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HISTORY OF THE MISSOURI HOME GUARD

Writing from Jefferson City Missouri on August 31, 1861, General Ulysses S. Grant complained, “With respect to the Home Guards I should like to have some instructions. I have not been able to learn head nor tail about them, notwithstanding all of my efforts.” OR, 3, 454.

Anyone who tries to research the Home Guard today will certainly understand how Grant felt. These early federal military units existed for only a few months in 1861 and left scant traces. Their origins, legal basis and relationship to other federal units are all obscure.

The following chronology tries at least to place these units in the context of unfolding events in Missouri at the time. Most references are to The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. It is cited as the “OR” by volume and page number. All of the cited works are from Series I. This work is now online in a full-text, searchable form: The OR Online.

For local events in Southwest Missouri, I have used Holcombe's History of Greene County, Missouri (1883). This is the best local history for this part of Missouri, and as a general rule, what was happening in Springfield was happening everywhere. Holcombe's history is also online in a full-text, searchable form: History of Greene County Online.

November 6, 1860. Lincoln is elected President, but Missouri rejects both Lincoln and the Southern candidate John Breckinridge. Over 70% of the Missouri vote goes for the two pro-Union moderates in the race, Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas and Constitutional Unionist John Bell. Douglas carries the state by fewer than 500 votes.

December 20, 1860. South Carolina secedes and is soon followed by other states of the deep South.

January, 1861. In the agitation over secession, both sides in Missouri begin organizing for a possible military confrontation. For several months, the main focus of attention is who will control the federal arsenal in St. Louis with its large arms cache.

The pro-Southern forces in Missouri are led by the state's newly elected governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson. Jackson asks the Legislature to call a convention to consider secession and to give him control of the existing state militia. The Legislature calls the convention, but drags its feet on his military bill. About this time, an extralegal pro-Southern militia organization called the Minute Men is formed in St. Louis. The Minute Men.

The Unionists in Missouri are led by Congressman Frank Blair Jr. of St. Louis (right), where the large German population is ardently pro-Union. Blair has a political organization there called the Wide Awakes, essentially men who march in parades and participate in similar political demonstrations, which he begins to convert to a paramilitary organization. This becomes the nucleus of the pro-Union Missouri Home Guard and other federal military units. Blair also lobbies Washington to put an unquestionably loyal officer in charge of the federal arsenal. The Wide Awakes.

January 31, 1861. Captain Nathaniel Lyon and his company of U. S. Infantry are transferred from Fort Riley, Kansas, to St. Louis to strengthen the arsenal. Lyon is a pro-Union fanatic who responds aggressively to every problem. He is under the immediate command of General William Harney, who is loyal to the Union but hopes to avoid bloodshed by following a policy of conciliation. Lyon and Blair immediately team up to undermine Harney.

February 18, 1861. Missouri elects delegates to a convention to consider the secession crisis. On the same day, Jefferson Davis is sworn in as President of the Confederacy.

February 28, March 4-9, 1861. Meeting first at Jefferson City and then St. Louis, the Missouri convention votes overwhelmingly against secession, but also passes resolutions condemning any effort by the North to coerce the seceding states.

February - March, 1861. In Southwest Missouri during this period, there is much talk about the developing crisis as well as many secret meetings where Unionists and Secessionists discuss possible future action among themselves. But there are no significant public meetings or efforts to organize military bodies. Holcombe, History of Greene County, Missouri (1883), Chapter 6.

March 4, 1861. Lincoln is inaugurated.

April 12, 1861. The Civil War begins with the attack on Fort Sumter.

April 15, 1861. Lincoln calls for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion, including four regiments from Missouri.

April 17, 1861. Governor Jackson rejects Lincoln's call for troops, declaring it “inhuman and diabolical.” On April 22, Jackson calls a special session of the Legislature to meet May 2. The Legislature passes resolutions condemning the use of force against the South, but continues to stall Jackson's militia bill.

April 18, 1861. Sometime after Fort Sumter, Blair apparently obtains authority for Lyon to arm 5,000 loyal citizens in St. Louis from the arsenal. This order is not in the OR. But on the 18th, Harney forbids Lyon to distribute any arms without his permission. OR 1, 668.

April 21, 1861. The War Department relieves Harney and tells Lyon to carry out the earlier order to arm loyal citizens. OR 1, 670.

April 30, 1861. President Lincoln approves an order directing Lyon to enroll up to 10,000 loyal citizens in a force to protect St. Louis. The force is to be discharged as soon as St. Louis is deemed safe. OR 1, 675. Presumably this order and the earlier order authorizing Lyon to arm “loyal citizens” are the legal basis for the Home Guard at least in St. Louis.

