Monday, August 12, 1861
“I do not come among you to make war upon any of your people, whether Union or otherwise,” wrote Confederate General Ben McCulloch from his new headquarters in Springfield, Missouri, in a proclamation to the citizens of Missouri. With a promise to protect even the Unionists and return the prisoners to their families, he determined that “Missouri must be allowed to choose her own destiny” and that he would administer “no oaths binding your consciences.” McCulloch thought it was time for the people of the state to give up their neutrality. “Missouri must now take her position, be it North or South.”1
The promises to protect the Unionists and their property were reinforced in an order to the men of his command. First, McCulloch praised them, writing that their “first battle had been glorious,” and assuring that he was proud of them. After the praise, however, came a warning. The General spoke to his men with the “hopes that the laurels you have gained will not be tarnished by a single outrage. The private property of citizens of either party must be respected. Soldiers who fought as well as you did the day before yesterday cannot rob or plunder.”2
But robbing and plundering is exactly what they did. McCulloch’s hope that the people of Missouri (and specifically the people in the army’s new home of Springfield) would get off the neutrality fence was soon realized. The behavior of his undisciplined and poorly-commanded troops soon turned the citizens against him and the South. Springfield was mostly a Unionist town. Though many of the Unionists left with their army, many still remained.3
The discipline of his men wasn’t General McCulloch’s only problem. Missouri State Guard General Sterling Price, who had more or less willingly taken the subordinate position before the battle, now urged an immediate advance into the Missouri River Valley, eying Lexington as a worthy prize. Though victorious, they were nearly out of ammunition. This didn’t seem to bother Price, who felt that the speed of a pursuit alone would continue to drive the enemy. McCulloch refused the idea.4
Perhaps the situation in southeastern Missouri, which he had recently learned about, was weighing on his mind. Confederate forces under General Pillow had taken New Madrid, Missouri, but were stalled with no way to advance north towards St. Louis. Pillow and his men had been ordered to abandon their position and return to Arkansas.5
For the time being, the men of McCulloch and of Price would occupy Springfield, hoping to win the hearts of its citizenry while simultaneously raiding their pantries.
Meanwhile, to the east, General Franz Sigel’s Union Army of the West was nearly thirty miles distant, near the crossing of the Niangua River. Nearly pampering his old brigade of Germans, Sigel pittered his way through the morning, writing a report and allowing his men a hearty breakfast. The soldiers not in his old brigade were furious and continued to demand his removal. Through all of this, they were only able to march three miles farther.6
General Sibley Arrives in San Antonio
Confederate General Henry Hopkins Sibley had petitioned President Davis to allow him to secure New Mexico Territory for the Confederacy. On this date, he arrived in San Antonio to take full command of the Army of New Mexico, formerly under General John Baylor, now the military governor of the Confederate Territory of Arizona (which included the southern halves of modern New Mexico and Arizona).
Sibley’s arrival was heralded by the local papers. They announced that he was organizing a brigade for “frontier service.” Patriotic Texans were urged to report to San Antonio “armed and fully equipped for a Winter campaign.”7
The main objective in Sibley’s plan was to move north towards Albuquerque and Santa Fe, securing the Sante Fe Trail and the routes to California. The Union forces opposing him were under Colonel Edward Canby, headquartered in Santa Fe. Sibley and Canby knew each other well from the old army, having fought Indians together. In fact, Canby was apparently the best man at Sibley’s wedding. Now, however, they were enemies.8
Near Mutiny on the Potomac
The 79th New York “Highlanders” had fought bravely in the battles of Blackburn’s Ford and Manassas, losing their commander, Colonel James Cameron (from Lewisburg, Pennsylvania), in the latter. When they signed up, it was unclear whether the terms of enlistment were for three months or three years. Leaderless, the officers were thrown into confusion and frustration; some even resigned.
Secretary of War Simon Cameron, wishing to replace his fallen brother, James, selected Isaac Stevens for the job. Cameron had no authority to do so, as only the state governments selected regimental commanders. Stevens, the first territorial governor of Washington and fellow explorer with McClellan, got the job and got to sort out the mess.
Sometime during all of this, Secretary Cameron issued and then revoked a furlough, which would have allowed the men to return home to New York, at least temporarily. When the Highlanders heard that it was revoked and that they were being illegally converted into a three-years regiment and stuck in Daniel Sickel’s Brigade, they turned mutinous.
Stevens called the some of the more hot-headed officers into his tent and demanded their resignations. Hopeful that this would solve the problem, Stevens retired for the night. The problem, however, would not just go away.9
Democratic Newspaper Sacked
The anti-Lincoln New York Daily News, on this date, published a list of 154 “peace” newspapers. In short time, most newspapers leaning towards the Democratic Party reprinted the list.
One of those papers was probably the Bangor Democrat from Maine. About 12:45pm, several men entered the officers of the paper, destroyed the press and threw the type, cases and anything they could find into the street and then set it ablaze.
It would be a year and a half before they would be able to go to press again.10
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p109. [↩]
- As taken from An Account of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek or Oak Hills by Holcombe and Adams, 1883. [↩]
- The Struggle for Missouri by John McElroy, The National Tribune Co., 1909. [↩]
- Wilson’s Creek by Piston & Hatcher. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p643. [↩]
- The Lyon Campaign in Missouri by Eugene Fitch Ware. [↩]
- Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign by Martin Hardwick Hall, University of New Mexico Press, 1960. [↩]
- Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West by Hampton Sides, Random House, 2006. [↩]
- Army of the Potomac; Birth of Command by Russel H. Beatie. [↩]
- Words at War: The Civil War and American Journalism by David B. Sachsman, Purdue University Press, 2008. [↩]