Col. H.K. Craig
Chief of Ordnance, Washington City
MISSOURI DEPOT, Sunday, April 21, 1861
SIR: I embrace the first opportunity to inform you that the depot was taken yesterday about 10 o'clock by a body of armed men from this and the adjacent counties. While I am writing the depot yard and grounds are filled with Men, who are rapidly removing the ordnance and ordnance stores from the post. Having no means of resistance, my protest against the forcible and unlawful seizure of the public property was of no avail, and I was informed that all the military stores would be taken.
I send this to Saint Louis by boat to be mailed, and so soon as it can be done a detailed report of all the facts, so far as they can be ascertained will be forwarded.
Very respectfully, I am, sir, your obedient servant,
In charge of Depot
The raid on the Missouri Depot, known as the Liberty arsenal, “marking the first aggressive act in Missouri against the United States government,” had been in the planning for months. Secessionists in Clay, Jackson and Buchanan counties – probably with knowledge of Governor Jackson – had organized the Liberty raid as part of a larger plan that included raids on the arsenal in St. Louis and an attack on Fort Leavenworth.
On April 20, 1861 a week after the fall of Fort Sumter “nearly 200 armed and mounted Secessionists rode up to the arsenal gate, forced admission and demanded of Grant the surrender of the post and its contents.”
Colonel Henry L. Routt led the assault with his own troops from Clay County supported by troops from Jackson County under the command of Captain McMurray of Independence, Missouri and troops from Buchanan County led by John C. Landis, later to be inspector of artillery for the Department of the Gulf in the Confederate Army.
Grant received a note minutes before the attack from a Union sympathizer that read, “A company of men from across the river camped in the bottom last night. I understand that another company is at or near Liberty, and that the destination of both is the arsenal. Look out. If you want to make a speech, get it ready.”
A speech was the only resistance possible as the arsenal was guarded only by Grant and two employees. The raid, long in planning and quick in execution, lasted a week as the raiders emptied the arsenal of cannons, caissons, wagons, forges, percussion muskets, percussion rifles, rifle carbines, pistols, sabers, swords and more than 12,000 pounds of powder and 400,000 cartridges.
The bounty from the raid was shared among the raiding parties. Colonel Routt stored some munitions in Liberty and distributed some to “minute men throughout the county.” Jackson County troops took an initial load of “cannon, muskets, etc.” home and returned for a second load.
Buchanan County troops, having come to the raid with an unknown number of riders and wagons, shipped their gains to St. Joseph aboard the steamship War Eagle. Those munitions were stored in homes around Market Square until they could be distributed to Confederate forces.
The raid on the Liberty arsenal awakened Union leaders to the dangers the Federal Government would face in Missouri. The St. Louis arsenal had most of its stores transferred to Illinois; Fort Leavenworth was reinforced; and, on May 10, 1861, the Civil War opened in Missouri when United States troops attacked and captured secessionist troops loyal to Missouri’s ‘Confederate’ Governor at Camp Jackson in St. Louis.
Image: Clay County Missouri Centennial Souvenir 1822 - 1922. Published 1922.