Vol. VII, No. 1, Summer 1993


Let the Eagle Screame

A History of the Cape Girardeau Eagle

by Karen J. Grace



Historian Karen Grace is the preservation education coordinator for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources' Historic Preservation Program.

Into the maelstrom of factions and principles which menaced Missouri's hope of political unity in the years preceding and during the Civil War, came a new political organ, the Cape Girardeau Western Eagle. Its beginning was stormy, its career turbulent, and its end regrettable. Devoted to various causes, it espoused each with the vigor and determination characteristic of contemporary newspaper methods. The Eagle owed its beginning to Thomas Hart Benton's desire to hurl thunderbolts of hate at his opponents through pro-Benton papers around the state. As might have been expected, a number of anti-Benton papers, including the Eagle, were established in response. William R. Dawson arrived in Cape Girardeau in 1847 to found a Whig paper dedicated to ousting Benton from his place in the United States Senate.

WM. R. DAWSON AND THE ANTI-BENTON EAGLE.

During the years of Dawson' s editorship (1847-1852) the Eagle was a four page weekly which devoted a majority of its news space to political reporting on a state and national level.

Prior to the installation of telegraph lines in Cape Girardeau County, the Eagle's major source of news was other newspapers. In an early issue, Dawson asks that:

...the clerks of various steamers pick up a paper as they leave the towns on the Ohio River or in St. Louis then do them up in packages and leave them on the wharf boat directed to the Eagle.

Other sources of material for the Eagle included both solicited and unsolicited articles from local and out of town contributors. These articles, on a variety of subjects, were generally biased, often inflammatory, appeals for support of the author's "pet cause." These early appeals were often unsigned and, without exception, reflected the editor's point of view.

The cholera epidemic of 1849 received a great deal of attention in the Eagle. A weekly column was devoted to reports from major cities listing the death tolls from cholera during the preceding week. Readers were encouraged to submit "home remedies" which included everything from "sulphur and molasses'' to "a fire left burning at all times."

Political issues were uppermost in the minds of Cape Girardeans in the years preceding the Civil War, and the Eagle answered the demand for news by devoting approximately half of every issue to current political questions. Dawson, in numerous strongly worded editorials, made clear his position on the burning issues of the day. He was violently opposed to Senator Thomas Hart Benton, particularly Benton' s support of the Wilmot Proviso limiting slavery in the territories. Dawson supported the Whig "states rights" philosophy concerning the extension of slavery, although personally he was strongly pro-slavery and anti-abolitionist. Dawson's political views probably closely parallelled those of his Cape Girardeau readers. Cape County was predominantly southern in nature. Approximately three-fourths of the county's citizens were immigrants from southern states who brought with them ideas concerning the institution of slavery and the role of the Federal government.

Dawson, like most of his readers, was violently opposed to the abolitionist movement. A short article describing the arrest of a "shoe dealer and supposed abolitionist" in Richmond, Virginia, who sent two boxes containing Negroes to the express office for shipment to Philadelphia, incited a suggestion by Dawson that Cape Girardeau build a new jail, "If for no other purpose, for the benefit of those who have commenced boxing up negroes as merchandise and shipping them properly labelled, to northern cities."

A public meeting was held at Jackson, "to consult the wishes of the people with regard to the propriety of agitating the question of Wilmot's Proviso, or Barnburnerism in this county, or in this part of the state." The outcome of the Jackson meeting was a series of resolutions, signed by the participants, and reprinted by the Eagle. The Jackson Resolutions made the Cape Girardeau County position on the slavery question abundantly clear. Their conclusions were identical to Mr. Dawson' s:

"Resolved, That we are uncompromisingly opposed to any interference by Congress with the institution of slavery in the States, District of Columbia or the territories; that the people directly interested in the question ought to be left quietly to settle it for themselves according to their own sovereign will..."

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The Jackson Resolutions further declared forcefully that:

"In the event of the passage of any act of Congress conflicting with the principles herein expressed, Missouri will be found in hearty cooperation with the slave holding states in such measures as may be found necessary for our mutual protection against the encroachments of northern fanaticism."

When the Jackson Resolutions were subsequently presented to the United States Senate on January 3, 1850, Senator Benton immediately repudiated them. He claimed that the conclusions reached at the Jackson meeting, "...do not express the sentiments of the people of Missouri."

Dawson continued his editorial attacks against Benton, and under his leadership, Cape Girardeau County became a stronghold for anti-Benton forces in Southeast Missouri.

