SUNBONNET DAYS - CHAPTER IX - MISSOURI FIGHTS FOR BOTH SIDES
The Civil War began six weeks before our marriage, but we did not believe it would affect us. For six years war had been waging along the Kansas-Missouri border, so we were accustomed to it. Many times had parties from Missouri crossed into Kansas on various hostile errands; and once a band of Kansans, boldly entering St. Joseph at night, delivered one of their citizens from jail where he had been sentenced for conducting fugitive slaves to freedom contrary to both state and national law. These bold Kansans escaped unharmed in rowboats to Elwood.
Even after Fort Sumter had been fired on, our friends both northern and southern, predicted that the war would be a mere "breakfast job." The South expected her troops to be in Washington in a few weeks to dictate terms of peace. Evidently President Lincoln thought a summer's campaign would subdue the South, for in his first call he asked for enlistments for only ninety days. When the President of the United States held such rosy views of the end of the conflict, it is no wonder that we were hopeful.
My husband and I were both against slavery, although public opinion in St. Joseph was largely favorable to the institution. The sentiment of the Missourians was puzzling, for not one man in ten owned slaves. In St. Joseph there were only two slaves for each nine white people. But the slave owners were the men of wealth. They dominated the press, the pulpit, and other fountains of public opinion.
Mr. Fackler, pastor of the Sixth Avenue Presbyterian Church, where my husband and I became members, was a Southerner and believed in slavery. The wealthier members of his church were slave holders; but the more intelligent working men, who realized that they had to market their labor in competition with slaves, were free-soilers.
Not only did I regard slavery as harmful to the free working man, but I had been taught that slavery was a sin. This view was strengthened by some of my closeup contacts with the system. Once I saw a negro woman sold from a scaffolding built beside the street less than a block from my uncle's house. She was led to the platform and seated on a chair, while around her gathered slave buyers like a picture from Uncle Tom's Cabin, with their wide-brimmed hats, their long-caped overcoats, and their high-topped boots. When the auctioneer's hammer fell, announcing the sale had been made, the buyer led his slave to his carriage and drove away at a trot. The woman, realizing that she would never see her friends again, burst into screaming lamentations. Right past my uncle's house drove the slaver, while the woman screamed in bitterest anguish. I felt like screaming with her. Of course we antislavery people were against secession, and regarded the two issues as one.
The governor of Missouri was Claiborne Jackson, a slavery proponent of such strong convictions that he had once led a band of armed voters from Missouri to cast their ballots at Lawrence, Kansas, in favor of opening that state to the institution. Since he was for slavery, "Claib" Jackson wanted to take his state out of the Union, but he hesitated to act. As a temporary expedient he declared for neutrality and called upon Missouri citizens to take no part in the war between the other states.
In support of the governor, the mayor and council of St. Joseph passed a neutrality ordinance forbidding the display of either Union or Confederate flags within the city limits. This ordinance was violated by the postmaster, one of President Lincoln's first appointees, who insisted that the council could pass no ordinance concerning the kind of flag that might float from the federal building. The German Turnverein [Turner Hall] also defied the ordinance. They put up a United States flag over Turner Hall, and lent the hall for meetings of the unionist party.
Outside of the city administration nobody that I knew in St. Joseph was neutral, and the intensity of partisanship grew hour by hour.
On May 23, just a week before our marriage, came a clash. Southern partisans, led by Jeff M. Thompson, later a Confederate brigadier general, tore down the flag from the post office and slashed it to ribbons.
"Now for that dirty rag on Turner Hall!" one man yelled. Others took up the cry and soon the mob was hurrying through the streets. Their determination to take down the flag was formed so suddenly that when they arrived only one defender, Robert C. Bradshaw, was there. Armed with revolvers, he stood in the doorway, declaring he would shoot the first to enter the hall. Blood would have been shed but for the intervention of Alonzo W. Slayback, whose mother was a member of our church. The Slaybacks were secessionists, but Alonzo had no sympathy with Jeff Thompson's method. He realized, however, that the only way to prevent bloodshed was to persuade Bradshaw to submit.
After a parley Bradshaw finally consented to remove the flag himself on condition that he be allowed to salute it. Climbing to the roof through a manhole in the cupola, he pulled the flag down by the halyards, at the same time firing six shots. Several of the agitators who did not understand conditions for removal of the flag became furious at the salute and raised their rifles to shoot the man on the roof. He was saved by Slayback, who, weapon in hand, threatened to kill any who dared to fire. Fortunately the incident closed without bloodshed.
This tearing down of the two flags had a far-reaching effect on the future of St. Joseph, as I will relate in time. Its immediate effect was to stir up partisanship to a higher pitch.
During the summer Christian followed the news closely and we talked of it with the greatest personal interest. Instead of making a "breakfast job" of the "rebels," the soldiers in the East did very little. In Missouri things progressed well enough at first under the guidance of General Nathaniel Lyon. By energetic maneuvers he drove Governor "Claib" Jackson from the state capital and out of the state. With Jackson fled General "Pap" Price and the state militia, which was a secessionist army organized for the announced purpose of maintaining the neutrality of Missouri, but for the real purpose of taking Missouri from the Union at the proper time. Lyon then created a unionist state government. In this he was supported by only a minority of the population; but while the secessionists and the neutralityists plotted he acted with such promptness and resolution as to keep Missouri in the Union.
