Prognostications for the New Year–January 1862

Prognostications for the New Year, Money Finds Its Way Back Home, and the Panorama of War Comes to Danville

By Gary Farrow, member of the Danville Historical Society

Unionist Captain Lyon, who was in charge of guarding a US artillery station in the slave state of Missouri.

The troops settled in for the first full month of winter. Restricted movement meant that major battles in many parts of the country would have to wait for spring, so the news turned to the more mundane aspects of the war. And, as technological changes (such as the telegraph) sped news to Danville, the town would see and experience a new, richer and more vivid medium that told the story of their age.

Grandiose prognostications shortchange people and their stories. This was never truer than in the border states of Missouri and West Virginia, which were, in their own unique way, microcosms of the larger conflict.

North Star January 11, 1862

The editor of the Portland Advertiser who understands in the case by his late residence at the West thinks that – “While the South presents a bold front on the Potomac, …in Western Virginia and Missouri… behind this front is nothing but weakness… Nothing is left in reserves behind this outward appearance. A single decisive battle against the South, like Manassas against the North, would decide this question and blot out forever the rebellion, which has nothing to fall back upon. Not so with the North. A dozen defeats like Manassas only prolong the contest. It does not and cannot decide it.”

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The editor’s sanguine vision was mistaken; the Civil War would go on for four bloody years, and the people in Missouri and West Virginia would write their own unique stories.

When the Civil War erupted, Missouri had been a state for forty years. A product of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, it came into the Union as a slave state.

In his January 5, 1861, inaugural, Missouri pro-slave Democratic Governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson, bellowed that “[Missouri should make] a timely declaration of her determination to stand by her sister slave-holding states.” However, the state convention, which was held to consider secession, opted to stick with the Union.

Missouri would soon be plagued by lawlessness and guerrilla warfare. Governor Jackson attempted to capitalize on the secessionist fever, following the fall of Fort Sumter, by taking control of the St Louis police and the state militia, which had seized a small US arsenal outside of Kansas City. He also requested artillery from Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who obliged with four cannon. The cannon mysteriously appeared in a grove on the outskirts of St Louis where the southern militia was drilling. This place came to be called “Camp Jackson.”

In the meantime, Union Captain Nathaniel Lyon, commander of the forces guarding the 60,000 piece U.S. gun arsenal in St Louis, mustered several German-American regiments into Federal service and planned to sneak 21,000 of the arsenal’s guns across the river to Illinois. However, the plan leaked out and a pro-confederate crowd collected at the docks to prevent the shipment of guns.

Lyon sent a box of old flintlock muskets to be loaded onto the Illinois bound steamboat. The crowd intercepted the box, opened it and triumphantly paraded the muskets through the streets. The Captain then sent the 21,000 modern muskets to another boat where they were successfully transported out of state.

Not resting on his laurels, Lyon took his newly minted German-American regiments and some of his regulars over to Camp Jackson. The southern militia surrendered without a shot and the four cannon were seized. But as Lyon was taking the prisoners back through the city, a riot ensued, leaving 28 civilians and two soldiers dead.

The tragedy in St Louis converted many conditional unionists into secessionists and significantly influenced the politics in Jefferson City, the state capital. The legislature successfully passed Governor Jackson’s bills that put Missouri on a war footing, however it was Captain Lyon who actually seized the capital and the state militia fled to the Southwest corner of the state. Large parts of the state saw guerrilla warfare between Unionist and Confederate sympathizers.

Claiborne Fox Jackson, Missouri's Confederate governor

Governor Jackson called a pro-south legislature into session, which enacted an “ordinance of secession.” The state of Missouri was accepted into the Confederacy and represented by one of the stars on the Confederate flag. However, the Confederate state government was driven out of the state and spent the war years in exile.

None of this resistance and fighting unseated the Unionists from political control of the state. For the next four years, Missouri was governed by a state convention until a new government was finally elected under a new Free State constitution.

North Star January 11, 1862

Rebel Defeat in Western Virginia

Cincinnati, Jan 6 -A special despatch to the Gazette from Huttonsville, VA, says that the expedition consisting of 400 of the 5th Ohio, 300 of the 2nd Virginia, and 40 of Bracker’s cavalry sent out by General Millroy to attack Huntersville was a complete success…. After skirmishing an hour, the rebels retired with a loss of eight killed and wounded, $80,000 worth of army stores were captured and destroyed …Huntersville was a depot for rebel supplies in Western Virginia.

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The state of West Virginia itself was created in the crucible that was the Civil War. Long simmering issues came to a head in 1861 with geography providing the back story.

