Monday, October 28, 1861
Union General John C. Fremont’s occupation of Springfield, Missouri was part of his southward thrust towards the Missouri State Guard under General Sterling Price, now occupying Neosho, seventy miles southwest. There, what was left of the secessionist Missouri legislature was meeting and attempting to pass an ordinance of secession.
Though Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson was an avowed secessionist, all previous attempts to bring his state out of the Union by way of a secession convention were unsuccessful. Since then, Unionist factions had created their own legislature and appointed their own governor, Hamilton R. Gamble.
Gamble’s government was provisional, yet it was recognized as the legitimate state government by Washington. Jackson’s secessionist government was, more or less, made up of members from the pre-war government, and seen as legitimate by Richmond.
The previous week, the secessionist legislators were gathering in the Masonic Hall in Neosho, trying to gather enough members to have a quorum, the minimum number to make the decisions legal. By the 25th, they appeared to believe that they had gathered enough.
Sources on the matter of a quorum do not paint a clear picture and it will probably never be known if one was ever reached. According to Missouri law, sixty-seven members of the House and seventeen members of the Senate constituted a quorum, however, according to one of the few pro-Union voices in this legislature, there were only ten Senators and thirty-nine members of the House present. 1
At any rate, on this day, however many legislatures there were took up the question of secession. “It is in vain to hope for a restoration of amicable relations between Missouri and the other United States of America under the same government,” said Governor Jackson, “and it is not desirable if it could be accomplished.” The legislature argued that their state had been overthrown by Union General Nathanial Lyon, and since then, things had gone from bad to worse.
Men, women and children, in open day and in the public thoroughfares, were shot down and murdered by a brutal soldiery with the connivance of Government officers. Our citizen soldiers were arrested and imprisoned, State property was seized and confiscated without warrant of law, private citizens were insecure in there persons and property; the writ of Habeas Corpus had been nullified and the brave Judges who had attempted to protect by it, the liberties of the citizens had been insulted and threatened and a tyrant president revealing in unencumbered powers had crowned all these acts of unconstitutional aggression by declaring war against a number of the States comprising the former Union.
– Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson
A vote was taken and both houses passed the cumbersomly-named Act Declaring the Political Ties Heretofore Existing Between the State of Missouri and the United States of America Dissolved. Missouri was, according to the secessionists, officially out of the Union. Governor Jackson, of course, had to put his name to it, which he would in a couple of days.
The public, however, would get no vote on the matter. But then, they got no vote on the Unionist, provisional government, either.2
Cheers for Jeff Davis, Jesus Christ and the Devil
General Fremont had arrived in the newly recaptured Springfield, Missouri the previous day. His slow-moving Army of the West was filing in behind him. As the city filled with Union soldiers, several stray secessionists had been rounded up and placed in the jail at the old brick courthouse, which stood in the middle of the town square.
A man had been arrested for shouting and cheering for Jeff Davis. He was, however, also letting forth a breadth of huzzahs for Jesus Christ and Satan. This poor fellow was clearly insane. Somehow or another, this man succeeded in catching the courthouse on fire. The blaze spread quickly and was soon raging as out of control as he was. The Union soldiers and firemen tried to extinguish the inferno, but their attempts were fruitless.
All the while, the deranged arsonist jumped up and down, clapping his hands and praising God for “burning up a million devils and destroying the souls of 10,000 bodies.”3
It was quite a day for Missouri.