Although he was in favor of "popular sovereignty'' where the extension of slavery was concerned, Dawson favored Federal sponsorship of internal improvements in Missouri. At issue was nearly four million acres of Southeast Missouri swampland owned by the national government. Dawson asserted that it was the responsibility of the government to drain the unhealthy swamps and restore them to habitability. Senator Benton questioned the constitutionality of using federal monies for state improvements and favored a bill, passed in September, 1850, ceding swamplands to the states involved.

Following passage of the Land Cession Bill, Mr. Dawson commented caustically that:

The wild beasts and reptiles, together with the frogs, should forthwith call a grand council and pass a resolution of thanks to Congress, for continuing to them their dwelling place in perpetuation;for if it is left with Missouri...to drain these swamps, they will never be disturbed....

William Dawson died in 1852 and his widow sold his interest in the Western Eagle to the partnership of Jesse M. Bauman and Ben F. Herr. The new editors were philosophically pro-southern and generally continued the southern bias of the Eagle. However, there were some major changes in style, format and quality.

NEW EDITORS CHANGE THE EAGLE

Under the editorship of Bauman and Herr the Eagle' s format suffered a number of alterations. The first change was in name, from Western Eagle to Cape Girardeau Eagle, a name which was probably selected to reflect the paper' s change from national to parochial. The major emphasis of the new editors was on local advertising which increased from four columns weekly under Dawson to twenty-four in the new Eagle. This meant that 75% of the Eagle's news space was consumed by ads for everything from livestock to "guaranteed cures for sexual dysfunction.'' Although the advertising emphasis resulted in less space for news, it did have one benefit--the yearly subscription price was lowered from $2.00 to $1.00.

Within a year, Herr bought Bauman's interest in the paper, and continued as sole owner and editor. The major political issues during Herr's editorship centered on the slavery question. And although Mr. Herr seldom took the editorial pen-in-hand himself, it may be assumed that those editorials and articles he chose to reprint from other papers reflected his point of view. The Kansas election of 1857, to determine whether Kansas would join the Union as a free or slave state, was of special interest to Missourians and the debate over the issue was followed closely by the Eagle.

M. H. Moore, in 1859, purchased a partnership in the Eagle and was an associate editor until the Civil War. A major change in the Eagle under the new partnership of Herr and Moore was in the amount of space devoted to political news. As the demand for such news increased, the Eagle responded in kind.

THE EAGLE'S CANDIDATE

The Eagle supported the Constitutional Union Party candidate, John Bell, in the 1860 presidential election. Mr. Bell was pro-slavery, pro-South, and pro-Union.

Although Bell himself was a moderate, the Constitutional Union Party Platform, reprinted by the Eagle in full, was much less so. It attacked the Republican Party as a party of"division and sectionalism'' and denounced their campaign literature as "abolition harangues, made up of the foulest and fiercest abuse of the entire South."

The Eagle extolled Bell as a model of Christian virtue-----or at least no worse than most elected officials:

He lives easy and comfortably, indulges in a little wine occasionally, but not to any greater extent than Daniel Webster, or Berrien, or Judge Phelps, or any of his former Senatorial colleagues. So far as drinking is concerned, he is therefore justly esteemed a marvelously proper man. Altho' for many years a resident of Washington, he has never been known to 'buck the tiger?

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As the election of 1860 approached, the antislavery struggle, begun almost a half century before, intensified to near explosive proportions. Many Southerners felt that the slavery issue had been overemphasized by the North for political gain. The Eagle, in a rare editorial, claimed that abolition "was a game for the sake of a trifling party advantage." The "game," it continued, was a dangerous one...reckless to the interests of the South" and designed to "deprive the South of political power."

The Eagle provided its readers with a defense of the "peculiar institution" in a section entitled "Mr. Bell As A Slaveholder." John Bell's four hundred slaves, the Eagle reports:

...are employed in Mr. Bell's ironworks, on the Cumberland River, and in his coal banks in Kentucky. The system; by which this large body of slaves is governed is admirable and humane. They are properly clothed, fed, their religious instruction and moral culture attended to, and they are required to work not an hour beyond the usual standard of a day's labor...

In summary, partisan politics in the extreme characterized the Eagle' s reporting of the 1860 presidential campaign. The Constitutional Union ticket of Bell and Everett was the Eagle' s choice, and Herr and Moore felt no obligation to their readers to represent the views of the three opposing candidates.

