Halleck Throws Down the Gauntlet in Missouri

December 4, 1861 (Wednesday)

General Henry Halleck, commander of the Department in Missouri, had asked for President Lincoln to officially condone placing Missouri under martial law. This he did, even affixing his full signature to the order. Two days later, Halleck followed through.

There were myriad rebels and spies within the Union lines who fed information to the Confederates, reasoned Halleck, giving aid, arms and assistance to the enemy. “The mild and indulgent course heretofore pursued toward this class of men has utterly failed to restrain them from such unlawful conduct.” The General wished to change this.

“All persons found in disguise as pretended loyal citizens, or under other false pretenses, within our lines, giving information to or communicating with the enemy,” wrote Halleck in Special Orders No. 13, “will be arrested, tried, condemned, and shot as spies. It should be remembered that in this respect the laws of war make no distinction of sex; all are liable to the same penalty.”

General Halleck wanted to hit Missouri where it hurt. While he could (and would) punish those directly fighting against the Union, he saw “wealthy secessionists who render aid, assistance, and encouragement to those who commit these outrages” as “although less bold, … equally guilty.” These wealthy Missourians should be made to pay for their treasonous ways, and Halleck found a way to accomplish this.

Thousands of weary Unionist refugees had been flooding into St. Louis. Halleck ordered “that measures be taken to quarter them in the houses, and to feed and clothe them at the expense of avowed secessionists and of those who are found guilty of giving aid, assistance, and encouragement to the enemy.”

As for the slaves coming into Union lines, Halleck agreed to follow the Confiscation Act, which gave the US government control over any slave that had been used by the South against the Union. “Should Congress extend this penalty to the property of all rebels in arms, or giving aid, assistance, and encouragement to the enemy,” added Halleck, “such provisions will be strictly enforced.”

From the wealthy Missouri secessionists, Halleck wanted their homes, their clothing, their provisions and their slaves. He wished to bring the war to the people.

“Peace and war cannot exist together. We cannot at the same time extend to rebels the rights of peace and enforce against them the penalties of war. They have forfeited their civil rights as citizens by making war against the Government, and upon their own heads must fall the consequences.1


John C. Breckinridge Unsurprisingly Expelled from Senate

John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky had run for President against Lincoln. Being the outgoing Vice-President, he swore in Lincoln’s running mate, Hannibal Hamlin. Though he lost the bid for the Presidency, he was elected Senator of Kentucky for the 1861 session.

While he took part in the spring session, he was absent in the session that had begun two days prior to this date. His absence was easily explained, as he was currently heading up a Confederate brigade poised to attack the Union Army in Kentucky.

In August, the Kentucky elections gave Unionists in the Kentucky General Assembly the majority vote. By October, Breckinridge was saying things like “the United States no longer exists,” and “the Union is dissolved.” By November, he was commissioned a brigadier-general in the Confederate Army.2

So it’s no small wonder that on this date he was expelled from the United States Senate by a unanimous vote.

“Whereas John C. Breckinridge, a member of this body from the State of Kentucky, has joined the enemies of his country, and is now in arms against the Government he had sworn to support,” read the proceedings, it was therefore resolved, “that said John C. Breckinridge, the traitor, be, and he hereby is, expelled from the Senate.”

Prior to the vote, Lazarus W. Powell, the other Senator from Kentucky, reasoned that Breckinridge couldn’t be expelled as he had already resigned. Ignoring that obstacle, thirty-six Senators gathered their patriotism about themselves and voted to expel Breckinridge. Powell abstained from voting.3

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p405-407. []
  2. The Civil War in Kentucky by Kent Masterson Brown, Savas Publishing, 2000. []
  3. New York Times, December 5, 1861. []
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Halleck Throws Down the Gauntlet in Missouri by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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