Why Sam Clemens was never a Confederate…
and a few other things you should know about Hannibal
in 1860 and 1861
by Terrell Dempsey
Special to the Mark Twain Forum
© Copyright Terrell Dempsey 2001
Electronically published on the Mark Twain
Forum TwainWeb <http://www.twainweb.net>
No portion of this article may be reproduced in whole or in part without
the express written authorization of the author.
Forget a white town drowsing.
It never existed other than in the vivid imagination of Samuel Clemens.
The history of the real Hannibal for the first quarter century of its existence is one of conflict and turmoil. Cursed by geography, politics and history, poor Hannibal was one of the loneliest outposts of slave culture in North America. The very compromise that allowed Missouri into the Union had decreed that all the territory around it would be free territory.
Despite some backpedaling on the issue by politicians and attempts at compromise to allow slavery into Nebraska and Kansas, the fact was that by the mid-1850s, Missouri was surrounded on three sides by free soil. Worse, it was besieged by abolitionists. The Adams County Anti-Slavery Society across the river in Quincy, Illinois, was founded in 1835. By 1837 the abolitionists boasted a membership of 131 members. Abolitionists in Illinois and Iowa actively aided slaves escaping from Missouri. While the number of slaves escaping declined nationally between 1850 and 1860, the number increased in Missouri.
Political meetings were held regularly in Marion County beginning in 1842. These were big outdoor rallies with speeches and steering committees. Often they were held at the courthouse. Up until the Civil War they had one monotonous theme – "What are we going to do about the slave thieves and the runaways?"
The people who attended these meetings were civic leaders and politicians. They created vigilante committees, minuteman militias to chase slaves, and funds to pay rewards and expenses of slave catchers. They proposed legislation restricting the activities of free blacks and slaves – laws that frequently made it onto the books. They created and funded patrols. But they were never able to lick the problem. As the decades went on, slaves continued escaping. Frustrations grew and the meetings became more and more shrill.
If you want to know what Hannibal was like in the years immediately before the Civil War, think back to the Cold War and Check Point Charley at the Berlin Wall -- on the East German side. Armed patrols routinely checked the roads and the river. Unattended, unchained boats, rafts, and canoes were destroyed. Suspicious whites were detained and interrogated. Blacks without passes were arrested and whipped.
Then came the election of 1860.
There have been few presidential elections more confusing than that of 1860. The Republican Party was a young, relatively unknown quantity that year. The party had fielded its first presidential candidate in 1856, John Charles Fremont. Fremont made his reputation as a western explorer and had the catchy name "The Pathfinder." He had strong connections with Missouri. He married Jesse Benton, daughter of U.S. Senator and later Congressman from Missouri, Thomas Hart Benton. This Benton was the grandfather of the artist by the same name. Fremont got trounced in 1856.
There were lots of candidates for the Republican nomination in 1860. Many of the losers ended up in the Lincoln administration. The Republican convention was held in Chicago and though it took several votes by the delegates, the party managed to stay united. As everyone knows, the Republicans, meeting in the log convention hall called "The Wigwam," nominated Kentucky-born Abraham Lincoln of Illinois. But despite a raucous convention, the party emerged fairly united by U.S. standards as the Republicans entered the fray.
The Democrats were another story. 1860 should have been a great year for them. By that year, the Democrats were the only other political party left in Missouri. The American Party and the Whigs had died in the preceding decade. The Whigs had been born as the anti-Jackson party and never formed a clear identity of their own. They petered out with losses to the American Party and the new Republican Party. The American Party was better known as the "Know-nothings." This disparaging name reflected their bigoted, racist and religiously intolerant anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic platform. Intolerance was simply not enough to sustain a political party. The result was that by 1860, if you were not a Republican, the only alternative was to be a Democrat.
But the Democrats were not able to exploit their majority position. Instead, they split into three groups, each with a different candidate. Stephen Douglas of Illinois was the candidate of pro-Union Democrats. John Bell of Tennessee was the candidate of the group calling itself the Constitutional Unionists. Both Douglas and Bell favored keeping the Union together and were opposed to secession.
John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky was the candidate of the Southern Democrats who advocated secession. His heart was in Dixie. The platform of the Southern Democrats called for the creation of a federal slave code for the entire country. Otherwise, they argued enough free states would eventually enter the Union and an abolition law would be passed.
