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In the West stirring events had transpired prior to the arrival of Gen. Fremont at the headquarters of his Department. In Missouri, the Rebel forces had been gradually driven toward the Southwest by the small army under Gens. Lyon and Sigel, with occasional engagements, until finally the insurgents, with greatly increased numbers, had made a stand at a place ninc miles beyond Springfield, on Wilson's Creek. Here, on the 10th of August, was fought a memorable battle, which may be termed the second considerable engagement of the war. Gen Lyon, whose entire force appears to have been less than 6,000, attacked the enemy in camp, reported to be 22,000 strong, now under command of Ben. McCulloch. The advance was made in two columns: one under Lyon himself, moving directly on the enemy; the other, making a circuit of fifteen miles toward the left, was to turn the enemy's right. This well-planned movement was commenced on the night of the 9th. Gen. Lyon's column, after resting two hours, following the night's march, resumed its course at four o'clock in the morning, and his advance drove in the enemy's pickets an hour later. The camp was soon in full view, extending for three miles along the valley, and the attack was commenced by Blair's Missouri regiment, while Totten's battery began to shell the tents more distant. The Iowa First and two Kansas regiments were also brought up. A cavalry charge of the enemy was met and repulsed. Another attack, about nine o'clock, somewhat staggered our forces, and in placing himself at the head of the Iowa regiment, to lead a bayonet charge, Gen. Lyon, who had already received three wounds that morning, was shot through the breast by a rifle ball and fell dead on the field. The last Rebel advance, made about one o'clock in the afternoon, was repulsed.
The movement under Gen. Sigel was successful at first, and resulted in the destruction of the enemy's tents and entire baggage train, about noon. Sigel's column, however, was obliged at length to give way. Both columns now retired toward Springfield, the entire loss being reported as eight hundred in killed and wounded. The enemy is believed to have suffered heavily, especially from the well-directed fire of our artillery.
He did not pursue our forces, which were led away by Gen. Sigel without confusion or disorder. Although not successful in occupying the enemy's position, yet the partial advantages gained, with so great a disparity of numbers, left a very different moral impression from that of the defeat at Manassas, on the 21st of July.
The loss of Nathaniel Lyon would have been a dear price for the most decided victory. As a General, as a patriot, as a man, his name will remain one of the brightest among those of the memorable heroes of his time.
Gen. Fremont, on his arrival at St. Louis, had set about organizing his forces for an energetic campaign, not only to restore order in Missouri, but also to gain control of the Mississippi river. Volunteers in great numbers sought service under him, his name awakening an enthusiasm, particularly among citizens of German origin, beyond that of any other commander. The operations began under Lyon and Sigel were allowed to continue, substantially following out the plans already formed, while he was carefully fortifying the city of St. Louis, and organizing a gunboat service, afterward to become so important an auxiliary on the Western waters. But a brief time had elapsed, after Fremont's arrival at St. Louis, before the engagement at Wilson's Creek-fought at greatly unequal odds, for which his personal opponents vehemently censured himand the subsequent retreat, together with the constantly occurring disturbances in various parts of the State, satisfied the commanding General that he had no light task in reëstablishing peace and order in Missouri alone. Before he assumed command, Gen. Pope had already been obliged to resort to energetic measures in the northern part of the State, to suppress the irregular warfare there prevalent, and to quiet the deadly feuds existing between the two parties into which the communities were divided. The necessity of more stringent proceedings throughout the State was daily becoming manifest.
It was under these circumstances that, at length, Gen. Fremont issued his famous order proclaiming martial law, in the following terms:
HEADQUARTERS WESTERN DEPARTMENT, ST. LOUIS, August 30, 1861. J Circumstances in my judgment are of sufficient urgency to render it necessary that the commanding General of this department should assume the administrative powers of the State. Its disorganized condition, helplessness of civil authority, and the total insecurity of life, and devastation of property by bands of murderers and marauders, who infest nearly every county in the State, and avail themselves of public misfortunes, in the vicinity of a hostile force, to gratify private and neighborhood vengeance, and who find an enemy wherever they find plunder, finally demand the severest measures to repress the daily increasing crimes and outrages which are driving off the inhabitants and ruining the State.
