Friday, February 3, 2023

Martha Cassell: A Very Rank Rebel

   On the morning of February 6, 1864, a long list of names to whom unclaimed letters at the St. Louis Post Office were addressed was published in the Daily Missouri Democrat. One of the names was Martha Washington, an alias that twenty-three-year old Martha Cassell had adopted to communicate with Confederate prisoners and soldiers. After reading the notice in the newspaper, the black-eyed, black-haired Miss Cassell headed for the post office later that morning. Unbeknownst to her, she was walking into a trap.
   Martha was born in Marion County, Missouri, about 1840 to dentist John F. Cassell and his wife, Ann. Shortly after Martha’s birth, the family returned to Maryland, where Martha’s older siblings had been born, but they came back to Marion County in the late 1840s and took up residence near Palmyra, where Dr. Cassell had his dental practice.
   Martha, or Mattie as she was often called, went to St. Louis in late 1863 to live with an older sister, Mary Squire. During her stay in St. Louis, Martha began sending and receiving letters to and from several Confederate prisoners and soldiers, but it wa her correspondence with Lewis Rogers, alias F. M. Kaylor, that got her into serious trouble.
   A native of Boone County, Rogers had served in the Missouri State Guard early in the war, but he later took to the bush as a guerrilla. He stayed with his uncle in Marion County in 1863, at which time he likely became acquainted with Martha Cassell. He was captured in St. Louis in mid-September 1863, accused of being a notorious guerrilla and a “hard case,” and lodged in the Myrtle Street Prison. At the request of Rogers’ uncle, Martha began a correspondence with the young man. Rogers escaped sometime in November, roamed into northern Missouri, and then ventured into Clark County, Illinois, where he tried to incite “an insurrection among Copperheads.” (Copperhead was a pejorative term for a Northern citizen who nominally favored the Union but who opposed the war.) While Rogers was on the lam, he resumed writing to Martha Cassell. Their exchange of letters while he was in prison was through legal, military channels, but by corresponding with a Rebel fugitive, Martha was now breaking the law.
   What Martha didn’t know was that Union authorities had already been alerted that someone in St. Louis had apparently been corresponding with the fugitive Rogers under the name Martha Washington, and they were waiting her her on the morning of February 6 when she called at the post office. Although the content of the letter Miss Cassell picked up that day was relatively harmless, she was arrested, charged with corresponding with the rebel enemies of the United States, and committed the St. Charles Street Female Prison.
   Miss Cassell protested that she had picked the suspicious letter up for a friend, but Union officials did not believe her, especially after she was unable to identify Martha Washington, her supposed friend. After her arrest, other, more incriminating letters from Rogers came to light. In the most damning one, he told Martha about the uprising he'd help instigate and said he was proud of his exploits. He said he wanted to “see a Civil War and wild desolation sweep the North.”
   Martha remained in prison for several months, with her health deteriorating, before her case was finally tried by military commission in late June 1864. Described as “a very rank rebel” by one Federal officer, Martha was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment in the Missouri State Penitentiary for the duration of the war. It was late August, however, before she, along with Pauline White (see last week’s post), were sent from St. Louis to Jefferson City.
   Influential allies, including Missouri Supreme Court justice John D. S. Dryden, soon got involved in Martha’s case, and President Lincoln pardoned her in late October, while her friend Pauline spent another eight months in the state prison. After the war, Martha went home to Marion County, where she married Washington West in 1868. She apparently died shortly afterwards (a demise hastened perhaps by the unhealthful conditions she experienced in prison), because there is no trace of her after the marriage and her husband was back home living with his parents in 1870
   This post is condensed from a chapter in my book Lady Rebels of Civil War Missouri.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Pauline White: Sentenced to Hard Labor

