Thomas Caute Reynolds

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Thomas C. Reynolds from official Missouri Governor portrait gallery in Missouri State Capitol

Thomas Caute Reynolds (October 11, 1821 – March 30, 1887) was Confederate Governor of the divided border-state of Missouri in the American Civil War, following the death of Claiborne Jackson.

He had been appointed as Jackson’s Lieutenant Governor, both of them running as Union Democrats (anti-secession) in order to get elected, but privately supporting Southern Rights. When the Confederacy began to take shape, early in 1861, Jefferson Davis viewed the leaders of neutral Missouri with suspicion and initially refused to send military aid, so enabling the Union to dominate the state. Jackson fled to Arkansas, and Reynolds became demoralised and went to work in Richmond.

On Jackson’s death from cancer in December 1862, Reynolds automatically became governor-in-exile, and started planning the liberation of Missouri with Sterling Price, the top Confederate general in the northwest, with whom he maintained an uneasy relationship. The raid finally took place in October 1864, but achieved nothing, Reynolds and Price blaming each other for its failure.

After the war, Reynolds fled to Mexico, but returned to practice law in St. Louis, and served as a trade commissioner to South America, before committing suicide when he feared he was losing his sanity.

Early life[edit]

Reynolds was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and graduated from the University of Virginia in 1838 and received a doctor of laws degree, graduating summa cum laude, from the University of Heidelberg in 1842. He was admitted to the Virginia Bar in 1844 and served as a chargé d'affaires in Madrid before moving to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1850. There he opened a law practice, served as United States Attorney, and rose in the Democratic Party, joining the anti-Benton wing when the party split over Senator Thomas Hart Benton’s failure to support the Southern side of the national debate in the late 1840s and early 1850s.[1]

Reynolds was fluent in German as was his French-born wife. Early on in St. Louis, he had good relations with the influential German community. Republicans, however, consciously and aggressively pursued a Free Soil policy that fed on white fears that slavery and the Democratic Party would serve to debase white labor as it was forced to compete with slave labor. Reynolds, as a proslavery Democrat, lost the support of the German community and the Republican editor of the Missouri Democrat, Gratz Brown particularly drew Reynolds’ ire.

Reynolds challenged Brown to a duel in March 1855. This duel never came off, however, as Brown chose "the common American Rifle with open sights, round ball not over one ounce, at eighty yards." Reynolds refused the terms because his short-sightedness would have put him at a severe disadvantage in making an accurate shot. The public attacks continued and Brown, chafing under Reynolds' accusations of cowardice for his manipulation to avoid the original duel, finally issued a challenge. Reynolds chose the more traditional dueling pistols and on August 26, 1856, the duel occurred on Bloody Island. Brown was shot in the leg (and was to walk with a limp for the rest of his life) while Reynolds was unscathed. Both returned to the political fray[2] and Brown would serve as Governor of Missouri from 1871 to 1873.

Role in secession[edit]

In 1860, Reynolds was elected as Lieutenant Governor, serving along with Governor Claiborne Jackson (D), and assuming office in early 1861. The team, aware of the strong free soil sentiments of important factions of the Missouri electorate, had run as Unionist Democrats (despite privately supporting the Southern Rights wing of the Party).[3]

Reynolds was an early leader of the secessionists in Missouri. On January 4, 1861, soon after his native South Carolina seceded, he called a meeting of secessionists in Jefferson City and began to help organize the Minutemen secessionist paramilitary organization at the same time Unionist companies, the "Home Guard" were being organized by Missouri Congressman Frank Blair, Jr. On January 8, Reynolds addressed a public meeting that adopted a resolution which said, in part, "We pledge Missouri to a hearty co-operation with our sister Southern States … for our mutual protection, against the encroachments of Northern fanaticism, and the co-ercion of the Federal Government." On January 17, 1861, he made an influential speech before the Missouri Senate that led the way to the call for a state convention to consider secession.[4]

