The man credited with starting the Civil War in Missouri*

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Jul 23, 2017
Southwest Missouri

Illustration courtesy Missouri Digital Heritage
Only known photo of this arsenal here
One week after Fort Sumter was fired on, on April 20, 1861, a group of 200 local secessionists, led by attorney Henry Louis Routt, seized the unguarded Liberty Arsenal in western Missouri, and removed all of the weapons it held. This would be classified as the first military action taken against the Federal government in the state of Missouri.

Originally built as a fort to guard frontier inhabitants, the Missouri Depot as it was originally called, was built on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River. 200 X 200 feet in size, the fort held a munitions factory, a two story storehouse, officers quarters, and barracks. In 1861, there were three people stationed at the Liberty Arsenal, led by Major Nathaniel Grant. While Grant protested verbally, he knew any resistance offered was futile. According to the History of Clay and Platte Counties, “the property taken consisted of three six-pounder brass cannon, ….. mounted on field carriages; 12 six-pounder iron guns, unmounted; one three-pounder iron gun; five caissons, two battery wagons, two forges, besides all the ordinary artillery equipments and accompaniments, and several hundred rounds of artillery ammunition, chiefly solid shot and canister; 1,180 percussion muskets, complete; 243 percussion rifles, 121 rifle carbines, 923 percussion pistols, 419 cavalry sabers, 39 artillery swords, 20 cavalry and artillery musketoons, 1,000 pounds cannon powder, 9,900 pounds of musket powder, 1,800 of rifle powder, about 400,000 cartridges, besides accoutrements and equipments for all small arms in great number, and in excess of the arms taken.”

It took a week to remove all these munitions, and one author noted that it would have been difficult to find a secesh hay stack or barn for miles around that wasn’t hiding a cannon or gun powder. Unable to deal directly with Liberty in a timely manner, Federal forces in St Louis responded by intensifying measures to secure their arsenal, a prize that secessionists wanted badly. Just a few days after news of the seizure reached St Louis, most of the arms held there were secretly moved to Springfield, Illinois. Three weeks later, Union forces under Capt Nathaniel Lyon would encircle and capture state militia troops encamped near the arsenal, setting off a chain of events that would lead to hostilities.

In February 1862, with the Missouri State Guard retreating back into Arkansas and leaving Missouri to Union forces, a farmer by the name of D S Miller ‘discovered’ 10 barrels of powder hidden in his hay stacks and returned them to the arsenal. This was the only part of the captured material ever returned, but this was not the first time arms had been taken from the Liberty arsenal under force and then returned at a later date.

In 1855, with pro slavery men from Missouri in conflict with free state men in Kansas, local militia members seized arms from the Liberty arsenal and marched off to a siege of Lawrence, Kansas. The storekeeper at that time, a Captain Luther Leonard (Grant a clerk at the arsenal at the time), reported he was unable to resist as well. “I improve the first moments of liberty to report that today, about 3 o'clock p. m., this depot was surprised by about 100 armed men, who placed me under an armed guard, as also the operatives at the post, and proceeded to take possession of public property to a large amount, consisting in part of three six-pounder brass guns, mounted; artillery harness, artillery implements, rifles, pistols, Colt's revolvers, sabers, fixed ammunition, accouterments, etc., etc. ….. Resistance was useless, and I could only protest against this violent and unlawful seizure of the public property in my charge.” The military commander in that region, a Colonel Edwin Sumner at Fort Leavenworth, KS, dispatched Captain William Nelson Rector Beall to Liberty with instructions to protect government property. After hostilities in Kansas subsided, the Missouri forces returned to their homes, and thru a representative, agreed to return most of the arms to the arsenal about a week after they had been taken.

So what became of the participants. Nathaniel Grant, a civilian military storekeeper, was called Major but did not reflect any military rank in his official reports, nor appears on the roles of US Army officers in 1861. He took the oath of allegiance in 1861, stayed at the Liberty Arsenal throughout the war, and was still there, when it closed in 1869.

Henry Louis Routt, courtesy Find A Grave

Lawyer Henry Routt, who had taken part in the 1855 seizure as well, joined the Missouri State Guard, but prior to Wilson’s Creek, he resigned and returned to Clay County to enlist his own group, and took the title of Colonel. Prior to the well known Battle of Lexington, Routt with 800 men, including a company under Capt Jo Shelby, surrounded Lexington and demanded its surrender. Hearing Union reinforcements were en route, Routt called off the siege after a few days. Union reinforcements arrived soon after, and some of these troops would surrender to General Sterling Rice and the Missouri State Guard a few weeks later. After the Battle of Lexington, Routt returned to his home at Liberty after Missouri Governor Hamilton Gamble offered clemency to all who laid down their arms and returned home. Arrested in 1862, he was tried for treason and inciting a rebellion and sentenced by a military tribune to be hung. After receiving numerous appeals for clemency, including one from the governor, he was granted a pardon by Abraham Lincoln. He would become a judge after the war and die in 1881. His granddaughter, and president of the Clay County Museum and Historical Society, wrote a book about her grX2 grandfather, “The Life and Times of Colonel Henry Louis Routt” and credited him with starting the Civil War in Missouri.*

Colonel Edwin Vose "Bull" Sumner and Captain William Nelson Rector Beall would go on and become generals, fighting for opposing sides in the Civil War.

Henry Routt Wkipedia
Henry Routt Find a Grave
Nathaniel Grant Oath
Book on Routt*
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