Vol. IV, No. 4, Spring 1991 / Vol. V, No. 1, Summer 1991



Lest We Forget: Missouri Honors Its Confederates

by Robert L. Hawkins, III



Robert L. Hawkins, III is an attorney practicing in Jefferson City, Missouri. He is Commander of the Missouri Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans and editor of the Missouri Partisan.

In the morning of July 4, 1865, a formidable body of lean and sunburned men approached the Rio Grande at its northern shore at Piedras Negras, having camped the previous evening on the low hills overlooking the river. The heavily armed and well-disciplined battalion of between 400 and 500 men paused only for a brief ceremony in which their battle flag, together with the black plume from their commanding officer's hat, was consigned to the waters of the river. The band pressed on into Mexico without a backward glance.

They were the last unsurrendered Confederate battalion, being the remnants of Missourians of General J.O. Shelby's "Iron Brigade," together with Missouri governor Thomas C. Reynolds, former govemor Trusten Polk, General M.M. Parsons and assorted Confederate personages from Kentucky, Arkansas and Louisiana. Knowing the war to be lost and believing the situation in their home state of Missouri to be intolerable for themselves as former Confederates, these men were leaving American territory with the specific purpose of making a new life for themselves and their families in Mexico, central America, Brazil or Venezuela.

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The Radical government then in power in Missouri, having purged its ranks of its earlier conservative leadership, had promulgated the vindictive Drake Constitution, which required citizens to swear an oath specifying their abstinence from a long list of proscribed acts, all directly or indirectly related to Confederate service. Persons failing to adhere to the oath were prohibited from preaching, teaching, practicing law or medicine, or voting. The enforcement of these harsh provisions greatly encouraged the migration of Missourians to Indian territory, Texas or beyond. The numbers of eligible voters in most Missouri counties were mere fractions of those qualified in prewar times.

Few of those Missourians crossing the Rio Grande could imagine how far support for their cause would come in only a few years. In 1868, the United States Supreme Court disallowed the portions of the Drake Constitution that foreclosed the professions to former Confederates, and a coalition of Liberal Republicans and former Confederate Democrats began to make inroads in the state. The Radicals began to lose elections and by 1872 had been swept from office. The new Missouri Constitution of 1875 replaced the most objectionable features of the Drake Constitution. It was no accident that the president of the Constitutional Convention was Waldo P. Johnson, former Confederate senator.

Photo courtesy Robert L. Hawkins, III.
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Prior to this date, memorials for Confederate soldiers had been limited to those established and maintained by informal women's groups immediately following the end of the war. Indeed, the federal government and its military services establishing a formal Memorial Day merely emulated a tradition of two years by southern women of ceremonies conducted on June 3, the anniversary of Jefferson Davis' birth. The decoration of graves of veterans in Missouri was usually conducted on April 14 (the date on which many prisoners were released in Little Rock in 1865), April 26 (a loosely established Memorial Day), or on June 3 as the anniversary of the birth of the Confederate President.

A strong factor solidifying the atmosphere conducive to memorialization of Southern military service was the looming presence of both of Missouri's United States Senators for the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Senator George Graham Vest, who served in the United States Senate for 25 years, was a former state senator, Missouri State Guard officer, author of Missouri's Ordinance of Secession and Confederate senator in Richmond. (He is primarily remembered today for his "Eulogy to a Dog" speech to a Johnson County jury, immortalized by a statue on the Johnson County Courthouse grounds.) One of the opposing counsel in that celebrated case was his companion in the United States Senate, Francis Marion Cockrell of Warrensburg. Cockrell, who raised a company in Johnson County for Missouri State Guard service, rose to the rank of Brigadier General in Confederate service, leading a brigade of Missourians whose combat reputation was excelled by no other unit in the War Between the States. Cockrell served 30 years in the United States Senate, a record equalled only by Thomas Hart Benton.

In 1875, Jefferson Davis made a formal visit to Missouri, causing a great stir among the citizenry and reflecting his popularity. His tour, which included stops at DeSoto and Kansas City, featured a stay as guest in the new Missouri Executive Mansion in Jefferson City, and a speech at the Callaway County fairgrounds at Fulton. Davis was met at the ferry on the north bank of the Missouri River at Jefferson City by a large crowd which swelled to numbers which may have exceeded 11,000 prior to his entry into Fulton. His address the following day at the Callaway County fairgrounds (now Priest Field at Westminster College) is reputed to have been the largest post-war gathering in his honor, with the single exception of his funeral in New Orleans which drew several hundred thousand persons.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century "Confederated Southern Memorial Associations" formed at several different locations in Missouri, leading to the development of chapters of the Daughters of the Confederacy, and later to the organization known today as the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

It was through the efforts of the Confederate Reunion Association in Springfield and its friends, that the bodies of 504 of those who fell at Oak Hills (Wilson's Creek) were reinterred in the Confederate Cemetery in Springfield and plans were initiated which led to the erection of a handsome Confederate monument, unveiled in 1901.

