There have been some outstanding articles in the Disunion series the New York Times is running on the Civil War. Unfortunately, today’s offering on St. Louis by Adam Arenson falls short. Adam Arenson is an assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at El Paso and the author of a new book “The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War.” Arenson recently was a guest speaker at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. I was working that day, so I was unable to attend, but I was told he gave an excellent talk. I am planning to read his book, but I hope this article is not an indication of what to expect.
Arenson begins the article with this assertion:
“But in the second week of May 1861, St. Louisans could imagine what the end of the Civil War might bring as well: after a bloody skirmish between Confederate sympathizers and federal troops in St. Louis, city leaders sought to instill a new order, one that would maintain the property rights of Confederate sympathizers while guaranteeing Union control of the city. Some called it victory; some called it occupation. With the perspective of 150 years, we might call it the beginnings of Reconstruction.”
An explanation of this would have made an interesting article. Who were these “city leaders” to whom he refers? What exactly is this “new order”? And, I think he is referring to the war years here, but if so, he skips over the period of the Price-Harney agreement, which kept an uneasy peace until after Jackson and Lyon met at the Planter’s House in June. At any rate, none of this is explained because he backtracks to talk about Camp Jackson.
There are several factual errors in the article. The arsenal seized on April 20 was at Liberty, Mo, not Lexington. Lyon was a captain at the time of the Camp Jackson affair, not a general. Lyon was kicked by his horse before the riot even began. Grant went to the St. Louis arsenal before the Camp Jackson seizure and riot, not after.*** It was Lyon who said “this means war,” not Jackson. The state offices were declared vacated and the provisional government was established before Jackson’s rump legislature passed the secession ordinance, not the other way around as this article seems to imply.
Furthermore, sometimes brevity leaves too much unsaid, as in the one sentence regarding Fremont, Lincoln and emancipation. I intend to write more about that in future blogs.
***NOTE*** Grant said in his Memoirs: “I had seen the troops start out in the morning and had wished them success. I now determined [after the seizure] to go to the arsenal and await their arrival and congratulate them….The next day I left St. Louis…” (Vol. 1, pg. 236-238) Also see this earlier post.