   Nineteen-year-old Pauline White’s first brush with Union authority came in 1863 when she was charged with hurrahing for the Confederacy and was compelled to take an oath of allegiance. It wasn’t until the next year, though, when she broke her oath, that she got into real trouble. She claimed she’d been misled by the “treasonable advice of friends,” but that wasn’t enough to keep Pauline from being one of only a handful of women sent to the Missouri State Penitentiary during the Civil War for their disloyal activities.
   Sarah Pauline White was born in Tennessee in July 1844, the third of nine children of Dr. Terrell C. and Sarah Elizabeth White. The family moved to southeast Missouri in the mid-1850s and settled in rural Greenville, the Wayne County seat, where Dr. White set up his medical practice.
   By the fall of 1863, the Union had solid control of Missouri, but Greenville, like most of the rural areas of the state, still had more than its share of Southern sympathizers. Among them were the White sisters, whose older brother had joined the Confederate Army the previous year. One day in early October 1863, a detail of Union soldiers was marching through Greenville, and a number of onlookers, including Pauline and two of her sisters, had gathered to watch the procession. As the Federal soldiers paraded through the town, Pauline, older sister Eveline, and younger sister Arabella began taunting them and hurrahing for the Confederacy.
   On October 15, Dr. White’s daughters were arrested and sent to Union district headquarters at Pilot Knob. Dr. White made the trip with his daughters, and all four were charged with disloyalty. However, the girls were required only to sign oaths of allegiance and then released, while Dr. White also had to pledge to abstain from alcohol during the rebellion and to give bond.
   Charles Dekalb White, Pauline’s older brother and a sergeant in Confederate colonel Timothy Reeves’s Fifteenth Cavalry, was captured in Ripley County during the so-called Christmas Day Massacre of December 25, 1863, when Reeves’s camp was overrun by Federal soldiers. White was taken to St. Louis, and he died there in the Gratiot Street Prison hospital on January 16, 1864. After word of his death reached the White family in February, Pauline wrote a letter to Drury Poston, a soldier in Reeves’s command, telling of Dekalb’s death.
   The letter made it as far as Cherokee Bay, Arkansas, before it was discovered at a house there and confiscated by a Federal scouting party sent out from Patterson, Missouri. Had Pauline quit writing after informing Poston of her brother’s death, the letter might have been left undisturbed, but she expressed some disloyal sentiments near the end of the missive, such as “Long live the Rebels.”
   Pauline was arrested in late May 1864 and forwarded to St. Louis in early June, charged with violating her oath of allegiance and corresponding with the enemy. She was lodged in the St. Charles Street Prison, which had a reputation for its unsanitary conditions and mistreatment of prisoners. After Pauline clashed with the prison keeper’s wife, she was put on half rations without toilet facilities.
   At her trial by military commission on June 28, 1864, Pauline pleaded guilty to both charges against her except that she had not intended for her letter to Poston “to give aid and comfort to the rebel enemies of the United States,” as specified in the second charge. She was sentenced “to be confined at hard labor…in the Missouri State Penitentiary.” Exactly what constituted hard labor for a female prisoner and why Pauline’s sentence was seemingly harsher than those of other women convicted of similar offenses are unanswered questions.
   Pauline was transferred to the state prison in Jefferson City on August 24, 1864, and kept their ten months, finally gaining her release in June 1865, two months after the war had ended.
   After her release, Pauline made her way back to Greenville, married her older sister’s widower, and became one of the most prominent women in the community. She died in 1936 at the age of ninety-two.
   This post is a very condensed version of a chapter in my book Lady Rebels of Civil War Missouri.

Friday, January 20, 2023

The Ozarks: South, West, Both, or Neither?

I've suggested several times on this blog as well as in a couple of my books that, during the mid-1800s, Missouri or, more specifically, southwest Missouri was where the Deep South and the Old West met. We had elements of both regions but we weren't fully part of either, but rather a blending of both. I've been reading Brooks Blevins's three-volume A History of the Ozarks, and Dr. Blevins, a professor of Ozarks Studies at MSU, makes a similar point, although he adds the Midwest to the amalgamation, an addition I don't disagree with. Also, he is talking about the Ozarks as a whole and not just the Missouri part of the region. That more encompassing parameter is on point as well. 

Volume 1 of the trilogy, which I've completed, is called The Old Ozarks, and it focuses on the region from pre-historic times up to the eve of the Civil War. Right now I'm reading Volume 2, which is subtitled The Conflicted Ozarks. It's about the Civil War era in the Ozarks, including the time immediately leading up to the war and the aftermath of the conflict as well as the war itself. For the last day or two, I've been reading about slavery in the Ozarks, and that's mainly where the discussion about the Ozarks not being fully part of the South comes in.    

