A Truce in Missouri; McClellan’s Need for More Troops

Tuesday, May 21, 1861

Missouri General Sterling Price, commander of the pro-secessionist Missouri State Guard, sought an interview with Union General William Harney, commander of the Department of the West. Price had been appointed his position by Governor Jackson, who wasn’t so shy about his secessionist leanings. Harney agreed to the meeting.

Price had called upon Harney to work out some sort of peace. Harney, who had only recently come back into command at St. Louis, was eager as well.

The two generals sat down and hammered out a vague agreement. General Price agreed that his state troops would only “maintain order within the State among the people there of” and in turn, General Harney vowed not “to make military movements which might otherwise create excitements and jealousies, which he most earnestly desires to avoid.”1

Though Harney was the rightful commander of the Department of the West, it wasn’t certain how long that would last. Lincoln had saved Harney’s job for the time being, but what might happen when word of this truce hit Washington?

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McClellan Wants More Troops; Scott Has a Plan

Union General George B. McClellan shot off a slew of letters to Washington from the headquarters of the Department of the Ohio in Cincinnati. In a letter to Washington, McClellan wasn’t sure if a move into Kentucky or Western Virginia would be required, but resolved that he could do neither with the force at his disposal. He would need at least 40,000 men to undertake either operation. He suggested that as many as thirty regiments be called from Ohio.

In a reply to a previous letter from McClellan, General Winfield Scott detailed a plan to launch an attack down the Mississippi River. He believed that 80,000 men should be assembled and divided into a larger and smaller column. In early autumn, the smaller of the two would steam down the river while the larger column went by land along the river.

He asked McClellan if 80,000 men would be sufficient “to conquer its way to New Orleans and clear out the Mississippi to the Gulf?” The size of the columns was also an issue, as was the ability of the troops to hold the cities of Louisville, Paducah, Columbus, Hickman, Memphis, Vicksburg, and New Orleans. Much would depend upon the United States’ relations with Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri.2

For the time being, General Scott was confiding in General McClellan about his opinion of the direction the war should take.

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A Slave Revolt

In McClellan’s letter, he mentioned what must have been a large slave revolt in Arkansas:

I am told that there is much excitement among the negroes there [Arkansas], who in their private talks have gone so far as to select their white wives. Reliable information has reached me that a detachment of Arkansas troops, stationed on the Mississippi above Memphis, has been suddenly recalled to Searcy, White County, Ark., to repress a negro insurrection. A white preacher and six negroes were hung there a few days since, and thirty negroes were to be hung there yesterday, charged with being concerned in the insurrection.3



  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p374. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 51 (Part 1), p384-387. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 51 (Part 1), p384. []
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A Truce in Missouri; McClellan’s Need for More Troops by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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