The Fight for Unconditional Emancipation in Missouri

The Emancipation Proclamation freed only the slaves in disloyal states. While this immediately freed 20,000 or so, it left thousands more in bondage within the border states of Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Slave Cabin, Boonville, Cooper County, MO

Despite efforts by the Federal government to recruit black men into the army during the summer of 1862, the loyal border states often balked at the very idea of a war fought to free slaves. Thousands of slaves owned by loyal masters took emancipation into their own hands to join the United States army. This flood of enlistments led the army to enact further measures.

In this short piece, we’ll take a close look at two letters. The first, written by an enslaved wife of a Union soldier, explaining that life for her was “worse and worse every day,” as her master retaliated against her for her husband’s enlistment. The second is a petition by the citizens of Pike County, Missouri detailing the abuses inflicted by such masters, and demanding “an end to such brutality.”

General Order 329

In October of 1863, the War Department issued General Order 329, focusing upon Maryland, Missouri and Tennessee. This order allowed for the enlistment of all free black men, as well as the slaves who had “written consent of their owners.” Slaves of disloyal owners, who emancipated themselves were, of course, still welcomed. Loyal owners who volunteered their slaves would receive up to $300 in compensation.

After thirty days, however, the conditions offered to loyal owners would change. If the ranks of new black regiments could not be filled within a month, “enlistments may be made of slaves without requiring the consent of their owners.” 1Official Records, Series 3, Vol. 3, p860-861. Link.

Schofield and Missouri

General Order 329 was established first in Maryland, but was ported to Missouri a month later. Putting a finer point upon it, General John Schofield, commander of the Department of Missouri, issued General Order 135. Schofield was no abolitionist, and dragged his feet wherever possible. It was despite this, however, that his order stretched the limits of Lincoln’s own.

General John Schofield

General Order 135 called for the enlistment of any black man volunteering for service. Their status as slaves was not a consideration. Further, unlike the General Order covering Maryland, the loyalties of the master were not part of the equation, though the same compensation was offered. As in Maryland and Tennessee, freedom was given all who enlisted.

But Schofield threw slave owners a bone. He saw how bands of recruiting parties were liberating slaves in Maryland, and acted at once to curtail that. Part of his order explicitly outlawed such parties. This, however, allowed for bands of patrollers to roam the Missouri countryside capturing slaves legally trying to enlist in the United States army. 2Ira Berlin, ed. Free At Last (The New Press, 1992) 359.

The post-war slave narratives are filled with stories of patrollers. Many former slaves conflated the patrollers with the Ku Klux Klan as many of the same people populated both groups. 3See here for quite a few.

‘Worse and Worse Every Day’

Over the next year, the same story played out again and again across Missouri. Slaves, who were legally allowed to leave their masters’ plantations and land were rounded up and brought back. While those who managed to make it to the Army were free, the Federal government could do nothing to free the families who were left behind.

Enlistment papers of Pvt. Spotswood Rice, 67th U.S. Colored Infantry, February 9, 1864.

Once enlisted, like any other soldiers, they wanted to write home to their wives and children, sending money and sharing with them their experiences.

Such was the case with Ann, the wife of a Union solider. When her husband, Andy, escaped to his freedom and joined the Army, he would write to her in care of a sympathetic friend. This was done to avoid the suspicious eyes and greedy hands of her master, Mr. Hogsett. Her letter, dated January 19, 1864, further explains her situation:

My Dear Husband, I r’ecd your letter dated Jan’y 9th also one dated Jany 1st but have got no one till now to write for me. You do not know how bad I am treated. They are treating me worse and worse every day. Our child cries for you. Send me some money as soon as you can for me and my child are almost naked. My cloth is yet in the loom and there is no telling when it will be out.

Do not send any of your letters to Hogsett especially those having money in them as Hogsett will keep the money. George Combs went to Hannibal soon after you did so I did not get that money from him. Do the best you can and do not fret too much for me for it wont be long before I will be free and then all we make will be ours. Your affectionate wife, Ann

P.S. Send our little girl a string of beads in your next letter to remember you by. Ann

The friend, James Carney, who wrote down the words spoken by Ann added a post script of his own.

Andy if you send me any more letter for your wife do not send them in the care of any one. Just direct them plainly to James A Carney, Paris, Monroe County, Mo. Do not write too often. Once a month will be plenty and when you write do not write as though you had received any letters, for it you do, your wife will not be so apt to get them. Hogsett has forbid her coming to my house so we cannot read them to her privately. If you send any money, I will give that to her myself. Yrs &c, Jas A Carney 4Letter from Ann to Andy, January 19, 1864. As printed in Free At Last, edited by Ira Berlin (The New Press, 1992, 360-361. Some spelling and grammar was corrected for clarification. The original transcription is here.