The extent of the Eagle's influence on Cape County voters cannot be accurately determined. However, in November, 1860, Cape Countians tramped to the polls to vote overwhelmingly for John Bell. When the national vote was tallied, however, the dreaded "abolitionist" Abraham Lincoln was the nation' s new president. No formal announcement of Lincoln's election was ever published by the Eagle. The opinion of the editors was made manifest by the omission.

"PRESERVE THE UNION"

Although they must certainly have had misgivings concerning the effect of Lincoln' s election on the peace and stability of the nation, the Eagle's editors, at first, clung to their pre-election position that the Union must be preserved at all costs. In a strongly worded editorial which appeared in the Eagle two weeks after the election, Editor Moore denounced South Carolina for its planned usurpation of federal authority. "The South Carolina secessionists," he reported "are mediating to take possession of forts protecting Charleston Harbor and plan to make Charleston part of a new Southern Confederacy"

Following the announcement of South Carolina' s planned secession the Eagle's editor hoped "that other Southern states would not follow her lead" but added that he believed "within the next thirty days the North will show a more conciliatory disposition" toward the South. Moore seemed to feel that the shock of the South Carolina action and the fear that other Southern states would join her lead would encourage compromise by hard-line Northern politicians.

As various conciliation efforts failed, however, the editors gradually became more radical and less certain that compromise was possible. Herr and Moore no longer demanded that Missouri never secede, but they still hoped the state would "exhaust every effort to preserve the Union...before entertaining a proposition for secession..."

As the states of the lower South followed South Carolina's lead, Moore's attitude toward the seceding states switched from condemnation to sympathy and support. He urged the Missouri Legislature to protest to the federal government against "using coercion against seceding states" because "if war is made on seceding states...the other slave states will make common cause with them" and this would make "civil war inevitable."

Editor Moore summed up his views concerning disunion, and the possible secession of Missouri, in a lengthy editorial in which he placed the blame for the break-up of the Union squarely on the shoulders of the North. He concluded:

... Unless the Northern States make the necessary concessions and guarantees for the securing of the Constitutional rights of the people of the Slave States, and there should be a dissolution of the Union, they (the people of this section) will go with the South.

A CAMPAIGN AGAINST LINCOLN

The Eagle began, in January 1861, a venomous attack against President-elect Lincoln through its editorial columns. Lincoln is "utterly opposed to any concession or compromise," the editor charged. He continued caustically:

So this vulgar retailer of bar room tales would see the people divided and distracted in sentiment, business utterly prostrated, poverty and starvation stalking among the poorer classes of the cities, and the country plunged in civil war, with all its attendant horrors occupied by the Abolitionists on the subject of slavery in the territories...Nero fiddled while Rome was burning.

The state of Kentucky, in February, 1861, presented President Lincoln with an ultimatum; if Lincoln carried out his plan to use force against the seceding states, Kentucky would join the Confederacy. The Eagle' s editor stated that Missouri agreed with Kentucky's position and unless an "overruling Providence interposes" he saw little hope that Missouri could avoid involvement in a civil war.

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In response to a later announcement by Lincoln that he would pursue a policy of coercion against the seceding states, Mr. Moore warned direfully:

Should this insane policy of this political madman be attempted to be enacted, then will our worst fears be realized, and civil war be upon us; but woe! to the administration.

THE EAGLE BECOMES SECESSIONIST

Northern news articles appearing in the Eagle were gradually supplanted by reprints from the South-em press and soon entirely ceased to appear. Articles and editorials from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia were no longer published. They were replaced by reprints from, among others, the Memphis Avalanche, Natchez Free Trader or the Louisville Journal. Position statements and speeches by Southern statesmen were reprinted in full, whereas Northern Republican utterances, when they appeared at all, were usually presented in a highly condensed form (often out of context) and were always followed by a scathing editorial attack. The Eagle had thus, like many other Southern papers, ended open communication between the Northern states and its readers.

Whether by coincidence or design, the Eagle's new and highly reactionary policies also coincided with the departure of co-editor Ben Herr. Although his sympathy with the Southern viewpoint was well known, it seems likely that Herr was inclined to greater temperance than Moore where political relations with the North were concerned. The fact that he later joined the Union Army lends credence to this assumption.

The coming of the Civil War to Missouri put the Eagle in a peculiar position. Because of the strategic position of Missouri as a border state, the prospects for the survival of a secessionist newspaper were slim indeed, for the Federal government sought zealously to stamp out organs of disaffection as part of its program to keep the states in the Union.

