December 22, 1861 (Sunday)
Like the Confederates in Eastern Tennessee, Union General Henry Halleck, commander of the Department of Missouri, was not going to allow his enemies to burn bridges and get away with it. The previous day, a colonel commanding an outpost in Montgomery County, eighty miles west of St. Louis, reported “that several parties of secessionists are gathering and committing depredations in Montgomery County, within 10 miles of us.”
The officer asked if he could take 100 men across the Missouri River to disperse them. Halleck ordered him to “send strong force to cross in the direction of Warrenton. Arrest all secessionists and bridge-burners.”1
During this period, Rebel General Sterling Price’s Special Orders No. 14 had been captured by Union scouts. It was probably in the pocket of one of the saboteurs: “You are hereby ordered to immediately cause to be destroyed all railroad bridges and telegraph wires in your vicinity. By command of Maj. Gen. S. Price.”2
On this date, the day after Halleck issued the order in Montgomery County, he took further action. He restated the order, urging swiftness, and ordered other outposts to arms.
He ordered General T. J. McKean at Jefferson City to protect the Northern Missouri Railroad and capture anyone involved in its destruction. He also wanted McKean to send a force to Fulton to break up a Rebel camp.3
Meanwhile, General John Pope warned Halleck of the prisoners he captured on his recent foray. “Many of the prisoners are the most dangerous men in this whole State,” cautioned the General, “and have been the most active and influential in fomenting disturbances.” Pope did not want to see these characters paroled and released back into the wilds of Missouri, and reminded Halleck that they should not be treated as prisoners of war, but rather as traitors.
This, along with the other reports, prompted Halleck to draft General Orders No. 32.
In it, Halleck asserted that insurgents were scattered throughout the northern counties disguised as peaceful citizens. These Rebels were currently burning bridges, destroying railroads and cutting telegraph lines.
“These men are guilty of the highest crime known to the code of war and the punishment is death,” promised Halleck. “Any one caught in the act will be immediately shot, and any one accused of this crime will be arrested and placed in close confinement until his case can be examined by a military commission and if found guilty he also will suffer death.”
Furthermore, if any “pretended Union man” had information concerning the saboteurs and did not tell the Federal authorities and help them to catch the insurgents, this person would also be considered an insurgent and arrested.
The officers commanding in the areas where the bridges, railroads and telegraph lines were damaged were to impress “the slaves of all secessionists in the vicinity and if necessary the secessionists themselves and their property.”
In closing, Halleck refused to have the Federal Government foot the bill for the repairs: “Hereafter the towns and counties in which such destruction of public property takes place will be made to pay the expenses of all repairs unless it be shown that the people of such towns or counties could not have prevented it on account of the superior force of the enemy.”4
With secessionist General Sterling Price retreating towards Springfield in the southwestern part of the state, Halleck would finally be able to focus upon the secessionists in the northern counties.