One very important fact to remember in the election of 1860 is that not one of the four presidential candidates advocated ending slavery in the states where it then existed. People feared that Lincoln had abolition as a secret agenda. There were certainly abolitionists who supported him. But he carefully distanced himself from that position. Lincoln would be a good friend of Missouri slaveholders throughout his presidency.
In the election of 1860, a whopping 81% of the eligible voters turned out. Lincoln took 40% of the popular vote and carried all the Northern States (except New Jersey) and the West Coast states. Douglas garnered 30% of the vote and only carried two states – Missouri and New Jersey. Breckenridge had 18% of the votes and carried most of the Southern States. Bell only received 12% of the votes carrying Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. When it became known that Lincoln won, the slave states in the Deep South began seceding. South Carolina led the way. Lincoln’s assurances did nothing to calm their fears.
The vote in Hannibal actually reflected the results throughout Missouri. In Hannibal, Steven Douglas received 623 votes. Bell, the other Union candidate garnered 574 votes. Abraham Lincoln received 227 votes. Breckenridge, the secessionist candidate, came in dead last. He only received 121 votes. It was a dismal showing for the secessionists, since they could muster barely more than half the votes cast for Abraham Lincoln. The town was solidly pro-Union.
The outcome for Marion County, including Hannibal, was slightly different. John Bell won the most votes. Bell received 1385 votes, Douglas received 1239. Lincoln only received 235 votes – nearly all of his votes coming from Hannibal. There were a few more pro-Breckenridge voters in rural Marion County. The secessionist candidate got a total of 432 votes countywide. But still, the secessionists were a very tiny minority. They mustered only thirteen percent of the votes cast.
The people of Hannibal and Marion County simply did not want to leave the Union. There were pro-secessionists, but they had little support in the community. When a secession rally was held at the county seat in Palmyra on November 14, 1861, only a dozen people attended. By comparison, between five and ten thousand were estimated to have attended the first public execution in 1850. But in the same election in which they rejected the radicalism of Breckenridge and Lincoln, the voters of Missouri sent a southerner to the governor’s mansion who would do his best to take the state out of the Union.
The new Governor of Missouri was a fine southern gentleman by the name of Claiborne Fox Jackson. Jackson was born in Kentucky to a family of prosperous tobacco farmers and slaveholders. He came to Missouri in 1826 where he made one key move -- he married well. His bride was the daughter of a wealthy slave owner named John S. Sappington. Sappington was a doctor who made one fortune speculating in land and selling goods to emigrants headed west at Arrow Rock, Missouri. He made another fortune by inventing, manufacturing and selling a pill containing quinine for the treatment of malaria. Through his father-in-law, Jackson had contact with the most powerful and important men of the state. He became active in politics and lived a life of luxury.
Jackson knew where his bread was buttered. When his fortunes were threatened by the death of his first wife, Jackson married another daughter of Dr. Sappington. When that wife died, he married a third Sappington sister. When Dr. Sappington died in 1856 Jackson inherited the bulk of his estate. By 1860 Jackson owned a considerable amount of real estate and twenty slaves. His three marriages had been very profitable.
Jackson made a reputation for himself as a strongly pro-slavery politician in the tumultuous 1850s. During the 1860 campaign for governor, he kept his presidential politics ambiguous. He claimed personal support for Breckenridge, but argued that Douglas had the best shot at winning the White House for the Democrats. The people of Missouri should have listened more closely to what he said about Breckenridge. Following his election he felt free to follow his personal preferences and fought hard to secede.
Jackson wanted very badly to take Missouri out of the Union, but the voters just didn’t agree with him. Frustrated by Lincoln’s victory in the November election, he called a special convention to be held in St. Louis, hoping to persuade the people to secede. Delegates to the secession convention were elected by the people of each county. The election was held in February, 1861.
Despite the best efforts of Jackson, the secessionists took it on the nose again in February. The results were solidly in favor of staying in the Union. Statewide, 75% of people voted for pro-Union candidates. In Marion County, three of four candidates for the office of delegate to the convention were pro-Union. The secessionist candidate garnered only 1,651 votes out of 5,701 cast. Seventy-two percent of the voters of Marion County voted for pro-Union candidates. The issue of secession was dead in Missouri and Hannibal. It would stay that way after the shooting started.
Why didn’t the people of Marion County and Missouri join the secessionist parade? The reasons are many and complex. It is true that the area was solidly pro-slavery, but despite the misconceptions of modern people, slavery had little to do with the issue of secession in Missouri.
