Tag Archives: Secession

President Lincoln’s 1861 Message to Congress

December 3, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln submitted his first annual message to Congress, which described the current state of affairs and reiterated his view that the Union must be preserved by all necessary means.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In accordance with the tradition begun by Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln did not appear in person before Congress, but rather submitted his message for a clerk to read. In it, Lincoln declared: “A disloyal portion of the American people have during the whole year been engaged in an attempt to divide and destroy the Union.”

Lincoln provided a status on all executive departments. In an unprecedented move, Lincoln announced that he supported extending diplomatic recognition to the only two black republics in the world, Haiti and Liberia: “If any good reason exists why we should persevere longer in withholding our recognition of the independence and sovereignty of Hayti and Liberia, I am unable to discern it.”

Regarding the Treasury department, Lincoln wrote, “It is gratifying to know that the expenditures made necessary by the rebellion are not beyond the resources of the loyal people, and to believe that the same patriotism which has thus far sustained the Government will continue to sustain it till peace and union shall again bless the land.” This did not reflect the growing financial difficulties facing the country at that time.

Regarding the navy, Lincoln wrote that “… it may almost be said that a navy has been created and brought into service since our difficulties commenced.” By this time, the two blockading squadrons in the Atlantic and the Gulf had grown so large that they became four. The navy, which had less than 9,000 officers and men before the war, now had 24,000.

Noting that the Supreme Court had three vacancies, Lincoln stated, “I have so far forborne making nominations to fill these vacancies (because)… I have been unwilling to throw all the appointments northward, thus disabling myself from doing justice to the South on the return of peace; although I may remark that to transfer to the North one which has heretofore been in the South would not, with reference to territory and population, be unjust.”

Lincoln reviewed the Confiscation Act, which enabled Federal commanders to seize slaves used “for insurrectionary purposes” and decreed that disloyal slaveholders “forfeited” their rights to own slaves. He expressed hope that the border states would “pass similar enactments,” and if so, Congress should “provide for accepting such persons from such States, according to some mode of valuation.” According to Lincoln, states that voluntarily freed their slaves should be compensated, “in lieu, pro tanto, of direct taxes, or upon some other plan to be agreed on with such States respectively.” And slaves in those states would “be at once deemed free” by the Federal government.

Addressing fears that freed slaves would compete with whites for jobs, Lincoln reiterated his support for black colonization (i.e., deportation) “at some place or places in a climate congenial to them. It might be well to consider, too, whether the free colored people already in the United States could not, so far as individuals may desire, be included in such colonization.”

Referencing Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, Lincoln remarked that colonization may “involve the acquiring of territory… If it be said that the only legitimate object of acquiring territory is to furnish homes for white men, this measure effects that object, for the emigration of colored men leaves additional room for white men remaining or coming here.”

Turning to the war, Lincoln contended that “I have been anxious and careful that the inevitable conflict for this purpose shall not degenerate into a violent and remorseless revolutionary struggle” by making this a war to preserve the Union only. However, Lincoln stated, “The Union must be preserved, and hence, all indispensable means must be employed. We should not be in haste to determine that radical and extreme measures, which may reach the loyal as well as the disloyal, are indispensable.”

Lincoln boasted that Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri were now under Unionist control. Those states “have now an aggregate of not less than 40,000 in the field for the Union, while of their citizens certainly not more than a third of that number, and they of doubtful whereabouts and doubtful existence, are in arms against us.” However, Lincoln did not mention that Kentucky and Missouri had dual Unionist and secessionist governments.

Recounting the retirement of Winfield Scott, Lincoln stated, “The retiring chief repeatedly expressed his judgment in favor of General McClellan for the position, and in this the nation seemed to give a unanimous concurrence.” The president then paid a curious compliment to the new general-in-chief:

“It has been said that one bad general is better than two good ones, and the saying is true if taken to mean no more than that an army is better directed by a single mind, though inferior, than by two superior ones at variance and cross-purposes with each other.”

Lincoln noted the Confederacy’s tendency toward despotism without mentioning his own: “It continues to develop that the insurrection is largely, if not exclusively, a war upon the first principle of popular government–the rights of the people.” Arguing that only a small minority of southerners actually supported the Confederacy, the president stated, “Monarchy itself is sometimes hinted at as a possible refuge from the power of the people.”

