Hamilton R. Gamble as governor and filled the other executive branch offices to form a new provisional government. Elections for the executive offices were put off until 1864 due to guerrilla warfare and increasing hostility toward military policies. Lt. Gov. Willard P. Hall replaced Gamble when he died on Jan. 31, 1864. Thomas P. Fletcher was elected governor in November 1864.
The election for the new General Assembly was held in November 1862. Citizens had to take an oath of loyalty to the Union before voting. Both the General Assembly and the state convention, which continued to meet, grappled with the question of how and when to emancipate Missouri's slaves. They also debated whether to require a loyalty oath to vote, hold office and practice certain professions.
The General Assembly passed the "Drake" Constitution of 1865, which created a harsh "Iron-Clad Oath" and emancipated slaves. The oath provision was repealed by popular vote in 1870.