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Missouri History
© 2005 Rickie Lazzerini

Page 4

Historical Review 1.5   
The Road to Civil War

     The slave population in Missouri grew alongside the general population. The majority of slaves who came into Louisiana before 1800 were sold to planters in the lower part of the territory; however a few hundred were sent to the Missouri lead mines. After the War of 1812, settlers in Missouri came largely from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina, which increased the slave population. In 1810, 17.5 percent of the population was enslaved. By 1830, the amount grew to 21.7 percent. During the following decades, immigration from the Upper-Mississippi Valley increased, working to decrease the percentage of slaves. Relatively few plantations were found in Missouri. Here, most slaves worked in domestic service, as opposed to the single crop plantations common to the south. Most of the slaves could be found in the river valley counties and across Little Dixie. Because of ample waterways, slave trade was big business in St. Louis.

     In 1854, Stephen Douglas, Chairman of the Committee of Territories in the U.S. Senate, pushed a bill through Congress that called for slavery to be allowed in Kansas Territory, thus repealing the Missouri Compromise. The bill failed to pass and Kentucky was opened to decision by popular sovereignty, or in other words the citizens of the state would decide. Missourians were very interested in the westward expansion of slavery, and many Missourians crossed the border into Kansas to settle. As a result, anti-slavery towns were founded in Kansas to offset the pro-slavery advocates flooding in. From this point on, the battle for slavery in Kansas became extensive and violent. The violence concerning slavery in Kansas came to be known as "Bleeding Kansas." Senator Atchison of Missouri took the lead in urging the South to help fight for slavery in Kansas, and Alabama responded by sending a party of 300 for support. On May 4, 1856, John Brown, his four sons, his son-in-law, and two others rode to Dutch Henry's Crossing and murdered five pro-slavery men. This was just one example of the violence during this time. Groups of "Border Ruffians" murdered anti-slavery advocates; a hatchet wound to the skull killed one man.

The Civil War

     Although a slave state, Missouri sided with the Union during the Civil War. Missouri's allegiance was a great concern because of her manpower, rivers, and natural resources. Most Missouri residents wanted to remain neutral, but there were some key Confederate supporters in the state, including the governor, Claiborne F. Jackson. When Lincoln called on Missouri for volunteers in 1861, Governor Jackson refused and sent state troops to take control of the state's U.S. Arsenal in Camp Davis near St. Louis. The commander of the arsenal, Captain Nathaniel Lyon, learned of Jackson's intentions and secretly moved the weapons to Illinois. Lyon marched 7,000 men to Camp Jackson and forced its surrender. He then took Jefferson City, the state capital. Governor Jackson and his troops fled to southeast Missouri. Meanwhile, 12,000 Confederate soldiers were building under Major General Sterling Price who was planning to take the entire state. Despite Lyon's inferior numbers, he decided to attack the Confederate forces. He concluded that a surprise attack at Wilson's Creek would be their best chance at victory. On a ridge at Wilson's Creek, that came to be known as Bloody Creek, the battle between the Union and Confederate forces raged for over five hours. General Lyon was killed, and both sides suffered extensive injuries. The Confederates won the battle, but they were wounded to the extent that they could not follow the Union soldiers, and the state remained under Union control. This battle marked the beginning of the Civil War in Missouri. For the remainder of the war, the state was home to savage battles and many guerilla attacks. By the time the war came to an end in 1865, Missouri had racked up so many battles and skirmishes that it ranked the third most fought-in state during the war.

     Missouri sent about sixty percent of eligible men to fight in the war. Over 30,000 men fought for the Confederacy, and over 109,000 men fought for the Union. Over 18,000 Missouri men died in the war; 14,000 Union soldiers and 4,000 Confederate soldiers.


     Missouri differed from the other slave states farther south because the black population in Missouri wasn't very large. The 1870 census showed that only 6.9 percent of the population was African-American. Many Missouri slaves left for free states during the war. Of those who remained, the majority was concentrated in the counties along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, and in St. Louis. The Freedmen's Bureau, set up to help former slaves start their free lives, established their headquarters in St Louis and branches throughout Missouri. The Bureau distributed rations, arranged labor contracts, assisted couples in obtaining official marriage ceremonies, and set up a school system for black children. Many former slaves left the countryside and went to the cities to escape their masters and find work, but because of insufficient labor demands in the cities, many had to return to the countryside working on farms for low wages. Those who stayed in the cities worked as laborers, laundresses, draymen, and boatmen. Blacks also established their own Baptist and Methodist churches.

New Immigration

     Missouri did not receive many of the eastern and southern European immigrants who came to America in the millions during the late 1800s, but St. Louis succeeded in attracting a few. Italians and Croats were among the immigrant groups who settled in St. Louis. A small number of northern Italians came to St. Louis during mid-century. Sicilians, Lombards, Piedmontese, Tuscans, and Calabrians (southern Italians) did not come to St. Louis until the last decades of the nineteenth century. These immigrants settled in an area formerly inhabited by Germans, Irish, and Jews, creating a "little Italy." Many Italian immigrants peddled fruit, worked on the railroads and in clay pits, factories, and brickyards. As they became more established, many Italians entered into the restaurant business.

     Croats began to appear in St Louis in 1862. They were mostly marines who sailed up the Mississippi and stayed only a short time. This influx-exit lasted until the 1880s when some Croats decided to stay. The Croatian population grew until WWI. The majority came as unskilled laborers and found work digging ditches, mining, building roads, and working in factories. Some established themselves in the liquor business. In 1902, a group of Croat Catholics organized the St. Joseph Croatian Roman Catholic Church society, and two years later they transformed an old Jewish synagogue into a Catholic church.

     Italians and Croatians were not the only southern and eastern European immigrants to come to St. Louis. Serbians, Lebanese, Syrians, and Greeks also came in small numbers, and their experience was similar to the Italians and the Croats. Most immigrants worked as unskilled laborers in factories or on the railroads. They usually settled in ethnic communities, living in substandard housing. Although St. Louis did not receive immigrants in numbers that compare to cities like Philadelphia or Chicago, the influx of immigrants in the late nineteenth century helped diversify and shape the city into what it is today.
By Rickie Lazzerini

BA History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Index of Historical Reviews

2005 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.

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