Geography, on the other hand, was very important. Look at a map. If Missouri seceded, it would be surrounded by a foreign country on three sides. Slavery was actually a reason for staying in the Union. Missourians argued that by staying in the Union, they would benefit from the fugitive slave laws. Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska would be compelled to return runaway slaves to a Union Missouri. If the United States was a foreign and non-slave country that would not happen.
Now this sounds ridiculous to the modern ear because we have the benefit of knowing what was coming down the road. But in 1861 it was a very popular argument in the newspapers and political speeches in Hannibal and Marion County. Lincoln did nothing to dissuade patriotic slaveholders. Missouri Union officers often took a slave along with them on their campaigns as a personal servant. When John Charles Fremont, the military commander in charge of the state, issued a proclamation freeing slaves in 1861, Lincoln fired him and withdrew the proclamation. Slaves in Missouri were not freed by the emancipation proclamation on January 1, 1863, but by the legislature of Missouri two years later in January 1865.
While it is true that some out-of-state Federal troops turned a blind eye to escaping slaves, Union troops in Missouri often captured runaway slaves and returned them to their owners. As late as July 1863, the grand jury in Marion County returned an indictment against William R. Strachan for enticing a slave to run away from his master. This was half a year after slaves in the Confederate states were freed by President Lincoln.
One of the very compelling reasons Northeast Missouri stayed in the Union was economics. It was true that the majority lifestyle of the region was Southern. It was also true that many Missourians had family ties in the Carolinas, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. For the first four decades of the state’s existence the Mississippi River connected Missouri solidly with Memphis, Natchez, and New Orleans. But things had changed by 1860. The railroad had replaced the river as the American highway. New ties bound Hannibal to the Northeast.
Hannibal, then the third-largest town in Missouri, was the railhead of the new Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. The line ran east and west. It connected the eastern states with Kansas. The mail that went by Pony Express came to Hannibal first, then by train to St. Joseph. Plans were already on the books to extend the railroad all the way to the Pacific. Whatever their cultural identities, most Missourians realized exactly where their future lay.
In addition to being a highway connecting Missouri to the South, the river had also been an obstacle to east-west commerce. In fact, it had been a formidable barrier protecting slavery. But by 1860 plans for bridges across the Mississippi were also on the books. Businessmen had connections with Chicago, New York and Boston. As the crisis was brewing in the spring of 1861, conferences were held by Illinois, Iowa and Missouri businessmen to maintain relations. The old river ties were becoming obsolete and the new industrial, financial and railroad bonds strengthened.
Every state in the Union had a militia. From the organization of the Missouri territorial government in 1807 until 1847, every able-bodied man in the state was required to serve in the state militia. Prior to 1847 there had been musters four times a year. But after 1847, the law was scrapped and militia companies formed. Instead of all able-bodied men being required to be available for duty, each county was then responsible for maintaining specific militia units. In other words, it was no longer a universal obligation.
The militia companies armed and uniformed themselves – though uniforms were optional. The vast majority of militiamen drilled in their ordinary clothing. Uniforms were reserved for the well to do, or for fancy drill teams that competed in competitions against other militias in parade ground maneuvers.
Anticipating trouble and hoping for the opportunity to take Missouri out of the Union, Governor Jackson reorganized the militias into the Missouri State Guard in early 1861. Former Missouri Governor Sterling Price commanded the Guard. The state was divided into nine departments. State Guard members were sworn to protect the peoples’ rights under the state and federal constitutions. Though Jackson hoped to turn it into one, the Guard was not a secessionist force. The Guard was the legitimate militia of the state.
Things actually went along pretty peaceably in Missouri during the first quarter of 1861. The secession convention met in St. Louis and to the chagrin of Governor Jackson, decided by an overwhelming majority not to leave the Union. However, Claiborne Fox Jackson was determined to find some way to help the new Southern Confederacy. His opportunity came in April.
When Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 troops to put down the rebellion, the president requested Missouri to provide 3,213 men to fill its quota. Governor Jackson angrily refused. He replied on April 17, 1861 in a letter published throughout the state:
To the Hon Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, Washington, D.C.,:
Sir—Your dispatch of the 14th inst., making a call on Missouri for four regiments of men, for immediate service, has been received. There can be, I apprehend, no doubt but these men are intended to form a part of the President’s army to make war upon the people of the seceded States. Your requisition, in my judgment, is illegal, unconstitutional, and revolutionary, in its object, inhuman and diabolical, and cannot be complied with. Not one man will the State of Missouri furnish to carry on any such unholy crusade.
