Volume 33, Number 3 & 4 - Spring 1994

One week in Cassville during the Civil War
by Sen. Emory Melton

The City of Cassville, (which would later serve for one week as the State Capitol) became the county seat of Barry County in 1845 when it was deemed necessary to move from McDonald (later re-named as McDowell) to a more central location in the county.

Located on the Ozarks Trail which ran from Springfield to Fayetteville, the primitive road was used by many early day settlers in the county. Roughly, the road entered at the northeast corner of the county and exited at the southwest corner. In 1859 when the telegraph line was constructed, it became known as the "wire" road, a name still infrequently heard today.

The first term of the court was held in the home of William Kerr (the only house located in what is now the present city limits) and soon a two story frame courthouse took shape in the city square.

In 1856, a two story brick courthouse was erected at a cost of $5,600.00. In 1883 a third story was added and the building served to house county offices and the jail until it was replaced by the present stone structure completed in 1915.

The dark clouds which heralded the coming Civil War were gathering on the governmental horizon when Clairborne Fox Jackson was elected governor of Missouri in August 1860.

The major players in events leading up to the "one week in Cassville" were Gov. Jackson, a professional politician, and Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, a professional soldier, who became the first General Officer, either North or South, to lose his life during a battle—the Battle of Wilson’s Creek near Springfield on August 10, 1861.

Control of the federal arsenal at St. Louis was sought by both Jackson and Lyon for weapons and ammunition in the months of April and May 1861.

Gov. Jackson as early as January 24th had outlined a plan for ranking Militia General Daniel M. Frost to seize the St. Louis Arsenal from the federals. The militia camp in the St. Louis area was known as "Camp Jackson."

General Lyon within days after the war began on April 15th, assembled his Union troops and took Camp Jackson personnel as prisoners and secured the Arsenal.

This action fueled the fire in the Missouri legislature led by Gov. Jackson which was definitely sympathetic to the Confederate cause. Notified the day of the "capture," the legislature rushed the passage of a bill to place the military future of their state in the hands of the governor. This bill, which, when and if implemented, would have aligned the Missouri government with the Confederacy.

It is interesting to note the posture of Barry County’s state representative, William Shakespeare McConnell in all these "goings-on."

McConnell, a 36 year-old druggist and innkeeper in Cassville, had been elected as State Representative in August 1860 and took office that December. William originally helped stall resolutions that would have clarified the state’s intentions on secession, and he voted for a plan to provide for a nonbinding referendum on secession along with his cousin, Rep. Marcus Boyd of Greene County. William eventually ended up voting for the final bill to establish a constitutional conventions which Gov. Claiborne Jackson signed on January 21, 1861.

The General Assembly served without major incident until March 1861 when it adjourned, but Gov. Jackson—who had been elected on a pro-Union ticket—called it back into session in May to discuss the arming of a state militia to protect Missouri s interests against the Union troops in St. Louis.


On May 10th, the General Assembly approved a resolution in unanimous opposition to the actions of Gen. Nathaniel Lyon, but still provided for the state to be loyal to the Union; McConnell and Boyd were among the "ayes." The governor and other state officials then deserted the capital, believing they would be taken prisoner if Lyon’s or other federal forces took Jefferson City.

The principals, Jackson and Lyon, finally arranged a conference at the Planters Hotel in St. Louis on June 11th... less than two months after the Civil War began.

The parties and their military and civilian aides could not agree that Missouri would, for all practical purposes, maintain a state of neutrality. Lyon served verbal notice that he was declaring war on Jackson’s forces.

Jackson and his party had hastily abandoned Jefferson City earlier and leaving St. Louis after the ill-fated conference with Lyon, they returned to Boonville where state operations had been installed.

On June 17, 1861, General Lyon and his forces descended on Boonville, roundly trouncing Jackson’s troops and forced the governor south to Carthage.

It was a prelude to an early victory for Gov. Jackson and the Missouri State Home Guards when he soundly whipped a much smaller force led by Union Col. Franz Siegel in what is known as the "Battle of Carthage" fought on July 5, 1861.

