January 22, 1864 (Friday)
Missouri had turned into an almost forgotten quagmire. Politically, as well as militarily, it was a mess. The action, if it could be called such a thing, was to the south in Arkansas. There were raids, of course. There were always raids. In December, Confederate Cherokees under Stand Watie rode into the southern portion of the state. Otherwise, the winter seemed to be shaping up as a rather quiet one.
General John Schofield, commanding the Union Department of Missouri, probably realized he had been in over his head, but was now feeling more or less confident on the military front. At least until spring. Politically, however, it was a different story.
The job of being in command of the Department of Missouri was essentially a political job. True, there were troops to oversee, Rebels to beat back, and maybe even a campaign or two, but the bulk of the work involved convincing various groups of Unionists not to kill each other. In this, Schofield did not excel.
It was a war between Radical Republicans of Kansas and conservatives of Missouri. Schofield tried his best to work it out, but ended up getting entangled on both sides of the fence. On one hand, he publicly supported the conservative faction, endorsing their members for political office. But he also openly supported Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
But even his anti-slavery stance couldn’t save him from the scorn of the Radical Republicans, who believed Schofield secretly supported the bushwhackers. They wanted this so-called militia disbanded and pleaded to have them replaced by actual Federal troops. The conservatives believed him to be slowly turning into a radical. Basically, he was liked by neither faction.
This almost came to a head in September of 1863, when representatives from both Kansas and Missouri met with President Lincoln. Somehow, both sides came to an agreement that Benjamin Butler would be the best choice as a replacement. But Lincoln sided with Schofield and he would remain in command.
While Lincoln certainly appreciated the Radicals’ views on slavery, he deplored their attempts to topple the conservative, though Unionist, government in Missouri. Lincoln instructed Schofield to use his troops to ensure peace. He also supported martial law in St. Louis. He warned Schofield not to interfere with political meetings, but to only allow voting by those eligible under Missouri law. Lincoln essentially stood by his commander, caring little about the specificities of the Radicals and Conservatives.
For a time, there was peace between the factions and Schofield, but soon enough he was again accused of aiding the Rebels. He denied the claims as ridiculous. The militia he was arming was led by Union commanders, he reminded them. It was certainly a testament as to how confusing the Missouri situation was that such was his clarification.
With the elections in December, some wanted Schofield to support both the Radical and Conservative candidate for the Senate. Schofield refused, vowing to never support the Radical Republican. Word got back to Lincoln that he was meddling in political affairs and the President called him to Washington.
When they met, Schofield admitted that the factions in Missouri and Kansas could never find peace. Though he was admitting his inability to function as commander of the Department of Missouri, Lincoln also saw that it wasn’t all Schofield’s fault. The department, which encompassed both Kansas and Missouri, was simply too fractured to be contained under one commander.
Lincoln knew that Schofield had to go, but he also knew of nobody else who might be fit for the impossible job. And so he split the department. Kansas went to General Samuel Curtis, while Missouri was given to William Rosecrans. Schofield would eventually be promoted.
Since the disastrous battle of Chickamauga, William Rosecrans had been out of a job, and it was a twisted affair how he was selected to be the commander of Missouri.
Following the battle, General James Garfield spoke venomously about Rosecrans and was instrumental in his removal from the Army of the Cumberland. All the while, he acted as Rosecrans’ good friend, expressing surprise and disdain over the commander’s removal. He made a show of going to Washington to fight for Rosecrans, but his motives might have been otherwise. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, for instance, believed that Garfield wanted the post for himself so as to secure a political career following the war.
Depending upon the listener, Garfield would speak either vehemently for or against Rosecrans. To Lincoln, he requested that the relieved commander be placed in some important position of authority. In writing to Rosecrans from Washington, Garfield claimed that it was Grant who saw to Rosecrans’ removal. He also told him that since Schofield was in Washington and was probably going to be removed from the Department of Missouri, Rosecrans might have found his new calling.
On this date, President Lincoln made it official. Schofield was relieved of command, and General Rosecrans was to replace him. In a week’s time, he would find himself in St. Louis commanding only 16,000 troops spread out across Missouri. And then would come the politics.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 34, Part 2, p129; Civil War on the Western Border by Jay Monaghan; John M. Schofield and the Politics of Generalship by Donald B. Connelly; The Civil War in Missouri: A Military History by Louis S. Gerteis; The Edge of Glory: A Biography of General William S. Rosecrans by William Mathias Lamers. [↩]