C.F. Jackson, Governor of Missouri.
Needless to say this did not sit well with the Lincoln administration. But Governor Jackson did more than just use provocative language with the President. He was not above playing chess with his own state military force. Using his executive powers as governor, he called out the Missouri State Guard and ordered an encampment on the fringes of St. Louis within striking distance of the U.S. arsenal. Seven hundred State Guard troops set up a tent city and drilled in new gray uniforms. They named the camp after the governor: Camp Jackson.
To ratchet tensions even higher and to better arm his Guard, Jackson sent a letter to Jefferson Davis asking for artillery. The wily president of the Confederacy responded in a bid to gain Missouri. He realized that a Confederate Missouri could be a valuable asset. It could keep the vast resources of the west from reaching the east. Jefferson Davis would provide Jackson with artillery.
The Confederates had seized a Federal Arsenal in Baton Rouge and obtained a number of cannon there. They shipped four of them with a generous supply of ammunition up the river on a steamboat in several large crates labeled "marble." They also shipped muskets and ammunition. On May 8, 1861, the crates were unloaded in St. Louis and delivered to the Missouri State Guard camp.
Federal authorities knew what was going on at Camp Jackson. They knew the cannon had arrived. They were rightly nervous about the body of armed men camped so near the important city at the junction of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The State Guard in the camp did little to allay those fears. They flew a secessionist flag along with the Missouri flag and named the streets after prominent Confederates. The heavy artillery shipped from Louisiana gave the state forces the firepower to blast into the St. Louis arsenal. Things were grim indeed. But the Union forces had a secret weapon in St. Louis – a young captain named Nathaniel Lyon.
Nathaniel Lyon was the hardheaded son of a farmer and lawyer from Connecticut. He had graduated from West Point in 1841. He had a bad reputation in the army as a disciplinarian and got in trouble for sadistic punishments he inflicted on enlisted men. Like U.S. Grant, he was a lousy peacetime soldier – but he shone in wartime.
Stationed in Kansas during the late 1850s and appalled by the conduct of pro-slavery forces there, Lyon came to hate slaveholders as lawless aristocrats. He arrived in St. Louis on the eve of war determined to do everything in his power to undermine what he saw as a "slaveocracy." He was the polar opposite of Claiborne Fox Jackson. He was determined to keep Missouri in the Union.
Captain Lyon ousted General William S. Harney, the moderate, mild-mannered commander of Union forces in St. Louis, and assumed command of the area. He armed loyal German units in St. Louis as Home Guard troops. When Jackson upped the ante by bringing in the cannon, Lyon was ready. Disguising himself as a woman, Lyon reconnoitered the State Guard Camp from a carriage. Then on May 9, with a force of Federal soldiers and loyal Home Guard troops, Lyon seized the 700 Missouri State Guardsmen in the camp.
As the state troops were marched through the streets of St. Louis, angry crowds gathered and heckled the Union forces. Soon shots rang out, and in the confusion Union troops fired into the crowd. Twenty-eight civilians were killed. Two soldiers also died in the melee. One witness to the troubles in St. Louis would play a prominent role in ending the bitter war that was to follow. William Tecumseh Sherman was in St. Louis when the State Guardsmen were seized.
On May 15, Governor Jackson mobilized the State Guard across Missouri. They were instructed to "organize" and "hold … in readiness for active service, should the emergency arise to require it." He rammed a special bill through the Missouri Legislature allocating money to the State Guard.
As tensions mounted between Jackson in Jefferson City and Lyon in St. Louis, one final attempt was made for peace in Missouri. Governor Jackson and Sterling Price arranged a meeting with Nathaniel Lyon and Frank Blair at the Planter House Hotel in St. Louis on June 11. Governor Jackson was promised safe passage in and out of St. Louis
The seconds that Lyon and Jackson brought to the duel of wills at the hotel were significant. Blair on the Union side was a prominent Republican. He was a congressman from St. Louis elected with the help of German immigrants. His brother was Montgomery Blair, postmaster in the Lincoln administration. He spoke for the president. Price on the Missouri side was a native Virginian and had served as Governor of Missouri from 1853 to 1857. He served as commanding general of the Missouri State Guard. He had been president of the secession convention and had favored Missouri’s remaining in the Union – until Lyon had seized Camp Jackson. He was very influential with Missourians.
