Missouri Unionist to the Commander of the Department of the West, and the Commander's Reply

Saint Louis Mo.  May 14, 1861.

Sir:  In common with thousands who have perused your admirable proclamation of this morning,1 I return you the thanks of a citizen of Missouri for its pratriotic tone and tranquilizing assurances.

There is nothing in this paper which is in my opinion needs explanation; yet I wish to be able to answer, with the authority of your name, a question which I have already replied to on my own judgment.  Last evening, a gentleman, of the highest respectability, and intelligence, from Greene county, Mo. asked me whether I supposed it was the intention of the United States Government to interfere with the institution of negro slavery in Missouri or any Slave State, or impair the security of that description of property.  Of course, my answer was most unqualifiedly, and almost indignantly in the negative.  I told him that I had no means of forming an opinion which were not open to every other private citizen; but that I felt certain that the force of the United States, would, if necessary, be exerted for the protection of this, as well as any other kind of property.  Will you be good enough to spare from your engrossing military duties so much time as may be required to say whether I answered correctly?

I have the honor to be, with the highest respect, your most obedient Servant.

(Sgd)  Thomas T. Gantt.

[St. Louis, Mo.]  May 14, 1861.

Sir:  I have just received your note of this date, inquiring whether, in my opinion, you were correct in replying to a citizen of Southwestern Missouri as to the purpose of the United States Government respecting the protection of negro property.

I must premise my saying that I have no special instructions on this Head from the War Department.  But I should as soon expect to hear that the orders of the Government were directed towards the overthrow of any other kind of property as of this in negro slaves.

I entertain no doubt whatever that you answered the question you mention correctly.  I should certainly have answered it in the same manner, and I think with the very feelings you describe.  I am not a little astonished that such a question could be seriously put.  Already since the commencement of these unhappy disturbances, slaves have escaped from their owners, and have sought refuge in the camps of United States troops from Northern states and commanded by a Northern General.  They were carefully sent back to their owners.  An insurrection of slaves was reported to have taken place in Maryland.  A Northern General offered to the Executive of that State the aid of Northern troops under his own command, to suppress it.  Incendiaries have asked of the President permission to invade the Southern States, and have been warned that any attempt to do this will be punished as a crime.  I repeat it, I have no special means of knowledge on this subject, but what I have cited, and my general acquaintance with the statesmanlike views of the President, makes me confident in expressing the opinion above given.  Very respectfully, Your obedt. Servant:

[William S. Harney]

Thomas T. Gantt to Brig. Genl. W. S. Harney, 14 May 1861, and Brigadier General [William S. Harney] to Thomas T. Gantt, Esq., 14 May 1861, vol. 2/8 DMo, pp. 202–4, Letters Sent, series 5481, Department of the West, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 1, National Archives.

1. In a proclamation to the people of Missouri on May 14, 1861, General William S. Harney, commander of the Department of the West, criticized the Missouri general assembly, dubbing its recent military bill “an indirect secession ordinance.” Warning Missourians that their state “must share the destiny of the Union,” he predicted that “the whole power of the Government of the United States, if necessary, will be exerted to maintain Missouri in her present position in the Union” and pledged himself to that end. Regarding the interests of Missouri unionists, he affirmed, “I shall exert my authority to protect their persons and property from violations of every kind.” (The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. [Washington, 1880–1901], series 1, vol. 3, pp. 371–72.)

Published in The Destruction of Slavery, pp. 413–14, and in Free at Last, pp. 6–8.