U. S. Grant and Jeff Davis together at the state capital. During the war

U. S. Grant was in Jefferson City. So was Jefferson Davis. Davis gave Grant orders to get out of town.  Grant was on a train about an hour later.

Swear to God, it’s true.

If you know a little bit about Missouri’s Civil War history, you know that U. S. Grant’s first command was as a Colonel in charge of the 21st Illinois Infantry dispatched to rescue another Illinois unit surrounded by Confederate forces on the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad near Palmyra, Missouri.  His unit arrived after the attack, stopped in Palmyra for a few days before moving to guard the reconstruction of a destroyed bridge over the Salt River. A couple of weeks later, Grant was ordered to attack a Rebel unit encamped near the small town of Florida.  Grant didn’t find Harris and went back to the bridge after overnighting in the small town.

Grant was named commander of a sub-district and ordered to headquarters in Mexico. It was there, several weeks later that he learned—by reading it in a newspaper—that he had been promoted to Brigadier General and had been ordered to take command of the southeast Missouri district. Upon arrival in Ironton, he met Colonel B. Gratz Brown whose troops’ ninety-day enlistments were running out or had run out. “Brown himself was gladder to see me on that occasion than he ever has been since,” wrote Grant later, undoubtedly reflecting on Brown’s post-war rise to the governorship and his vice-presidential candidacy against Grant’s effort to win a second term as President.

Within ten days, however, he was ordered to St. Louis where he was told to take command of the northwest district, including Union forces occupying Jefferson City.  He succeeded Colonel James Mulligan and found the troops “in the greatest confusion, and no one person knew where they all were.” Plus, the town “was filled with Union fugitives who had been driven by guerilla bands to take refuge with the National troops.”  He was ordered to organize an expedition to remove money from banks in Boonville, Chillicothe, and Lexington before rebels could get it.

But about a week after his arrival, he looked through his office door and saw Jefferson Davis striding toward him.  Davis handed him an order relieving him from command in Jefferson City and ordering him to St. Louis without delay. There undoubtedly were some people in the presumably southern-leaning town of 3,100 who enjoyed the irony of Jeff Davis replacing the commander of the occupying federal force.

Colonel Jefferson C. Davis was an Indiana native. He inherited a force of about 12,000 soldiers in northeast Missouri. By late September he had as many as 20,000 troops under his command, a buildup in response to reports General Sterling Price had about 16,000 men south of the Osage River and was thinking about attacks on Jefferson City, Boonville, or Lexington. One of the first things Davis did was organize his troops in and near the town to build fortifications.  While they proved unnecessary in 1861, their strengthened presence was important three years later when Price did move on Jefferson City.

Davis developed a plan to move against Price’s forces and state commander John Fremont approved them.  But Fremont never provided boats or teams necessary to launch the offensive.  He was frustrated when Price took Lexington and Mulligan’s 3,500-man force shortly afterwards because he thought the results would have been different if Fremont had given him the means to attack Price first.

About then Fremont ordered a reorganization of the southwest department and ordered Davis to the Springfield area where the next March, the Union Army moved south and defeated the South at the Battle of Pea Ridge, ending Confederate hopes of holding Missouri.

By then U. S. Grant had moved to Cape Girardeau and had started building the reputation that put him in charge of operations at Vicksburg in 1863, eventually to his command of the Army in the East, the surrender of  Lee and the end of the war in that theatre, and, ultimately, the Presidency.  The war limped on for several more weeks in the West and, some say, is still being waged socially today.  The other Jefferson Davis did not dissolve the Confederate government until almost a month after Appomattox.

Now-General Jefferson C. Davis operated in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee after leaving Missouri.  While in Kentucky, he shot and killed another general in a dispute. No charges were filed.  He became part of Sherman’s March to the Sea.  After the war, He became the first commander of the Department of Alaska after our purchase of it from the Russians in 1867. He established a fort at Sitka and ordered all Russian residents to leave their homes so Americans could move in.  He commanded forces in Oregon and California where his campaign against the Modocs forced their surrender.

Davis was back in Missouri where he helped keep the 1877 Railroad Strike in St. Louis from turning violent.  He died two years later in Chicago, a year before Grant lost a bid for the nomination for a third term as President.

Grant died in 1885, the year his family’s financial future was secured by the publication of his memoirs by Charles L. Webster & Company, an arrangement brokered for Grant by former (briefly) Confederate soldier Samuel Clemens, who had been born in the small town of Florida that had been, for one day, the headquarters of Grant’s first command.

