The First Income Tax; Chasing the Union in Missouri

Monday, August 5, 1861

In the hallowed halls of the Federal Congress, Washington DC legislators established the nation’s first personal income tax. Any United States citizen with an income of more than $800 a year was required to tithe 3% to the Federal Government. An income tax had been attempted before, during the War of 1812, but the war ended before the tax act could go into effect.

The Revenue Act of 1861 mostly concerned itself with customs duties. It also levied a direct tax of $20,000,000 upon the states. Each state had to come up with a certain amount to be paid to the Federal Government. Pennsylvania, for example, was required to pay $1,946,719.33, while Oregon was to muster $35,140.66. Even states that had seceded were taxed. As the Union Army advanced, the tax would be collected. Most loyal states simply absorbed the tax into their budget.

The Act was to go into effect on January 1, 1862 and was expected to net $90,000,000 total, or roughly $4 per head from the loyal states.1


Hot Pursuit in Missouri, or How to Steal a Good Rifle

Shortly after Confederate General Ben McCulloch began his advance towards the Union Army of the West under General Nathaniel Lyon, suspected to be only a few miles away, reports began to trickle in that the Federals were in a full retreat back north towards Springfield, Missouri. McCulloch, who had drawn up a fairly complicated battle plan, wished to bag the lot of them.

Though his orders required the supply trains to be kept at his Crane Creek camp and though his soldiers had only a day’s worth of rations in their haversacks, he decided to pursue Lyon.

The Federals had stolen a half-day’s march on them, but had to maneuver their own supply wagons along Wire Road. This slowed them down enough for McCulloch’s advance guard to periodically skirmish with Lyon’s rear guard. General McCulloch would sometimes ride up to the front to take pot-shots at the retreating Yankees.2

Like most of the previous days, the weather was intolerably hot and humid. Dust from the road choked the men from both sides, filling their mouths, eyes and ears as they marched quickly along.

The march, aside from the sparse firing and ungodly heat, was uneventful for nearly everybody involved. For Private Eugene Fitch Ware of the 1st Iowa Infantry, however, this day brought a glorious surprise:

While marching along we passed off to the left, in a valley, a large spring-house; several soldiers ran in to fill their canteens. Ahead of me rushed a regular army soldier with his polished new Springfield rifled musket, and standing it up against the side of the log wall he went in to get a drink.

The position which he chose for his gun was not altogether satisfactory to me, and so I moved it off about four feet and placed my polished gun in its place and went in to fill my canteen. What do you suppose that regular army soldier did? Why, he rushed out of that spring-house and without saying a word he just picked up “Silver Sue” and ran off with her.

It was one of the coolest pieces of robbery that I ever saw, and being at the spring-house made it cooler. He ran on and disappeared in the dust. There was no alternative for me—I had to take the only gun that was left. I smothered my indignation and also disappeared in the cloud of dust.

That evening I traded my silver watch that had been on a strike for some time to a regular for two packages of ammunition—80 rounds, that would fit my new gun, which I called “Orphan.” “Orphan” was a Springfield rifle musket stamped 1861, probably made about March or April of that year. I called it “Orphan” because it had been so cruelly deserted.3

As McCulloch reached Moody Springs, a few miles south of Wilson’s Creek, he decided to call off the chase. Lyon had escaped back into Springfield. The Confederate Army, wanting for rations, foraged off the countryside, taking from farms and enjoying the cool water of the springs.4

  1. The United States Internal Revenue Tax System, Houghton, Mifflin and company, 1895. Also, for more detail, see: A Compilation of the Direct Tax Laws of the United States from August 5, 1861, Government Printing Office, 1874. []
  2. Blood Hill by Brooksher. []
  3. The Lyon campaign in Missouri by Eugene Fitch Ware, Crane & Company, 1907. []
  4. Wilson’s Creek by Piston & Hatcher. []
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The First Income Tax; Chasing the Union in Missouri by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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