Lincoln then turned attention to labor, and the principle that any free person could rise to prominence in America:

“Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all.”

Lincoln concluded his message with: “The struggle of to-day is not altogether for to-day; it is for a vast future also. With a reliance on Providence all the more firm and earnest, let us proceed in the great task which events have devolved upon us.”

Lincoln did not directly address or defend his suspensions of writs of habeas corpus and other violations of civil liberties. He also made no mention of the Trent affair, which prompted laughs from members of Congress; some even exclaimed, “Mr. Lincoln forgot it!” However, Lincoln did not want to publicly address the matter because the State Department still awaited the official British response.

Lincoln also did not include Simon Cameron’s original report on the War Department, which included the controversial passage: “Those who make war against the Government justly forfeit all rights of property… It is as clearly a right of the Government to arm slaves, when it may become necessary, as it is to use gun-powder taken from the enemy.” Lincoln was not ready to allow slaves to serve in the army in any capacity other than as laborers.

The president disappointed abolitionists by not using slavery as a weapon to destroy the Confederacy. Abolitionist Strubal York wrote to Senator Lyman Trumbull, both from Lincoln’s home state of Illinois:

“Such a Message! Not one single manly, bold, dignified position taking it from beginning to end—No response to the popular feeling—no battlecry to the 500,000 gallant soldiers now in the field, but a tame, timid, timeserving common place sort of an abortion of a Message, cold enough with one breath, to freeze hell over. I have not seen one intelligent man who approves of it. I take it there are none such in the limits of the Free States… Mr. Lincoln must have been facing southward when he wrote this thing.

Criticism and praise for Lincoln’s message to Congress continued throughout the month.

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References

Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6731-42; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 160; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 87; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 355 | 406-407; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 146; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 116-19; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q461; Wikipedia: Trent Affair

The Kentucky Sovereign Convention

November 18, 1861 – Delegates assembled for the Kentucky “Sovereign Convention” at the pro-Confederate town of Russellville, near the Tennessee border.

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The convention included representatives from all 68 counties who opposed the Federal military invasion of their state. Henry C. Burnett, a lawyer, state legislator, and new colonel of the 8th Kentucky Infantry (Confederate), presided. The convention’s purpose was to consider declaring independence from what they perceived to be the illegitimate Unionist state government and seceding from the U.S.

Two days later, delegates unanimously approved an ordinance of secession:

“Be it ordained, That we do hereby forever sever our connection with the Government of the United States, and in the name of the people we do hereby declare Kentucky to be a free and independent State, clothed with all power to fix her own destiny and to secure her own rights and liberties.”

The ordinance also declared that “the people are hereby absolved from all allegiance to said government, and that they have the right to establish any government which to them may seem best adapted to the preservation of their lives and liberty.”

A new provisional state constitution was approved; under Section 15, a commission was appointed to negotiate with Confederate officials to have Kentucky join the Confederacy. Delegates selected George W. Johnson, the convention organizer from Scott County, to be provisional governor. Johnson had been a Unionist who opposed abolition. Bowling Green was designated the provisional state capital.

Kentucky, like Missouri, now had two opposing governments. But the new pro-Confederate state government had little chance of conducting any business with much of the state under Federal occupation.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 96; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 712; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 83; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 296; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 211; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q461

Lee Returns to Richmond

October 31, 1861 – General Robert E. Lee returned to Richmond after this three-month campaign in western Virginia that many southerners considered a failure.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

As October opened, Lee continued supervising General John B. Floyd’s Confederate Army of the Kanawha on Sewell Mountain. He had pulled troops from the Army of the Northwest to reinforce Floyd, leaving a token force to fend off Federals on Cheat Mountain, about 100 miles north. Opposing Lee and Floyd was a Federal army led by General William S. Rosecrans, which was falling back to its base of operations at Gauley Bridge on the Kanawha River.

Following the engagement at the Greenbrier River, Lee transferred troops from Floyd back to northwestern Virginia. This diminished the strength of the Confederates on Sewell Mountain, but Rosecrans was in no hurry to exploit it. The miserably cold, wet autumn was adversely affecting both sides, and a general engagement seemed improbable.

