Missouri had a star on the Confederate flag and a lot of people nowadays believe that Missouri was strongly Confederate state. But was it really or is it just a myth?

If you look at the election results from 1860, the answer is a resounding “No!” Three candidates were running that were pro-Union. Bell was a Southerner and believed slavery should not expand to other states, but also that it was protected by the Constitution. For that reason, he was denounced as a traitor by Southern politicians. Only after Fort Sumter was fired upon did Bell side with Tennessee and the south. Breckenridge was decidedly Southern rights. Adding the results of the three pro-Union ones together, we find that only 24% of Missourians voted for the Southern candidate.

1860 Election Results in Missouri

Abraham Lincoln – Republican Party 17,028

John Bell – Constitution Union Party 58,372

Stephen Douglas – Democratic Party 58,801

Total For Union Supporters 134,201

John Breckenridge – Southern Democrat 31,362

A lot of people will argue that Missouri gave fairly equal amounts of soldiers to both the south and north. The numbers, however, are again very lop-sided, in favor of the north. 110,000 Missouri men became Union soldiers while 40,000 signed up for service with the rebels. Thirty six percent of Missouri’s Civil War soldiers were Confederates or in Missouri’s militia under Missouri State Guard General M. Jeff Thompson. While much more than the 24% of the population who first voted with the south prior to the war, it still doesn’t equal the number of Missourians in blue. Again, Missouri was a Union state.

Even after the war, the answer was still negative. Only 79 United Confederate Veterans camps were established in Missouri. 594 Grand Army of the Republic Camps (Union soldiers only) were established.

So Missouri was not so much a divided state as it was a state with a sliver of the pie cut out of it!

 

During the Antebellum years the US constitution was used to provide justification for both the abolition and expansion of slavery. The South found justification and a means of preservation for their long established “peculiar institution” by interpreting the constitution in favor of slavery. Radical abolitionists made several of their own constitutional interpretations that not only supported but also provided a means for abolition. This powerful document was not just subjected to various interpretations but also was used as a proverbial club for both Northern and Southern politicians to beat each other with.

Yeoman and plantation lords alike were confident that their juries and legislators had their best interests at heart and would do all perceivable to uphold their rights of mastery over slaves and legitimize their interpretations of the constitution.[1] When anti-slavery propaganda began to flood into the South a presidential ban was implemented on such mailings. Out of fear that this would promote a federal police power capable of also putting a ban on slavery Southern legislators called for its repeal as it was unconstitutional. Through this action one can clearly see the importance of, and respect for, constitutional limitations.[2] While sacrificing censorship, even in their favor, legislatures were affirming the authority of the constitution throughout the union, and now would seek to use it to their advantage. In 1850 when an act was passed guarantying the return of lost or stolen property, slaves, the south now believed that they had a precedent for constitutional recognition of their beloved institution.[3] The enactment of any law protecting the individual’s rights of investment was seen as the constitutional responsibilities of the federal government. Now that the south had achieved recognition of their constitutional right to own slaves the roots began to sink in deep. In screaming for the, what was then, broad issue of individual rights guaranteed in the constitution the south was trying to silence the Northern critics and guarantee their mastery over a lesser race.[4]

Many radicals, such as Stephen Douglas, interpreted that the constitution established the Union to preserve and provide freedom for all Americans, and the foundation for this ideology was based in their own interpretation of the constitution.[5] While there was a general consensus that slavery was “a great wrong” there was, without radical interpretation, a sense of hopelessness in finding a way to abolish it.[6] With Slavery being linked with polygamy E.R. Hoar demanded that the federal government abolish slavery throughout the Union.[7] The federal government was bound to the limitations set forth by the founding fathers. Abolitionist interpreters began to discover ways to abolish slavery through constitutional means.

The first step was a form of political “Prima Nocte.” By putting pressure on the South, through favoring political appointments of non slave holders, the north hoped to impregnate the federal government with like minded interpreters of their hallowed document.[8] Another strategy came through Fredrick Douglas’s turning the same sections claimed to support slavery into abolitionist support through his own interpretation, cutting the ties of slavery to the hallowed document. It was article IV section 4 that required the federal government to protect the states against invasion and domestic violence, to include the soon to come civil war. Douglas claimed that the government could achieve this task, quite efficiently so, by proclaiming emancipation.[9] In the unlikely event that a revolt was to arise the government did poses the power to halt the spread of slavery to its new federal territories. The belief was that in order for slavery to survive it must be allowed to spread, like a true cancer.[10]

