Monday, May 9, 2011

May 10, 1861 (Friday): Lyon Takes the Missouri Militia

Lyon memorial at the St. Louis Arsenal.

Report of Capt. Nathaniel Lyon, Second U.S. Infantry.

                                         SAINT LOUIS ARSENAL, May 11, 1861
    SIR: In compliance with instructions from your office of the 30th ultimo, I accepted, swore in, and armed 3,436 men and 70 officers of the loyal citizens of Saint Louis, as a “reserve corps,” for the protection of Government property and enforcement of the its laws, on the 7th and 8th instant, and should probably have still further proceeded in receiving further offers but for events to which I will now advert.  The steamer J. C. Swan arrived at Saint Louis on the night of the 8th, with a large supply of military stores, including, as I was informed, muskets, ammunition, and cannon taken on board at Baton Rouge, and there obtained from the arsenal.  The boat arriving in the night, great industry was used to transport these stores during the night (and before being likely to be exposed in the morning) to the camp of what is called the state militia, and which is made up for the most part of what has for a long time been known as a body of rabid and violent opposers of the General Government, and who have, during this time, been a terror to all loyal and peaceful citizens.
…..It was therefore necessary to meet this embarrassing complication as early as possible, and accordingly I proceeded yesterday with a large body of troops, supported by artillery, to the camp above referred to, as Lindell’s Grove, between Olive street and Laclede avenue, and arrived at 3:15 o’clock p.m. and demanded of General Frost, the commander, a surrender of his entire command.
…..During the surrender of Camp Jackson and their passage into our lines a mob attacked our force, a published account of which will be transmitted.  The prisoners, some 50 officers and 639 men, were marched under guard to this post, previous to which Camp Jackson was taken possession of by two regiments of volunteers and two companies of regulars…
      Respectfully, your obedient servant,
                                                                                              N. LYON,
                                             Captain, Second Infantry, Commanding.
Col. L. Thomas, Adjutant-General, U. S. Army

Lyon was a regular Army officer and very aggressive.  Governor Jackson of Missouri conspired to have arms brought into Saint Louis, as mentioned in his report, but it is not clear the inept State militia would have, or could have, taken the arsenal as feared.  When Lyon’s largely local, largely German, force moved on the militia encampment the force surrendered and was marched back to the arsenal, encountering on the way a large body of persons opposed to the government but mostly curiosity seekers.  After a drunken bystander fired on Lyon’s troops, his men opened fire, killing 28 and wounding at least 50, a fact Lyon curiously omits from his report.  Among the dead were women and children.  It is not likely Lyons averted any great disaster to Union interests by seizing the militia and, in fact, likely did more to stir sentiment in largely pro-Union Missouri against the government.  The state shortly thereafter affirmed its loyalty to the Union, despite of Lyons rash moves.  In many ways, Missouri was the Western mirror image of Maryland.

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