Although the Home Guard idea originates in St. Louis, the term itself is dropped as the official designation for St. Louis units. In his May 11 report on the Camp Jackson affair (see below), Lyon refers to those he has enlisted under the April 30 order as his “reserve corps” (no capital letters). This shortly becomes a formal name, the U. S. Reserve Corps. Still, Union commanders frequently refer to the Reserve Corps as the St. Louis Home Guard. OR 3, 410 & 436. The term “Reserve Corps” seems not to have been used for Home Guard units outside of St. Louis.

May, 1861. In the first week of May, Governor Jackson orders the state militia into encampment near St. Louis ostensibly for “training” but with the likely actual intention of seizing the federal arsenal.

May 3 or 5, 1861. John Casto joins the Stone Prairie Home Guard (Casto Affidavits). There is apparently no legal basis for the unit at this time, although it may have been formed in response to publicity about the formation of similar units in St. Louis. (The telegraph reached Springfield in April 1860 and soon extended down the wire road through Barry County, so news traveled fast.)

May 8, 1861. After traveling to Washington, Harney is reinstated as Union commander in Missouri.

May 10, 1861. Some 700 to 900 state militia are encamped just west of St. Louis in an area called Camp Jackson. On May 10, before General Harney arrives back in St. Louis from Washington, Lyon and Blair surround the camp with a combination of regular army and local forces and disarm the militia without violence. On the march back to town, however, a mob attacks the federal troops and 28 civilians are killed.

The Camp Jackson “massacre” brings Missouri's politics to a boil. Within hours, the Legislature approves Jackson's military bill replacing the state militia with the Missouri State Guard, which is divided into 8 military districts, each commanded by a brigadier general. Sterling Price is named the major general in charge of the whole force. In Southwest Missouri, James Rains of Jasper County is named the brigadier general in charge of District 8, which includes Barry and Newton Counties.

May 12, 1861. On May 11, Harney returns to Missouri and tries to restore calm. He wants to get Lyon's armed “loyal citizens” off the streets but finds he lacks the authority to do so. His public proclamation of May 12 describing this situation is the first use of the term “Home Guards” in the OR. OR 3, 370.

May 16, 1861. Blair obtains an order again relieving Harney of command in Missouri, OR 3, 374, and is given discretion to deliver the order to Harney whenever he believes necessary.

May 21, 1861. Harney enters into an agreement with General Sterling Price, which says that the State Guard will keep peace in Missouri, protecting Union and Southern sympathizers alike, while Harney avoids federal troop movements that might be considered provocative. OR 3, 374-5. Lyon and Blair see the Price-Harney agreement as appeasement.

May 27, 1861. Harney writes to Price about reported depredations against Missouri Unionists and suggests he may authorize Home Guard units to protect them. Price strongly objects. OR 3, 380-81. At this point, at least outside of St. Louis, the Home Guard is still clearly an extralegal affair.

May 31, 1861. Harney is relieved and Lyon takes command in Missouri. OR 3, 381.

June 11, 1861. Lyon is authorized to enlist “such loyal citizens of the State of Missouri as you think proper, who shall not receive any pay except when called into active service by this Department.” He is to receive 5,000 stand of arms to distribute to them. OR 3, 384. Presumably this is the legal authority for the Home Guard outside St. Louis.

Coincidentally, on the same day, Congressman John Phelps of Springfield organizes the Phelps Regiment of Home Guard in Greene County. This act is “without authority from any one, and only in obedience to the natural rights of self-preservation and self-protection.” Holcombe, History of Greene County, Missouri, Chapter 7.

June 11, 1861. Believing that Governor Jackson and General Price intend secession and are just stalling for time with their conciliatory policies, Lyon provokes a crisis which sends their Missouri government fleeing from Jefferson City to Southwest Missouri. The Civil War in Missouri begins in earnest.

July 5, 1861. Battle of Carthage.

July 6, 1861. The Stone Prairie Home Guard is formally enrolled in federal service at Mt. Vernon, where the federal forces are regrouping after their defeat at Carthage.

July 12, 1861. In his report after the battle of Carthage, Captain Thomas Sweeny of the Second U. S. Infantry mentions that he has organized several regiments of Home Guards. OR 3, 15.

August 10, 1861. Battle of Wilson's Creek. In his report after the battle, General Fremont says that 2000 of the 8000 Union troops at Wilson's Creek were Home Guard. OR 3, 54. Apparently, however, only one mounted unit of 200 to 250 Home Guard was actually engaged in the fighting, while another 250 were guarding the supply train in Springfield. OR 3, 60, 65 & 69. Colonel Sigel says there were 700 Home Guard on the retreat to Rolla, 500 mounted and 200 infantry. OR 3, 85.

It seems likely that the Stone Prairie Home Guard was at least in the Springfield area at the time of the battle of Wilson's Creek and made the retreat to Rolla with the Union army. Several members of the Stone Prairie Home Guard transferred to the Greene-Christian County Home Guard (Phelps Regiment) about August 11 or 12, then enlisted in the 24th Missouri Infantry at Rolla on August 20.

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