I’ve been reading about Missouri in the War Between the States.
We’ve already seen how Mississippi joined the Union. The government of Mississippi was overthrown by black Union troops under the command of General E.D. Osband in 1865. The Mississippi state legislature was declared an illegal assembly and state legislators were dispersed at bayonet point.
In Missouri, it happened in much the same way. The Missouri state government was forced to evacuate Jefferson City after General Nathaniel Lyon marched on the state capitol in a putsch. It evacuated to Boonville and later to Neosho and later to Arkansas and finally to Texas.
The following excerpts on the overthrow of Missouri’s state government come from William E. Parrish’s book A History of Missouri: Volume III, 1860 to 1875:
“The departure of Harney catapulted to prominence a hitherto relatively obscure officer, Capt. Nathaniel Lyon, who had arrived at Jefferson Barracks from Fort Riley just two months earlier. A New Englander by birth, Lyon had witnessed at first hand the attempts by Missourians to impose slavery on Kansas in the 1850’s. This experience had served to strengthen in him already existing antislavery feelings. No stauncher Unionist could have been found to aid Frank Blair’s cause.”
In 1850, the Connecticut Yankee Nathaniel Lyon had distinguished himself by indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of Indian men, women and children in California in the Clear Lake Massacre:
“In a time when chivalry, mutual respect and fair play was common on the battlefield, what happened next can only be described as an atrocity. The number of Indian’s killed on the island that day vary from 75 to near 200, but few survived. The fact that only two of Lyon’s force were wounded reflects the lack of resistance the Indians offered. The fact that no prisoners were taken, even among the women and children reflects the actions of the men under Lyon’s command. Many were killed as they attempted to swim off the island. Others were shot. Many of the women met their deaths by bayonet. But most horrific of all were the stories of the deaths of children. One Pomo historian later wrote “One lady told me she saw two white men coming, their guns up in the air and on their guns hung a little girl. They brought it to the creek and threw it in the water. And a little while later two more men came in the same manner. This time they had a little boy on the end of their guns and also threw it in the water….She said when they gathered the dead they found all the little ones were killed by being stabed<sic>”
After the destruction of the village, Lyon’s forces continued throughout the area, killing Indians they came into contact with. In coming months, hundreds of Indians of all tribes would be hunted down and killed. Nine years later, after the Gunther’s Island massacre near the Pacific coast, one young editor by the name of Bret Harte was so appalled he wrote in the Northern California “Indiscriminate Massacre of Indians: Women and Children Butchered”. Harte was then run out of town for daring to tell the truth.
For those who have studied the life of Nathaniel Lyon, what happened that day at Clear Lake is not unexpected. Lyon was a fanatical disciplinarian, who felt every situation was black or white, right or wrong. In this case the Indians were wrong and had to pay for their indiscretion. 11 years later, he would take a similar attitude into the Civil War. On May 10, 1861, forces under his command would take part in what would be called the St Louis Massacre (also called the Camp Jackson Massacre), where 28 civilians were killed. On August 10th of that same year, his actions would forever change the name of yet another landmark – Bloody Hill.”
Nathaniel Lyon brought the same attitude to Missouri in 1861:
“Many conservatives still hoped to avert open hostilities. They supported Harney’s plea for reinstatement, but to no avail. When all else seemed hopeless, they arranged a conference in St. Louis between the leaders of both sides. Undoubtedly Jackson and Price attended because they felt the need for more time to get their forces ready. Lyon, in an uncompromising mood, probably looked upon it as a sop to those Unionists who had criticized him for being too rash. Whatever the case, he and Blair, accompanied by an aide, went to the Governor’s suite in the Planter’s House late in the morning of June 11. For the next four hours, they debated with the state officials over the right of the Union to raise Home Guards in the interior and to station forces there against an anticipated invasion. When it became obvious that agreement was impossible, Lyon intoned slowly and with great emphasis: “Rather than concede to the State of Missouri for one single instant the right to dictate to my Government in any matter however unimportant, I would see you, and you, and you, and every man, woman, and child in the State, dead and buried.” Then, having risen to his feet, he sternly announced: “This means war. In one hour one of my officers will call for you and conduct you out of my lines.” Without waiting for a reply, he turned on his heel and stalked out of the room.”
In response to Lyon’s threat to commit genocide to preserve the Union, the Missouri state government evacuated Jefferson City to Boonville which was considered a more defensible position:
“Forty-eight hours later Lyon arrived at the capital with three steamboats and two thousand men. Thomas W. Knox, the New York Herald’s correspondent who accompanied the expedition, reported that they had found sentiment along the river banks strongly in favor of the Union with Home Guard units having been hastily formed to protect the railroad from further damage. This was not too surprising in view of the large number of Germans in these counties.
Finding Jefferson City deserted, Lyon remained only twenty-four hours before continuing upriver toward Boonville. He left behind a small garrison under Col. Henry Boernstein’s command. These troops occupied the Capitol where Albert D. Richardson, the correspondent of the New York Tribune, found them a day or two later cooking on the grass, “standing in the shade of its portico and rotunda, lying on beds of hay in its passages, and upon carpets in the legislative halls.” Richardson, who had been on an excursion to Cairo, Illinois, had missed the Planter’s House conference and Lyon’s subsequent embarkation. Now Colonel Boernstein showed the correspondent around the occupied city. At the governor’s mansion Richardson noted “Sofas were overturned, carpets torn up and littered with letters and public documents. Tables, chairs, demask curtains, cigar boxes, champagne-bottles, ink-stands, books, private letters, and family knick-knacks were scattered everywhere in chaotic confusion … Beds were unmade, dishes unwashed, silver forks and spoons, belonging to the State, scattered here and there.” Then ironically, “The only things that appeared undisturbed were the Star Spangled Banner and the national escutcheon, both frescoed upon the plaster of the gubernatorial bedrooms.”
This happened before Missouri seceded.
It would be like a general from Alabama occupying a conservative leaning city in Massachusetts, raising troops in that city from a minority and marching from there on the State Capitol and overthrowing the elected state government in the name of the Trump administration.
“Meanwhile, at Lyon’s instigation, troops were pouring into Missouri from all sides – Kansas, Iowa, Illinois. Maj. Samuel D. Sturgis entered the state from Fort Leavenworth with 2,300 men; quickly the Stars and Stripes flew once again at St. Joseph. Then, at Lyon’s direction, Sturgis headed south toward Lexington and Price. Even as he did so, Lyon ordered all river traffic stopped along the Missouri. Union patrols were set up at all major crossings, and an improvised gunboat, the John Warner, roamed between Boonville and Kansas City destroying boats and rafts the enemy might find useful.”
The Confederates claimed to be fighting for state sovereignty.
The actions of Nathaniel Lyon in Missouri who launched a putsch against the Missouri state government and called in troops from Kansas, Iowa and Illinois to invade the state from three directions illustrate there was more to the Confederate cause than simply the defense of slavery.
Lyon was later shot and killed at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek which was the first major battle in the Trans-Mississippi West. He has the honor of being the first Union general to be killed by the Confederates. At least in that sense, the story has a happy ending for the Pomo Indians and Missourians.
Note: Watch the videos below. They are very good and give much more insight into this sadistic tyrant.