Approaches to interpretations of the Constitution

Yet there existed another approach provided by northern constitutional interpretation. Due to a political understanding, anti-slavery literature was allowed to sit in southern post offices, never to be delivered. Northerners screamed at the injustices of this as it was an obvious violation of the individual’s rights guaranteed by the founding fathers. With the election of Lincoln the Chicago Democrat declared that the Southern censorship could no longer be tolerated. In a sense the North could then sway the Southerners towards their interpretation of the constitution through the constitution itself. By clinging to the idea of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness the north was attempting to use the constitution as leverage to bring the south in line with their own values and ideology.[11]

As both sides struggled to impose their own views of the constitution upon their masses, many northern politicians found ways to spite the south through their own radical understandings. Sour feelings developed after the Kansas-Nebraska act, which allowed for an extension of slavery. In response to the act, just one week after it was passed, Wisconsin repealed the “disgraceful”, “Slave catching act of 1850.”Following the lead of Wisconsin the six New England states approved an act to protect the life and liberties of America’s people. Through this sudden and rapid interpretation, fueled by spite, the “Slave catching act” was deemed unconstitutional.[12] As the North kept chipping away at the South’s right to slavery the South took on a rather ironic switch. In response to the New England’s states repeal of the fugitive slave act the south claimed that state governments were assuming authority that it didn’t poses, it was a federal matter. In another ironic twist the North claimed support for states right to make its own polices. When considering the events soon to come this is an almost comical scenario.[13]

In the Antebellum years both pro and anti-slavery advocates seemed to, almost, be shopping for answers. Southern property rights were assured by their political interpretations, Northern “fire breathers” were assuring their masses that it was their constitutional interpretations that would prevail. While batting each other about with acts and repeals, all based on different interpretations of the same text, the nation was slowly being steered towards disaster. There is again a great irony to be found in this struggle; it seems that the very same document that created our great nation also nearly destroyed it.

 


[1] Clinton & Silber, Divided, 36.
[2] Fehrenbacher, Republican, 302.
[3] Fehrenbacher, Fugitive, 231.
[4] Fehrenbacher, Republican, 322.
[5] Fonner, Free, 139.
[6] Ibid., 115.
[7] Ibid., 130.
[8] Ibid., 117.
[9] Fehrenbacher, Republican, 299.
[10] Fonner, Free, 116-118.
[11] Ibid., 122-123.
[12] Fehrenbacher, Fugitive, 235-238.
[13] Ibid., 241.

 

Bibliography

Clinton, Catherine. Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Fehrenbacher, Don E. The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government’s Relations to Slavery. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

To persons living east of the Mississippi River during the Civil War, Kansas was “that new state out west,” where land cost little and men’s lives even less. For one intrepid young settler from Illinois, his new home became the source of inspiration for a revealing collection of diaries and artwork that comprise a treasure trove for Civil War historians.

Samuel J. Reader, of Indianola, Kan., was born in Illinois in 1836. He trekked to the new territory with his aunt and her husband in 1855, and kept a running chronicle of the events in “Bleeding Kansas” in a series of annual diaries. Along with written comments about that turbulent time, Reader also included some paintings. In one of his diaries, he painted himself staking his own Kansas claim. During the Civil War, Reader carried his diary while serving as a member of the local militia. His words and art, discovered after his death in 1914, became a unique record of the war.

Shortly after his arrival at Indianola, Reader wrote that the town would never amount to much. In 1862, he complained to his family back in Illinois that “instead of laying it out on the prairie the Mo. [Missouri] proprietors laid it out mostly in timber and bushes.”

The Kansas town–named after Indianola, Texas, by its Southern-sympathizing founders–was the subject of many Reader paintings. He depicted all the usual frontier establishments–a sawmill, a blacksmith, two or three stores, two hotels and a couple of billiard saloons or “whiskey dens.” At the height of the town’s prosperity, lots sold for $250 or $300, with one going as high as $500. Reader commented that “intemperance is the special vice of this neighborhood” and dubbed Indianola “Whiskeytown.” He also associated the town’s saloons with the secessionist movement, all of them being owned by pro-slavery sympathizers.

Young Sam’s opinion of supporters of slavery developed after he settled in Kansas Territory. He wrote: “Rich cheap farm land was the principal incentive that lured me on from my Illinois home. I had heard and read much concerning the political troubles in the territory; but the question of a free or a slave state was a secondary consideration with me at the time. In fact, I had given little thought to the subject; viewing the ‘Peculiar Institution’ as a great wrong, but leaving its adjustment to older and wiser heads.”