‘Put An End To Such Brutality’

Through much of 1863 and the early months of 1864, black enlisted men did what they could to help free their own families. For them, this was why they were fighting. They understood that if they won the war, their families would be free.

1st Sgt. William Messley of Howard County, Missouri, 67th U. S. Colored Infantry.

In the meantime, United States officers received an influx of complaints from non-slave owning citizens. Often they came in singular letters, but in February of 1864, General William Rosecrans, now the commander of the Department of Missouri, received a petition with the signatures of 132 such citizens from Pike County.

Their cover letter explains the ways in which local enslavers retaliated and tried to prevent their slaves from enlisting. They had first taken up their plight with the Assistant Provost Marshall, and then to the Provost Marshall General. Now, they were writing to General Rosecrans himself. To them, it was obvious that General Order 135 was not being followed, as so few black Missourians were enlisting in their county.

“It soon became apparent that from many sections of the County, the Negros failed to come in, as was alleged by the few that did come in, because they were prevented by their owners, in some cases by actual violence, others by threat of violence, in others by locking up clothing, and in some cases by the owners promising rewards or bounties to them not to Enlist.

“These facts being communicated to the Provost Marshall General, the Order Dated Dec 19th 1863 was sent to him. In compliance with this order, he sent out his small guard to make inquiry as to the facts, and to notify the Negroes of their right to enlist without hindrance.

“A large number did come immediately and enlisted, proving conclusively and for some of the reason assigned, they had been prevented.

“Many women and children, the families of those who had enlisted, escaped from their owners, and came into this place in the most deplorable condition, many of them in a condition of almost Nudity at the coldest season during the present Winter, and found temporary shelter and employment among the Loyal Citizens of this place.”

Old slave quarters near Caruthersville, Missouri. c1938.

The citizens witnessed that the Assistant Provost Marshall was ordered by the Provost Marshall General not to send out parties to even inform the slaves of their right to join the Army. The effect of this order, according to the petitioners, “has been to suspend enlistments of Negroes altogether.”

They then described in detail the abuses seen in their county:

“We earnestly desire the enlistment of all of them that will do so, but they will not do so, if their families are to be abused, beaten, seized and driven to their former homes in the night and deprived of reasonable food and clothing because of their enlistment.

“These scenes have been enacted here in our streets by day and night during the past two weeks by the owners of the women and children, families of recruits, that have come here for shelter scarce one of these owners ever having made a pretense of loyalty.”

As with any petition, they had a list of demands. Simply, this as for General Rosecrans to do his job. Specifically, they asked that orders be re-given, and that they be both “clear and specific.” They continued:

“We beg further that if, under the Law, the families of recruits are to be protected from violence in consequence of the Enlistment of the Husbands and Fathers, it may be so stated in clear and unequivocal terms. If those families are entitled to freedom on the enlistment of the recruits, or only at the end of his term of service, that this also may be decided, so as to put an end so far as may be, to all disquiet among the Negroes.

“That if the families of recruits are to be surrendered up to their owners, notwithstanding all the brutal treatment they may receive, that this also may be fully stated, so there shall be no misapprehension on the subject.

“Attempts of Negroes to reach recruiting stations for the purpose of enlistment, prior to the issuing of Order No. 135, have resulted, in one instance at least, in this county, in the deliberate shooting of one of them, no notice of which was ever taken by inquest or otherwise by the parties having knowledge of it, until the guilty party had ample time to make his escape. We think it is time indeed to put an end to such brutality.” 5Ibid, 362-365.

That same month, an Army recruiter wrote to General Rosecrans describing the same conditions all across the state. Additionally, he highlighted that enslavers were carrying their slaves across the border into Kentucky. “The only remedy,” he insisted, “was emancipation immediate and unconditional.” 6Christopher Hager Word by Word: Emancipation and the Act of Writing (Harvard University Press, 2013) Chapter 5.


The following month, Rosecrans issued the proper orders and slavery was more or less ended. This would be further solidified on January 11, 1865 when the state constitutional convention formally abolished the institution giving not a single penny of compensation to the slave owners.

During the Civil War 8,344 black Missourians joined the United States army – about 40% of those eligible. Other black Missourians had joined regiments in Kansas. 7Clayton E. Jewett Slavery in the South (Greenwood Press, 2004) 181-182.

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Has always had a love for history and the Civil War. During the 150th anniversary of the war, writing the Civil War Daily Gazette blog, which published daily for nearly five years. Wishing to continue the exploration, following the Charleston murders in 2015, and the activism around removing the Confederate Battle Flag, decided to dig a little deeper into the causes and repercussions of the War.