One of the "Crown Jewels" of the efforts of Confederate Memorial Associations was the establishment of the Confederate Home of Missouri, at Higginsville, in Lafayette County. The Home was first envisioned by Major John S. Mellon and Judge Thomas A. Portis, and a committee of the Southern Historical Society of St. Louis secured a charter for the home in 1889, reporting it to the annual reunion of Confederate soldiers at Higginsville in August of that year. Over a period of little more than a year, more than $23,500 was raised by private subscriptions and donations. In March of 1891, a farm of 373 acres was purchased just outside Higginsville. In less than three years following, persons residing in Missouri contributed over $70,000 toward the creation of the facility. Cottages were originally constructed on the site, designated in honor of the memory of Generals John S. Bowen, W.Y. Slack, M.M. Parsons, Henry Little and Martin E. Green. Societies were organized in 26 towns and counties of Missouri, raising funds for the Confederate association. Thereafter, a large and grand two-story brick building, constructed in the colonial style of architecture so frequently seen throughout the southern states, was erected with spacious porches and broad sweeping verandas as its most striking features. The building held apartments for 160 residents, and contained memorial rooms in honor of General John S. Marmaduke, Captain William Parkinson McLure, and Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson. Additional buildings and accommodations were provided as the demand for the services of the home increased, and the State of Missouri eventually took over operation of the site. Today, the Confederate Chapel at Hig-ginsville is one of two surviving in the United States and the remains of more than 700 Confederate soldiers and their dependents sleep in the beautiful cemetery crowned by the "Lion of Lucerne" monument "To Our Confederate Dead." The broad verandas of the main building surrendered to a bulldozer in 1959.

These many and varied efforts led to the formation of many chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Sometime shortly after 1912, the ladies of the Missouri Division UDC banded together on a remarkable project--the publication of "Reminiscences of the Women of Missouri During the Sixties," a gathering of stories of those who had suffered and sacrificed during the War Between the States. This publication, the dedication page bearing the thought "These Confederate memories are dedicated to the men and women everywhere who loved the southern cause," was quickly sold out and in recent years became highly sought after by collectors and book dealers. In 1988, the Missouri Division UDC published a reprint edition with the help of the Morning-side Press.

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And what of the veterans themselves? The advent of the United Confederate Veterans organization and the entry upon the literary scene of Confederate Veteran magazine saw an enormous increase in UCV "camps" in the State of Missouri. In the early 1880s, most Missouri veterans belonged to Kansas City Camp #80, but by 1900 Missouri had 78 United Confederate Veterans camps, more than Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, or Florida.

Reports of Confederate veterans activities were often found in the Kansas City Times, founded by four former Confederate officers, including the famed Major John Newman Edwards, noted author, newspaperman and former adjutant for Shelby's Iron Brigade. Massive reunions held in Springfield, Joplin, Jefferson City, Nevada and elsewhere drew throngs in the 1880s and 1890s. A "Joint Reunion of the Blue and Gray" at Wilson's Creek/Oak Hills in 1911 drew veterans from all over the United States.

Confederate reunions were highly acclaimed social and political events of the day, and were often treated to the attendance of various dignitaries, including Senators Cockrell and Vest, Governor Marmaduke and Editor S.A. Cunningham of Confederate Veteran magazine. Several major and minor reunions were attended by Frank James and Cole Younger. Quantrill's Raiders held their own reunions periodically, together with newspaper announcements and commemorative buttons and ribbons for those in attendance. Editor Cunningham later recalled in the pages of Confederate Veteran magazine a reunion he attended in Jefferson City in the late 1870s in which a parade through the center of town was led by H.C. Thruston carrying a United States flag. Thruston was not to be missed, as he was seven feet, seven and a half inches tall and never missed a Confederate reunion, being very proud of his service in the 4th Missouri Cavalry.

In 1896, the Sons of Confederate Veterans formed in Richmond, Virginia. The first chapter in Missouri was organized in St. Louis in 1898 as Sterling Price Camp 145, today the oldest SCV camp in continuous service west of the Mississippi River. The Missouri Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans was founded in 1900 and grew by leaps and bounds, establishing 15 camps in six years.

Today the Missouri Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans includes over 300 members, with camps located at Springfield, New Madrid, St. Louis, Jefferson City, Marshall, Louisiana and Warrensburg. The Missouri Society of the Military Order of the Stars and Bars (for descendants of Confederate officers and public servants) has chapters in Warrensburg, Jefferson City, Louisiana and St. Louis and is primarily devoted to literary matters related to southern heritage.

The southern cause is remembered in Missouri by a number of annual events, including Sterling Price Days (September in Keytesville), Jo Shelby Days, Camp Jackson Day (May in St. Louis), Secession Day (October in Arrow Rock) and by the various activities of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Children of the Confederacy, Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Military Order of the Stars and Bars. These efforts are augmented by an active and dedicated Missouri Civil War Reenactors Association and several reputable Confederate reenactment units. Most of these activities may be followed in the pages of the Missouri Partisan, published at P.O. Box 1497, Jefferson City, MO 65102.

Over 130 years later, the suffering and sacrifice of a unique group of Americans is remembered and commemorated by their descendants who still reside within the borders of the grand old state they loved and served so well.

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