Jackson and Price tried to obtain neutrality for Missouri. They offered to disband the Missouri State Guard and agree to keep Confederate troops out of Missouri if the federal government would keep Union troops out. Lyon would not yield an inch. He was in no mood for compromise. He would not consider a neutral Missouri. After a very heated discussion, Lyon terminated the meeting abruptly with the words, "This means war."
Jackson and Price returned to Jefferson City by train. They took Lyon’s declaration of war seriously. In Jefferson City Price issued a call for 50,000 Missouri troops to engage the Federals. As he wrote, State Guard members were already setting fire to the railroad bridges connecting the capital to St. Louis. They also cut the telegraph wires.
Governor Jackson issued an order to the Missouri State Guard to do everything they could to resist the federal invaders. But even in this proclamation, the Governor was careful to point out to Missourians that Missouri was still a member of the Union.
"In issuing this Proclamation, I hold it to be my solemn duty to remind you that Missouri is still one of the United States, that the Executive Department of the State Government does not arrogate to itself the power to disturb that relation; that that power has been wisely vested in a Convention which will, at the proper time, express your sovereign will; and that, meanwhile, it is your duty to obey all the constitutional requirements of the Federal Government."
Jackson still hoped the secession convention could be reconvened and an ordinance of secession lawfully passed.
For the vast majority of men who responded to the call of the governor, there was confusion. Who was the enemy? To whom were they loyal? Missouri was legally in the Union, but the order of the Governor was also lawful. The orders of Governor Jackson were printed in newspapers, even in strongly pro-Union newspapers. The contrary orders of federal commanders were also published. The men who had been sworn into the State Guard around Missouri were waiting with their squirrel rifles and shotguns for developments. They were sworn to uphold both the state and federal constitutions. They were not in any sense Confederate troops – though doubtless many had Confederate sympathies. It was a very volatile time.
An order from Jefferson City was circulated in Northeast Missouri:
"Companies will be formed as rapidly as possible and await the arrival of the Brigadier Gen. for this district, who will perhaps be here in a day or two and receive them into service. Every man will provide himself with the best gun he can get which he will keep until replaced by a better gun from the State."
Sam Clemens answered that call. Federal troops pursued Jackson and Price by steamboat up the Missouri River. It was at this crucial juncture that Sam Clemens came on the scene. After returning by the riverboat Nebraska from New Orleans in May, he had been vacationing in Hannibal with his friends and fellow pilots, Absalom Grimes and Sam Bowen. The peace conference at the Planter House was held on June 12th. By the 15th, the state government had taken flight from Jefferson City and Federal troops transported by river occupied the capital. This provides us with the date Sam Clemens took to the field with the Missouri State Guard.
Absalom Grimes recorded in his memoir that while he, Clemens, and Sam Bowen were in Hannibal they were ordered to report to General Grey’s office in St. Louis. They went down river on the riverboat Hannibal City and reported as instructed. The General told them, "I want to send a lot of boats (carrying soldiers) up to Boonville, on the Missouri River, the latter part of the week." He wanted the three men to pilot the boats on the Missouri River. The men protested that they were Mississippi pilots, not Missouri River pilots, but agreed that they could follow an experienced pilot up the river. It was clear, however, that the three did not wish to aid the Federals in their pursuit of Governor Jackson.
According to Grimes, he, Clemens, and Bowen slipped out of the General’s office while the Union officer was distracted by a pair of pretty women. The men made their way back to Hannibal. This event can be dated pretty closely. It had to have occurred around June15th when the Federal troops occupied Jefferson City, because at that point Jackson had then moved to a place near Boonville, upstream from the capital. Federal troops did in fact overtake the Missouri governor and 400 to 500 men near Boonville on June 17. The Federals arrived by riverboat. A battle was fought and Union forces were victorious. This was the operation to which General Grey referred.
Clemens, Bowen, and Grimes made their way to Hannibal. It appears that while there, Sam Clemens probably took the time to report back to a St. Louis newspaper on developments in Hannibal. A correspondent wrote:
To the Editor of the Daily Mo. State Journal:
Four of the Home Guards deserted Saturday night, and left for parts unknown. I heard from a very reliable source that there were seventeen bodies sent up the river this morning, killed in a skirmish up the railroad somewhere. It is not known where for the wires have been cut down. There are about 250 Home Guards here at present, and there is a requisition from General Scott here, for the troops that have been sent here.
