Saturday, May 11, 1861
St. Louis was reeling and howling from the riots and slaughter of the previous day. The falling spring rain had washed the blood from the streets, but, not from the hands of the Unionists. Fearing that alcohol would only serve to fuel the rage, the mayor ordered all saloons to be closed “during the continuance of the present excitement.” The local papers, however, became the intoxicant of choice, calling Union Captain Lyon a “Numidian” and “murderer.”
Unionist Home Guards under the command of Colonel Charles Stifel had just been mustered into service as the Fifth Regiment of the United States Reserve Corps, a three-month unit and were returning from the Arsenal to their camp. At the corner of Fifth and Walnut Streets, they were assailed by a mob of secessionists who fired upon them. The Fifth returned fire and the melee resulted in the deaths of ten citizens and two soldiers.
Union General William Harney, who had been relieved of his duties as commander of the Department of the West on April 21st, had traveled to Washington and convinced the War Department to reinstate him. Upon his reappearance in St. Louis, he was greeted with this exchange of fire. He was also met by old friends and city representatives who told him of the “Camp Jackson Massacre” and urged him to remove Lyon from command.
Though Lyon’s actions were to blame for over 100 casualties and were of very questionable legality, Harney decided to keep Lyon where he was.
Hearing of this new firefight, Lyon placed a United States Regular officer in charge of the volunteers in the hope that he could keep matters under control. The prisoners from Camp Jackson were released, all but one swearing an oath to not take up arms against the United States.
St. Louis was still a time bomb, but with the commander of the Department’s influence, perhaps Lyon could be reigned in.1
Jackson Asks for More Guns
In Harpers Ferry, Col. Jackson’s command was growing. He was also spreading them out in a line up and down the Potomac, stationing regiments as far south as Point of Rocks and Berlin (Maryland) and north at Martinsburg and Shepherdstown, where Unionist Marylanders with artillery pieces were looking down upon them. Though Jackson could hardly spare the artillery to counter the Marylanders, he had no choice but to send them and write to General Lee for more.
Jackson figured that his force could be built to around 4,500. And though 3,000 of his men were already armed, he asked Lee for 5,000 muskets and equipment to outfit the recruits, plus more artillery. He also urged Lee to make Harpers Ferry the depot for the northwest.
More than ever Jackson saw the necessity for holding Grafton in western Virgnia. Whatever troops Lee could send would be used to hold that rail hub as well.2
Lee Considers Western Virginia
Grafton was also on Lee’s mind. He had received Major Boykin’s urgent letter telling of the Unionist sympathies of the town. In reply, Lee expressed regret that the feelings of Grafton were not with their state, but urged Boykin to gather troops from the surrounding counties (which, unknown to Lee, Boykin was already doing).
Lee was wary of marching State troops through western Virginia because it might “irritate, instead of conciliating the population of that area.”3
- Damned Yankee: The Life of General Nathaniel Lyon By Christopher Phillips, LSU Press, 1996 as well as Annual Report of the Adjutant General of Missouri by Missouri’s Office of the Adjutant General, W.A. Curry, Public Printer, 1866. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p832-833. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p830. [↩]