Steaming up the Missouri toward the State capital, we found the sentiment along the banks of the river strongly in favor of the Union. Home Guard organizations had been hastily formed, and were doing their best for the protection of the railway. Most of the villages along the Lower Missouri contained a strong German element, which needs no question of its loyalty. The railway bridges were thoroughly guarded, and each town had a small garrison to suppress any rising of the Secessionists. The conduct of the people in these villages was quite different from the course of those residing above Jefferson City. Where the inhabitants possessed no slaves, there was outspoken loyalty. In the most populous slave districts it was the reverse. Slaveholders declared that their interest lay in secession. There were a few exceptions, but they were very far in a minority.
Our triumphal entry into Jefferson City was not marked by any noteworthy event. The Capitol was deserted. The Governor and most of the State officials had departed the previous day, in the direction of Booneville. We marched through the principal streets, and found many of the people delighted at our coming. We occupied the State House, and, of course, unfurled our flag from its cupola. A steamboat, seized at the landing, was pressed into our service for use further up the stream. An encounter with the Rebels was eagerly desired.
We left a full regiment, a large force in those days, to retain possession of the place, and then pushed on in pursuit. The Rebels had disabled the railway, taking off nearly all the rolling stock and destroying a large bridge four miles west of the city. As the point where they had fled lay upon the river, we pursued them by water. At noon, on the 16th, General Lyon left Jefferson City for Booneville. Within twenty-four hours he fought his first battle in Missouri.
It is slow work to proceed with a steamboat where one’s way must be felt. Though we had only fifty miles to move, we advanced less than thirty before nightfall. Touching at a landing on the left bank of the river, fifteen miles below Booneville, a scout from the enemy’s camp came easily into our hands. From being a scout of the enemy he became our scout, as he revealed in his fright all we wished to know. The enemy, confident of an easy victory, was waiting our approach, and expressed the most lively intention of destroying us all in the twinkling of an eye.
Experience had not then demonstrated that there is little difference in the bravery of Americans, when well officered. Each side cherished the delusion that it had a monopoly of courage and endurance. One Southern man was thought equal to five Northern men in a fair contest, and if the former were given the advantage of a defensive position, any odds of numbers would be taken. There was nearly, though not quite, as much boasting on the part of our own press and people. The first severe battles made an end of the greater part of this gasconading.