At the beginning of the Civil War, Missouri adopted a position that it would remain in the Union, but would not send troops or supplies to either side. Governor Jackson refused the call from President Abraham Lincoln to supply troops to the Union, and the Missouri General Assembly established the Missouri State Guard under Sterling Price to resist attempts to force the state to comply. Following the Camp Jackson Affair, when Union military troops and civilians clashed over the arrest of the Missouri Volunteer Militia, Price, Jackson, and Reynolds met on May 14, 1861, to discuss strategy. All appeared to agree with Reynolds that the best course was to organize the entire state militarily to resist any attempt by Lyons to occupy the state capital. On May 20 Price dispatched Reynolds to Richmond in order to secure a guarantee from Davis to protect the state secession convention if reconvened.

However the next day, Federal authorities under William S. Harney reached a cease-fire arrangement with Jackson and Price in the Price-Harney Truce. Reynolds, when he heard about the truce through the newspapers, was upset and feared that Price was reverting to Unionism.

Unionists such as Frank Blair also opposed the truce, and President Lincoln authorized Blair to overrule the agreement and relieve Harney of command. Harney's successor, Nathaniel Lyon, accompanied by Frank Blair, met with Governor Jackson and Price on June 11. Lyon demanded that the state government cooperate in suppressing the Southern rebellion, and that it permit federal military activities beyond the city limits of St. Louis.[5] Jackson and Price would only agree to preserve order in the state and resist any Confederate incursions into the state as long as Lyon agreed to disband loyal Home Guards organizations (including the 1st-5th U.S. Reserve Corps) and restrict Federal troops to metropolitan St. Louis. No agreement was reached. Jackson and Price left immediately for the state capital and the next day Jackson issued a proclamation describing the meeting and calling for fifty thousand volunteers to defend the state. Lyon’s reaction was to move immediately against the forces of Governor Jackson.

On June 3, Reynolds had sent a letter to President Davis requesting that a Confederate army be sent to occupy Missouri, and on June 21 Reynolds and Edward Carrington Cabell, a representative sent separately by Governor Jackson, met with Davis in Richmond. Davis had his own concerns about the loyalty of Price and Jackson after the truce with Harney and their apparent willingness, based on the June 12 proclamation to resist the Confederacy. Davis declined to send troops until Missouri had actually seceded. According to Reynolds, Davis stated:

I think General Lyon acted very unwisely in not accepting Governor Jackson’s proposals, and Mr. Lincoln may send him orders to accept them. Governor Jackson in his proclamation makes a merit of having proposed them; now if I agree to send Confederate troops into Missouri at your request, can you give me any guarantee that Mr. Lincoln may not propose and Governor Jackson assent to the agreement rejected by General Lyon, and compel those troops to retire before their joint forces.?"

Davis did, however, authorize Benjamin McCulloch to provide any necessary military assistance to Missouri consistent with protecting Arkansas and the Indian Territory.[5]

Lyon occupied the state capital in Jefferson City, Missouri in July 1861. The state constitutional convention was reconvened without the presence of pro-Southern representatives, and they declared the offices of Missouri governor and lieutenant governor vacant. Hamilton Rowan Gamble was appointed provisional governor, and Willard Preble Hall was named lieutenant governor.

Jackson and Reynolds, along with other pro-secession politicians such as David Rice Atchison, maintaining they were still the elected government of the state, fled to the southwest corner of the state by Springfield, Missouri where Lyon was killed in the Battle of Wilson's Creek.[6] Jackson and Reynolds convened the pro-South elected government in Neosho, Missouri and voted the Missouri secession to secede from the Union. Unable to defend themselves in the state, the government eventually moved to Marshall, Texas.