Missouri’s secessionist government dealt almost solely with military matters for the next three months. The governor submitted a proclamation from Lexington dated September 26, 1861, which would be taken up by the legislature on October 2 1st.

Coy. Jackson carried with him the Great Seal of the State of Missouri which caused a great deal of consternation to the new governor installed by the Union politicos, Hamilton R. Gamble.

Jackson called a session of the Missouri legislature to be held in the Masonic Lodge Hall at Neosho on October 21, 1861.

While no official records of the numbers of legislators attending the Neosho deliberations are available, it is unlikely a quorum (meaning a majority of the duly elected members of the house and senate) attended the sessions.

There the seat of confederate state government remained until it was moved to Cassville on October 31, 1861. Undoubtedly, the move was made because of the threat of Union troops who were in the Neosho area.

The choice by Gov. Jackson to utilize Cassville as the Capitol of Missouri’s secessionist government is understandable.

The five hour Battle of Wilson’s Creek on August 10th had resulted in more of a defeat for the Union than a victory for the confederates. Yet, the Confederates maintained an uneasy hold on the "wire" road which was extremely important to moving troops and army supplies.

It was not until the Battle of Pea Ridge March 7 and 8, 1862, that southwest Missouri was secured for the Union.

The governor and the legislature met at the then new courthouse overlooking the "wire" road and the members found lodging in the town which had a population of 200 to 300 persons.

Fortunately, there are official records of the sessions held both in Neosho and Cassville between October 21st and November 7, 1861.

The Journal of the Senate for October 21st contained the following proclamation:

"To the members of the Senate and House of Representatives of the General Assembly of the State of


"The Constitution of the State of Missouri vests in me the power to convene by proclamation the General Assembly on extraordinary occasions, and requires me to state to them the purposes for which they are convened.

"The present condition of the State makes it eminently proper that I should now exercise this power. The Federal authorities have for months past, in violation of the Constitution of the United States, waged a ruthless war upon the people of the State of Missouri, murdering our citizens, destroying our property, and as far as in their power lay, desolating our land. I have in vain endeavored to secure your constitutional rights by peaceful means, and have only resorted to war when it becomes necessary to repel the most cruel and long continued aggressions. War now


exists between the State of Missouri and the Federal Government, and a state of war is incompatible with the continuance of our union with that government.

"Therefore, for the purpose of giving to the representatives of the people of Missouri an opportunity of determining whether it be proper now to dissolve the constitutional bond which binds us to the Government of the United States, when all other bonds between us are broken, I, Claiborne F. Jackson, Governor of the State of Missouri, by authority in me vested, do proclaim that the members of the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Missouri shall convene at the Masonic Hall, in town of Neosho, in the county of Newton, on the twenty-first day of October, 1861."

Governor of the State of Missouri."

Sessions of the Senate were brief on Tuesday the 22nd and Wednesday the 23rd.

On Thursday, the proclamation submitted earlier by Gov. Jackson was adopted by the Senate.

Apparently, there was difficulty in getting the members to attend since on Friday, October 25th, the Senate requested General Price to "furnish the necessary outfit to the messengers to be dispatched for absent Senators."

On Monday morning, October 28th, Gov. Jackson delivered a lengthy communication to the legislature at Neosho which concluded with a plea for the enactment in law as follows:

"1st. Of an ordinance dissolving all political connection between the State of Missouri and the United States of America.

"2d. Of an act of provisional union with the Confederate States of America.

"3d. The appointment of three commissioners to the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America.

"4th. The passage of a law authorizing the Executive of the State to cause an election to be held for the election of Senators and Representatives to the Confederate States of America, as early as practicable after the State of Missouri shall be admitted as a member of said Confederate States, and providing in said law the mode and manner that the citizens of the State who may, at the time of such election, belong to the army, can cast their votes for Representatives.

"5th. The passage of an act empowering your Executive to cause to be engraved, and from time to time to issue, over his signature as Governor, bonds of the State of Missouri, not exceeding ___________ dollars, in such sums and of such denominations as the public welfare may require.

