Jefferson City in Cole County, Missouri — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)
The State Capital During The Civil War
A State Divided: The Civil War in Missouri
Jefferson City witnessed many dramatic events during the Civil War. In the early months of the war, Secessionists and Unionists engaged in a tense contest for dominance. It ended in the hasty flight of the elected pro-Southern government and its replacement by a military backed provisional Unionist government. Once the federals gained control, defense of the city became a priority as the provisional government struggled to maintain control in a deeply divided and war-torn state.
The Secession Question
Pro-Southern Clairborne Fox Jackson was voted in as Missouri's governor in the 1860 elections. The General Assembly consisted of a majority of men who were conditional Unionists, pro-Union but against forcing seceding states to remain in the Union. A small minority were unconditional Unionists. The remaining members were pro-Southern. The most pressing question facing the state government was whether or not Missouri should secede. To settle the matter, Gov. Jackson set up a specially elected state convention that first met in Jefferson City on Feb. 28, 1861. After moving to St. Louis, the convention decided Missouri
Creation of the Missouri State Guard
The legislature resisted Gov. Jackson's military bill to reorganize local militias into a more powerful state guard. Jackson wanted a military with enough muscle to enforce secession. On May 10, 1861, federal forces in St. Louis, suspecting a secessionist plot, captured a brigade of local militia encamped at Camp Jackson without a shot fired. While federal troops were escorting the prisoners through St. Louis, civilians instigated a riot that left 28 civilians dead at the hands of the federals.
In Jefferson City, the legislature was debating Jackson's bill when they received news of the Camp Jackson affair. Less than 15 minutes later, they passed it and gave Jackson emergency power to create the Missouri State Guard. Jackson appointed Sterling Price, Mexican war hero and popular ex-governor, as major general in command. A month later, Gov. Jackson and Gen. Price met with St. Louis unionists U.S. Congressman Frank Blair, Jr., and U.S. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon in St. Louis. At the conclusion of the meeting, Lyon dramatically declared war on Jackson's government. The legislature could no longer remain neutral.
In 1861, Jefferson City had a large German-American population that was strongly pro-Union. Jackson temporarily removed the government to pro-Southern Boonville, Mo. Boxing up official papers and the state seal, Jackson and the other pro-Southern members of the state government evacuated the capital on June 13. Two days later, Lyon, Blair and 2,000 troops arrived in Jefferson City by steamboat. Lyon and his men pursued Jackson and the State Guard. A federal detachment of three companies under command of Col. Henry Boernstein remained in the capital city. Federal troops, supported by Missouri Home Guard and Enrolled Missouri Militia, occupied the city for the rest of the war.
Despite federal occupation, there were many anxious moments for the citizens of Jefferson City. As the capital city, pro-Southern action around the state was always a matter of concern. Gen. Price in particular had a strong desire to reclaim Missouri for the South.
U.S. Gen. John C. Fremont arrived in Jefferson City in late September 1861 at the head of 15,000 troops. They began building the first fortifications. After Gen. Price's recent victory at the Battle of Lexington, federal commanders were worried that he might attack the capital. To counter this, Fremont constructed a ring of fortifications around Jefferson City. Thousands of troops and five artillery batteries
In the fall of 1863, Gen. Price sent his best cavalry leader, Joseph O. Shelby, out of Arkansas on a daring raid into Missouri. Shelby stated that one of his aims was to fly the Confederate National Flag from the Capitol dome. His raiders got as close as Tipton, 35 miles away. Alarmed soldiers frantically prepared to defend Jefferson City. Shelby chose to avoid the battle-ready troops and headed for pro-Southern Boonville.
Jefferson City's greatest peril during the Civil War came in the fall of 1864. In late September, Price crossed from Arkansas into Missouri with a force of 12,000 soldiers. One of their objectives was to capture either St. Louis or Jefferson City. Price's troops suffered a setback at the Battle of Pilot Knob on Sept. 27 where they lost about a thousand men. Deciding that St. Louis was too heavily defended, Price turned toward Jefferson City.
While Price advanced toward the capital city from the east, Union troops rushed to defend Jefferson City. Seven thousand troops gathered in the city, and another 7,000 were on the way. In the meantime, soldiers and civilians shored up existing fortifications and erected new ones. Five earthen forts connected by rifle pits ringed the city and discouraged attack
On Oct. 6, federal scouts on the Osage River were forced back by advance elements of Price's army under Shelby. The next day, after a brisk skirmish, Confederate forces pushed across the Moreau River to a point only five miles from Jefferson City. By midday, they had gained the heights on the south and east outskirts of the city. Price could see that it was strongly defended. He abandoned the objective of seizing the capital. With the departure of Price's troops on Oct. 8, 1864 the military threat to Jefferson City ended. The state capital enjoyed relative peace for the rest of the Civil War.
Missouri's Two Governments
In October, 1861, the remnants of Gov. Jackson's government assembled in southwest Missouri, first at Neosho and then at Cassville. They passed an Ordinance of Secession and voted to make Missouri the 12th Confederate state. The secessionist government was always to be a government in exile. Jackson died in late 1862, and Lt. Gov. Thomas Reynolds replaced him. The seat of this government shifted from one place to another and was finally located in Marshall, Texas, late in 1863.
The state convention that had decided that Missouri should remain in the Union was reconvened to establish a new Unionist government in Jefferson City. On July 30, 1861, the convention declared the executive offices and General Assembly
The election for the new General Assembly was held in November 1862. Citizens had to take an oath of loyalty to the Union before voting. Both the General Assembly and the state convention, which continued to meet, grappled with the question of how and when to emancipate Missouri's slaves. They also debated whether to require a loyalty oath to vote, hold office and practice certain professions.
The General Assembly passed the "Drake" Constitution of 1865, which created a harsh "Iron-Clad Oath" and emancipated slaves. The oath provision was repealed by popular vote in 1870.
Erected by Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Government & Politics • War, US Civil. In addition, it is included in the Missouri - A State Divided: The Civil War in Missouri series list. A significant historical date for this entry is February 28, 1861.
Location. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Jefferson City MO 65101, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Site of Price Mansion (within shouting distance of this marker); Thomas Jefferson (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Replica of the Statue of Liberty (about 400 feet away); Missouri Motor Carriers Association Building (about 600 feet away); Gold Star Memorial (about 700 feet away); Corps of Discovery (about 700 feet away); Jefferson City Greenway: (about 700 feet away); The Corps of Discovery in the Jefferson City Area (about 700 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Jefferson City.
Also see . . .
1. The Civil War in Missouri. (Submitted on January 5, 2013, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
2. Community & Conflict: The Impact of the Civil War in the Ozarks. (Submitted on January 5, 2013, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
Credits. This page was last revised on December 16, 2020. It was originally submitted on January 5, 2013, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania. This page has been viewed 1,231 times since then and 114 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. submitted on January 6, 2013, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.