As Blevins points out, a relatively small percentage of white residents in the interior of the Ozarks held slaves. For example, Douglas County had not a single slave in 1860, according to the census of that year.  Residents of the northernmost and easternmost counties of the region along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, where large plantation-like farms existed, tended to have more slaves. (Two or three counties just south of the Missouri River with large German populations were notable exceptions.) Residents of some of the larger towns in the region, such as Springfield, were also more likely to have slaves. Even those families in the rural, interior Ozarks that did have slaves rarely had more than two or three, and many had only one. Most families, of course, had none. 

To be sure, most rural residents of the Ozarks identified with the South, supported the institution of slavery, and considered blacks an inferior race, because most settlers to the area had come from the upper tier of Southern states, like Tennessee. Yet, the fact that relatively few Ozarks families held slaves made the question of slavery a less burning, less personal issue for most of the region's population than it was for residents of the Deep South. Although they might have paid lip service to slavery, fighting and maybe dying to uphold an institution they had little to no personal stake in was a step too far for many. 

So, Missouri and the Ozarks did not fully identify with the South on the eve of the Civil War. The fact that delegates to a state constitutional convention on the eve of the war voted overwhelmingly to remain in the Union reflects this fact.  

Missouri and the Ozarks were at least as much a part of the frontier as they were a part of the South. In fact, people back east considered any place west of the Mississippi River part of the Wild West. Even in the years after the Civil War, newspapers of New York and other northeastern papers routinely referred to Missouri as the Southwest. Not the South. Not the West. But the Southwest, and that's a pretty accurate description of what it was, although, as I previously mentioned, I would agree with Blevins that the region, at least certain parts of it, also had connections with and was influenced by the Midwest. During the Civil War era, Missouri was called a border state, and that's what we were, in almost every way.   

Anyway, for those of you interested in a thorough, comprehensive study of the Ozarks, I highly recommend Dr. Blevins's three-volume series on the region.  

Saturday, January 14, 2023

The Blennerhassett Sisters: Uncompromising Rebel Sympathizers

   When Therese Blennerhassett was banished to the South in the fall of 1863, her sister Annie B. Martin was granted permission to accompany her under the same terms that governed Therese’s banishment order. In reporting the banishments, the St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican called Miss Blennerhassett “an inveterate and uncompromising rebel sympathizer,” but, before the Civil War was over, Mrs. Martin would eventually end up in the more serious trouble.
   Born in New York, Annie and Therese were collateral descendants of Harman Blennerhassett, implicated in Aaron Burr’s treasonous scheme against the United States in the early 1800s. The sisters came to St. Louis in 1842 with their parents, Richard and Therese Blennerhassett. A noted criminal lawyer, Blennerhassett died sometime before 1860. By then, twenty-four-year-old Annie, the oldest daughter, had been married and widowed and was back home, while nineteen-year-old Therese was single and also living with her mother.
   Annie and Therese’s brother Edward joined the Confederate army, and they exchanged letters with him and other Rebel soldiers even after such correspondence was banned. In late March 1863, Therese went south at her own request, and very shortly afterwards, at least three of her and Annie’s letters fell into the hands of Union authorities.       Annie was questioned about them at the provost marshal general’s office on April 1. She said she had one brother in the Confederate Army, and she was delighted to add that she would “rather have him a teamster in the Rebel army than a major general in the Union Army.” Annie admitted writing to her brother many times but declined to answer questions about how the letters were mailed or received. Shown three letters, she declined to identify them, despite the fact that Therese’s signature was on two of them and she herself had likely written the other one. Despite the evidence against Annie, apparently little or no action was taken against her at this time.
   In September 1863, Therese was arrested when she returned to St. Louis without a pass. She was again sent South, not of her own choosing this time, and Annie chose to accompany her, under the same obligations that governed her sister’s banishment.
   But that didn’t stop Annie from coming back to St. Louis less than a year later. In mid-September 1864, she started from Mississippi, where she and Therese had been staying, and she arrived in St. Louis on September 27. Her return might have gone unnoticed except that she had brought along a letter from a Confederate soldier that she promptly mailed to the soldier’s wife. She also wrote a letter to some of her Confederate-sympathizing friends passing along news from the South and inviting them to write to her with any news they wanted her to take back to Dixie, as she planned to return to the South and re-unite with Therese. She never got a chance, because her letters were intercepted and she was re-arrested.
   Charged with violating her order of banishment, she was tried by military commission in October, convicted, and sentenced to imprisonment for the duration of the war. In February 1865, the sentence was remitted, and she was banished to the South.
   After the war, both Annie and Therese returned to St. Louis and moved back in with their mother. Therese became a schoolteacher, and both she and Annie were active in St. Louis social circles. Annie died in 1887 and was buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery. In the early 1890s, Therese was active in organizing and promoting the St. Louis Exposition. She died in 1913 and, like Annie, was buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery.
   This post is a greatly condensed from a chapter in my book Lady Rebels of Civil War Missouri.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Mary Susan F. Cleveland: A Veritable “She-Adder”

