War in Missouri in '61, The
DESCRIPTION: The title tells the subject. "Claybourn Jacks" tries to pull Missouri out of the Union, and Harney does little to stop him. Price and Blair and the Lion (Lyon) stop him. But the Lion is killed by McCulloch. The author asks forgiveness for his rough verse
AUTHOR: B. F. Lock?
EARLIEST DATE: 1916 (Belden)
KEYWORDS: Civilwar battle death
Jun 17, 1861 - Battle of Boonville
Jul 5, 1861 - Battle of Carthage
Aug 10, 1861 - Battle of Wilson's Creek
FOUND IN: US(So)
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Belden, pp. 366-367, "The War in Missouri in '61" (1 text)
Cohen-AFS1, pp. 368-369, "The War in Missouri in '61" (1 text)
cf. "The Jolly Union Boys" and references there (concerning Battle of Wilson's Creek)
NOTES [2494 words]: To explain everything about this song (if it is a song and not just a poem) would take a small book; Belden's notes try to cover it, but they have some defects. I'll try to give a little more information about the characters and events named, although this is no substitute for a proper history.
"Claybourn Jacks": Claiborne Fox Jackson (1806-1862), Governor of Missouri from 1860; tried and failed to pull the state out of the Union. A secessionist himself, he had called a convention to take Missouri out of the Union, but it voted to stay (McPherson, p. 290. Eventually a minority of the state legislature, meeting away from the capitol and without a quorum, claimed to take Missouri out of the Union, but most parts of the state stayed loyal, although it no longer had a functioning government except the convention and its appointees; McPherson, p. 293).
"Tom Price": Thomas Lawson Price (1809-1870), railroad builder and war democrat, who opposed secession. (He had been a follower of that staunch Unionist Thomas Hart Benton, and was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1848 on the strength of his alliance with Benton.) Elected to congress in 1860, he opposed the administration and was defeated for re-election in 1862 (DAB, volume VIII, pp. 218-219), but none of this would have been evident in 1861.
"Price (#2)": Sterling Price (1809-1867), former governor of Missouri and Confederate commander of Missouri troops. He had chaired the convention that kept Missouri in the Union, but the policies of Blair and Lyon drove him toward the Confederacy. Jackson had appointed him to command the Missouri Guard soon after the conflict began, before it was clear what Missouri's role in the war would be (DAB, volume VIII, p. 216). Leader of half the troops at Wilson's Creek.
"Harney": William A. Harney (1800-1889), commander of the Deparment of the West (centered at St. Louis) when the war began. Loyal to the Union but a friend of slaveholders, he did little to control Missouri secessionists, was suspected of sympathy with the rebellion, and was superseded May 29, 1861 (Boatner, p. 376).
The "Harney Compromise" was an agreement between Harney and Sterling Price, a former governor who had been appointed by Governor Jackson to lead the (secessionist) State Guard (McPherson, p. 292), to the effect that "the state would assume responsibility for keeping order in Missouri, and that so long as order was maintained, Harney would take no military action that might provoke conflict between the state and federal forces. This, they felt, was the best course for Missouri's future" (Phillips, p. 205).
The song correctly states that the compromise failed because the secessionists did not respect it (Phillips, p. 207; Brooksher, p. 73); eventually Frank Blair, who had authority to have Harney fired, had the general relieved (Phillips, p. 208).
"Frost": Daniel M. Frost (c. 1823-1900), West Point graduate and Missouri businessman. Appointed by the Confederates to take the St. Louis arsenal, he was captured by Lyon instead, later being exchanged and becoming a Confederate general.
"Lyon" or "the Lion": Nathaniel Lyon (1818-1861), initially a regular army captain serving in St. Louis. Alarmed by Jackson's actions and Harney's inaction, he and Frank Blair conspired to keep Missouri in the Union. On May 10, he captured Frost and his hundreds of supporters at Camp Jackson (the only Union casualties were Lyon, who was kicked in the stomach by one of his artillery officer's horses -- Phillips, p. 189 -- and Franz Sigel, also lightly injured by a horse). Lyon died at Wilson's Creek. Unfortunately, rioting followed, and many civilians were hurt (MacPherson, p. 291).
Legally, very little that Lyon did was permissible; when he detected artillery being shipped to Camp Jackson by the Confederate government, the lawyer on his planning team insisted that he could not simply attack Frost's forces to take it back; he had to obtain and serve a writ (Philipps, pp. 184-185); Frost's forces were not openly in rebellion and had legally been assembled under Missouri law at Jackson's order. Lyon ignored the law, and surrounded Camp Jackson with five-thousand-odd militia and a few regulars (Philipps, pp. 187-188). Frost felt -- and was -- betrayed, but he was outmaneuvered, and when he tried to negotiate, Lyon demanded and got an unconditional surrender (Phillips, p. 189).
