Civil War

While the Civil War began in April of 1861, it would begin in earnest in St. Louis in May of 1861, with the tragic Camp Jackson affair. When Union troops suspected that the newly elected Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson would call for Missouri to secede, and take control; they quickly and quietly assembled Union troops as Lincoln had called for. Then the German filled ranks would march upon Camp Jackson, to hold St. Louis, a vital point at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, causing the soon defunct Jackson government to flee the State. They left behind a government pro-tem that was not only a slave state filled with families like the Alexanders, Campbells and Pitmans, but one filled with Germans and abolitionists as well. As a border state, It would experience the third largest number of conflicts during the Civil War. Missouri was a slave state held by the Union, but the Union were Missouri’s residents as well.

Camp Jackson Affair
Missouri Historical Society

On January 1st, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln would issue his famous proclamation at Gettysburg to emancipate all those enslaved, except the border states that had stayed with the Union.

The Emancipation Proclamation
January 1, 1863

Those he left to the States themselves to deal with evils of slavery. He would allow for the formation of the U.S. Colored Troops for the Union Army as well, providing the black people an opportunity to take part in their own advancement. In St. Charles County, there were still those that wanted the pro-slavery government to regain control. Home Guard units were Missouri State “Volunteers” that would have to work to see that didn’t happen.

Prior to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the enslaved were known to follow the Union troops after a battle, assisting in camp as porters, valets, guides, and in whatever they could. The enslaved families that came with these men, were dealt with by the Union Army with the establishment of Contraband Camps. Not all were attached to military movements, and sometimes were just hidden “villages” of fugitive slaves hidden in the woods and out of sight.

On a cold night in February 1863, Archer Alexander would overhear the men in his neighborhood bragging to each other on their latest achievement. They had surreptitiously managed to saw the timbers on the wooden railroad bridge, that would collapse under the weight of the next train to pass over. Plus, they also had guns stored in James Campbell’s ice house. Knowing what this would mean, without thinking Archer took off after dark, and made his way five miles to the north, in order to alert the troops known as “Krekel’s Dutch” as to what was about to happen. Soon his heroic deed would be recognized though, when the plans did not succeed, and the suspicion of who had alerted them fell quickly upon Archer.

Blockhouse erected in November 1862, used as guardhouse for Krekel’s Deutsch (Germans) who were Home Guards for the Union Army. Situated on Peruque Creek, the site today is in Lake St. Louis at the end of Peruque Creek Crossing Court. Photo from the St. Charles County Historical Society Archives.
The first Fugitive Slave Act authorized local governments to seize and return escaped slaves to their owners and imposed penalties on anyone who aided in their flight. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which added more provisions regarding runaways and levied even harsher punishments for interfering in their capture. The Fugitive Slave Acts were among the most controversial laws of the early 19th century.

Knowing that he could not stay in St. Charles, and fearing the lynch mob that was forming, he fled towards St. Louis. There were landmarks and those that he could trust to help him make his way. He had not gone far, and had fallen in with others, when the slave patrol caught up with them near the Missouri River. They would celebrate their achievement, by stashing the enslaved in a second floor bedroom over an inn, with a well trained dog stationed below the window. Fortunately, as he climbed from the open window, the hound was awakened to the chase by a racoon in the distance, and the dog disappeared in the trees. The slave patrol followed the animal, thinking it was chasing Archer, while Archer would disappear in the opposite direction. After several days of making his way at night, and sleeping during the day, he was able to make St. Louis.

Resource: The Missouri Digital Heritage Collection

Continue: St. Louis

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