Monday, May 30, 2011

May 31, 1861 (Wednesday): A Fumbled Change of Command

General William S. Harney

                                                          SAINT LOUIS, Mo., May 31, 1861

Colonel L. Thomas,
            Adjt. Gen. U. S. Army, Washington, D. C.:
   SIR: I received last evening paragraph 1 of Special Orders, No. 135 of May 16, from your office and instantly relinquished command of the Department of the West.  This morning your letter of May 27 reached me, and as other communications have been addressed to me from your office as department commander since may 16, and as I have learned the purport of telegraphic dispatches recently received from Washington by Colonel Blair and Mr. Gantt, of this city, I am led to conclude that it was not the intention of the President I should be relieved.  I shall, therefore, at once resume the command of the department, and I beg that the President may be assured that I am permitted to conduct operations here as my judgment may dictate. I anticipate no serious disturbances in the State.  I am sure that many of the reports which have reached the President relative to the condition of affairs in Missouri have proceeded from irresponsible sources.  Upon investigation here of complaints seemingly aggravated it has appeared in several instances that they were groundless or greatly exaggerated.  Matters are progressing as satisfactorily in this State as I could expect considering the very great excitement that has latterly pervaded the community.
       I am sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant.
                                                                                    WM. S. HARNEY
                                                                        Brigadier-General, U. S. Army

                                                                        Saint Louis, Arsenal, May 31, 1861.
      Brig.  Gen. W. S. Harney having relinquished command of this department, pursuant to Special Orders, No. 135 of May 16, 1861, from the Adjutant-General’s Office, the undersigned hereby assumes the command thereof, which thus devolves upon him.
                                                                                    N. LYON,
                                                            Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers, Commanding

Harney was one of four full generals in the Army at the start of the war and commanded the Department of the West out of Saint Louis.  Sixty-one, he had fought in Mexico and against Native Americans on the frontier.  Lyon was his subordinate, in charge of the arsenal.  Lyon had, at the behest of Representative Francis P Blair, on May 10 broken up the state militia encampment at Camp Jackson with numerous civilian casualties in the ensuing march of the militia to the arsenal.  Blair was closely connected to the Lincoln administration and had carried a letter dismissing Harney (thought too sympathetic to the South and too trusting of good intentions of state authorities) to use at his discretion.  In the confusion which followed, Harney was dismissed (outside of military form and custom), eventually giving way to Lyon by Mid-June.  Blair (styled a Colonel) assisted in Lyon in raising pro Union troops (home guards) from among the German immigrants of Saint Louis.  Harney had attempted to keep the piece by working with Governor Jackson and state militia leader Sterling Price, and the raising of immigrant troops excited much animosity in the state.  It can be argued Blair and Lyon saved Missouri from the Union, as they no doubt thwarted Governor Jackson’s secessionist designs.  But they also probably caused pro-South sentiment where little existed through their policies.  Harney remained in the Army until 1863.

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