As Gen. Grant said about the Confederacy, “. . . that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”
By Max R. Weller
It’s a sordid past in Missouri, one of the slave states which did NOT secede from the Union back in Civil War times. You’d never know that the Confederacy was whipped to a frazzle and the slave-driven economy wrecked, however, if you judge by this:
One of my Facebook friends remarked to me, “You best believe no one from the African American community in Lexington will participate in this!”
The Lexington (MO) Historical Association becomes quite bitter when someone like me, a resident of that small town from birth until age 47, refuses to bow down and worship a completely ridiculous romantic view of the Old South, one which either ignores slavery or presents a misleading narrative of what human bondage actually meant in our own nation. Here’s an overview of questions posed to one woman: I used to lead tours at a plantation. You won’t believe the questions I got about slavery.
I’ve fought this battle for many years, and the [hysterical] preservationists in my old hometown despise me for setting the record straight every chance I get. See: 1860 Missouri Census Table.
Of course, the wealth of prominent local families was literally built on the backs of African slaves, and a few of those families remain a part of Lexington, MO’s upper crust today. The best example is the late Congressman Ike Skelton, who is descended on his mother’s side from the Boone family, among the wealthiest slaveholding “planters” in the state during the antebellum period and on into the Civil War. It’s NOT talked about now, but Ike Skelton’s mother, who has long since passed on to her reward, was a big wheel in the United Daughters of the Confederacy as late as the early 1960s, when her son was starting his career in politics as Lafayette County Prosecutor.
It’s no exaggeration to say that all of the long-time wealthy whites in Lexington now can trace their descent from slaveholders. It’s a shame that nobody even knows the names of most of the African slaves who labored long and lived in such degrading circumstances.
I’ve often thought that a statue of the Union’s Gen. Nathaniel Lyon, whose efforts kept Missouri from falling into the clutches of the Confederacy, should be erected on the Lafayette County Courthouse lawn for all to appreciate.
When war officially broke out on April 12, 1861, St. Louis, like the entire state of Missouri, was divided between pro-Confederate and pro-Union forces. Through political maneuvering, Lyon assumed control of the St. Louis arsenal and its troops. He shipped almost all of the arsenal’s weapons to safety in Illinois. Thousands of untrained volunteers from the city’s German community helped defend the arsenal. Most German immigrants opposed slavery and this stand made them unpopular among many native born citizens.
Governor Jackson hoped to provoke a confrontation with Lyon and his volunteer troops by ordering the Missouri State Guard to muster for training outside of St. Louis at Camp Jackson. Fearful that the guard was sympathetic to the South, Lyon led his untrained militia on the Missouri State Guard camp. He took prisoners and marched them through the city. Riots broke out in St. Louis when Lyon’s militia fired upon a civilian mob and killed twenty-eight people. This event became known as the “Camp Jackson Affair.”
In response, the state legislature passed a bill giving Governor Jackson authority to prepare the state for war. Thousands of men then joined Missouri State Guard camps across the state. Former Governor Sterling Price, who had remained neutral prior to the Camp Jackson Affair, offered his services to Governor Jackson and was given command of the Missouri State Guard.
Lyon was temporarily removed from command, but was soon made brigadier general of volunteers. He and U.S. Congressman Frank Blair met with Governor Jackson and General Price in an attempt to negotiate peace. The meeting failed.
Jackson, Price, and the Missouri State Guard left St. Louis for Jefferson City. Lyon did not want the state capitol to fall into Confederate hands so he pursued them as they fled west to Boonville.
On June 17, 1861, Union forces skirmished with the Missouri State Guard at the Battle of Boonville. Lyon and his men won easily over the state guard, and this victory was important to the Union because it gave them control of the Missouri River. For the rest of the war, Confederates were unable to use the river to move troops and supplies across the state.
On August 10, 1861, the two sides met again in battle at Wilson’s Creek near Springfield. Lyon was low on supplies and outnumbered because many of his volunteers had recently returned home to St. Louis at the end of their ninety-day enlistment period.
During the battle, Lyon was shot and killed. He was the first general to die in the American Civil War. After intense fighting, Union troops withdrew to Springfield, leaving the exhausted Confederate army behind. Lyon’s corpse was retrieved and sent to Connecticut for burial.
Nathaniel Lyon became a national hero. One of his soldiers remembered, “He struck us as a man devoted to duty, who thought duty, dreamed duty, and had nothing but ‘duty’ on his mind.”
I never learned about Union Gen. Nathaniel Lyon while attending public schools in the old hometown, and no mention is made of him by the Old South apologists. But, everyone who lives there knows about Confederate Gen. Sterling Price.
There’s something rotten in the city of Lexington, MO.