Washington began early to regulate all northern newspapers. Strict censorship was imposed on all press telegrams, and by early 1861, the post office was excluding from the mails all papers thought to be guilty of printing anti-Union news. The Cape Girardeau paper was a prime target for supression.

The First Wisconsin Cavalry, under Colonel Edward Daniels, was sent to Cape Girardeau on April 15, 1862, with orders to "drive out the rebels from the South East counties." The Eagle, however, was granted a short reprieve. Colonel Daniels, young and eager for the glory of battle, disobeyed his orders and marched his entire regiment into Arkansas where he briefly joined the command of General Curtis at Helena.

THE EAGLE BECOMES A UNION VOICE

Colonel Daniels and the First Wisconsin finally arrived in Cape Girardeau on May 6, and that same night raided the small Main Street building which housed the Eagle's offices. In the ensuing skirmish, shots were fired and several small fires were ignited in the building. Little damage was done. The presses, type and other equipment remained intact. The only damage was to the paper supply which had become badly scorched around the edges.

In the course of the Civil War, 138 rebel newspapers were confiscated by the Union Army, and their editors arrested. Records show that 92 of these papers resumed operation under military restriction--the editor signed an agreement not to publish anything which would embarrass Union authorities. The remaining 46 papers were attacked and totally destroyed by Union soldiers.

The Eagle was an exception to the rule for silencing the Southern press. The First Wisconsin, from May 10 to August 16, 1862, used the confiscated equipment and supplies to publish a combined military and civilian paper, the Cape Girardeau Eagle (Union Series). There were three good reasons for the Union publication. First, the First Wisconsin had the good fortune to have among its members two experienced newspaper men--Quartermaster Sergeant H.F. Potter and Post Adjutant R.L. Gove--who would serve as co-editors for the three month Union Series. Second, the military publication became a medium of Union propaganda for the area. Union success depended greatly upon the re-education and submission of people who had for years been indoctrinated by a "treasonous" southern press. Third, the Union Series was an excellent vehicle for the promotion of heroes, and Colonel Daniels took full advantage of the opportunity for his own advancement by publishing a weekly column describing his current exploits.

Daniels' weekly messages were rewritten for publication by editor Potter. They both eulogized Colonel Daniels and provided Sergeant Potter with a pulpit from which to preach emotional pro-Union sermons. In a mid-May issue, for example, Potter expounded on the problem of bushwhackers. These armed bands of Confederate sympathizing guerrillas terrorized loyal citizens by night, burning, looting and driving them from their homes. "Their hands," Potter claimed, "are stained with the innocent blood shed in this unnatural war." If they "expect forgiveness" he continued, "let them do works meet for repentance."

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When the bushwacking continued, Colonel Daniels forsook his earlier ideas of clemency and demanded sternly that ...a dozen of..these bandits be executed as a salutary warning to their fellows. If that not be effective, let another installment follow, until the rest shall find that [we] do not 'bear the sword in vain.'

A LOYALTY OATH FOR CAPE GIRARDEAU

Daniels also ordered the confiscation or destruction of all property belonging to known rebels. The problem was in trying to determine which Cape Girardeans were loyal citizens and which were merely posing as small farmers and shopkeepers by day only to kill, rob and plunder their neighbors by night. The Colonel effectively solved this problem by ordering that, on July 4, 1862:

Every white male over the age of 16 residing in the city...or within 15 miles of it, is hereby required to report at the fair grounds at ten o'clock a.m.

At the appointed time, on the anniversary of American independence, over 100 men appeared at the local fair grounds accompanied by their wives, children and servants. The names of all those in attendance were recorded, and "guards were stationed so that no one could leave." Thereupon, "Colonel Daniels took an elevated position" and addressed his captive audience "for some two hours, in a speech which ought to convert the worst secessionist and turn him into the right path." Daniels concluded by announcing:

that he would now proceed to administer the oath of allegiance to all who were willing to take it--those who were not willing to be considered disloyal and punished as traitors deserve to be.

Daniels then administered, en masse, the oath of loyalty to the United States. All those in attendance solemnly took the oath with the exception of one individual who "refused...and was promptly conducted to the guard house."

Colonel Daniels had thus solved the thorny problem of telling friend from foe in Cape Girardeau. Henceforth, any citizen who had not taken the oath was considered a traitor, he was arrested and his property confiscated.

