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Pale Horse Revelations #14: Conflict in Missouri

Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations where we explore the historical elements of my debut novel "Behold a Pale Horse: The Legend of the Pale Rider Part I." In this week's edition we'll delve deeper into the history of Missouri at the outset of the American Civil War. This history is briefly referenced in Chapter 36.

"Missouri had been split just about evenly when it came to secession and there had been considerable violence between the two factions to decide which side the state would take in the war. Garrison had heard somewhere that at one point, there were two governments, one pro-South, the other pro-Union, vying for control of the state."

As an avid reader and lover of history this is just the kind of brief blurb that would make me want to know more. It's my hope that at least some of you out there share my love of history and thirst for knowledge and feel the same.

The former territory of Missouri was granted statehood in 1821. It entered the Union as a slave state as a part of the Missouri compromise. Conflict over slavery would be a recurring problem for the next forty plus years.

An influx of Mormon settlers from Canada and northern states in the early 1830s resulted in intense conflict over religion and slavery. It culminated in the Mormon War of 1838. On one side of the conflict were the Mormons from the north. On the other were the "old settlers" who primarily came from the south. In 1839, aided by the governor's extermination order, the old settlers forcefully expelled the Mormons and confiscated their land.

In 1838 and 1839 conflict arose between Missouri and Iowa over a border dispute. Tension continued to escalate to such an extent that both sides felt the need to call up militias along the disputed borders. There was also conflict between the influx of German and Irish immigrants that flocked to the cities between 1830 and 1860. While the two groups shared the same religion (both were Roman Catholic) they were divided over slavery. The German immigrants tended to oppose it while the Irish immigrants tended to support it. The Irish immigrants were not motived purely by racist sentiments, but rather by the fear that liberating the slaves would create a glut of unskilled laborers and drive down wages.

So, as you can see, conflict was nothing new to the people of Missouri. But secession and civil war was about turn things up a notch. It began in 1861 as southern states began seceding from the Union. The legislature called for a special convention to vote on secession. In the meantime, the pro south governor ordered the mobilization of the militia who were camped in St. Louis for training. Union General Nathanial Lyon was alarmed by this and decided to strike first by surrounding the camp and forcing the militia to surrender.

Had this been the end of it, further violence may have been avoided. Unfortunately, Lyon had his troops, consisting primarily of German immigrants who spoke no English, march the prisoners through the streets. The Union soldiers opened fire on the hostile crowds of citizens who gathered around them, killing unarmed prisoners as well as men, women, and children. The incident became known as the St. Louis Massacre and served to heighten Confederate support within the state.

The Governor, Claiborne F. Jackson, then appointed Sterling Price, president of the convention on secession, to lead the new Missouri State Guard. General Lyon's rapid advance through the state forced Jackson and Price to flee the capital on June 14th. They fled to Neosho where they called the state legislature into session to vote on secession. However, the legislature was split between those who supported the Union and those who favored the Confederacy. The pro Union faction was not present at this session and secession was quickly adopted. The Confederacy recognized Missouri secession on October 30, 1861.

However, the pro Union faction was not idle during this time. With the governor and many pro Confederate legislators out of the capital, they called their own special session. They declared all offices vacant and installed Hamilton Gamble as the new governor. The Lincoln administration immediately recognized Hamilton's government as the legal government of the state. This enabled the raising of pro-Union militia forces as well as volunteer regiments for the Union Army.

Fighting soon ensued between Union forces and the combined forces of Sterling Price's Missouri State Guard and Confederate troops under the command of General Ben McCulloch. The Confederate forces achieved victories at Wilson's Creek and the siege of Lexington but were soon forced to abandon the state by heavily reinforced Union forces. From this point fighting within the state consisted primarily of guerilla warfare, although Confederate troops did occasionally stage large-scale raids into the state.

That brings us to the end of this week's edition of Pale Horse Revelations. As usual, I have tried to provide some interesting background information that may enhance your reading experience while trying not to bog the casual reader down with too much detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own.

As a reminder, I would love to hear from you, my readers, about topics related to the Old West that you would like to know more about. All you need to do is fill out the Contact form found near the bottom of my home page ( and indicate your suggested topic in the message box at the bottom of the form. I look forward to hearing from you all.

Please be sure to check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations and thank you for your continued interest and support.

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