   What was it with the lady schoolteachers of Missouri and their Southern sympathies? Three of my recent posts have been about Confederate sympathizing women who were schoolteachers, and Mary S. F. Cleveland was yet another young schoolteacher banished from the state because of her disloyalty. Like the other three, Mary was more stubborn in her opposition to the Union than the simple country girls of rural Missouri who were arrested primarily for feeding and harboring guerrillas.
   Born in November 1832 in Virginia, Mary came to Missouri with her parents and siblings about 1840 and settled in Randolph County. When the Civil War broke out, two of her younger brothers, Charles and Benjamin, joined the Southern forces. Older brother John stayed in Randolph County but was required to take an oath of allegiance in March 1862. Later the same year, Ben died of disease in Mississippi while serving in the Confederate Army.
   In early January 1863, Mary moved to Auburn in Lincoln County to teach school. Alone and away from family, she soon started exchanging letters with loved ones and friends. Unfortunately for her, she wasn’t always discreet in what she said or with whom she corresponded.
   Sometime about the middle of May 1863, one of Mary’s letters was confiscated by Union soldiers at the home of her mother, Jane, in Randolph County, and it sparked an investigation that turned up several more questionable letters in Mary’s and Jane’s possession. Mary, still living in Lincoln County, was promptly arrested and taken to Troy. On May 19, General Bartholow had her and at least two of the suspicious letters transported to the provost marshal general’s office in St. Louis. Over the next couple of days, additional evidence against Mary was forwarded from north Missouri, and she was interrogated on May 22.
   During the interview, Mary was confronted with the evidence against her. In one letter, for instance, the writer had disparaged some Union men, saying that the initials N. S. in one of their names stood for nasty and stinking. Although the handwriting matched perfectly the handwriting of another letter that was taken from Jane’s home which Mary had signed, she denied writing the letter in question or any of the other letters she was accused of writing. One of the suspect letters was signed “Mary,” but she even denied writing it. Mary did, however, admit that one of the confiscated letters was a letter she had received from her brother Charles, who was then in the Confederate Army in Mississippi. She also admitted that she had, on occasion, written letters to Confederate soldiers, but she said she’d never done so clandestinely but only under a flag of truce.
   Mary refused to swear an oath, but near the end of her examination, she reaffirmed that everythign she’d told her examiner was true and signed a statement to that effect. Her examiner didn’t believe her, though, and thought that “a more willful and malicious deception of her handwriting could not be had.” He thought she was guilty of all the charges against her and called her “a veritable she-adder.” (This was a reference to a statement General James G. Blunt, stationed at Leavenworth, Kansas, had made a few days earlier. Recognizing the central role that women played in the Rebel uprising in Missouri, Blunt declared that “the bite of the she adder is as poisonous and productive of mischief as the bite of any other venomous reptile.”) Mary’s examiner recommended her banishment “to the place where her affections yearn for.”
   Exiled to the South, Mary left St. Louis on June 1, 1863, aboard the steamboat City of Alton along with Marion Vail. Later the same year, a prominent Lincoln County citizen wrote letter to high-ranking Union officials trying to get Mary’s punishment mitigated, but whether his intervention had any effect in getting Mary’s banishment order lifted is not altogether clear. At some point, though, Mary did come back to Missouri, and she lived there the rest of her life. She moved to St. Louis, and, in keeping with a prediction expressed in a letter she had written to her mother in January 1863, she spent the rest of her days teaching school. She died of cancer on July 15, 1898, and was buried in St. Louis’s Bellefontaine Cemetery
   Like my other recent posts, this one is condensed from my latest book Lady Rebels of Civil War Missouri, and speaking of Lady Rebels, here's a link to a recent review of the book, although you might have to copy and paste it. 