After the failure of the Harney Compromise, there was a meeting between the sides to try to work out another truce. Lyon would have none of it, and told Jackson and Sterling Price "This means war" (Phillips, p. 214). He then mounted an expedition from Saint Louis toward the state capitol, Jefferson City. Price and Jackson decided the city was indefensible, and retreated toward Boonville, where Price ordered his troops to assemble (Phillips, p. 217)
"Boonville": You can tell that this piece was written early in the war, because it notices the tiny "battle" of Boonville. Lyon, having secured Jefferson City, continued to pursue the Confederates, and caught them at this town sixty or so miles up the Missouri River (it's almost due wet of Columbia, and west northwest of Jefferson City). There were only a few dozen casualties, about equally split between the sides, but Lyon's artillery (Totten's battery, which was managed by actual regulars) scared the Confederates, and he captured about sixty of their militia; the Confederates fled toward southwest Missouri (Phillips, pp. 219-220; Gerteis, pp. 38-39). Their retreat was so rapid and disorganized that it was called the Boonville Race (Brooksher, p. 90).
"Frank Blair": Francis Preston Blair, Jr. (1821-1875), Missouri congressman and later union general. While Nathaniel Lyon ran the military operations in Missouri, Blair handled the politics, pulling the strings to get rid of Harney and put Lyon in charge.
"Totten": James Totten (1818?-1871), an artillerist in the regular army, who commanded the cannon which were key to the battle of Boonville (Phillips, pp. 219-220; Gerteis, p. 35; according to HessEtAl, p. 261, his unit was Company F, 2nd U.S. Artillery). He would receive brevet promotions for Boonville, as well as Wilson's Creek and others; he also served as General Fremont's Chief of Staff and served with distinction throughout the war -- but was cashiered in 1870 for what sounds like financial misdealings or lack of respect toward his superiors or both (Boatner, p. 843).
His more obvious problem was drink. According to Brooksher, p. 104, he was "nicknamed 'Bottle-nosed Totten' because he always carried a canteen of brandy, also becoming a favorite for the manner in which he gave oders: 'Forward that caisson, goddamn you, sir" or "Swing that piece in line, goddamn you, sir.' Pvt. Eugene Ware alleged the men would walk a half mile to listen to him for five minutes anytime."
"Sigel": Franz Sigel (1824-1902), Union officer (later general). He would prove dreadfully incompetent, but at the time, he was one of the few trained officers available. (Though the training had come in Germany).
After the successes in Saint Louis, Lyon clearly tried for too much. When Lyon set out for Jefferson City to the northwest, he meant to have a second column, under his second-in-command in the old army, Thomas Sweeney, head southwest to Rolla and, beyond that, to Springfield in the southwest corner of the state. If he controlled Springfield, he would have almost the whole state under control -- but the railroad ended at Rolla (Map in Brooksher, p. 85), meaning that the force headed for Springfield would have a hundred or so miles of supply line running over poor roads and no way to reinforce quickly. If his subordinate got in trouble, the whole campaign could fail.
And his subordinate did a very good job of getting in trouble. Lyon concluded that he needed Sweeney to stay in Saint Louis for the moment, so he gave the Springfield command to Sigel (Phillips, p. 216). The German advanced to Springfield, then even farther west, apparently hoping to defeat the troops of Price and Jackson in detail (Brooksher, p. 108).
It might have worked if Sigel had had proper intelligence information and known how to use it. Or even if he had had better troops. But none of those applied. He found himself almost surrounded at Carthage (July 5). Outnumbered by three or four to one, Sigel was forced to retreat (Phillips, p. 229). The retreat was well run, but it was a retreat, and a strategic defeat for the Union that gave the Confederates a big morale boost (although once again the battle losses were light -- "probably fewer than fifty killed, one hundred fifty wounded, and sixty captured"; Brooksher, p. 125). And his panicky messages caused Lyon to have to come running to the rescue, upsetting the campaign plan. Lyon had to direct his main force to Springfield.
It may be that Lyon, like Sigel, hoped to defeat his enemies in detail (Brooksher, pp. 147-148), but he simply couldn't get things together in time. It didn't change his planning; many experts think the strain was starting to get to him, and he lost his ability to respond to circumstances.
At Wilson's Creek, a little southwest of Springfield, Lyon learned that department commander General Fremont would send him no reinforcements; his only real choice was retreat in the face of an army with twice his numbers. But he, encouraged by his subordinate Sweeney, decided to strike a blow before falling back (Phillips, p. 247). The result was the Battle of Wilson's Creek.
The plan Lyon eventually came up with was complex, involving a frontal attack by his main body while one brigade (about a quarter of his force) took the Confederates in the rear. It might have worked -- if the detached brigade had done anything. But it failed completely, being routed almost at first contact with the Confederates. They hadn't even done much firing at the Confederates; their commander decided that the troops advancing on them must be victorious Federal forces! (Brooksher, p. 201). This failure cost the Union forces any faint chance for victory. And who led this maneuver? Franz Sigel. Indeed, according to Phillips, p. 250, it was Sigel's idea, and Lyon went along because he feared Sigel's political influence.
Sigel in the retreat lost 64 killed, 147 taken prisoner; all his artillery and at least one regimental flag were captured (Brooksher, p. 209). That's a sixth of his force killed or captured, with more presumably wounded. Sigel himself hid in a cornfield for a time, then rode straight for Springfield, where, instead of doing something useful, he went to bed, inspiring a Confederate taunt,
Old Sigel fought some on that day,
But lost his army in the fray;
Then off to Springfield he did run,
With two Dutch guards, and nary a gun. (Brooksher, p. 210.)