The largely Southern population of Indianola inevitably brought the town into conflict with its Free State neighbors. Recalling a raid by Topeka pioneers, Reader wrote: “Our neighborhood was badly stirred up. … A party of Free-State men … took from the most rabid pro-slavery citizens, their arms and military stores; together with Sundry articles, claimed to be contraband of war. The whiskey was emptied in the street. I had no hand in it; and whether the act was justifiable or not, is not for me to say. It was called a reprisal; but two wrongs do not always make one right! … But it was reported that our ruthless enemies [Missouri border ruffians] did far worse. Besides plundering, they added, ‘fire and sword’ and numberless outrages, on Free-State men!”  

Reader, Free-Staters and the Grim Chieftan

When Reader learned that Southern-sympathizing border ruffians were about to attack the town of Grasshopper Falls–present-day Valley Falls–in the next county to the east, he joined other Free Staters under Colonel James H. Lane as they rushed to confront the raiders at a place called Hickory Point. Lane’s ragtag militia crossed the Kansas River by ferry on Friday morning, September 12, 1856. The date was recorded forever in a watercolor depiction of the momentous crossing in Reader’s diary.

After an early morning skirmish that Sunday, Reader dashed off some lines in his diary, noting that the Free Staters had arrived at Hickory Point, a short distance east of Grasshopper Falls, at about 11 in the morning. “Fired some,” and then “retreated to O[zawkie],” he noted in his diary. Reader also claimed that his side had only lost three horses and one man wounded, compared to “Several B.Rs. [border ruffians] killed.” Actually, only one Southern sympathizer died in the skirmish. With that brief triumph behind them, young Reader and his companions in the Free State company ate some watermelons and in the evening started home, “sleepy and tired but full of glory.”

But there was little glory to be found in Kansas in 1856. This was the period of “Bleeding Kansas,” which featured the fanaticism of John Brown and the death and destruction sowed by contending bands of pro-slave and Free State partisans. During that one year in Reader’s Kansas county, three houses were ruined, 46 horses were stolen, and 67 head of cattle were rustled. But the federal government, from whom the people sought relief, never compensated the victims of either side, Reader recorded, and the claims passed into history and myth.

A number of Lane’s Free State militiamen involved in the raids were arrested that fall and imprisoned in the territorial capital, Lecompton, and the small neighboring town of Tecumseh–both Southern strongholds. Most were acquitted. At one time the jail in Tecumseh housed some 47 prisoners. About 10 o’clock on the night of November 21, 1856, about 30 of them escaped “by pegging a hole in the wall and crawling out like rats,” recounted the proSouth publication Lecompton Union on December 11. Officers caught one fellow halfway out and towed him back in. His excuse, “I am following the rest.”

Shortly after Kansas Territory became a state, its citizens experienced the myriad trials of civil war. The war, which broke out at Fort Sumter, S.C., three months after Kansas entered the Union, took a heavy toll on Union-loving volunteers. Reader wrote that “a great many farms are not cultivated in this section for want of working men.” Such a severe shortage of manpower existed in the entire state by the middle of the war that Governor Thomas Carney felt it necessary to caution recruiting officers to go more slowly in their efforts.  

Reader himself did not immediately enlist in one of the Kansas volunteer regiments. Instead, he served in the Union militia, which had formed during the territorial period, and subsequently took part in the bloodless “Battle of Indianola” and another confrontation at Hickory Point.

On the home front, Reader became an astute social observer in his letters and diaries. For example, in a letter dated January 19, 1862, he wrote to his brother that he had recently been in Topeka, where he “saw quite a number of negroes employed by its citizens. They looked intelligent and happy. I believe they have 15 or 20 there but none have come over on this side of the [Kansas] river, yet, that is.”

His social observations were sometimes tinged with martial language: One day, when a prostitute quarreled with the more respectable ladies of Indianola, the outraged reaction provided Reader with the opportunity to exercise his wit in his diary. The “fancy lady, to use no harsher term … established her headquarters in Billy P[russeit]’s shoemaker shop,” he observed. Five of the town’s womenfolk, “after holding a council of war determined on a vigorous policy, and forth-with set out for little Bill’s house. … The attacking force filed through the gate and by a skillful maneuver gained possession of the backdoor without the loss of a man (or woman rather).”