Role in the Civil War[edit]

By December 1861 President Davis was trying to select an overall leader for Confederate forces in Missouri, Texas, and Arkansas. Jackson, Reynolds, and the Missouri Congressional delegation all lobbied for Sterling Price. Davis had concerns about Price based on his misunderstandings with McCulloch and his early support for neutrality. Davis was also unwilling to place in command of the area any general from the states of Missouri, Texas, or Arkansas—fearing that their objectivity for the entire Confederate war effort would be blinded by local concerns. After first offering the position to Henry Heth and Braxton Bragg, Mississippian Earl Van Dorn was eventually selected. The issue of local versus national control of Missouri troops did materialize after the Battle of Pea Ridge when Price’s troops, over the troops' and Price’s objections, were ordered across the Mississippi – Price would eventually return to fight for Missouri but his troops would not.[7]

Reynolds returned to Richmond to work with its Congressional delegation but eventually became frustrated with his inability to contribute. In April 1862 he returned to his family estate in Winnsborough, South Carolina. His active role in the war resumed and took on new importance, however, when he learned in December 1862 that Governor Jackson had died and that he was now governor.

After the Battle of Corinth, Price had been strongly lobbying the Richmond government to return to Missouri with his troops. In late January 1863 Price went to Richmond to make his case, and Reynolds joined him there in his first act as governor. Both Price and Reynolds were concerned that with Missouri totally occupied by the Union any peace treaty might exclude Missouri from the Confederacy. Meeting with Davis and secretary of War James Seddon, the Missourians received the immediate assignment of Price west of the Mississippi with his troops to follow when circumstances warranted. Reynolds also received a letter designating him as an unofficial advisor to Generals Kirby Smith and Theophilus H. Holmes and an agreement from Davis to consult Reynolds before the appointment of any general officers.[8]

From this point on, despite an outwardly cordial appearance, the relationship between Reynolds and Price would deteriorate. In September 1863 forces under Price abandoned Little Rock, Arkansas, and Reynolds noted that "General Holmes and all the general officers under Price at Little Rock, except General Frost, considered the evacuation a blunder, and that Steele could have been beaten back with great disaster to him.".[9] He did support and encourage the replacement of Holmes but he lobbied with the President to replace him with Simon B. Buckner rather than Price whom he considered (in Castel’s words) "devious, insincere, petulant, and arrogant" and "impulsive, tactless, and prone to indiscreet and exaggerated language."[10]

Reynolds tried to exert his influence, backed up by his personal relationship with Jefferson Davis, over the civil and military decisions in the Trans-Mississippi Department. He brought some order to the records of the government which he had inherited from Governor Jackson but early on had differences with Price over the disbursement of the dwindling state treasury. The split became open and public when Reynolds appointed Colonel L. M. Lewis to the Confederate Senate to replace Price favorite and Davis critic, incumbent John B. Clark.[11]

As long as Missouri remained in Union hands, Reynolds remained a governor without an actual state to govern. Reynolds' final chance to become governor in fact occurred in October 1864 when he accompanied General Price in his raid back into Missouri. While both Price and Kirby Smith in their official reports painted a positive picture of the raid’s accomplishments (i.e. new recruits, railroads and bridges destroyed, prisoners taken, war materials gather), Castel notes:

Finally, neither Kirby Smith nor Price mentioned that the expedition failed to seize St. Louis or occupy Jefferson City and install a Confederate government, failed to bring about a mass uprising of Southern sympathizers, failed to influence state elections except probably to increase the Republican vote, and failed to do any damage to the Union military installations in Kansas. In fact Price failed to achieve a single one of his objectives other than obtain recruits, and he did that only in the imperfect fashion described.[12]