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Marion W. Vail: Confederate Mail Smuggler

   Near the time Hattie Snodgrass (last week's subject) and her companions were steam boating for Dixie in mid-May 1863, another St. Louis woman, Marion W. Vail, clashed with Federal authorities in the city for activities similar to those that had gotten Hattie in trouble a week or so earlier. Like Hattie, Marion Vail actively supported the Confederate war effort in Missouri despite having no close relatives fighting for the cause.
   A native of Kentucky, Marion Owens married New Jersey-born Corra O. Vail in St. Louis on October 25, 1849, when she was nineteen. Corra Vail went into the clothing store business, and by 1860, the couple had two children.
   Marion began her clandestine activities on behalf of the Confederacy at least as early as the spring of 1862. In late March, she visited Confederate soldier Absalom Grimes, whom she’d known before the war, at Myrtle Street Prison. He escaped a few days later, and she soon became involved in the Confederate mail running operation that ultimately made him notorious. Marion and other Southern-sympathizing women would gather letters from St. Louis citizens for delivery by Grimes to their loved ones in the Confederate Army and, upon Grimes’s return, they would distribute the letters he brought back that had been written by Rebel soldiers to their families in St. Louis. Marion earned a reputation, according to one Union officer, as “the worst rebel in town,” but she did not become the subject of an official investigation until the spring of 1863 when it was alleged that she had harbored Grimes after a second prison escape in the fall of 1862.
   Arrested on or before May 18, Marion was taken to the provost marshal’s office for interrogation. She admitted she had visited Grimes at the Myrtle Street facility during his first imprisonment but denied that she visited him at Gratiot Street Prison during the fall of 1862. Marion also denied harboring him after his escape, but she admitted involvement in his mail running operation and described the scheme in some detail. She said the only reason she wasn’t even more active in support of the Confederate cause was because of her husband, who did not share her Southern sympathies.
   After her interrogation, Marion was ordered to be banished to the South and to be committed to the McLure Female Prison on Chestnut Street pending execution of the sentence. After appealing to high-ranking Union officials, she was temporarily paroled to her home and was about to have the terms of her banishment further mitigated when a St. Louis woman came forward to accuse Marion of making disparaging remarks about Federal officers and of being a Rebel spy. Mrs. Vail was re-arrested and ordered to be sent south at first opportunity. Shortly afterwards, the matron of the female prison where Marion was being held, also testified against her, saying that Marion was one of the worst and “most rebellious and insulting prisoners” in her charge.
   On June 1, Marion Vail, sixteen other prisoners, and five family members who requested to go along were sent south aboard the City of Alton steamboat.
   Marion was allowed to return to St. Louis just a few months later after her husband applied to Union authorities for leniency. She spent the rest of the war free on parole, although the terms of her parole were changed several times. For instance, she at first had to stay at her home in St. Louis, but then was allowed to move with her children to nearby Warren County as long as she reportedly periodically by letter. In late May of 1864, Corra Vail again appealed to Union authorities on his wife’s behalf, this time seeking to have her parole extended to include the entire state of Missouri, but the request was denied after several people testified to Marion’s continued disloyal activities even after returning to Missouri from the South. Then, in early 1865, when Marion’s husband asked that she be allowed to come back to St. Louis so that the family could be together and the kids would have better educational opportunities, the request was again denied because of Mrs. Vail’s alleged activities on behalf of the Confederacy, including aiding and abetting guerrillas, while living in Warren County.
   Marion finally returned to St. Louis at the end of the war and lived there the rest of her life. Long after the Civil War had ended, Mrs. Vail remained an ardent supporter of the South. According to Grimes, “Until the day of her death at the age of eighty-two years she never realized that the war was over, as her spirit of patriotism and warm love for the South never waned and she was fond of relating war stories in her interesting way to her many friends of all ages.”
   Like my other recent posts, this one is condensed from a chapter in my latest book, Lady Rebels of Civil War Missouri.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Hattie Snodgrass: Proud Spirit of a Southern Lady

