“The Jolly Union Boys”


"Come all you jolly Union boys. To you the truth I'll tell, Concerning Governor Jackson Who I know very well." A curious and compressed account of events in Missouri from the beginning of the Civil War to the Battle of Pea Ridge


To try to explain the complicated events which took place in Missouri in the period under discussion is impossible in the space of any reasonable note. Suffice it to say that both Union and Confederacy sought to control Missouri (though Unionists were probably the majority in the state), but that the Union efforts were somewhat more efficient and succeeded in the end.

The key players mentioned in the song are:

Governor (Claiborne) Jackson -- The governor of Missouri in 1861, he tried to seize the Federal arsenal to bring the state into the Confederacy. He was thwarted primarily by the efforts of Captain (later General) Nathaniel Lyon. Jackson did, as noted, manage to walk off with a large part of the state's cash reserves

Thomas Price -- A Missouri congressmen and Unionist, one of those who helped organize against Jackson

Harney -- William S. Harney. A regular army Brigadier, he was the Federal officer in charge in St. Louis when the war broke out. Rather sympathetic to the Confederacy, his behavior was so lethargic that Congressman Frank Blair maneuvered his ouster and gave most of his powers to General Lyon

"Billy" Frost -- Daniel M. Frost. Appointed by Governor Jackson to seize the Federal arsenal, he instead fell into Lyon's hands. He was later exchanged and served in the Confederate armies, but his failure badly hurt the Confederate cause in Missouri.

"A lion" -- Obviously a reference to General Lyon, the bulwark of the Federal forces until his death at Wilson's Creek

"McCulla brought up artillery" -- refers to General Benjamin McCulloch, who was Confederate commander at Wilson's Creek (sort of; he led the Arkansas troops. The Missouri troops were under Sterling Price. Price actually had a higher rank -- he was a Major General, McCulloch only a Brigadier -- but McCulloch had a commission from Jefferson Davis, and finally Price decided to accept his orders rather than leave their armies to be defeated in detail. But the two never worked together well).

At Wilson's Creek, Lyon (outnumbered two to one) tried an enveloping attack, with Sigel's brigade arriving from a different direction. Sigel's troops fell apart after coming briefly under fire, and Lyon's remaining troops had to face a heavy assault from the Confederates. The Federals held on all morning -- the southerners had almost no training as soldiers -- but retreated when Lyon was killed

Sigel -- Franz Sigel, who kept getting commands because German immigrants respected him, but who never did much with his troops. At Carthage (July 5, 1861) he fled without a fight; at Wilson's Creek his troops fell apart. Only at Pea Ridge was his performance respectable

"a little old Creek bottom" -- the battlefield at Wilson's Creek. Each side lost about 1200 men (of some 5500 Federals and 11,500 Confederates engaged)

Price #2 -- Sterling Price, Confederate commander of Missouri troops. Leader of half the troops at Wilson's Creek (see under McCulloch)

"It done for old Ben" -- Ben McCulloch was killed at Pea Ridge (Arkansas) in 1862. At this battle, a strong Confederate force under Earl Van Dorn was unable to dislodge a weaker Union force. This finally dashed Confederate hopes in Missouri. - RBW

Historical references

  • Aug 10, 1861 - Battle of Wilson's Creek
  • Mar 7-8, 1862 - Battle of Pea Ridge/Elkhorn Tavern

Cross references


  1. Randolph 242, "The Jolly Union Boys" (1 text)
  2. Roud #3598
  3. BI, R242


Author: B. Locke?
Earliest date: 1934
Keywords: Civilwar political
Found in: US(So)