Federal Troops Encamped in Lafayette Park
In 1861, St. Louis was a gathering spot for many newly formed regiments of federal troops. Lafayette Park became a federal campsite named Camp Jessie in honor of Jessie Benton Fremont, the wife of Major-General John C. Fremont and daughter of Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton.
This 1860 map of Lafayette Square shows the 30-acre park just before the War Between the States along with adjacent property owners. Properties marked in blue denote owners sympathetic to the Union cause and gray owners sympathetic to the Confederate cause. The park caretaker’s cottage is marked by a black square. From mid-July through August of 1861, 23 companies were encamped in Lafayette Park, about 2,300 men.
The 24th Indiana, one of the first volunteer regiments, was formed in July 1861. In August, they boarded trains bound for St. Louis.
A soldier recorded, “We crossed the Mississippi on the steamer Alton City, marched two and a half miles through the city of St. Louis…and went to camp in the Lafayette Park. Here were the first tents we ever pitched, and all the boys wanted to learn how. Lafayette Park is a beautiful park. It contains many fine animals. There were many of our boys who had never seen such sites as the city of St. Louis contained. Some of them had sore eyes on account of so much sight-seeing.”
The steamer Alton City shown arriving at St. Louis. From “Harper’s Weekly,” 1861
A member of 24th Indiana was poisoned while on guard duty outside the gates of Lafayette Park. A friendly young man struck up a conversation with the sentinel, and then offered him a piece of his pie. Shortly thereafter, “he was seized with convulsions, and was carried by his comrades to the hospital tent. The physician of the regiment found that he was poisoned with strychnine.” Albany Evening Journal, 8/30/1861
The War disrupted the sport of Base Ball, a game introduced to St. Louis in Lafayette Park, the home grounds of the Cyclone, Union and Commercial clubs. The new Base Ball field was now part of Camp Jesse. Political differences arose between team members, causing the base ball clubs to disband.
Sarah Hill’s husband, a builder by trade, joined the federal army and served throughout the war as an engineer. She visited him at his camp in Lafayette Park, located in one of the city’s most fashionable neighborhoods. “Beautiful Lafayette Park,” recalled Hill, “with its brilliant flower beds and stretches of greensward, looking like emerald velvet, was turned into a great military camp.” She came to camp with a basket of food and enjoyed an afternoon picnic with her husband. But it seemed strange to see the park filled with tents and campfires. “On the grassy lawns that a policemen has so watchfully guarded,” she noted, “now campfires were burning and men were cooking the evening meal.”
Mrs. (Sarah Full) Hill’s Journal- Civil War Reminiscences by Mark N Krug.
St. Louis Fortifications of the Civil War
A string of 10 defensive forts were built along the western edge of St. Louis at the beginning of the war. General Nathaniel Lyons selected the sites. Construction began under the leadership of General John C. Fremont. “These forts were not considerable affairs, averaging, as they did, but four guns (heavy) apiece. “ It was hoped “they would provide a good rallying point in the event of any emergency from within, as well as from without.” (Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis, Vol. II, 1899)
The forts were unceremoniously named Fort Number 1, Fort Number 2, etc. Lieutenant Julius Pitzman supervised the building of the first 5 forts. Forts 1 and 2 were located near the Mississippi River north of the Arsenal at present day Chippewa and Lemp streets. The next three were within easy walking distance of Lafayette Square. Fort Number 3 was on Sidney St. near McNair Ave. and Fort Number 4 was just east of Jefferson Ave. on Shenandoah Ave.
Fort Number 5 sat on the western edge of Lafayette Park, between Missouri and Jefferson avenues on Whittemore Place. It contained 4 Columbaid guns. Described in the Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis as being quadrilateral in form, with each side about four hundred feet long, maps depict a triangular shaped Fort No. 5.
Plate 58 of Compton and Dry’s Pictorial St. Louis shows the ruins of the Fort No. 5 in 1875.
Although none of the forts were ever attacked, there was a military execution at Fort Number 4, which was just south of Lafayette Park. On October 29, 1864, a Confederate major from General Sterling Price’s raiding force and 6 soldiers chosen at random from Gratiot Prison were taken to Fort Number 4 and executed by a firing squad of fifty-six soldiers. Three thousand people, mainly soldiers, witnessed the event. The executions were in retaliation for the execution by firing squad of a Union Army major and six soldiers at Pilot Knob by orders of Timothy Reeves, a Confederate guerrilla leader.
A search of the Supplement to Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, reveals that Company G of the 60th U.S. Colored Infantry was on guard duty at Forts 5 through 10 during the months of October, November and December of 1863.
Lafayette Square: Neighbors at War
Edward Bredell, pioneer St. Louis businessman, proponent of public schools and philanthropist, resided at 2110 Lafayette Avenue in the 1860’s. A sympathizer of the Southern cause, Mr. Bredell refused to take the loyalty oath in support of the Union.
His wife, Angeline Perry Bredell, secretly served throughout the war as a communication courier for the Confederates via her regular wartime travels into the south.
Edward Jr. enlisted and received a commission in the Confederate Army. He was assigned to duty on the staff of General Charles Feifer, and commanded a brigade of Missouri troops. Lieutenant Bredell later transferred to General Mosby’s command and was killed on November 16, 1864 at Berry’s Ferry, Virginia.
Edward Bredell Sr. travelled personally to Virginia to accompany his son’s remains to St. Louis. Following refusal for a burial permit by the City of St. Louis, Mr. Bredell was forced to bury his son in the rear garden of his home on Lafayette Avenue until a permit was issued for public burial. The bereaved parents later donated a window in memory of their son. Edward Jr., which still exists in the former Lafayette Park Presbyterian Church on Missouri Avenue.
Captain Given Campbell, who following the war resided a 2321 Lafayette Avenue, led Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s military escort in April 1865 during his escape from the Confederate capital at Richmond. He was with Davis at his capture in Georgia by Union forces. All of his military pay was confiscated by the Union upon his capture.
Prior to and following the war Montgomery Blair resided at No.1 Benton Place, which he had platted in the 1850s. Blair acted as co-counselor for Dred Scott before the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark slavery case Dred Scott vs. Sanford. In 1861 President Lincoln appointed him to the cabinet post of Post Master General. The former Blair family home (on Lafayette Square) in Washington D.C. is today the official state guesthouse for the President of the United States.
Horace E. Bixby
Horace E. Bixby, riverboat pilot and mentor to a young Sam Clemens in the 1850s, became Chief Pilot of the Union Gunboat Fleet on the Mississippi River at the outbreak of war. Bixby later achieved fame as a featured character in Mark Twain’s publication “Life on the Mississippi.” He resided at 1532 Mississippi Avenue across from Lafayette Park.
James B. Eads
James Buchanan Eads, Engineer and inventor, oversaw construction of Federal ironclad gunboats at his Carondelet shipyard on the Mississippi River. He is responsible for construction of the first bridge spanning the Mississippi at St. Louis, which bares his name. Wedding gifts to two of the Eads daughters were homes facing Lafayette Park at 2154 and 2156 Lafayette Avenue. From here in March, 1886 his funeral cortege began its procession to his final rest in Bellefontaine Cemetery.