The land west of the Shenandoah Valley and north of the Kanawha River was different from the rest of the Virginia. Narrow valleys and steep mountainsides stood in sharp contrast to the lowlands which dominated the rest of the state. Both slaves and slave owners were rare among these hard-working mountain people who often felt slighted by the state legislature that was dominated by “tidewater aristocrats.”

The politics of the state were skewed heavily towards the Virginians in the east. Slaves were taxed at one-third of their market value while all other property was taxed at full market rates. Most internal improvements were funded in the eastern portion of the state while northwest Virginia was in dire need of highways and railroads. The main city west of the Valley, Wheeling, felt more akin socially and economically to Pittsburgh (60 miles away) than it did to Richmond, which was on the other side of the mountains and more than 330 miles down the road.

When Virginia voted to secede that April, only five of 31 delegates from northwest Virginia voted for the secession; a popular vote on the question of leaving the Union was rejected by a three to one margin. In June, the vast number of Unionists in the northwest corner of the state convened the Wheeling convention, which formed its own “restored government” of Virginia. All state offices were declared vacant and new officials were appointed, including Governor Francis Pierpoint. Trying to knit the Union together as best he could, Lincoln recognized the Pierpoint administration as the legitimate government of Virginia.

The Wheeling convention met again on October 24; 186 delegates voted an “ordinance of dismemberment” subject to ratification by referendum. In turn, voters elected delegates to a constitutional convention for the new state of “Kanawha.”

While these events were unfolding, the Union army invaded western Virginia and defeated a small rebel force. The formation of West Virginia would not have been successful had not Federal troops defeated the Confederates and occupied the region.

In June of 1863, the adoption of West Virginia into the Union was made conditional by Congress upon the emancipation of the slaves within its borders. Consequently the state declared slaves born after July 4 free and all others free upon their twenty-fifth birthday.

Meanwhile the Federal government and the states had to create many of the day-to-day machinations of the war effort on the fly.

North Star January 25, 1862

The Allotment System

The last Brattleboro Phoenix says – It will be remembered by our readers that in October last Gov. Fairbanks appointed Hon. Joseph Poland of Montpelier a Financial Agent to visit the camps of Vermont troops in the service, and to receive and transmit such portions of their earnings to their families and friends at home as the soldiers should see fit… At the same time there was a law for allotment of soldiers’ pay passed at the Extra session of Congress last summer but no details had been decided upon for putting it into operation.

Immediately upon the adjournment of the legislature of this State, Gov. Holbrook requested the Hon. John Page, Treasurer of the State and John Howe Jr of Brandon, the agent for providing for the families of volunteers, to perfect a system and prepare forms, whereby the allotment act of Congress could be made available to Vermont soldiers… At his request, they proceeded to Washington on their way to the encampment of our volunteers to explain…the system to the men and carry the plan to active operation.

Upon their arrival, they found that Congress by act for that purpose empowered the President to appoint three Commissioners for each state. [Page and Howe’s] plan was submitted to the Treasury, and was found to be better than any other that had been suggested. Under these circumstances, and without consulting the Executive of the State, the President very properly appointed these gentlemen Commissioners… and as Mr Poland was then in Washington, he joined them in this Commission.

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In a departure for its usual fare, the paper also had this entertaining, if not believable, story. Sometimes it’s best not to let facts get in the way of a good tale.

North Star January 25, 1861

A Reprieved Soldier

Some time ago, a private in the nineteenth Indiana regiment was tried by court martial for deserting his post and found guilty the punishment for which is death….

The prisoner was led forward blind folded and the usual words of preparation and command were given in a low measured tone by the officer in command. During the interval between commands “Take Aim” and “Fire” and before the last was given, a horseman rode rapidly up the road, waving a paper in the air which was understood to be a reprieve….

… The shout “reprieve” fell upon the poor soldier’s ear, which was already strained to the utmost in anticipation of hearing the last and final word that was to usher his soul into the presence of his Creator.

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Back home in Danville, the revolutionary science of photography offered news and entertainment for just a few pennies.

North Star January 25, 1861

Panorama of War

Clarke, Clement & Co’s Photographic Mirror of the great Rebellion will be exhibited at the Court Room in Danville next Wednesday evening January 29 – It will contain portraits of Gen. McClellan, Gen. Scott, Major Anderson, President Lincoln, and other important and interesting scenes among which are: The Bombardment of Fort Sumter, The Battle of Great Bethel, The Battle of Bull Run, Taking of Forts Hatteras and Clark… Admission 15 cts. Children 10 cts. Doors open at 7, commence at 7 ½ o’clock.

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