Missouri State Guard flag (reconstructed), 1861
by Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr., 08 March 2000
THE MISSOURI STATE GUARD AND OTHER “SECESSION FLAGS” IN MISSOURI, 1861
Like Kentucky, the state of Missouri was severely divided on the issue of secession in 1861. Missourians in the slaveholding sections of the state, led by Missouri governor, Claiborne F. Jackson, favored secession, while the German “48’ers” who had settled in St. Louis and the northeastern part of the state detested slavery and opposed secession. As early as February of 1861, secessionists in the Missouri River Valley in the northwestern quarter of the state crossed the river into Nebraska Territory and raised a Palmetto flag bearing the motto “Southern Rights” at Old Fort Kearney (the federal encampment on the Missouri occupied from 1848 to 1849, not to be confused with the Fort Kearney on the Platte River). Evidently “secessionist” flags bearing the Palmetto tree in honor of South Carolina’s departure from the Union in December of 1860 were popular among the secession sympathizers of Missouri in early 1861. Another, captured near Booneville, Missouri on 16 June 1861, had a red bordered white field with a Palmetto tree in the center and bore the motto “Constitutional Rights.”
Despite the occasional presence of these “secessionist” banners in the state in the first half of 1861, the Missouri militia that Governor Jackson had called into state service favored flags that bore the state’s coat-of-arms. One of the flags, that of the “Missouri Guard,” seized when the Missouri militia was surrounded and forced to surrender to the federal “home guard” in St. Louis on 10 May bore the state’s coat-of-arms enwreathed in oak and laurel, surmounted by the federal eagle and flanked on each side by representations of the United States flags, all on a white field fringed in gold. Another flag of the Missouri militia, that of the “2nd Missouri Militia”, which bore the state coat-of-arms on one side and a den of tigers in repose with the motto “Beware” on the other side, was secreted from Camp Jackson by Mary Bowen, who later presented it (with designation appropriately altered) to her husband’s regiment of Confederate volunteers, the 1st Missouri Infantry (C.S.).
The pre-War prominence of the state coat-of-arms on the flags of the Missouri militia was reflected in the flag adopted by the Confederate oriented Missouri State Guard shortly after that force began to form in early June of 1861. On 5 June 1861, Major-General Sterling Price, commander of the Missouri State Guard, directed that “Each regiment will adopt the State flag, made of blue merino, 6 by 5 feet, with the Missouri coat-of-arms in gold gilt on each side. Each mounted company will have a guidon, the flag of which will be of white merino, 3 by 2 1/2 feet, with the letters M.S.G. in gilt on each side.” No flags conforming to these orders are known to survive. Nevertheless, from the accounts of the engagements fought in Missouri in 1861, it is plainly evident that flags either conforming to this pattern or variants thereof were in service with the Confederate forces.
Indeed, General Price himself used a flag that was a variant of the state flag. According to one account describing Price’s headquarters: “The Missouri State flag waved over the General’s headquarters; it is emblematic of our coat of arms, but exhibits a portion of its flag only; though the escutcheon with the bear on each side, rampant and guardant, in heraldic terms, is not represented, and perhaps would not be appropriate, yet the ascending star upon an azure ground [is] there and something else, which is not distinctly visible.” Other variants were also in use in the state in 1861.
At Booneville, Missouri on 17 June 1861, one eyewitness account indicated that three of the four flags flown by Missouri State Guard incorporated the state’s coat-of-arms. Thomas W. Knox, who accompanied the Union forces, gave a fairly detailed account of the flags, noting that the “flags captured in this affair were excellent illustrations of the policy of the leading Secessionists. There was one Rebel flag with the arms of the State of Missouri filling the field; there was a State flag, with only fifteen stars surrounding the coat-of-arms. There was a Rebel flag, with the State Arms in the centre, and there was one Rebel flag of the regular pattern.”
Two weeks later near Carthage, Missouri, Brigadier-General Franz Sigel’s “Dutch” U.S. volunteers fought the withdrawing forces of the Missouri State Guard. The Fort Scott Democrat later reported on the engagement and indicated that: “The rebels had three flags, one of the State of Missouri, which was unharmed, and two secession flags, which were twice shot down and raised no more.” These may have been the same flags that carried into action by the Missouri State Guard during their successful siege of Carthage, Missouri on 20 September 1861. After the Union garrison of that town surrendered, a correspondent to the Democratic Herald wrote: “At six o’clock P.M., the “stars and stripes” were lowered and the blue flag of the state and the Confederate flags were raised from the College building, and thirty-five hundred Federal soldiers marched out and laid down their arms.”
From the evidence presented it is fair to conclude that the Missouri State Guard units that fought in their home state in 1861 seem to have carried a mixture of blue state flags either conforming to the General Orders of the Missouri State Guard, variants thereof, or Confederate 1st national flags, either adorned in part with the Missouri coat-of-arms, or devoid of any Missouri association. In this respect the flags they used paralleled those carried by the forces of the Confederate States government that ventured to join the Missouri State Guard at the battle of Wilson’s Creek in August of 1861.
Howard Michael Madaus — based on research by Greg Biggs, Ken Legendre, Mark Jaeger, and Howard Michael Madaus.