With the armies stalemated, Lee wrote to his wife about press criticism of his performance:

“I am sorry, as you say, that the movements of the armies cannot keep pace with the expectations of the editors of the papers. I know they can regulate matters satisfactorily to themselves on paper. I wish they could do so in the field. No one wishes them more success than I do & would be happy to see them have full swing. Genl Floyd has the benefit of three editors on his staff. I hope something will be done to please them.”

Farther north, a third Federal force in western Virginia led by Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley seized the important town of Romney after skirmishing there and at South Branch Bridge. Kelley, victor of the war’s first land battle at Philippi, commanded the Federal Department of Harpers Ferry. This action expelled the last remaining Confederates from the area. The feeble Confederate hold on the region was rapidly slipping.

That hold became even more tenuous when the male voters of 39 northwestern Virginia counties voted overwhelmingly to ratify the Wheeling Convention resolutions to secede from the rest of the state and form the new State of Kanawha. The voters also elected delegates to attend a convention at Wheeling, 10 miles from the Pennsylvania border, to draft a constitution for the new state.

The extremely lopsided vote count made this election legally questionable. The final count was 18,408 for secession and 781 against; this was about 40 percent of the voter turnout in the same counties for the previous year’s presidential election. The vote was not anonymous; voters had to tell the registrar whether they favored or opposed the measure and the registrar recorded each voter’s name. Most opposition came in counties not under Federal occupation. In Kanawha County, which was known to have many residents with Confederate sympathies, the count was 1,039 in favor and just one against. Federal military control over the region enabled the election to take place.

With western Virginia seemingly lost, Lee returned to Richmond to resume duty as military advisor to President Jefferson Davis. Lee assumed full responsibility for failing to curtail Unionist influence in the region. Many southerners considered his talents overrated, and his reputation suffered among those who nicknamed him “Granny Lee.” But Davis maintained confidence in Lee’s abilities.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 264; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 89; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 75; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2968; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 130-31; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 303; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q461

The Missouri Secession

October 28, 1861 – Remnants of the popularly elected Missouri legislature gathered at Neosho to consider leaving the Union, even though a new Unionist government claimed to be the legitimate governing body over Missouri.

Missouri State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

Missouri State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

A group of ousted legislators met in the Masonic Hall at Neosho, 70 miles southwest of Major General John C. Fremont’s Federal Army of the West at Springfield. One of the few Unionist legislators in attendance claimed that only 10 senators and 39 representatives were present, short of the required 17 senators and 67 representatives for a quorum under Missouri law. Nevertheless, exiled pro-secession Governor Claiborne F. Jackson addressed the body:

“It is in vain to hope for a restoration of amicable relations between Missouri and the other United States of America under the same government, and it is not desirable if it could be accomplished… Men, women and children, in open day and in the public thoroughfares, were shot down and murdered by a brutal soldiery with the connivance of Government officers. Our citizen soldiers were arrested and imprisoned, State property was seized and confiscated without warrant of law, private citizens were insecure in their persons and property; the writ of Habeas Corpus had been nullified and the brave Judges who had attempted to protect by it, the liberties of the citizens had been insulted and threatened and a tyrant president revealing in unencumbered powers had crowned all these acts of unconstitutional aggression by declaring war against a number of the States comprising the former Union.”

Both houses approved an “Act Declaring the Political Ties Heretofore Existing Between the State of Missouri and the United States of America Dissolved.” Jackson signed the Ordinance of Secession into law three days later, officially taking Missouri out of the Union.

Since the legislators had been popularly elected, the Confederacy joined the U.S. in claiming that Missouri was one of its states. Anticipating admission into the Confederacy, the exiled legislature approved a motion appointing two senators and seven representatives to the Confederate Congress.

However, a second state government also operated in Missouri, having been created by Unionist delegates to the Missouri constitutional convention in July. The convention reassembled this month to approve further measures to ensure that the provisional government remained loyal to the U.S.

Delegates approved a measure suspending the upcoming popular elections until the following August. This gave provisional Governor Hamilton R. Gamble time to replace elected officials suspected of favoring secession with Unionists. Another measure permitted administering “test oaths” to disqualify anti-Unionist voters or elected officials.