The boys are responding bravely to the call of the Governor—about
fifty have left already, and plenty left to strike when the proper time
comes. Major T.A. Harris received his commission Friday night, (per
courier) and has left for the seat of war. He is Brigadier General of
this district. Our city is perfectly quiet at present.
Yours, in haste,
The letter was truly written in haste. The story about the bodies was just a rumor. It would prove to be untrue. However, the information about Thomas Harris was correct. It had just become known in Northeast Missouri that Harris had been appointed commander of the Seventh District of the Missouri State Guard. The authorship of the "Sam" letter is not definite. The writer of the letter could obviously write well like Clemens and the timing fits like a glove. But it is always possible that there were two intelligent young men named Sam, dashing through Hannibal in mid-June with strong State Guard sympathies, who had ties to the St. Louis newspaper community.
Not likely, but possible.
Hannibal was full of Union troops. Riverboats arrived daily bearing troops from Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio. Large numbers of loyal Missourians joined Home Guard groups in Marion County. Clemens, Grimes, and the Bowen brothers quickly made their way into the relative safety of the woods and hills of Ralls County to the south and west of Hannibal. Like all the units of the Missouri State Guard, they were unorganized. They were not uniformed and were armed only with the weapons they brought from home. Grimes described Clemens as carrying a squirrel rifle and riding a mule.
They were also confused.
Clemens’ actual experience with the Missouri State Guard was very limited and was typical of many men in these very early days of the war. He rode to Colonel John Ralls’ house and took the oath of allegiance to the Missouri State Guard. In that oath, he pledged to support both the state and Federal constitutions. He did not swear allegiance to the Confederate government. Then he and his comrades drilled and camped. They were a ragged lot. They dressed in civilian clothing and slept in blankets and quilts they brought from home. They had a motley collection of small bore rifles and shotguns together with whatever ammunition they had brought from home. They had nothing to do.
The unit held a company election and Clemens was elected to the post of second lieutenant. The ragtag amateurs were an officer-heavy group. After they had elected a captain, first lieutenant, second lieutenant and one sergeant, there were only three or four privates in the group. They roamed about Ralls County camping out where they could.
Despite electing officers, the men with Clemens did not take things like military discipline very seriously. Grimes reported that one day they encountered General Thomas Harris. Discipline was so lax and informal that they refused a direct order from him. Clemens and the others had been camping in a very uncomfortable wet location. They were on their way to a farmhouse which would offer more amenities. General Harris ordered them back to their waterlogged camp. According to Grimes, Clemens and his associates just laughed and continued on.
They also did not engage in any fighting. Grimes reports no violent encounters at all during this time. Hannibal newspapers confirm that no one was shot and killed in the manner described by Mark Twain in his Private History of a Campaign that Failed. The name "Marion Rangers" also appears to have been a creation of Mark Twain. There is no record in Grimes’ memoir or in any other source of the name being used.
Sam Clemens suffered from a painful boil and sprained his ankle during the short time he was in the field. All his little unit did in June and July was hide. It must have been very boring and was obviously not much fun. There was little activity in that part of Missouri at that time. Jackson and the main body of the Missouri State Guard were hurrying toward Southwest Missouri where they hoped to find help from Confederate troops from Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.
We don’t know exactly how Clemens came in from the field. Amnesty was available to all who would lay down their weapons. Newly promoted Union General Lyon issued a proclamation stating that, "All persons who … have taken up arms, or who are now preparing to do so, are invited to return to their homes, and relinquish their hostile attitude to the federal government, and are assured they may do so without being molested for past occurrences." (6/22/61) The local Union commander, Colonel R.F. Smith of the 16th Illinois headquartered in Palmyra issued another amnesty offer on July 3rd.
Men took advantage of the amnesty offers in Marion County. On June 23, 1861, the Hannibal Daily Messenger observed "…quite a number of the daring adventurers, and chivalrous, but duped and misguided young men of this and Ralls Co., who participated in the late action near Boonville, are returning perfectly satisfied with their brief campaign."
Sam probably took advantage of this offer as well. He must have done it pretty early, too. By July 26, he and Orion were on their way to Nevada. He arrived there on August 14 and went to work for the Lincoln administration as a secretary to his brother Orion.
