Friday, May 4, 2012

The Civil War Reminiscences Of General Basil W. Duke, C.S.A.: Part Three

The Berthold Mansion in 1859

No opportunity for such demonstration as we wished to make was afforded until the convention, having first assembled at Jefferson City, adjourned to meet in St. Louis on the 4th of March.  We resolved to utilize that occasion in such wise as to bring matters, if possible, to a crisis and incite the popular outbreak during which we might find means to execute our project.  We wished also to act before the Republican national administration-just about to be inaugurated-might interfere.

The measures taken seem almost ludicrous in the narration, but they were the only kind we could employ, and were really better calculated, in the then excited condition of the public mind, than any others to precipitate the collision we desired without becoming ourselves actually the aggressors.  By virtue of my position as chairman of the "Military Committee of the Minute Men," I had charge of the headquarters, which were established in the old Berthold mansion, one of the early Creole houses of St. Louis; I was also empowered-so far as the Minute Men could give me authority-to inaugurate and direct such enterprises as that which I am about to describe.  I called the committee together on the night of the 3d of March, and, after a brief consultation, we decided to display on the succeeding day such unmistakable symbols of secession and evidence of an actively rebellious disposition as would be a plain defiance to the Union sentiment and challenge the Wide Awakes.  We accordingly improvised two secession flags.  The South had not then adopted a banner, so we were obliged to exercise our imaginations to a rather painful extent in order to devise a fit emblem.  We knew, however, that nothing which floated over the Minute Men's headquarters could be possibly misconstrued, and we blazoned on both flags every conceivable thing that was suggestive of a Southern meaning.  Champion and Quinlan undertook to place one of these flags on the very summit of the court-house dome, and did so at great risk to neck and limb. 
I summoned fifty or sixty of our most determined and reckless followers, put the muskets in their hands-they were also provided with revolvers-and told them they would be required to remain on duty no only that night, but as long as might be necessary.  They were more than willing to do so.  I, of course, stayed with them in command.  Among other implements of defence, we had a small swivel, which, loaded with a number of musket balls and a double handful of ten-penny nails, was planted to command the front door, and was to fired only in the event that the door was forced.  Early the next morning, when our ensigns were observed, an extraordinary commotion began in the immediate neighbourhood and soon extended over the entire city.  The flag on the court-house was at once removed.  We had expected this and could not have prevented it. 
Then a large and angry crowd collected in front of the headquarters and demanded the removal of the flag there.  When no response was made, some of the boldest climbed up on the back porch with threats of tearing it down.  They were thrown back on the pavement beneath, but none were seriously injured, although much discouraged.  I cautioned my men not to fire unless they themselves were fired on. 
The Wide Awakes sprang to arms, but showed no haste to attack.  We received notice that they had assembled and formed and were coming.  Their drums were loudly in evidence.  While unwilling to fire on the mob without the amplest provocation, we were determined to fire on the Wide Awakes so soon as they were in sight; for after the repeated threats they had uttered, their appearance at such a time would have been an unmistakable demonstration of hostility.  Frost's brigade of state militia, as fine a body of the kind as I ever saw and exceedingly well armed, drilled, and disciplined, was ordered under arms to assist the police in keeping the peace.  This force was about seven hundred strong, and would have cheerfully sided with us had the Wide Awakes and the mob attacked.  With such other aid as would have been rendered under the excitement of conflict, we could certainly have taken the arsenal in the melee and before the affair ended.
-The Civil War Reminiscences of General Basil Duke, C.S.A.

So we have the Minute Men, the Wide Awakes, the Missouri state militia, the St. Louis police and an angry mob all gathered together at the Berthold mansion, with things spiraling out of control and violence in the air.  What happened next?  Join us tomorrow to find out.

The above picture of the Minute Men's headquarters came from the Missouri History Museum's website and they provide the following information about the mansion:

This stately brick mansion was the home of Bartholomew Berthold, a prominent merchant and fur trader in St. Louis. Berthold passed away before this photograph was taken, but members of his family, including his wife and children, are shown standing in front of the house. Located on the northwest corner of Fifth and Pine streets, the home later served as the headquarters of the Minute Men, a secessionist paramilitary group established in St. Louis in January 1861. The formation of the Minute Men countered the Unionist, and predominantly German, Wide Awakes organized by Col. Frank Blair Jr., and provided support for a vocal minority advocating secession. A secessionist flag proudly flew from the mansion’s front porch. Various descriptions of the flag exist, but the Missouri Republican reported at the time that it was a black flag with a crescent in one corner, an upside down flag in the center, and a single star in the other corner.

I'm going to check the Missouri Republican and see if I can find anything interesting on the whole affair.

Also of interest is the strong possibility that Merritt Griswold was in the crowd that day, serving with the Wide Awakes.  We know he was at Camp Jackson and, as an officer, I think that it's likely that he was there, in opposition to his friend and clubmate.  

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