The delegates also approved organizing a provisional state militia, with men between the ages of 18 and 45 who passed the “test oath” eligible for duty; the Federal government would fund this new militia. In addition, delegates adopted measures to raise revenue by issuing bonds, and they voted to cut the salaries of state employees by 20 percent.

For the time being, Missouri would operate with two governing bodies, with the U.S. recognizing the provisional government at Jefferson City and the Confederacy recognizing the elected government at Neosho.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 77; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 133; Robbins, Peggy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 501-02; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q461

The New State of Kanawha

August 20, 1861 – Delegates to the second session of the Second Wheeling Convention approved a measure seceding from Virginia and bundling the state’s northwestern counties into the new state of Kanawha.

Proposed State of Kanawha | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Proposed State of Kanawha | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The delegates reconvened their legally questionable convention at Wheeling, 10 miles west of the Pennsylvania border, after adjourning in June. While the members had previously considered declaring the Virginia government null and void because it had seceded from the Union, the members in this session instead proposed an Ordinance of Separation from Virginia. Delegates set up a Committee on the Division of the State that included one member from each of the 35 northwestern counties being represented.

The committee submitted its Division of the State Ordinance on August 13, which shifted the focus of debate from whether to secede from Virginia to how many counties would secede. The ordinance absorbed all Virginia counties in the Shenandoah Valley and along the Potomac River into the new state of New Virginia (later renamed Allegheny).

Most delegates supported forming the new state, but some urged postponement for now. Postponement was rejected a week later when the majority approved an “ordinance of dismemberment.” Delegates also reached a compromise on the number of counties to secede; they would begin with 39 counties of northwestern Virginia and add any other adjacent county if its residents voted to join.

Extensive debate took place over what the new state’s name should be, as many delegates did not like the names “New Virginia” or “Allegheny” proposed the previous week. A suggestion of “West Virginia” was also rejected. Finally, the name “Kanawha” was approved by a vote of 48 to 27.

The secession of “Kahawha” from the rest of Virginia violated Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution (“no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State… without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress”). But the delegates approved the move nonetheless and resolved to submit the ordinance to the people in a popular election scheduled for October 24.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 69-70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 110; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 298; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 816-17; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361

Keeping Maryland in the Union

June 27, 1861 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, commanding Federal occupation forces in Baltimore, ordered the arrest of Police Marshal George P. Kane for suspected secessionist activity as part of the ongoing effort to keep Maryland in the Union.

This month, Federal forces continued tightening their grip on Maryland. When Maryland legislators demanded that Governor Thomas Hicks explain why he had ordered the confiscation of arms from the state militia, Hicks responded by distributing the arms to Unionists. This conflicted with the pro-Confederate sentiment of many Marylanders and their elected officials.

Nevertheless, Unionists won all six U.S. House of Representatives seats in a special Federal election. This indicated that Marylanders were not willing to sacrifice their strong economic ties to the northern states by siding with the Confederacy. Meanwhile, four Federal regiments had been organized in Maryland, with staunch Unionist John W. Garrett using his Baltimore & Ohio Railroad to bring troops from the West. Many Marylanders sympathizing with the Confederacy had gone to Virginia.

Federal General Nathaniel Banks | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Federal General Nathaniel Banks | Image Credit: Flickr.com

However, Baltimore remained a hotbed of secessionist activity, despite being under Federal military occupation. On June 27 General Banks carried out orders to arrest Baltimore Police Marshal Kane, who was suspected of working with Confederate agents to resist Federal rule. Federals entered Kane’s home without a warrant, seized him, and imprisoned him without formal charges at Fort McHenry.

The Baltimore mayor and police commissioners met and drafted a protest against Kane’s imprisonment. They asserted that while they would do nothing to “obstruct the execution of such measures as Major-General Banks may deem proper to take, on his own responsibility, for the preservation of the peace of the city and of public order, they can not, consistently with their views of official duty and of the obligations of their oaths of office, recognize the right of any of the officers and men of the police force, as such, to receive orders or directions from any other authority than from this Board; and that, in the opinion of the Board, the forcible suspension of their functions suspends at the same time the active operations of the police law.”

