In the late 1830s, the United States Government established the Liberty Arsenal in Liberty, Missouri, a town settled in the 1820s, primarily by southern pioneers. This alleviated many fears of the residents, who constantly worried about Indian raids. With the militia guarding the arsenal, the Indians stayed away. But, the town of Liberty had more to fear.
Though the city was mostly populated with Southern sympathizers, the arsenal was raided by pro-slavery men during the Kansas-Missouri Border War in 1855.
Surprisingly, when the Civil War broke out, Missouri voted to stay with the Union, even though the state had a Confederate-minded population. This placed the state in a war within its borders. On April 20, 1861, the arsenal was raided again by about 200 men from Clay and Jackson Counties. The Southern sympathizers captured about 1,000 muskets, four brass field pieces, and a small amount of ammunition. It was the first civilian Civil War hostility against the Federal government in the state.
The munitions were to be hidden at the home of Henry Lewis Routt near what is now William Jewell College. Routt was eventually captured and tried for treason, found guilty in a military trial, and sentenced to hang. But, friends on both the Confederate and Union sides interceded, and President Abraham Lincoln issued a pardon, one of the earliest wartime acts of mercy.
Instead, many arms were shipped upriver to the charge of St. Joseph, Missouri, Mayor M. Jeff Thompson. The arms were distributed to Missouri Militiamen and the Missouri State Guard. The four brass field pieces became Captain Henry Guibor’s State Guard battery.
Fearing the much larger St. Louis Arsenal could also fall, Union General Nathaniel Lyon seized the St. Louis Arsenal on April 29 and sent most of its munitions safely to Illinois.
Today, nothing remains of the Liberty Arsenal, once located at Liberty Landing on the Missouri River.
© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated May 2023.