Saturday, August 24, 1861
The suppression of Democratic newspapers was not about to take a weekend off. For weeks now, a small Connecticut paper called the Bridgeport Advertiser & Farmer had received warnings from the local Republicans and the Federal government. The Farmer was indeed anti-Lincoln, calling him a “despot” and accusing him of assuming more power than the Constitution allowed a President.
That evening, Democrats in Stepney held a “Peace Meeting” that was quickly disrupted and aggressively taken over by Unionists from Bridgeport led by P.T. Barnum, who quickly headed for the platform to make a speech. As Barnum was about to begin, the Democrats brandished pistols and threatened to kill Barnum if he spoke. In response, the Unionists, many of which were Bull Run veterans, drew pistols of their own and threatened to kill anyone who fired upon Barnum.
To quell the standoff, Barnum offered to allow any “secessionist” scheduled to speak the right to do so and be “given a fair hearing, provided they say nothing treasonable.” The Democrats declined and either left or stuck around to utter various threats.
After the impromptu Unionist meeting was adjourned, the Unionists returned the ten or so miles south to Bridgeport. They entered the town ready for action and jumped at the chance when one of their number yelled, “to the Farmer office!”
Nearly 500 fiery Unionists, trailed by 1,000 spectators, attacked the Farmer’s offices. There they threw to the street not only the paper, type and the books of the business, but somehow managed to throw two large presses through the windows. Upon the street, they broke the presses to pieces with hammers.
No arrests were made and the paper was out of business.1
Little Can Be Expected From Missouri
Despite his victory over Union forces at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, General Ben McCulloch’s outlook was grim. The Union had retreated 100 miles east to Rolla and his Army of the West had taken Springfield. Since then, however, all of his Arkansas troops had left. Their terms of enlistment were up and they returned home, leaving him virtually nothing left to command.
Both Arkansas and Texas had offered to send him more troops, but “little can be expected from Missouri,” wrote McCulloch to Jefferson Davis, adding, “She has no military leader or arms.”
He said much the same to Confederate General William J. Hardee, who wrote to McCulloch over two weeks prior, in hopes to join with him and attack St. Louis. McCulloch had to decline the offer as his men were in “no condition to advance, or even to meet an enemy here, having little ammunition or supplies of any kind.”
Even if the enemy stayed away from Springfield, he would probably have to fall back to the Arkansas and Indian Territory [modern-day Oklahoma] line to recruit and drill a new force.
Of the Missouri State Guard troops under General Sterling Price, said McCulloch, they were “undisciplined and led by men who are mere politicians; not a soldier among them to control and organize this mass of humanity.” He was careful to keep his camps away from the Missourians’ camps, “for fear of having my men completely demoralized.” He would only have to put up with Price’s men for a few more days. They planned to march on Fort Scott, Kansas, 100 miles northwest.
McCulloch also predicted that General Pillow at New Madrid, Missouri would fail.2
Pillow, writing to his commander, General Polk, was planning an attack upon Cape Girardeau, which he believed was being reinforced by Union troops. If successful, he would move on Cairo, Illinois, across the Mississippi River.3
General McCulloch wasn’t the only one who thought that Pillow couldn’t take the Cape. Missouri State Guard General Jeff Thompson, who had been operating nearby, believed it was now impossible. “I could have taken Cape Girardeau and closed the navigation of the Mississippi four days ago without losing a man,” Thompson wrote to a Confederate General under Pillow. “Now it is doubtful if we can take it at all….”
Like McCulloch’s, Thompson’s view of holding Missouri was dim. He believed, “that if we are delayed much longer we might as well ‘give up the ship,’ for the hordes of the North will soon be poured into Missouri, and the spirit of liberty, that has been enlivened by our successes, will be crushed out by overwhelming masses, and the morale and prestige which we now have over them will be lost.”4
Floyd Now Needs Wise
In Western Virginia, Confederate General Floyd had sent General Wise on what amounted to a wild goose chase, having him march seventeen miles from Dogwood Gap to Carnifex Ferry and back again once Floyd decided that he would rather have his own troops in that position. The previous day was spent by Wise slogging through the mud back to where his Legion had started, Dogwood Gap.
Upon his arrival, General Floyd informed Wise that he could defend Carnifex Ferry not only from all of Union Col. Tyler’s men (who had occupied it a few days ago), but also General Cox’s entire force. However, when word reached Floyd that 500 Union troops were encamped but five miles away, he ordered Wise to send a regiment to him.
Two days prior, Floyd had sent all of Wise’s troops back to Dogwood Gap. The day after that, he wished to ditch Wise completely and asked President Davis to send him three regiments to replace him. On this date, Floyd decided that he needed a regiment that, only two days before, he sent away.5
Lincoln Declines to Remove the Union force from Neutral Kentucky
Kentucky’s Governor Beriah Magoffin wished for his state to remain neutral. Both the Union and the Confederacy wanted Kentucky for their own and both had made some strides to raise troops for their respective causes. The Union established Camp Dick Robinson and raised about 2,000 Kentucky Union recruits.
Governor Magoffin wrote to President Lincoln in protest of the Camp and urged “the removal from the limits of Kentucky of the military force now organized, and in camp within said State.” On this date, Lincoln gave his reply.
The President conceded that there was indeed a United States military force inside Kentucky’s borders, but that it was made up entirely of Kentucky’s citizens.
“While I have conversed on this subject with many eminent men of Kentucky,” wrote Lincoln, “including a large majority of her Members of Congress, I do not remember that any one of them, or any other person, except your Excellency and the bearers of your Excellency’s letter, has urged me to remove the military force from Kentucky, or to disband it.”
He did recall someone suggesting that the raising of troops ought to be “suspended for a time,” but that was it. Lincoln did not believe it was “the popular wish of Kentucky that this force shall be removed beyond her limits; and, with this impression, I must respectfully decline to so remove it.”
President Lincoln ended with a thinly veiled warning: “I most cordially sympathize with your Excellency, in the wish to preserve the peace of my own native State, Kentucky; but it is with regret I search, and can not find, in your not very short letter, any declaration, or intimation, that you entertain any desire for the preservation of the Federal Union.” 6
- Gray in Black & White: Newspapers in the Civil War by Brayton Harris, Brayton Harris, 2010. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p671-672. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p676. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p677. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p804. [↩]
- Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Beriah Magoffin, August 24, 1861. [↩]