Lyon, however, received little recognition from his superiors. When he pleaded for more men to save the state from the Confederacy, he was instructed to retreat to St. Louis. This he refused to do. With a pitifully small army he took his stand at Wilson's Creek in southwest Missouri where he was overwhelmed by Price's army. Despite his lack of soldiers Lyon held the field until half of his men were casualties, until he himself fell dead. Then his subordinates retreated, leaving Price to overrun nearly all of Missouri and to recruit soldiers by the thousands.
As Price's troops approached St. Joseph, several members of our own church quietly departed to the Confederate camp. Among the number was Alonzo Slayback, who became a colonel in the Confederate army.
The St. Joseph recruits took the news to Price that St. Joseph could be captured easily, and a branch of Price's army crossed the One-Hundred-and-Two River and marched on the town. The unionists in St. Joseph were apprised by couriers of the Confederate approach. The one who brought us the news came to our house in great excitement, shouting: "The tothers are comin' in now with i-ver-y kind of a gun!"
There was nothing for Christian to do but to find a skiff and row across to Kansas. As an avowed unionist he was in danger. Hundreds of Union men of military age also fled.
Soon after Christian had gone, I saw the Confederates arriving. They were without uniforms. Each man carried the weapon he had brought from home. These were largely muzzle-loading squirrel rifles or cap-and-ball pistols. Indeed the men were equipped as the courier had cried, "with i-ver-y kind of a gun." A few of the invaders were our own St. Joseph boys. The most of them, however, were country boys, still wearing their jeans and homespun with their shaggy locks unshorn. As they marched along past my porch their weapons pointed every which way without order. But we people of the border knew that every man and boy of them could hit a squirrel in the eye at the distance of the top of a hickory tree.
Frightful stories were circulated regarding our conquerors. I was told by the excited neighbors that the unshorn Missouri boys would rob us, burn our houses, and that women would be unsafe. I was invited to seek protection in the basement of a neighbor, who gathered several of her women friends together in the hope of safety in numbers. But I did not want to abandon my home to be burned. Fearfully I took by hatchet to bed with me, determined to use it on any intruder. The tales of the terrible soldiers, however, failed to materialize into fact. During the several days that they remained with us, I heard of no deeds of violence on their part, except that they levied on the unionist merchants for food.
The rebel occupation was of short duration. As soon as the news that St. Joseph had been taken was telegraphed to Iowa, five regiments of Iowa boys marched upon us. When they appeared to the north of the city, the Confederates, who were vastly inferior both in numbers and equipment, skedaddled.
"They ran so fast that we couldn't even get near enough to shoot at their coat-tails," complained the Iowa boys as they arrived in the city.
The death of Lyon, followed by the occupation of St. Joseph, convinced my husband that he must enlist. It was no longer an abstract question of slavery or secession, but a personal question. Our home was in Missouri. If the South should win, it meant that we would no longer be citizens of the United States, which I had learned to love and which was the only country my husband had known; Missouri would go with the victor and that would make us foreigners to our adopted Fatherland.
I have in my possession a diary of those days. Two entries for October 1861, reveal how he felt:
"October 8. Today I have been anxious to do something for my beloved land, knowing no other way but to take up arms in its defense, but again found the recruiting officers absent."
"October 9. Enlisted for U.S. service and sworn in by Hugh Cameron at St. Joseph, Mo."
Not only did Christian enlist, but so did my seventeen-year-old brother, Adolph, and two of my stepbrothers. I wept when Christian told me that he felt it was his duty to enlist. In fact I cried myself to sleep every night for a year. But I wanted him to go. My only regret was that I, too, was not a man. There came into the hearts of all of us the feeling that no sacrifice would be too great for the cause. This feeling swept the entire border, inspiring the people with sacrificial spirit. All that counted was the war. Friends, family, and home were of secondary importance. Neighbor boys bade each other goodbye, some to enter the Union recruiting offices in St. Joseph, others to make their way to Price's recruiting office east of the city. In the East the draft was needed to fill the armies, but in the West, Kansas gave more soldiers than she had voters, and Missouri not only gave an army to the Union but another to the Confederacy.
It grieved our pastor to learn that members of his flock were joining the Union, but he respected our views, gave Christian his hand, and said fervently:
"May no stray bullet strike you. I know that no straight one will."
The next day Christian departed for Fort Leavenworth. Before going, he arranged that I sit for my daguerreotype. It was the first time I had posed for my portrait, and since instantaneous photography had not yet been imagined, I had to hold myself almost breathless for three minutes while the impression was slowly formed. The finished picture was enclosed in a velvet-lined case, small enough to fit snugly in a coat pocket. Christian carried it in the blouse of his uniform all through the war. Later, he sent me a portrait of himself in his uniform. Since in a daguerreotype the right side appears on the left and the left on the right, he held his sabre in his left hand that it might appear to be in his right. I was proud of the picture, even through a neighbor came in one day to point out that, due to the reversal of right and left in daguerreotypes, my husband's blouse was buttoned from right to left like a woman's instead of from left to right like a man's.