Perspective

The Capitol time capsule thing this year has led to a lot of thinking about time and reflections on those who discover messages from the past.   Perhaps historians are more conscious of things like that than other people—I don’t really know.  But this one, who has spent more than forty years writing the first draft of history, as the role of journalists has sometimes been described, has been intrigued by the whole thing.

One of the things in the new time capsule being put in the Capitol cornerstone is the book co-authored with Jeff Ball about the art of the capitol.  Tucked into the back cover is a letter from us to those who we hope will open the capsule in 2115.  Part of the letter is an excerpt from President Kennedy’s speech at Amherst, Massachusetts less than a month before his death in which he expressed a dream for America.

The nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man, the fate of having “nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.” I look forward to a great future for America, a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose. I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future. I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well. And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction.

A few days later, as I was discussing the time capsule with a friend, it occurred to me that many of us remember John Kennedy, who died 52 years ago this month.  If that message is discovered in 2115, those who read that quote will be reading it from the perspective of people who are 152 years removed from the time when Kennedy gave that speech.

And I wonder if they will see those words with the same kind of perspective that we see some cherished words that were spoken by another president 152 years in our past, this month, about his dream of a nation “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

One-hundred-fifty-two years ago, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863.  One-hundred-fifty-two years after John Kennedy’s Amherst Address on October 26, 1963, Americans we cannot imagine will read his of his dream for his country.

Abraham Lincoln was still vivid as a living person in the memories of many who were alive when the original capitol cornerstone was sealed in 1915 just as John F. Kennedy is still vivid as a living person in the memories of many in 2015.

Time.  It plays with your mind.

One of the most intriguing pieces your correspondent ever read about the encapsulation of time was written by Herbert Winlock, the director of the New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1930s.  He wrote in a museum publication about the model boats, statuettes and other things depicting life in his time found in the Egyptian tomb of a man named Meketra who died about 1950 BCE.

The beam of light shot in to a little world of four thousand years ago, and I was gazing down into the midst of brightly painted little men going this way and that.  A tall, slender girl gazed across at me perfectly composed; a gang of little men with sticks in their upraised hands drove spotted oxen; rowers tugged at their oars on a fleet of boats, while one ship seemed floundering right in front of me with its bow balanced precariously in the air. And all of this busy going and coming was in uncanny silence, as though the distance back over forty centuries I looked across was too great for even an echo to reach my ears.

Four thousand years is an eternity.  Just saying it over and over again gives no conception of the ages that have gone by since this funeral.  Stop and think of how far off William the Conqueror seems. That takes you only a quarter of the way back.  Julius Caesar takes you halfway back.  With Saul and David you are three-fourths of the way.  But there remains yet another thousand years to bridge with your imagination.  Yet in that dry, still, dark little chamber those boats and statues had stood indifferent to all that went on in the outer world, as ancient in the days of Caesar as Caesar is to us, but so little changed that even the fingerprints of the men who put them there were still fresh upon them.  Not only fingerprints, but even flyspecks, cobwebs, and dead spiders remained from the time when those models were stored in some empty room in the noble’s house waiting for his day of death and burial.  I even suspect that some of his grandchildren had sneaked in and played with them while they were at that house in ancient Thebes. 

One century.  Forty centuries.  The past often waits quietly to speak in the future and then touches those who find it and gives them a personal perspective on what was.  And is.

(Winlock’s story of Meketra’s tomb was related by Thomas Hoving, then the head of the MMA, in his book Tutankhamun: The untold Story, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1978.)

Missing in action at Vicksburg

Vicksburg National Military Park has more than 1350 monuments, plaques, tablets, and markers commemorating people and incidents during the Civil War siege that ended today in 1863.  Many of those markers note places where the 27 Union and 15 Confederate units from Missouri were based or fought.  The large Missouri monument is at a place where two Missouri units fought each other.

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The monument was dedicated in 1917 after a special commission was appointed by the Governor to determine the position of Missouri troops during the siege, which began after Union attacks for a week in mid-May left 110 Union soldiers from Missouri and 113 Missouri Confederates dead.  The report says 971 Missourians from both sides were wounded, 525 from the attacking Union side. More would die during the siege.  Total casualties at the end of the Vicksburg engagement reached 19,000 killed and wounded.

The Missouri monument is situated between opposing army positions.

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And the Union side under Francis Preston Blair Jr., is marked just over the crest of the hill tot he right of the memorial.