This conflict between the Federal occupiers and city officials continued into July.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 5864-75; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 53; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 40; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 88; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 287; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q261

Neutral Kentucky Leans Toward Union

June 20, 1861 – Pro-Confederate Kentuckians boycotted an election that resulted in several pro-Union candidates winning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Kentucky had been torn between sympathizers of the Confederacy and the U.S. since the war began. Governor Beriah Magoffin, who leaned toward the Confederacy, authorized the payment of $60,000 for weapons to arm secessionists. However, the guns were defective, having been sold by a northern sympathizer. Meanwhile, Federal Lieutenant William Nelson furnished 5,000 guns to Kentucky Unionists and former Congressman Emerson Etheridge distributed 1,000 guns to Unionists in eastern Tennessee. Confederate sympathizers called these “Lincoln guns,” a name in which Unionists took pride.

Kentucky militia commander Simon B. Buckner | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Kentucky militia commander Simon B. Buckner | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On June 8, Federal Major General George B. McClellan reached an agreement with Simon B. Buckner, commanding Kentucky militia. Buckner pledged to protect Federal property, enforce Federal laws, and prevent Confederate forces from entering the state. However, if Buckner could not stop the Confederates, then McClellan would send a force into Kentucky to do so, pledging to leave the state once the Confederates were expelled.

Tensions increased along the Mississippi River and Kentucky’s southern border. The steamer City of Alton, moving down the Mississippi from Cairo, Illinois, spotted a Confederate flag on the Kentucky shore about five miles south of Columbus. Federal crewmen went ashore and seized the banner. Meanwhile, Buckner reached an agreement with Tennessee Governor Isham Harris in Nashville to respect Kentucky’s neutrality by keeping Confederate troops out of that state.

On June 20, a special election took place for Kentucky’s six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Most secessionists belonging to the States Rights Party boycotted the election because they rejected the pro-U.S. state government and did not want their elected officials working with the Republican majority in Washington. Consequently Union Party candidates won over 70 percent of the popular vote and gained five of the six seats. The total number of ballots cast was less than half of the total in last November’s elections.

Kentucky would continue to have its share of internal conflict in the coming months.

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Sources

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 48; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 85; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 295; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q261

The Western Virginia Secession

June 17, 1861 – Delegates to a Unionist meeting at Wheeling in western Virginia unanimously approved declaring their independence from the Confederacy.

The delegation representing 39 northwestern counties assembled at Wheeling’s Washington Hall on June 11, in accordance with last month’s convention resolution to come together if Virginia seceded from the U.S. Western Virginia, largely mountainous, contained few slaves and was economically linked more to northern states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania than the South. Western Virginians had voted against secession in the May election by a margin of 10-to-1, and their delegates met to decide how best to secede from Virginia and return to the U.S.

Arthur I. Boreman, Parkersburg lawyer and state legislator, was elected convention president. The delegates formed a Committee of Business “to make the requisite preparatory arrangements for the separation from Virginia, and the formation into a new State.” On the 13th, members presented the “Declaration of the People of Virginia Represented in Convention at Wheeling,” which charged that last month’s Virginia state convention had “abused the powers nominally entrusted to it,” and “usurped and exercised other powers, to the manifest injury of the people, which, if permitted, will inevitably subject them to a military despotism.”

Declaring that Virginia’s separation from the U.S. was “without authority and void,” the delegates called not for forming their own separate government, but for a “reorganization of the government of the Commonwealth” of all Virginia. To do this, the delegates proclaimed that “the offices of all who adhere to the said Convention and Executive, whether legislative, executive or judicial, are vacated.” They had no legal or military authority to execute this decree, but it was proclaimed nonetheless.

Two days after voting to declare independence, delegates overwhelmingly approved an Ordinance for the Reorganization of the State Government of Virginia. On that afternoon, the delegates proposed “the immediate organization of volunteer companies in every county represented in the Convention, to support the State government as organized by this Convention.”

A portion of a state seceding from the rest of the state violated Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing that states shall not change their borders without legislative consent. The pro-Confederate Virginia legislature at Richmond would not consent, so to bypass this, the Wheeling delegates declared that the Virginia government had rendered itself illegitimate by seceding from the U.S.; therefore the new western Virginia regime was now the rightful “restored government” of all Virginia.