In this condition the public safety and success of our arms require unity of purpose, without let or hindrance to the prompt administration of affairs. In order, therefore, to suppress disorders, maintain the public peace, and give security to the persons and property of loyal citizens, I do hereby extend and declare established martial law throughout the State of Missouri. The lines of the army occupation in this State are for the present declared to extend from Leavenworth, by way of posts of Jefferson City, Rolla and Ironton, to Cape Girardeau on the Mississippi river. All persons who shall be taken with arms in their hands within these lines shall be tried by court-martial, and if found guilty will be shot. Real and personal property of those who shall take up arms against the United States, or who shall be directly proven to have taken an active part with their enemies in the field, is declared confiscated to public use, and their slaves, if any they have, are hereby declared free men.
All persons who shall be proven to have destroyed, after the publication of this order, railroad tracks, bridges, or telegraph lines, shall suffer the extreme penalty of the law. All persons engaged in treasonable correspondence, in giving or procuring aid to the enemy, in fermenting turmoil, and disturbing public tranquillity, by creating or circulating false reports, or incendiary documents, are warned that they are exposing themselves.
All persons who have been led away from allegiance, are required to return to their homes forthwith. Any such absence, without sufficient cause, will be held to be presumptive evidence against them. The object of this declaration is to place in the hands of military authorities power to give instantaneous effect to the existing laws, and supply such deficiencies as the conditions of the war demand; but it is not in
tended to suspend the ordinary tribunals of the country, where law will be administered by civil officers in the usual manner, and with their customary authority, while the same can be peaceably administered.
The commanding General will labor vigilantly for the public welfare, and, by his efforts for their safety, hopes to obtain not only acquiescence, but the active support of the people of the country
J. C. FREMONT,
Major General Commanding.
An order of this character could not fail to become a topic of general discussion throughout the land. The attention of the President was early called to the subject, and the strongest opposition was manifested to the proposed exercise of the military power, by a subordinate commander, for the confiscation of slave property. This sentiment was clearly expressed in a letter to the President, by the Hon. Joseph Holt, under date of September 12th, in which he said:
The late act of Congress providing for the confiscation of the estates of persons in open rebellion against the Government was, as a necessary war measure, accepted and fully approved by the loyal men of the country. It limited the penalty of coufiscation to property actually employed in the service of the rebellion with the knowledge and consent of its owners, and, instead of emancipating slaves thus employed, left their status to be determined either by the Courts of the United States or by subsequent legislation. The proclamation, however, of Gen. Fremont, under date of the 30th of August, transcends, and, of course, violates the law in both these particulars, and declares that the property of rebels, whether used in support of the rebellion or not, shall be confiscated, and if consisting in slaves, that they shall be at once manumitted. The act of Congress referred to was believed to embody the conservative policy of your Administration upon this delicate and perplexing question, and hence the loyal men of the Border Slave States have felt relieved of all fears of any attempt on the part of the Government of the United States to liberate suddenly in their midst a population unprepared for freedom, and whose presence could not fail to prove a painful apprehension, if not a terror, to the homes and families of all. You may, therefore, well judge of the alarm and condemnation with which the Union-loving citizens of Kentucky-the State
with whose popular sentiment I am best acquainted-have read this proclamation.
The hope is earnestly indulged by them as it is by myself, that this paper was issued under the pressure of military necessity, which Gen. Fremont believed justified the step, but that in the particulars specified it has not your approbation and will not be enforced in derogation of law. The magnitude. of the interest at stake, and my extreme desire that by no misapprehension of your sentiments or purposes shall the power and fervor of the loyalty of Kentucky be at this momen. abated or chilled, must be my apology for the frankness with which I have addressed you, and for the request I venture to make of an expression of your views upon the points of Gen. Fremont's proclamation on which I have commented.
The President had already written and transmitted the following letter to Gen. Fremont, expressing in definite terms, as a public order, what had been before more privately indicated to him, immediately after that officer's action on this subject
WASHINGTON, D. C., Sept. 11, 1861.
Major General John C. Fremont :
SIR: Yours of the 8th, in answer to mine of the 2d inst., is just received. Assured that you, upon the ground, could better judge of the necessities of your position than I could at this distance, on seeing your proclamation of August 30, I perceived no general objection to it; the particular clause, however, in relation to the confiscation of property and the liberation of slaves appeared to me to be objectionable in its nonconformity to the act of Congress, passed the 6th of last August, upon the same subjects, and hence I wrote you, expressing my wish that that clause should be modified accordingly. Your answer just received expresses the preference on your part that I should make an open order for the modification, which I very cheerfully do. It is, therefore, ordered that the said clause of the said proclamation be so modified, held, and construed as to conform with and not to transcend the provisions on the same subject contained in the act of Congress entitled "An act to confiscate property used for insurrectionary purposes," approved August 6, 1861, and that said act be published at length with this order.
Your obedient servant,