Monday, May 7, 2012

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

The St. Louis Arsenal
This fatal policy of irresolution and delay continued until Mr. Lincoln issued his proclamation calling for troops to suppress the rebellion; and although our people were then, at last awakened, it was too late to recover from the effects of previous procrastination.  The legislature...passed high-sounding resolutions, but did little else, and even refused to permit the governor to call out the militia.  Bills were introduced providing for the better organization and armament of the state guard, but were not pressed to passage.  On March 23d, however, a bill was passed to create a Board of Police Commissioners for St. Louis, by which the control of the police force was taken from the mayor, who was a Republican.  It authorized the governor to appoint four commissioners, who, with the mayor-ex officio a member of the board-should have absolute control of the police of the city, of the sheriff's officers and of all conservators of the peace, both in the city and the county.  The passage of this bill two months earlier might have shaped the political situation very differently; but at so late a date it had little effect. 
When it became a law the governor appointed as commissioners: Charles McLaren, John A. Brownlee, James H. Carlisle, and myself.  All were Southern in sentiment.  My appointment was severely censured, ostensibly because of my youth, but really because of my connection with the Minute Men, which made it peculiarly offensive to Unionists of all shades of opinions... 
It finally became apparent that the Southern party must either adopt and promptly execute decisive and practically effective measures, or publicly abandon all purpose or pretence of maintaining the authority of the state in matters wherein Blair and Lyon had determined to interfere.  Before the capture of Fort Sumter by the Confederates and Mr. Lincoln's call for troops to suppress the rebellion, Governor Jackson made up his mind that the seizure of the arsenal should be attempted at the earliest possible date.  During all this delay, however, the garrison of the arsenal had been considerably strengthened, and the number of the Wide Awakes very greatly increased.  Lyon's efforts had also resulted in their better organization and in furnishing them with excellent rifles issued from the arsenal.  The Union leaders estimated that they could, at this date put six or seven thousand well-armed and equipped troops in the field, as against less than one thousand two hundred on the other side. 
Governor Jackson had never been a soldier, and was totally devoid of military experience.  He relied for advice in such matters on General Frost, who was a graduate of West Point, and had served for several years in the regular army.  General Frost was well versed in his profession, had much technical knowledge, and was undoubtedly a man of personal courage.  He advised a course, however, which, under the circumstances, rendered success almost impossible.  Although he must have known that he could not possible muster an armed and organized force one fifth as strong as that which opposed him, he advised the governor to order a formal encampment of the state guard in the environs of St. Louis, send South for heavy guns, and proceed to attempt the capture of the arsenal by slow and regular approaches; by siege operations, indeed.  It seems almost incredible that any one could have supposed it to be possible to capture the arsenal, defended as it was, and considering the disparity of forces, except by a sudden coup de main, and unexpected reckless rush.  Yet the plan I have described was the one resolved on.  The governor, therefore, directed that the state guard should assemble on May 3d at a designated spot near the city limits and remain in encampment for a week.  He dispatched Capt. Cotton Greene and myself to Montgomery, Ala., with letters to President Davis requesting him to furnish us with the sort of cannon described in another paper prepared by General Frost.
-The Civil War Reminiscences of General Basil W. Duke, C.S.A.

This is all set up for the best part of the story: Duke's mission to the South to obtain arms for the Missouri militia.  But I also think it's important to note that Duke was a state official.  As a member of the Minute Men, he was technically an officer in the state militia and he had been appointed to the Board of Police Commissioners.  So here was a state official in a treasonous conspiracy with the Governor of Missouri and others to seize the United States Arsenal in St. Louis.

It's also interesting to note Duke's opinion of the Camp Jackson plan.  As a man who rose to become a general and a commander of Confederate cavalry, his opinion is to be respected.  Before I read this I never really thought about how idiotic the Camp Jackson plan was and how it was doomed from the beginning.  But it was not a good plan, especially when you were going up against a man like Nathaniel Lyons.

Tomorrow, our pioneer ballplayer heads to Alabama to meet Jefferson Davis.        

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