Francis H. Pierpont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Francis H. Pierpont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Establishing this “restored government” was approved on June 20, when delegates elected Francis H. Pierpont of Marion County the new governor of “restored” Virginia. Pierpont had gained wealth as a lawyer for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and from coal mine investments. He had never held an elected office before, but he strongly supported the Union, abolition, and the Lincoln administration.

Pierpont delivered a speech railing against the southern aristocracy that western Virginians so resented:

“A new doctrine has been introduced by those who are at the head of the revolution in our Southern States–that the people are not the source of all power. Those promulgating this doctrine have tried to divide the people into two classes; one they call the laboring class, the other the capital class. They have for several years been industriously propagating the idea that the capital of the country ought to represent the legislation of the country, and guide it and direct it; maintaining that it is dangerous for the labor of the country to enter into the legislation of the country. This, gentlemen, is the principle that has characterized the revolution that has been inaugurated in the South; they maintaining that those who are to have the privilege of voting ought to be of the educated class, and that the legislation ought not to be represented by the laboring classes.”

Pierpont asserted that his government was for all of Virginia, not just the counties that joined to elect him. He and his new regime petitioned the Lincoln administration, which supported this new entity, for official recognition. Meanwhile, delegates elected Daniel Polsey as the new lieutenant governor, and they named W.T. Willie and John S. Carlile, two men who had opposed secession at last month’s Virginia Convention in Richmond, as U.S. senators.

On June 21, delegates to the Wheeling Convention elected various state officials, including a new auditor, treasurer, and state legislature. The Merchants’ and Mechanics’ Bank of Wheeling would finance the new treasury. By proclaiming this new government to be the legitimate government of all Virginia, the delegates hoped to garner support from Unionists in the eastern part of the state.

However, most Virginians opposed this new western Virginia puppet government, and many argued that it had been unconstitutionally formed. Others cited the inconsistency in President Lincoln’s policy by supporting the secession of western Virginia from the rest of the state while opposing the secession of southern states from the U.S.

“Governor” Pierpont wrote to Lincoln, contending that “large numbers of evil-minded persons have banded together in military organizations with intent to overthrow the government of the State, and for that purpose have called to their aid like-minded persons from other States, who, in pursuance of such call, have invaded this commonwealth.” Pierpont accused the Confederate Armies of the Northwest and the Kanawha of “pressing citizens against their consent into their military organizations, and seizing and appropriating their property to aid in the rebellion.”

Acknowledging that he lacked “sufficient military force to suppress this rebellion and violence,” Pierpont was compelled, “as governor of this commonwealth, to call on the Government of the United States for aid to suppress such rebellion and violence.” Lincoln quickly recognized Pierpont’s administration as the de jure government of Virginia, and he authorized Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal troops to invade the region to protect the predominantly Unionist sentiment there.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 16894; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 50, 52; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6303; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 128; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 37-39; Guelzo, Allen C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 633; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 84, 87; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 298; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 96; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 185, 816-17

Lyon Replaces Harney in Missouri

May 31, 1861 – Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon replaced Brigadier General William S. Harney as commander of the Federal Department of the West. Lyon quickly began working to destroy secessionism in Missouri.

The Lincoln administration worked hard to keep the border state of Missouri in the Union, despite Governor Claiborne F. Jackson’s support for secession. Jackson declared that President Lincoln had provoked civil war and tended toward despotism by issuing his militia proclamation. Jackson asserted that Missourians sympathized with the Confederacy, and state forces seized Federal ordnance in Kansas City.

Federal Cpt. Nathaniel Lyon | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Federal Cpt. Nathaniel Lyon | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

While William S. Harney was in Washington to discuss strategy, his second in command, Nathaniel Lyon, seized the allegedly pro-secessionist Camp Jackson, sparking a riot in St. Louis. Harney returned and helped restore order.

Secessionist members of the Missouri legislature hurriedly assembled at midnight on May 13 at the Jefferson City State House. Fearing that Lyon’s Federals would soon drive west from St. Louis to attack the town, they quickly approved a measure giving the state government absolute power to raise an army and defend Missouri against Federal aggression.