   I’ve recently written on this blog about Addie Haynes and Lucie Nicholson, who were both banished from Missouri in May 1863. Another woman banished at the same time was twenty-eight-year-old Harriet “Hattie” Snodgrass of St. Louis. Hattie was a schoolteacher like the other women, and like Lucie, she had no close relatives in the Southern army, her closest kin being a brother-in-law. Yet, Miss Snodgrass, again like Lucie, was even more outspoken in her support of the Confederacy than most of the women of rural Missouri who were arrested primarily for feeding and harboring their loved ones in the bush.
   A native of Pennsylvania, Hattie moved to St. Louis with her family when she was a child. During the late 1850s and early 1860s she taught school in St. Louis.
   Hattie was living with her sister's family when her disloyal activities attracted the scrutiny of her neighbors in early 1863. One or more of her neighbors reported her to Federal authorities about the first of May, and officials began taking depositions against her. Lewis Vandewater testified, for instance, that he’d known Hattie for about eleven years and that, ever since the outbreak of the war, she had been “an open and avowed secessionist.” Vandewater said he’d heard Hattie hurrah for Jeff Davis and that he’d been told she kept a Secesh flag in her school room. 
   On Saturday, May 9, Hattie was ordered to report to the provost marshal’s office in St. Louis, where she was interrogated about the activities her neighbors had accused her of. Hattie admitted her sister’s husband, Joseph Clayton, was in the Southern army, but she started getting testy after that, refusing to answer certain questions or giving deceptive answers. When asked whether she ever kept a Rebel flag in her home, for instance, she replied no, because she “did not think it worthwhile" to correct her examiner and tell him it was a Confederate flag. She ended the interview by refusing to sign the examiner's deposition.
   A day or two after the interview, a letter Hattie had written to a Confederate soldier fell into Union hands, adding to the evidence against her. Accused of being a “rebel mail agent,” she was arrested and imprisoned at the former home of Margaret McClure to await banishment. McClure and Hattie had taught school together, and both were Southern sympathizers. McClure’s home on Chestnut Street had been confiscated by the Union and turned into a female prison because of Mrs. McClure’s disloyal activities. On May 13, Hattie was sent south with Lucie Nicholson, Addie Haynes, and company. Hattie’s sister Teresa Clayton accompanied Hattie at her own request. Others making the trip included Hattie’s former colleague Margaret McLure.
   Despite her banishment, Union authorities had not quite heard the last of Hattie Snodgrass. On June 23, 1863, Hattie wrote a letter from Mobile, Alabama, to Colonel John Q. Burbridge, who was somewhere in Arkansas. The letter, in which Hattie expressed some decidedly disloyal sentiments, fell into the hands of Union authorities when Burbridge was taken prisoner later in the year.
   As for Hattie, she slipped back into St. Louis in the summer of 1864, in defiance of the banishment order against her, bringing news and letters from Confederate soldiers to their loved ones in Missouri. Another reason for her visit was to see her aged mother, Jane Snodgrass. However, she intended to return south, and she recruited two other Southern ladies who wished to accompany her.
   Hattie adopted an alias, calling herself Miss Miller, but she was so well known in St. Louis that she still had to delegate certain errands to the other women for fear of being recognized on the streets. Prior to the trip, the women packed letters, gold, and other contraband into trunks. 
   During the trip south, Hattie acted as “captain” for the party of three women, as they made their way down the Mississippi. On more than one occasion, the three barely escaped detection, but they managed to get beyond the Federal lines mostly through Hattie’s duplicitous aplomb.
   Near the end of the war, Hattie traveled to Washington, DC, where she got her banishment order revoked and was allowed to return to St. Louis. After her mother died post-1880, Hattie moved to Texas and lived with her brother for a number of years, but she eventually returned to St. Louis. In 1911, her wartime adventures were briefly recounted in the History of St. Louis County. Hattie apparently died shortly afterward, having never married and having never forsaken her proud Southern spirit.
   This is a greatly condensed version of a chapter from my latest book, Lady Rebels of Civil War Missouri.

Martha Cassell: A Very Rank Rebel

   On the morning of February 6, 1864, a long list of names to whom unclaimed letters at the St. Louis Post Office were addressed was publis...