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Civil War Journals - Author Portrait Photo Credit: © 2007 by R. L. Geyer

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Saint Louis Today - Article

Troubled State
By Martin Northway
SPECIAL TO THE POST-DISPATCH
06/22/2008


"The Terrible Tragedy at St. Louis," an engraving in Harper's Weekly, showed members of the
Home Guard firing on civilian Confederate sympathizers in May 1861.
A newly published Civil War journal includes details of the tension in St. Louis at that time.

 

Franklin Dick, a Philadelphia-born, two-decade resident of St. Louis, occupied a unique vantage from which to witness the onset of hostilities in the Civil War. He played a key role, for example, in capturing Southern sympathizers at Camp Jackson and saw the escorting Union German Home Guards open fire on a hostile mob.

His eyewitness description of Capt. (soon to be Gen.) Nathaniel Lyon's "tremulous," emotional reaction to civilian victims counters the image of Lyon as a hard-bitten, calculating career officer.

Gari Carter, the great-great-granddaughter of Franklin Dick and custodian of his wartime journals, has painstakingly transcribed and annotated them into a vivid, accessible, often surprising first-person account of the war in Missouri.

"Troubled State: Civil War Journals of Franklin Archibald Dick" encompasses the fears and passions of a partisan, committed Union man.

These pages reflect whiplash pessimism and optimism about the Union war effort. He was an early critic of President Abraham Lincoln's "cowardly" war leadership, including support of Gen. John C. Fremont.

"(W)ith Fremont I fear the Rebels may get full possession of the State, even of St. Louis," Dick writes.

The law partner and brother-in-law of Francis P. Blair Jr., he also experienced the metamorphosis of that remarkable political and military leader. And Dick was sufficiently anxious about his family's well-being in those desperate times to invest in a cartridge factory, whose workers were victims of its own success when it exploded.

During 1862-63, Dick was provost marshal general of the Union Army's Department of the Missouri. In effect, he was the ruling military judicial authority while the state was under martial law and, though an efficient administrator, advocated harsh justice for "traitors" and Confederate sympathizers.

"St. Louis is the seat and centre of the rebel plots & schemes, and spies revel here," he warned in 1863.

A critic of Lincoln to the end, he even found a silver lining in the assassination of this "good" but, to his mind, weak man. Lincoln's "mawkish sensibility … nauseated the Southern heart," he writes. "And yet, he was the very bulwark of safety to them … MORE BOOK REVIEWS
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"I left Missouri because the President would not allow the defenders of the country to strike down their enemies. As soon as we had disarmed the Enemy, the President stepped in & disarmed us. … Now I want Mr. (former Vice President Andrew) Johnson to deal with these Rebels, as only the Border State Union Man knows how to do."

Under Missouri's draconian Drake Constitution, radical Republicans did exact some revenge against their former enemies. It was not until Union men more broad-minded than Franklin Dick stepped up — critically, among them, his brother-in-law Frank Blair — that Missouri began to heal its wounds.

Martin Northway is a writer and regional historian in Callaway County, Mo.

 


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