The Eagle also published weekly, detailed accounts of the capture of local rebels and their "terrible fate" as a lesson to citizens contemplating treason.

THE CAPE GIRARDEAU EAGLE

(UNION SERIES)

If the "old" Eagle was blatantly pro-southern, the "new" Eagle was even more blatantly pro-northern, and readers of the Union Series were bombarded weekly with Union propaganda "for their own good."

Slavery, according to the Eagle, was not a major cause of the war. Most northerners were reasonable men who respected the property rights of southerners. It was emotional southerners who had overreacted and made slavery an issue leading to secession by illogically presuming every northerner to be a"nigger loving abolitionist" and a threat to their "sacred institutions." But this was untrue, declared the Eagle:

The cry of abolitionist is the whip that is continually held up to scare the ignorant into the secessionist ranks. If you look at things with common sense, you are an abolitionist. If you are for the country and for the majority ruling, you are an abolitionist. It is time that we put a stop to these insults. They cannot listen to reason. The only thing that you can beat common sense into them with is a green sycamore club...or a bullet.

Concerning the southern accusation that the North favored amalgamation of the races, the writer claimed that miscegenation was "practiced to a fearful extent in the South." It is a fact, he continued, that: "some of these traitors are helping to populate Heaven with angels only half black..."

EMANCIPATION CONCERNS

Editorial arguments to the contrary, slaveholding Cape Girardeans were extremely fearful that the Radical Republican abolitionists, who had gained political control of both the nation and the state, would attempt to deprive them of their human property. By 1862, with the Union apparently winning the war and the border states secured, the President succumbed to Radical Republican demands for abolition. Lincoln, however, strongly favored abolition by state law (rather than by federal decree) with financial compensation for masters. Following Lincoln's lead, the Republican Congress in June, 1862, passed a bill allowing for state choice on emancipation and providing $1 million in federal funds for compensation.

An Emancipation Convention was called in Missouri. The platform adopted by the Convention called for the gradual emancipation of Missouri' s slaves and compensation to their owners. The Eagle strongly supported the emancipation bill and urged its readers to do likewise. The Eagle's editor, wisely, presented no moral arguments for emancipation, but rather appealed strictly to the economic interests of his readers. The funds provided by Congress, claimed the Eagle, "imply a tender of co-operation on the part of the Federal Government to save slave owners from loss." The "interests of the State demand the adoption of this emancipation policy," the editor concluded: "Now is the time when slaveholders may rid themselves of their 'niggers' without pecuniary loss, and soon it may be too late."

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Concerning the question of emancipation, the Eagle also published a warning to the Confederacy:

...this war is not a crusade, against the institution of Slavery, yet any thinking man can easily see how soon it may...become so...The only object of this war is to sustain and uphold the Government, yet should the rebels persist much longer in their mad course it may become absolutely necessary to save the Union--to adopt an abolition policy.

The war continued, and the promised punishment was forthcoming--the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln within one month after the Eagle' s threatening message. For the Eagle, the struggle was nearing an end.

THE END OF THE EAGLE

At the steps of the Common Pleas Courthouse, on August 6, 1862, the presses, type and other equipment of the Eagle were auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Moore's bank note, long overdue, had finally been foreclosed, and a court ordered sale held to recover the loss. Thus, after fifteen years of soaring, the wings of the Eagle were permanently clipped and its screams silenced forever. After a final farewell issue, the Cape Girardeau Eagle would never be published again.

The Eagle, throughout its stormy career, was published not to furnish news but ideas. While there were few news articles as we know them, there was nearly always one or more editorials. In these editorials, the political philosophy of the current editor was argued with all the passion and zeal of a crusader embarked on a holy mission to convert the world to right thinking. The influence of the Eagle on the political idealogy of its readers can never, of course, be reliably determined. However, it does seem likely that the ideas of its southern editors, Dawson, Herr and Moore, were accepted by many Cape Girardeans simply because they were compatible with long held cultural norms and values. On the contrary, although the Union Army was able to subdue the citizenry under threat of the "Sword," it is doubtful that the "Pen" in the form of the Union Series could force a denial of cherished southern ideals. It seems more probable that even though the southern press in Cape Girardeau died with the Eagle, Cape Girardeans remained southerners at heart.

"Let The Eagle Screame!" became the unofficial motto of the First Wisconsin Cavalry following their confiscation of the Eagle in May, 1862.
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