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On the eve of war, tensions in Missouri heightened as militias armed themselves and military and political leaders strategized ways to gain an upper hand in the state.
The clash between opposing ideologies in St. Louis erupted on May 10, 1861, a month after the Confederate capture of Fort Sumter. The Missouri Volunteer Militia, many of them Southern supporters, bivouacked on the outskirts of St. Louis at Camp Jackson. After Union captain Nathaniel Lyon discovered Governor Jackson's plan to use the militia to take over the U.S. Arsenal for the Confederacy, Lyon captured the small force with ease. Crowds lined the streets to watch the Union soldiers march their prisoners through the city. Shots were fired, and the subsequent riot left more than 30 people dead and many civilians wounded. The tragedy turned public sentiment in favor of the Southern cause.
Jackson and his government went into exile and declared Missouri for the Confederacy. A provisional Union government headed by Hamilton Gamble was installed in Jefferson City. Federal and Confederate troops met at Boonville and Carthage before engaging in battle near a creek on the outskirts of Springfield. The Battle of Wilson's Creek was a Confederate victory, but by 1862, Southern forces lost their hold on the state.