Of Jeff. Thompson little can be said. Previous to that time he had been known as the mayor of St. Joseph, and a politician of some little importance in Northwest Missouri. He was famous for much gasconading, and a fondness for whisky and other material things. I could never learn that he commanded much respect. During the war the Rebels never trusted him with any command of importance. He made a very fair guerrilla, and, in 1861, gave our forces at Cairo and Bird’s Point considerable annoyance. History is not likely to give him a very prominent place in the roll of distinguished military heroes.
At this time Cairo was the most southerly point on the Mississippi in possession of the National forces. We could have occupied Columbus or Hickman, Kentucky, had not the sacredness of the soil prevented. Kentucky was neutral, and declared that neither party must set foot within her limits. Her declaration of neutrality was much like that issued by the Governor of Missouri. The United States forces were under great restrictions, while the Rebels could do pretty much as they pleased. General Prentiss sent a small expedition down the Mississippi, some sixty miles below Cairo. The Kentuckians were greatly enraged because our forces landed at Hickman and tore down a Rebel flag which the citizens had hoisted. It was an invasion of their soil, for which they demanded apology. A few weeks later the Rebels occupied both Hickman and Columbus, without any objection on the part of the neutrals.
Columbus was made very strong by the Rebel engineers, and supplied with many heavy guns for its protection. At the same time, General Prentiss pushed forward the defenses of Cairo, in readiness for any attack by the Rebel gun-boats. For more than half a year Columbus was the northern limit of the Rebel domination of the Great River. On assuming command there, General Polk announced that Columbus was the throat of the Mississippi, and must be held at all hazards. The Rebels repeatedly urged the capture of Cairo, but it was never attempted.
[Illustration: HAULING DOWN A REBEL FLAG AT HICKMAN, KY]
THE BEGINNING OF HOSTILITIES.
General Harney Relieved.—Price’s Proclamation.—End of the Truce.—Conference between the Union and Rebel Leaders.—The First Act of Hostility.—Destruction of Railway Bridges.—Promptness of General Lyon.—Capture of the State Capital.—Moving on the Enemy’s Works.—The Night before Battle.—A Correspondent’s Sensation.
On the first of June an order was received from Washington, relieving General Harney from command in Missouri. Captain Lyon had been promoted to the rank of a brigadier-general of volunteers, and was assigned to duty in General Harney’s stead. On the 5th of June, General Price issued a proclamation, calling for the State Guard to be in readiness to defend Missouri against all enemies. The appearance of this proclamation was not altogether unexpected. It was far more satisfactory to the friends of the Union than to the Secessionists, as it showed the hostile position of Governor Jackson and his abettors, and gave an opportunity for proceeding actively against them. It demonstrated very clearly that the Secessionists were determined to make their actions correspond to their words.