Lyon almost certainly never even found out what happened to his flanking force.
The whole Union side seemed to have "we-have-to-fight-itis." Lyon reportedly expected to die (Phillips, p. 252), but didn't quit even after receiving a severe leg wound, then having his horse killed, then receiving a head injury (Phillips, p. 254). At that point, he was about ready to give up, but his chief of staff, John M. Schofield, urged him on. He needed help to get on an orderly's horse, but he led another attack -- and was shot dead (Phillips, pp. 255-256), sending him "back to his den" as the song puts it. His troops weren't even organized enough to bring his body back with them (Phillips, pp. 258-259).
Even though the Union forces had to retreat to Rolla after his death, he Lyon had still done what hed to be done: "The Union's great sweep to subdue southwestern Missouri was over -- a failure in the eyes of the South; a victory in the eyes of the North. The sweep was indeed a failure if one considers only that the Union left the field to the Rebels. It was a victory, however, if one looks at the larger picture -- Missouri certainly would not leave the Union in the near term nor, in all likelihood, would it ever secede" (Brooksher, p. 227). On p. 234, Brooksher concludes that the battle wasn't worth the fight; Springfield wasn't worth having. But, perhaps, by heading to the southwest, Lyon secured Jefferson City and Saint Louis and the Missouri River, which were the keys to the state. So maybe even the defeat had some value.
Parson: Belden conjectures this is Lewis Baldwin Parsons (1818-1907), who was from Missouri but who became a Union officer. This seems a very poor fit. I believe it is Mosby M. Parsons (the spelling used by Brooksher, Phillips, and Boatner; Gerteis calls him "M. Mosby Parsons"), whose Confederate troops had possession of Lyon's body for a time (Phillips, p. 259). According to HessEtAl, p. 262, he commanded the "6th Division" (actually an under-strength brigade) in Ben McCulloch's Arkansas forces; Gerteis, p. 29, says he commanded the sixth military district of Missouri (a region just south of the Missouri River).
If Parsons is indeed Mosby Parsons, it would explain the line ""For he can whip the devil and all the time retreat." The reference is most likely to the Battle of Carthage. Sigel, although outnumbered by four to one or so (more, if you count unarmed confederates) hoped his more disciplined forces could beat the Missouri troops under Governor Jackson. They couldn't; Sigel's forces were forced to engage in a fighting retreat. But they gave much more than they got; Sigel lost 44 men, the Confederates about two hundred (Gerteis, p. 48). Parsons, who fought in the battle, also lost a good friend, so he had particular reason to remember it.
The reference would also fit the situation after Wilson's Creek, with the Federals retreating first to Springfield and then all the way to Rolla after inflicting heavy casualties on the Confederates; with Lyon dead, Sigel was given command of the Union forces for a time until the non-German troops grew disgusted with him (Gerteis, pp. 73-74; Brookshear, p. 227, says that Sigel tried to stage an election that would let him keep command, but Major Sturgis, the Federal commander, flatly refused). In any case, SIgel's command was quite temporary, and doesn't seem to fit the song's chronology; I think the reference is to Carthage.
Price was not present at Carthage.
"McCullough" or "Old Ben": Belden thinks both references are to Ben McCulloch (1811-1862), commander of Arkansas troops at Wilson's Creek and theoretical commander (though in effect he and Price led two independent armies). He would be killed in 1862 at Pea Ridge. No doubt the first reference is indeed to McCulloch. But the poem says that "Old Ben" was killed at Wilson's Creek -- and McCulloch wasn't. However, another senior officer named Ben did die there. This was Colonel Ben Brown (Brooksher, p. 223), who commanded "Brown's Cavalry," the largest unit in Parsons's division of Price's army. If "Old Ben" indeed refers to Brown, it would eliminate the one clear error in the account in this piece. - RBW
Last updated in version 3.8
- Boatner: Mark M. Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary, 1959 (there are many editions of this very popular work; mine is a Knopf hardcover)
- Brooksher: William Riley Brooksher, Bloody Hill: The Civil War Battle of Wilson's Creek, Brassey's, 1993
- DAB: Dumas Malone, editor, Dictionary of American Biography, originally published in 20 volumes plus later supplementary volumes; I use the 1961 Charles Scribner's Sons edition with minor corrections which combined the original 20 volumes into 10
- Gerteis: Louis S. Gerteis, The Civil War in Missouri: A Military History, University of Missouri Press, 2012
- HessEtAl: Earl J. Hess, Richard W. Hatcher III, William Garrett Piston, and William L. Shea, Wilson's Creek, Pea Ridge & Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide with a Section on Wire Road, Bison Books, 2006
- McPherson: James M. McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom (The Oxford History of the United States: The Civil War Era), Oxford, 1988
- Phillips: Christopher Phillips, Damned Yankee: The Life of General Nathaniel Lyon, Missouri Biographies Series, University of Missouri Press, 1990
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