Thursday, July 4, 1861
After Arkansas seceded from the Union, General Benjamin McCulloch was given command of all state forces. McCulloch was already a Confederate Colonel busy piecing together what would eventually become the Confederate Army of the West. He was a hard fighter in the Texas Revolution and Mexican War, even befriending Davy Crockett on the way to the Alamo (which he missed due to a case of the measles).
Over the past few months, he was in charge of defending Indian Territory [Oklahoma], but was based out of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Events in Missouri had weighed on his mind, and, hoping to save it for the South, he wrote Confederate Secretary of War LeRoy Walker for permission to move into Missouri at the request of Governor Jackson. He had originally wished to move into neutral Kansas, but though he was given leave to move into either based upon need, he decided Missouri was where the action would take place.
On June 26, he began concentrating his troops at Maysville, Arkansas, on the Indian Territory border, seven miles south of the Missouri line and only a few miles farther to the camp of Missouri State Guard under General Sterling Price.
Price met with McCulloch, asking for help in repelling the Union troops under Col. Sigel, reported to be near Neosho, 35 miles north. If Price and McCulloch would combine their forces, they could field nearly 5,000 troops. With Governor Jackson’s 6,000 north of Sigel, if they’d move in concert, the Union troops could easily be destroyed and the Confederate troops concentrated.
McCulloch agreed and, on this date, his two Confederate brigades crossed into Missouri to join forces with Price’s Missouri State Guard.
To the north, Union General Lyon’s brigade of 2,400, two weeks after their skirmish at Boonville, were finally on the road, hoping to meet up with Major Sturgis’s band of 2,200 US Regulars and Kansas volunteers already in Clinton, Missouri. Together, they hoped to march 90 miles south to Springfield, join with Sigel and fight a decisive battle against Governor Jackson and General Price.1
Events, however, were moving faster than either Lyon or Sturgis. Col. Sigel had occupied a few towns between Carthage and Price’s men, but on this date consolidated his force, leaving scouts and outposts in several locations. By evening, Sigel had nearly 1,000 troops in his command (as the 3rd and 5th Missouri) encamped southeast of town.2
Nine miles to the north, the men of Governor Jackson’s army were waiting for word on the location of the Union troops to the south (Sigel) and watching their backs for Lyon and Sturgis. That evening, word came that Sigel was in Carthage and Jackson’s officers urged him to attack them the next morning. Hoping that they would instead attack him, Jackson decided to wait for Sigel, choosing to defend the high ground opposite Coon Creek, north of Macon.3
Skirmish at Harpers Ferry
Though Union General Patterson had crossed the Potomac and engaged the Rebels at Falling Waters on the 2nd, Harpers Ferry, 20 miles to the southeast of Patterson’s headquarters at Martinsburg, was still unoccupied.
The previous day, Union Col. Stone’s men of the Rockville Expedition entered Sandy Hook, Maryland, across the Potomac from Harpers Ferry, noting its complete abandonment. This day, however, they awoke to the Confederate Stars and Bars flying above the armory building.
Before vacating the town, the Rebels burned and destroyed as many buildings as they could. Somehow or another, the armory, famously captured by the abolitionist John Brown, still stood, now waving the flag of secession.
Twelve daring men from Company C of the 9th New York commandeered two skiffs, paddled their way across the Potomac and entered the town. Private Edwin Butler climbed up the flagpole, grabbed onto the Confederate banner and tore it from its rigging. Back on the ground, he ripped it to pieces and shared the bits with his companions.
With their business in town taken care of, they began to row back to the Maryland side. Halfway across, a band of Rebel cavalry rode up to the shore and fired upon the New Yorkers. A steady fire from one shore to the other was kept up for half an hour leaving one Union man dead and three wounded. Caught in the crossfire was a local shoemaker.4
Lincoln’s Message to Congress
Under President Lincoln’s proclamation on April 15th, Congress was called to meet in special session on July 4. Lincoln had spent the past week or so working on a message to be delivered on the opening day (though it was actually read on the 5th).
His message was clear and direct. In a very lawyerly way, Lincoln detailed the history of the secession movement as well as the founders’ understanding of states’ sovereignty, noting that it wasn’t mentioned at all in the Constitution.
He asked for “four hundred thousand men” to rally for the Union, as well as four hundred million dollars for the war effort.
Touching on what would become a common theme for him, he asserted that “this issue embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man, the question, whether a constitutional republic, or a democracy – a government of the people, by the same people – can, or cannot, maintain its territorial integrity, against its own domestic foes.”5
- Wilson’s Creek by Piston & Hatcher. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p16-17. [↩]
- Wilson’s Creek by Piston & Hatcher. [↩]
- Six Years of Hell by Chester G. Hearn, LSU Press, 1996. [↩]
- Abraham Lincoln a history, Volume 4 by John G. Nicolay and John M. Hay. [↩]