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Frank Blair Jr., was the son of one of Lincoln’s top advisers and the man who built Blair House, across the street from the White House.

The Missouri Memorial is one of the biggest state memorials in the park and is one of two Missouri memorials on Civil War Battlefields—the other one is at Shiloh and was dedicated in 1971.  It’s the only memorial that is dedicated to soldiers on both sides of the battle.

Not far from the Missouri monument is another symbol of Missouri’s presence.  It’s the remains of the ironclad U. S. S. Cairo, which was built at Carondelet, south of St. Louis at the time, by James B. Eads, who is best known for building the Eads Bridge several years after the war.

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The Cairo was one of six ironclads that made up the first ironclad ships of war in the history of the U.S. Navy.  It was sunk in the nearby Yazoo River in December, 1862 at a time when Union forces were trying to figure out the best way to attack Vicksburg.  The remains of it were raised a century later and re-assembled on a wooden frame so visitors can walk through the boat today and get an idea of what the first American ironclad ships of war were like.

When General John Pemberton finally surrendered to General Grant on July 4, 1863, he mused that he might have won the battle if he had had 10,000 more Missourians.

But there’s something a little odd about a couple of the markers at the battlefield.  Visitors arriving at the visitor center parking lot are likely to walk past two stone monuments that list the states that had troops involved in this battle.  The one for the Union Army lists eight states.

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And the one for Confederate Army lists seven states.

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But Missouri is MIA on the monuments that visitors first see at the park.  Generals from Missouri– Grant, Sherman, and others–were on the winning side.  And the Pennsylvanian who commanded the losing side wished he had ten thousand more men from Missouri.

It’s a curious part of the park which has memorials within it honoring soldiers from fourteen Confederate states and eighteen union states and tombstones for a number of Missouri soldiers buried at the Vicksburg Military Park Cemetery.  We don’t know how many are there because seventy-five percent of the Civil War dead buried there are unknown—13,000 of the 17,000 burials of casualties at Vicksburg and at other battle sites in the southeast United States during the war. No Missouri Confederates are buried there although two or three Confederate soldiers were mistakenly buried there in the late 1860s.  It’s the nation’s largest cemetery for Civil War Veterans.

Confederate soldiers who died of bullets or disease at Vicksburg are in the Soldiers Rest section at Cedar Hill Cemetery in the city of Vicksburg. That includes Missouri General Martin Green, who was killed by a Union sharpshooter on June 27, a week before the surrender.

The Cedar Hill Cemetery also contains the remains of “Old Douglas,” a Confederate camel.  He was assigned to a Mississippi unit at the time of his death.  He originally was part of a War department experiment with using camels as beasts of burden in the Southwest in the 1850s, replacing mules that couldn’t go without water for long periods of time. He belonged for a time to Missouri’s own Confederate General Sterling Price who used him in the Iuka Campaign and the Battle of Corinth in 1862.  He was transferred to the Mississippi regiment soon after.  A Union sharpshooter killed him at Vicksburg.

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There’s some doubt about how much of Douglas is there.  Conditions inside the Rebel lines in the latter part of the siege were pretty bad. Some reports say Douglas provided some much-needed meat for the troops.

The reason for the separate cemetery burials for Union and Confederate troops explains why Missouri has a Confederate Cemetery at Higginsville.   Congress passed a law in 1862 establishing national cemeteries for soldiers who shall die in the service of the country.”  That excluded casualties from the rebelling states.  As years went by, Congress modified the law so that it would cover former Confederates who later honorably served in the United States military.  The National Cemetery in Springfield, Missouri is said to be the only such cemetery where Union and Confederate soldiers are buried side by side.

Arlington National Cemetery, which was installed on the front lawn of Robert E. Lee’s mansion, has a special section for Confederate soldiers. They’re clustered around the Confederate Memorial was dedicated in 1914.  Before the memorial was established, several Confederate dead were buried along with Union soldiers but for many years, decoration of their graves on Decoration Day, or as we now call it, Memorial day, was forbidden.

President McKinley changed the policy in 1898 when he announced that decorating Confederate graves represented “a tribute to American valor,” starting the process that led to the memorial dedication in 1914.

The Missouri Memorial at Vicksburg is almost a century old and shows the signs of its age with some cracked and crumbling stone and damaged to its bronze panels. The legislature has appropriated $375,000 dollars for those repairs and Governor Nixon has signed the bill.