Sunday, August 14, 2011

August 17, 1861 (Saturday): The Cycle of Violence In Missouri

Thomas C. Reynolds of Missouri

                                                                        NEW MADRIS, MO., August 15, 1861.
Maj. Gen. FREMONT, U. S. A.,
                        Commanding U. S. Forces in Missouri:
   SIR:  Capt. Charles Price, of the Missouri State Guard, has received a letter from Messrs. B. S. Curd and William M. Price, dated Cape Girardeau, August 10, 1861, in which they write:   “The coloel says that if you attack Commerce to-night he will hang us.”  With this not is another, recognized to be in the handwriting of Col. C. C. Marsh, and of which the following is an exact copy:

                                                                        Headquarters, U. S. Forces,
                                                                                    Cape Girardeau, August 10, 1861.
   SIR:  Your relatives have written you the above note.  It is true.  If you injure the people of Commerce or their property I will hang them, and take a bitter revenge on you in other respects.
                                                                        C. C. MARSH
                                                Colonel, Commanding, U. S. Forces, Cape Girardeau.
   The gentlemen held by Colonel Marsh are, as I am credibly informed, citizens of this State, and unconnected in any way with military operations.  Even were they so connected in a manner justifying their being made prisoners of war, the Articles of War and Army Regulations of the United States require humane treatment of prisoners.
    I also learn that the detachment of Colonel Marsh’s troops which captured Mr. William M. Price wantonly burned his father’s warehouse and took away a large quantity of corn and 60 mules.  Similar outrages are believed to have been very lately committed at the farm of General N. W. Watkins, near Cape Girardeau, and also by Colonel Marsh’s troops.  I therefore, in the interest of humanity, lay these matters before you and request a frank answer to these inquiries.
   Does this conduct of Colonel Marsh and his troops meet your approval?  If not, what steps do you propose to take in respect to the guilty parties and in order to prevent the repetition of such conduct?
    It is the desire of the Missouri State authorities to conduct the present war according to civilized usages, and any departure from them by Missouri forces will be properly punished by their officers if aware of it.  I deem it proper to add that on seeing Colonel Marsh’s letter I immediately instructed the general commanding the Missouri State Guard in this district to hold in close custody a number of prisoners recently taken by him and belonging to your forces.  Should Colonel Marsh’ future treatment of Messrs. Curd and Price necessitate the hanging of any of those prisoners in retaliation, I am content that impartial men shall judge who is morally responsible for their melancholy fate.
    I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
                                                            THOS. C. REYNOLDS,
                                                                        Acting Governor of Missouri

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 3, Page 449

Where Western Virginia was clearly for the Union and the rest of the state for the South, Missouri was a different matter.  You could not draw clear Union or secessionist boundaries, and strong sentiments existed within smaller geographical areas.  As the fortunes of war would shift, one side or the other would gain the upper hand, with grim consequences for those on the wrong side of fortune.  Commander John Rodgers of the U. S. Navy reported Union men’s fields destroyed, stock killed, horses stolen, and property carried off.  Similar outrages were perpetrated by Unionists against the South.  In this instance, Colonel Marsh had threatened relatives of prominent Confederates with hanging if a force of around 1,000 men (many of them reported as being as young as 12 or 14) moved on Commerce.  Missouri still was in the Union, although Reynolds was acting as governor (later Lieutenant Governor) of a pro-Confederate provisional government.  Marsh never backed down from his threat, and Confederate threats of retaliation didn’t come to pass, either, as Union gunboats moved in to protect the town.

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