Harney, still trying to maintain order, issued a proclamation the next day calling on Missourians to ignore the bill. The St. Louis Republican denounced Harney for encouraging the people to disregard their popularly elected legislators: “We are bound hand and foot; chained down by a merciless tyranny; are subjugated and shackled.” Federal troops soon closed the newspaper’s offices.

Although Missourians condemned Harney for overriding their state government, Lincoln administration officials began souring on Harney because he seemed reluctant to back his proclamations with action. Lyon showed no such reluctance as he deployed Federal troops to protect Unionists at Potosi. The troops seized several alleged Confederate sympathizers.

Francis P. Blair, Jr. | Image Credit: Wikisource.org

Francis P. Blair, Jr. | Image Credit: Wikisource.org

Influential Republican politician Francis P. Blair, Jr. was one of Lyon’s biggest supporters. Blair’s brother-in-law, Franklin Dick, met with President Lincoln on the 16th to argue on Blair’s behalf that Lyon needed to replace Harney. Dick noted that Harney had a southern background, and “a number of his St. Louis relatives had become avowed secessionists.”

The next day, Lincoln issued an order promoting Lyon from captain to brigadier general, and giving Blair the authority to replace Harney with Lyon. But then Lincoln reconsidered and wrote to Blair that he may have issued the order prematurely. He gave Blair discretion to observe the situation and decide whether Harney should be removed. Blair waited for the time being.

On May 18, former Missouri Governor Sterling Price became a major-general of the State Guard. By that day, “more than 1,000 volunteers had gathered at Jefferson City” to oppose the Federal occupiers. Three days later, Harney and Price negotiated an agreement to hopefully end the animosity between Federal troops and state militia:

“The undersigned, officers of the United States Government and of the government of the State of Missouri, for the purpose of removing misapprehension and of allaying public excitement, deem it proper to declare publicly that they have this day had a personal interview in this city, in which it has been mutually understood, without the semblance of dissent on either part, that each of them has no other than a common object, equally interesting and important to every citizen of Missouri–that of restoring peace and good order to the people of the State in subordination to the laws of the General and State governments.”

Harney agreed that he would not bring any more Federal troops into Missouri as long as Price’s State Guard maintained law and order. This agreement enraged Blair and Lyon, who denounced it as a treasonous surrender of Missouri to the secessionists. The St. Louis Republican Committee sent a message to Lincoln strongly condemning the Harney-Price agreement. Members urged Lincoln to place Missouri under military rule and assured the president that they had the troop strength to enforce that rule.

When Governor Jackson and General Price refused to disband the Missouri State Guard, Blair wrote to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, a political ally, calling Jackson a “traitor.” Unionists began sending letters to Washington describing alleged “outrages” committed by Jackson to justify Federal military rule over Missouri. In response, Lincoln ordered Harney to stop this alleged mistreatment. Lincoln also warned the commander to be suspicious of state officials claiming to be loyal to the U.S.

Finally on May 31, Blair exercised the authority Lincoln had given him and replaced Harney with Lyon. Blair asserted that Harney’s removal was necessary to annul the hated Harney-Price agreement that essentially granted Missouri neutrality. Harney had also faced criticism from administration officials for not acting decisively enough upon allegations that Unionists were being persecuted.

The tentative peace that Harney and Price had negotiated soon degenerated into internal warfare, as Lyon and his backers resolved to drive the secessionists out of Missouri.

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Sources

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 7309-20, 7343-55; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 41, 44-45, 47; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6292; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 89; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 28, 31-32, 35; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 388-89; Guelzo, Allen C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 45, 454; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 69-70, 72-80; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 290; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15-16; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 814; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q261

Keeping Kentucky and Missouri Loyal

April 26, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln met with a Kentucky Unionist to keep that state loyal, while Federal troops in Missouri worked to keep weapons out of secessionist hands.

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On April 17, Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin responded to Lincoln’s call for volunteers to destroy the Confederacy: “Your dispatch is received. I say emphatically, Kentucky will furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern states.” Magoffin received support from both Unionists and secessionists in his state, largely because Kentuckians sought neutrality in any struggle between North and South.