Immediately following the sack of Lawrence by William Clarke Quantrill, the citizens of many Kansas towns understandably feared a similar fate, and they organized Union militia companies to protect themselves. Elizabeth Reader, a resident of Indianola and relative of Samuel, wrote that the militia members continued to meet and drill until the fall of 1864. In that “Secesh” town, even some of the former pro-slavery men joined with the Unionist militiamen to make up Company D of the Shawnee County regiment.

The Shawnee County unit was designated the 2nd Regiment, Kansas State Militia, with Colonel George W. Veale commanding. The 2nd Kansas was brigaded later with the Lawrence unit, men who had suffered at the hands of Rebel guerrillas. A log stockade was erected in the center of Topeka as a refuge to which Shawnee County residents might flee if guerrillas appeared. And since Topeka had become the state capital, the city’s residents were sure it was a prime bushwhacker target.

Sterling Price’s Great Raid of 1864

Confederate Maj. Gen. Sterling Price invaded Missouri in September 1864. As he led three divisions of cavalry across the state where he had once been governor, Kansans watched anxiously to see if he would turn east toward St. Louis and the Mississippi River or west to capture Fort Leavenworth and plunder Kansas.  

Reader continued making entries into his diary that month as Governor Carney called out the militia. A lieutenant and quartermaster of the regiment, Reader reported on equipping the 2nd Kansas. Reader’s unit was ordered to assemble at Olathe on the Kansas-Missouri border, along with 10 other militia regiments. Each outfit had to provide its own transportation and rations. Members of each regiment were supplied with “two blankets, a tin cup, knife and fork, and a haversack,” Reader noted. In addition, Reader participated in the distribution of new Enfield rifles in place of the old and nearly worthless carbines that had been issued directly following the Lawrence raid.

Two days after the militia was called out, martial law was declared and every man between the ages of 18 and 60 was ordered to arms. On the morning of October 12, the 2nd Kansas moved out for Missouri. Reader took his diary along on the march, illustrating much of the campaign with charcoal and pencils–sketches he would later flesh out with watercolors. One such painting was called 2nd K.S.M. Invading Missouri. Many of the untrained, inexperienced militiamen refused to cross the state border to meet the Confederate invasion. The Shawnee County regiment was one of the exceptions, and the men from Topeka and vicinity proved their worth during the ensuing Battle of Westport.

Another painting, Night Before Battle, depicts the campsite of Kansans on October 21, 1864, the evening before the second day of fighting at Westport. The next day, the 2nd Kansas saw combat. The regiment waited at a shallow crossing of the Big Blue River through most of the day. Late in the afternoon, Brig. Gen. Jo Shelby’s “Iron Brigade” of Missouri cavalry broke through Union lines while attempting a flanking movement. Shelby’s Missourians ran headlong into the 2nd Kansas. The regiment held its ground without aid against vastly superior numbers for nearly an hour in what became known as the Battle of the Blue.

Reader fought among the embattled Kansans and later would commemorate in words and pictures the brave stand that repulsed the Confederate advance into Kansas. The 2nd Kansas counted 24 killed, 20 wounded and 88 taken prisoner.

Further confrontations along the border sent Price scurrying back toward the safety of Arkansas with a cache of captured arms and prisoners. Reader was one of the captured Federals. After a three-day forced march through southern Missouri, which he illustrated with a drawing he called Double-Quick, You Yankee, the 28-year-old Reader managed to escape and found shelter with a Kansas farmer. He eventually turned himself over to a company of Federal cavalry, using his diary to prove his identity. He was one of the fortunate ones–many of his fellow prisoners died of exposure and pneumonia. Years later, Reader spent time honing his artistic talent. Although he is best known as a diarist, he was also a natural artist whose work illustrated his words. In addition to the diaries he kept faithfully from age 13 until his death, he also wrote and illustrated his autobiography. The watercolors in the latter work are now considered a valuable record of the Civil War in Kansas and Missouri.

Reader used pigment ground in gum and applied with brush and water to produce some of the best Kansas art depicting the war. Most of his work was primitive, but his action scenes of the Battle of the Blue at Westport, now held by the Kansas State Historical Society, are the equal of any combat painting of the Civil War.

Reader’s reminiscences, eternized with both pen and brush, have only been partially tapped. His story of the border warfare in the state, in both pictures and words, is an invaluable glimpse into Kansas’ Civil War heritage.