The governor concluded his remarks by saying:

"Before closing this communication, gentlemen, I cannot refrain from congratulating you and the people of our State upon the glorious victories which have crowned our arms since your last adjournment. At Carthage, at Springfield, at Fort Scott and at Lexington, the brave soldiers of Missouri, led on by gallant generals, met the well appointed, well armed hordes of the enemy, and gained signal victories.

"Their deeds have crowned them with imperishable renown. No soldiers upon this continent rank above them.

"With such soldiers and a just cause we cannot fail of achieving our liberties.

"In referring to our victories it is due to the brave men and gallant leaders of the Confederate and Arkansas army, to express our grateful acknowledgment of their gallant and efficient aid at the battle of Springfield.

"No troops ever fought more gallantly, or with better success.

"God’s protecting providence has been over us in all our past struggles. Let us devoutly return thanks for his protection and fervently implore its continuance."

The Ordinance of Secession proposed by the governor was promptly adopted by both the house and the senate.

On Monday, October 28th, the legislature adopted a resolution to move to Cassville which it did on Wednesday, the 30th.

On Thursday morning, the legislature met on the second floor of the courthouse in Cassville. The meeting had a modern echo because the morning session was taken up in argument over regulating the mileage


allowances of senators.

Friday, November 1, 1861, the senate spent the day considering the financial arrangements to support the war effort. The following day, approval was given to the issuance of state bonds.

Monday, November 4th, a bill was introduced in the House to elect representatives to the Congress of the Confederate States of America along with a bill providing for the organization, support and government of the military forces of the State of Missouri. A great deal of business in the nature of military appointments and organization was voted on.

Tuesday, November 5th, the senate again dealt with military organization and defense bonds. One item attracts attention:

"The board of commissioners, authorized by law to issue defense bonds, are hereby authorized to allow to the owner, or if he be dead, to his representatives, of any horse lost in battle in the service of the State by any incident thereof, the value of such horse, and shall pay such value in defense bonds."

On Wednesday, the 6th day of November, both the house and the senate agreed to meet in Pineville on Saturday, the 9th of November, which did not occur because of a later amendment to meet at New Madrid, Missouri.

The last day of Missouri’s confederate government at Cassville came on Thursday, November 7, 1861. It was on this date the members reconsidered the earlier action to meet at Pineville. The adjournment was to meet at New Madrid, Missouri, on the first Monday in March 1862. The vagaries of war by March made this impractical and the Confederate government of the State of Missouri went into exile in Marshall, Texas.

During the Cassville session, "commissioners or deputies" were appointed to the Provisional Congress, and for the election of Representatives to the Confederate Congress.

There are no reliable records of the number of senators and representatives participating in the session, but best estimates were some 15 or 16 senators and 35 to 40 representatives.

When the legislature met in Cassville, McConnell, the representative from Barry County, lived in his hotel just across the street from the courthouse on the west side of the square.

At first, he refused to attend and be counted for the purpose of making a quorum. Later, he did attend, but refused to vote. For his role, after the war ended in April 1865, McConnell was charged in the House of Representatives in Jefferson City with treason. (Official histories of the era conflict on William’s role, although it was strategic; he is claimed to have been both pro- and anti-secession.) He was acquitted with the help of counsel from J. W. Boon, who succeeded McConnell as a state representative from Barry County.

McConnell’s Southern leaning was clear, as was his ambivalence to act. William practiced law in southwest Missouri during the Civil War and deigned to represent Southern sympathizers—action that helped cost another local attorney his life.

For William S.’s legal work, he was placed under house arrest from 1862 to 1864 in Cassville by Union forces; he advised one rebel to flee Missouri, but the defendant chose to stand trial and was executed. William S. also owned the hotel—McConnell’s Hotel that was appropriated in the war for use as a Union field hospital. (General orders seldom allowed the outright, long-term appropriation of property belonging to pro-Union residents; foraging on rebel sympathizers’ possessions was encouraged.)

During the "one week in Cassville," Gov. Jackson was suffering from cancer of the throat which finally claimed his life at Little Rock, Arkansas, on December 6, 1862.


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