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The Misfortune of Missouri.


November/December 1861

From The Missouri Democrat, Wednesday, November 27, 1861.


That this military department has been singularly unfortunate no one will deny. That it has had a sufficient variety of administrations to ensure its success, if variety could do so, will be as universally conceded. That so frequent a change of military management as this region has suffered, could under any circumstances result happily, it is difficult to conceive. If the daily and constant observations of our fellow-citizens, the testimony of unbiased correspondents, and the sentiments of the press the wide world over, are an index of the general opinion, then are our countrymen and intelligent men everywhere agreed that the grand misfortune of the Federal cause in Missouri has thus far been the want of a consistent military policy. It is not our custom to make needless complaints of the past, but surely it will be permitted us to point to that bleeding past in our State, which is continued in the horrid and bloody desolations of the present, and implore that the lesson of experience be heeded. Let us have a consistent and persistent military policy for Missouri.

Is there a State in the Union that has been subjected more pitiously, more incessantly, more needlessly, to the blasting storm of war? St. Louis was first in the fire, the scene of traitorous assaults upon the Union troops in her streets, and consequent slaughter of the innocent with the guilty. The opening set of the grand tragedy was on the sorrowful field of Camp Jackson. Revolt soon afterward spread like wildfire throughout our borders, dooming Union citizens and their families to persecution, pillage, and flight. The tempest had been gathering in secret, was being cherished and marshalled by the machinations of Jackson, and would in time have fallen with sure and deadlier force had not Lyon, foreseeing the peril, boldly met it before its preparation was complete. He had studied the situation here, and the plans he had formed were comprehensive and wise. Scarcely had he began to tranquilize the State when certain old ladies in breeches posted to Washington to protest against he course. Harney then appeared as his successor, and a marked change of policy ensued. Lyon was for breaking the “secesh” monster’s back and dealing him death-blows at once. Harney was for complimenting him into good behavior, if possible, and in default of this, avowed his determination to throttle him by force. Perhaps he would have done so but scarcely had he entered seriously upon his programme when Lyon was reinstated. His views were unchanged. He had, therefore, first to undue what Harney had done, and then to resume the scattered threads of his own plans. Was not all this time and labor needlessly lost? Can any one be found who will say that a consistent military policy was pursued? Meanwhile the unchecked disorders had multiplied and were daily raging with greater fury. Lyon set forth with the forces he had, to conquer peace. His progress up the Missouri to Boonville, and thence to Springfield, was a series of successes. Fremont came, with enlarged plans, in which the interests of Missouri were made comparatively subordinate. They who were chiefly instrumental in his appointment, have since loudest condemned it. If there was an error, it consisted, in our judgment, neither in the selection of the man, nor in the arrangement of his programme, but in the engrafting of more extensive schemes upon the line of policy pursued up to his appointment. For the extent of his plans he cannot be blamed, since it is known that they were in pursuance of instructions from headquarters in Washington. We seek to censure no one. We simply point public attention to the incontestible fact that the root of the disasters in Missouri lies in the frequency of the changes inflicted upon her.

Consequent upon Lyon’s policy was his position at Springfield, and resulting from the decreed change were the disastrous evacuation of the Southwest, and the accompanying and subsequent calamities. All these were about being retrieved, the whole State was nearly again freed from the enemy, when still another change was found advisable. To our present purpose it is not pertinent whether Fremont’s policy was or was not the best that could have been pursued. Even if it were not, it remains fairly questionable if the evils incident to a change of policy at a critical period will not almost certainly be greater than those of an inferior policy vigorously and vigilantly pursued. In the long run, persistency in a resolved course is the quality that wins. Superior genius and plans often fail through want of that continuity, and steadiness of effort in a given direction, that crown even inferior plans with signal success. In the present instance the actual results of the change are before our eyes. A vast portion of the State is once more abandoned to the ravages of the foe, and his returning progress fires with fresh zeal the secession element throughout the State and the country. The sufferings of Missouri, fondly hoped to have been near their end, are bitterly renewed, and her partially healed wounds are rent open afresh. Scarcely a dispatch or letter, or rebel item of news, from any part of her doomed area fails to tell of new outrages, new incendiarisms, new persecutions of Union citizens, and the continuance of wanton assassination and robbery. All these are the fruits of the changes of military policy in Missouri. Do we not right in calling attention to this evident evil, and holding it responsible for the miseries that have followed in its train?

We trust the old adage, “Better late than never,” will be remembered in connection with this Department, and that at last its affairs will be managed, whatever else be wanting, with that consistency which is utterly indispensable to the accomplishment of anything valuable.