He was not alone. His friend Sam Bowen also came in from the field. He was imprisoned by the Federals for a while. Then he took the loyalty oath and went to work as a steamboat pilot for the government. If Clemens took the loyalty oath, there is no record of it. He may have slipped out of the area unnoticed and quietly joined up with Orion.
The Missouri State Guard did manage to group itself into small armies. Absalom Grimes was able to join up with a group and make his way south of the Missouri River. About 5,200 finally rallied around the governor in Southwest Missouri. At Neosho, Missouri, after fighting battles at Wilson’s Creek and Lexington, Missouri with the help of Confederate troops from Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, Governor Jackson called a meeting of the legislature to consider passing a secession act. Estimates vary on the number of legislators who attended, but all agree that there was not a quorum present. This rump session passed a secession act on October 28, 1861. The Missouri State Guard stayed in existence. When it withdrew from Missouri into Arkansas, members who did not wish to leave the state were allowed to resign from the Guard. The Guard continued as an independent organization until after the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas in 1862. Many were sworn into Confederate service.
Many hundreds of people who had taken to the field in those first confusing days of the conflict with the Missouri State Guard did exactly what Sam Clemens did. They voted with their feet. It is hard to call what they did desertion. They went home the same way they had responded to the governor’s call: one by one. They had sworn to support both the state and federal government. In the end that was impossible. Many of the early State Guard were loyal citizens for the rest of their lives. Some secretly aided the Confederacy when the chance arose. Some engaged in guerilla activities.
Absalom Grimes went on to a very exciting career smuggling mail from Missouri families to soldiers fighting in the Confederate Army. There were Missouri Confederates, but the fact is that 75% of the Missourians who took up arms during the Civil War did so on the Union side. In the early years of the 20th century, a myth arose of a Confederate Missouri, which fit in well with the new racist realities of the Jim Crow era. Eventually this myth acquired the semi-official recognition of state and local historians. It became as much a part of Missouri culture as slavery had been in that long-ago time. The Confederate flag was even waved at University of Missouri football games. The children and grandchildren of loyal Union men and women celebrated a Confederate entity that had never existed.
The most that can be said of Sam Clemens’ war record is that he was in the field for a few weeks with a very amateurish group of Missouri State Guard. He never swore an oath to the Confederate government, but did to the Union. He never deserted. The convention that Governor Jackson had legally called reconvened. Instead of passing an act of secession, it declared the office of governor vacant. The convention elected Hamilton Gamble to serve as governor until a free election could be held. The convention governed Missouri until 1865. Men like Clemens were freed from any allegiance to Jackson.
Sam Clemens was probably, like many Missourians, very ambivalent about the whole affair. To call him a Confederate in any sense is simply wrong.
I will leave to you, scholars of the Mark Twain Forum, to reason through what Clemens meant in his later writings about the war and his experiences. I write this to thank you for the many kindnesses you showed me in Elmira at the recent conference.
Four years from now, those of you who come to Elmira will get to meet Vicki, my wife. She is the real talent in the family. If you want to see her work, take a look at mollybrownmuseum.com. She is a talented historian, museum administrator, actress and attorney. I cannot thank her enough. She edited this piece and spared you from some of my poor attempts to be witty. (All typos are strictly mine.)
I want to thank Shelley Fisher Fishkin for getting me started on this fascinating project of looking for Jim. I also want to thank Dave Thomson and Barb Schmidt, my secret weapons in research. Ron Powers has been a constant source of encouragement and inspiration. R. Kent Rasmussen has taught me that Twain scholars are open and receptive to newcomers. My recent conversations with Vic Doyno fire me up to do more when I just don’t think I have the energy to drag myself home from the office and spend another evening reading through old newspaper clippings, letters and history books. Finally, Kevin and Pegge Bochynski did a final edit on this piece and spared you from more ambiguities than survived this final cut.
My hope is to expose you to the intricacies and conflicts that made up the fascinating slave culture of Northeast Missouri at the time of Sam Clemens. He did not live in a generic border state or in a generic south. He lived in a unique and exciting place. He lived in (and I believe this is true of most epochs) a fascinating time. My first draft of Searching for Jim, Slavery in Sam Clemens’ World should be finished in a few months. I thank you all for your encouragement, kindnesses and courtesies.
Terrell Dempsey, October 13, 2001