Kentucky’s dominance of the Ohio River meant that if it joined the Confederacy, the state could threaten Ohio’s security and even the Great Lakes trade that furnished the material for northern factories, foundries, and furnaces. On the other hand, if Kentucky joined the U.S., it could threaten Tennessee’s security. Thus, both the Federals and Confederates handled Kentucky with caution out of fear it would join the opposing side.

Secessionists had the influential support of Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge, the former U.S. vice president under James Buchanan. Addressing a large crowd at Louisville, Breckinridge denounced Lincoln’s militia proclamation as illegal. Governor Magoffin also began leaning toward the Confederacy; on the 24th he called on militia to defend the state and scheduled the legislature to meet in special session on May 5. Magoffin sought to persuade legislators to abandon “neutrality” and follow Tennessee’s lead in aiding the Confederacy.

To combat the secessionist wave, Lincoln met with Garret Davis, a prime leader of Kentucky’s Union Party. Lincoln assured Davis that he did not intend to occupy Kentucky, even though “he had the unquestioned right at all times to march the United States troops into and over any and every state.” As long as the state “made no demonstration of force against the United States, he would not molest her.” This satisfied Davis that Lincoln would not invade Kentucky if the state maintained its neutrality.

Meanwhile another vital border state, Missouri, also began moving toward the Confederacy. Missouri Governor Claiborne F. Jackson strongly rejected Lincoln’s call for 3,123 men from his state:

“Your requisition, in my judgment, is illegal, unconstitutional, and revolutionary in its object, inhuman and diabolical, and cannot be complied with. Not one man will the State of Missouri furnish to carry on any such unholy crusade.”

Jackson then wrote to Confederate President Jefferson Davis requesting artillery to help Missourians seize the 60,000 stands of arms at the Federal arsenal in St. Louis.

Missouri State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

Missouri State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

Sensing that the situation in Missouri was more ominous than Kentucky, the Lincoln administration moved more aggressively against secessionism. On the 23rd the War Department recalled General William S. Harney, the renowned commander of the Department of the West, from his St. Louis headquarters to Washington to discuss strategy. Politician Francis P. Blair, Jr., representing Republican interests in Missouri, had persuaded the Lincoln administration to pull Harney out so command would pass to Captain Nathaniel Lyon, a fellow Republican. The command included the vital St. Louis arsenal.

A second order, orchestrated by Blair, granted Lyon extraordinary powers in Harney’s absence to “muster into the service the 4 regiments which the Governor had refused to furnish” according to President Lincoln’s militia proclamation. Lyon was to raise as many as 10,000 recruits to maintain Federal control of St. Louis; he had already been secretly arming a force of primarily German immigrants called the Republican Home Guards.

Meanwhile, President Davis wrote to Governor Jackson confirming that Jackson’s envoys had arrived in Montgomery and declaring that the Confederate government would support Missouri secessionists if they seized the St. Louis arsenal. Davis hoped that such support would entice Missouri into joining the Confederacy.

Lyon soon learned that Jackson was organizing 700 secessionist militiamen in western St. Louis. He and Blair responded by enlisting militia Captain James H. Stokes of Chicago into Federal service by transferring muskets from the arsenal across the Mississippi River to Illinois.

Rumors of Lyon’s order to Stokes spread throughout St. Louis, and a crowd of secessionists gathered at the arsenal on the night of the 25th. Lyon decoyed them by positioning several thousand troops on hills around the city while sending boxes of obsolete flintlock muskets to a docked steamboat. As the crowd seized these boxes, Stokes and his Illinois troops docked another steamboat near midnight. They made off with over 10,000 modern muskets and other supplies.

The arms were safely transferred to Alton, Illinois, where they were distributed to Illinois militia. On April 30, Secretary of War Simon Cameron expanded Lyon’s authority even further by authorizing him to declare martial law and enforce it with his rapidly increasing force. Granting Lyon these sweeping powers while depriving Missourians of weapons proved a serious detriment to secessionist aspirations.

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Sources

  • Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 41-42, 43
  • Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 86
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 7238
  • Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 13-15
  • Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 35-38
  • Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 389
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 25-26
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 63-66
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 290-91
  • Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 11-15
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q261