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by Montgomery Blair Sibley, ©2014, blogging at Amo Probos

Francis Preston Blair, Jr. (1821-1875) by Mathew Brady, circa 1861

(Nov. 12, 2014) — The fourth of my five ancestors whose actions in their time of turmoil seem to predict what I would do in the Fall of 2014, is Francis Preston Blair, Jr.  He was the brother of Montgomery Blair and thus my great, great, great Uncle.

Frank Blair was commissioned a Union brigadier general on August 1862 and by November of that year, he was a major general, leading a division in the Yazoo Expedition and earning plaudits from Major General William T.  Sherman for his leadership at Chickasaw Bluffs early in the Vicksburg Campaign. At the Battle of Chattanooga, Frank Blair led the XV Corps, and during Sherman’s drive toward Atlanta, Frank Blair commanded the XVII Corps in bloody fighting. After the fall of Atlanta, Frank Blair led his corps in the “March to the Sea.” Both Grant and Sherman rated Frank Blair one of the most competent military leaders of the war. Frank Blair became the Democratic nominee for vice president in 1868 and was appointed to the senate in 1871 to fill a vacant seat.

Most relevant to my thesis, however, were the actions in May 1861 that Frank Blair took when he help wrest the St. Louis Arsenal from Confederate hands in what became known as the Camp Jackson Affair. During the early months of 1861, para-military organizations were created in St. Louis by both sides; unionists formed the Wide Awakes, while the secessionists styled themselves Minute Men. Both groups kept their eyes on the St. Louis Arsenal. This federal armory contained a store of 38,000 muskets, 45 tons of powder, and 11 cannon. In the arsenal were weapons aplenty to equip a large army and seize control of the state.

On May 10, 1861, the Wide Awakes under the command of Frank Blair surrounded the St. Louis encampment of the secessionists Minute Men at Camp Jackson and forced their surrender.  As a result, the St. Louis Arsenal remained in Federal hands throughout the Civil War, and, with St. Louis firmly in Union control, provided substantial quantities of war materiel to the Union armies in the Western Theater.

The import of the Camp Jackson affair can hardly be overstated:

But if the possession of Missouri and the city of St. Louis was important to ultimate Confederate success, the seizure of the St. Louis arsenal was a matter of vital and immediate necessity. That arsenal contained sixty thousand stand of small arms, thirty-five or forty pieces of artillery, and a vast store of ammunition and military equipments. An almost invincible force could have been promptly armed from this source, and such a force would have been at once recruited; for with the capture of the arsenal by the secessionists all doubt and vacillation would have disappeared from their ranks. It would have assured the most timid and hesitant, and have been the signal for an instant and overwhelming uprising, both in St. Louis and the state, in behalf of the Southern cause…  The earnest and resolute men on both sides thoroughly realized this, and to seize or defend the arsenal became the watchwords of all who really meant business.

The point being this: Frank Blair “meant business” when he kept the St. Louis Arsenal in Union hands so how could I mean anything less when I see our Union similarly torn apart by forces that would deny the People the sacred rights which they received upon their birth.

Source of quote: Duke, Basil W., Reminiscences of General Basil W. Duke (1911)

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