Reynolds was proud of his own participation in the raid, claiming he had "been among the bullets on the battlefield, shared mule meat with the starving, and walked in the retreat".[13] At the same time he blamed Price for the raid’s failures which he characterized as nothing but "a weak and disgraceful plundering raid." He was especially incensed at the failure to capture Jefferson City which would have allowed Reynolds to be officially installed as the state’s governor. Reynolds complained to Smith in October and in a December 23, 1864, published letter to the Marshall Texas Republican newspaper he thoroughly lambasted Price in the guise of defending two other officers that Reynolds claimed Price was using as scapegoats for his own failures. Reynolds followed this up by sending a copy to Price and asking him to resign from the military. Price responded by requesting that Smith conduct a formal investigation of Price’s charges and in a published letter to the Shreveport News denied Reynolds’ charges while referring to him as someone "who pretends to be, and styles himself in it [the Texas Republican letter], the Governor of the State of Missouri.[14]

A court of inquiry was held in late April 1865, but it was never concluded due to the end of the war. For the most part, Castel concludes that Reynolds’ specific charges were not supportable and notes that Reynolds in 1887 effectively recanted the most serious charges. Referring to his public charges, Reynolds wrote, "It is against all the canons of history that, made in a heated controversy, they should be used, or even referred to, in stating ‘’facts’’ of that campaign itself."[14]

Post-Civil War life[edit]

Reynolds and a group of refugees including Kirby Smith, Sterling Price, John B. Magruder, and Joseph Shelby, with several hundred of his troops, retreated to Mexico in the summer of 1865. Reynolds took up residence in Mexico City where he served as a railroad commissioner and unofficial adviser to the Emperor Maximilian.[15]

In Mexico Reynolds began work on a book which would present his side of the war and his feud with General Price. Reynolds discontinued this project when he learned of Price’s death and returned to St. Louis in 1869. Reynolds practiced law, was elected to the state legislature in 1874, and served as a trade commissioner to South America in the Cleveland administration. He continued to gather information for his book, but the work, titled "Gen. Sterling Price and the Confederacy", was never published and is in the possession of the Missouri Historical Society.

Reynolds killed himself in 1887 by jumping down an elevator shaft at the Customs House in St. Louis. A note with his body indicated he was afraid that he was losing his mental capacity.[16] He is buried at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Gerteis p. 66-68
  2. ^ Gerteis p. 69-71
  3. ^ Gerteis p. 66
  4. ^ Castel p.9
  5. ^ a b Castel p.30-32
  6. ^ Monaghan p. 158
  7. ^ Castel p.66-83
  8. ^ Castel p. 133-137
  9. ^ Castel p. 159
  10. ^ Castel p. 166
  11. ^ Castel p. 159-170
  12. ^ Castel p.251-252 Similarly Prushankin p. 204 notes "But the raid had not been a success and [Kirby] Smith knew it. Upon Price’s return to Shreveport, Smith refused to receive him.
  13. ^ Castel p.256
  14. ^ a b Castel p.257-261
  15. ^ Castel p. 273-274
  16. ^ Castel p. 278-279

References[edit]

  • Castel, Albert, General Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West, Louisiana State University Press, 1968, ISBN 0-8071-1854-0. – Castel notes in his introduction that "Because of his importance and because of the need to rely heavily on his papers as a source, Reynolds looms large in this book, which to a degree at least can be considered a study of him as well as of Price" p. viii.
  • Gerteis, Louis S., Civil War St. Louis. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2001. ISBN 978-0-7006-1124-9.
  • Monaghan, Jay, Civil War on the Western Border, 1854-1865, University of Nebraska Press, 1955, ISBN 0-8032-8126-9.
  • Prushankin, Jeffery S., A Crisis in Confederate Command: Edmund Kirby Smith, Richard Taylor and the Army of the Trans-Mississippi, Louisiana State University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-8071-3088-5.
  • Reynolds, Thomas C. General Sterling Price and the Confederacy, edited by Robert G. Schultz. Missouri History Museum, 2009, ISBN 978-1-883982-68-3. This is the transcribed, annotated publication of Reynolds' unpublished memoir of the same name.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Hancock Lee Jackson
Lieutenant Governor of Missouri
1860–1861
Succeeded by
Willard Preble Hall