PROFILE of
JAMES PECKHAM
Portrait of Nathaniel Lyon
8th MO Infantry (US)
Field Officer
 
NATHANIEL LYON:
Subject of Biography
written by James Peckham

1. JAMES PECKHAM BEFORE THE CIVIL WAR

In 1861 the Missouri legislature was faced with the dilemma of how to handle Southern secession and the Northern reaction.
 
James Peckham was a member of the Missouri Legislature when George G. Vest introduced a resolution in the house in the nature of a reply to resolutions adopted by the legislatures of New York and other Northern States tendering men and money to the President for the purpose of coercing the seceding States.
 
Vest's resolution said: "We regard with the utmost abhorrence the doctrine of coercion as indicated by the action of the States aforesaid, believing, that the same would end in civil war and forever destroy the hope of reconstructing the Federal Union.   So believing, we deem it our duty to declare that if there is any invasion of the slaveholding States for the purpose of carrying such doctrine into effect, it is the opinion of this general assembly that the people of Missouri will constantly rally on the side of their Southern brethren to resist the invader at all hazards and to the last extremity."
 
The resolution was supported by Geo. G. Vest, Thomas A. Harris and J. F. Cunningham in impassioned speeches, and opposed by Geo. Partridge and James Peckham, Unconditional Union men, with equal fervor.
 
It was adopted in the house by a vote of 89 to 14, and in the senate with only one dissenting vote.   The Secessionists were jubilant, for they considered that the State was solemnly pledged, as far as the legislature could pledge it, to resist coercion and stand with the South to the last extremity.
 
After this resolution, a Convention was called, in hopes of declaring secession. However, the voters of Missouri chose anti-secession delegates.   Missouri wound up with two state governments in 1861 - an elected pro-slavery state government (Governor Jackson) which seceded from the Union, and a pro-slavery government (Governor Humble) which was imposed on the state by the Federal Government under martial law.
 
It was in this atmosphere that James Peckham decided to join the 8th Missouri.


Much of this information comes from Chapter 2 of Col. John C Moore's "History of the Civil War in Missouri"
http://www.civilwarhome.com/missouri2.htm


2. JAMES PECKHAM DURING THE CIVIL WAR

During the Civil War, James Peckham served in the 8th Missouri Volunteer Infantry as a Field Officer with the rank of Lt. Col.   During the war, he led the 8th Missouri at Russell's House, at Shiloh, at Pittsburg Landing, and at Jackson, Mississippi.   He did go on to command the 29th Missouri later in the Civil War.
 
James Peckham is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis.


3. JAMES PECKHAM AS BIOGRAPHER

One year after the Civil War ended, James Peckham published a biography of Nathaniel Lyon.   This book was a history of the Civil War in Missouri, written in a remarkably short time after the War ended.

GEN. NATHANIEL LYON AND MISSOURI IN 1861.
A Monograph of the Great Rebellion.
New York: American News Company, 1866.

James Peckham was a St. Louis Unionist and Republican member of the Missouri legislature in the period leading up to the Civil War.   During the war he joined the Union army and eventually became Colonel of the 8th Missouri Infantry.   Peckham's connections to the group centered around Francis P. Blair, Jr. in early 1861 were extensive and close.   In many instances it is clear that Peckham is working directly from the personal papers and recollections of Blair, James O. Broadhead, and other members of the "Committee of Safety" and its allies.   James Peckham is listed on the roster of the "parent company" of the Union Home Guards in January 1861 a company whose captain was Blair himself.   Peckham is not just a chronicler of the events he describes; he was often an actor and first-hand observer as well.
 
In many ways, "GENERAL NATHANIEL LYON AND MISSOURI IN 1861" is an unfortunate title for his book.   Indeed, a much more accurate title and authorship credit for this book would read "The Struggle for St. Louis in 1861" by "The Union Committee of Safety and Friends."   While of necessity any treatment of events in Missouri in 1861 must have Lyon near the center of the story, Peckham's book is much more than the bio of Lyon that its title implies.
 
The book contains a wealth of anecdotes about lesser-known but interesting characters like J. Richard Barrett, Elton W. Fox, Charles Ellerd, and many others that are not to be found anywhere else.   Additionally, there are rosters of Union Home Guard companies, lists of financial contributors to the Union cause in Missouri, and just a general wealth of detail of interest to Civil War scholars and genealogists.
 
For 1866, well before the publication of any of the other well-known accounts of Missouri during the war, Peckham's book is nothing short of amazing.   Consider all the sources that were not available to Peckham yet - no Snead, McElroy, or Galusha Anderson. The publication of the Official Records of the Rebellion are still far in the future.   Peckham's book is clearly the "granddaddy" of much Missouri Civil War scholarship, relied on extensively by many of the authors who came later sometimes to the detriment of the historical record in those instances where Peckham got it wrong.
 
Of course the downside of such an early account by an unapologetic Unionist, is that his access to Confederate sources was limited to rumor, spy reports, newspaper accounts, and captured correspondence.   While this was often valuable and reasonably accurate, clearly James Peckham is not the best source for what was going on inside secessionist circles.   Additionally, there can be no doubt which side Peckham was on, and he is rarely in the mood to be fair-minded about Confederate actions, aims, and personalities.
 
Peckham's book is not, and makes no attempt to be, an uninterested and balanced account of events.   Nevertheless, the book is a very valuable contribution and should be read by anyone interested in St. Louis or Missouri during the Civil War.


This information is adapted from the Civil War St. Louis website -
http://www.civilwarstlouis.com/peckham/
James Peckham's book can be found online at that website.


4. A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF NATHANIEL LYON

LYON, NATHANIEL (18181861), American soldier, was born in Ashford, Connecticut, on the 14th of July 1818, and graduated at West Point in 1841.   He was engaged in the Seminole War and the war with Mexico, won the brevet of captain for his gallantry at Contreras and Churubusco, and was wounded in the assault on Mexico City.
 
Lyon was promoted captain in 1851, and two years later was ordered to the East, when he became an ardent opponent of "States' Rights" and slavery.   He was stationed in Kansas and in Missouri on the eve of the Civil War.   In Missouri not only was sentiment divided, but the two factions were eager to resort to force long before they were in the other border states.
 
Lyon took an active part in organizing the Union party in Missouri, though greatly hampered, at first by the Federal government which feared to provoke hostilities, and afterwards by the military commander of the Department of the West, General W. S. Harney.   On Harney's removal in April 1861, Lyon promptly assumed the command (with the rank of brigadier general), called upon Illinois to send him troops, and mustered the Missouri contingent into the United States' service.
 
He broke up Camp Jackson, the militia camp at St Louis established by the secessionist governor of Missouri, Claiborne F. Jackson.   On Lyon's refusal to accede to the Secessionists' proposal that the state should be neutral, hostilities opened in earnest, and Lyon, having cleared Missouri of small hostile bands in the central part of the state, turned to the southern districts, where a Confederate army was advancing from the Arkansas border.
 
The two forces came to action at Wilson's Creek, Missouri, on the 10th of August 1861.   The Union forces, heavily outnumbered, were defeated, and Lyon himself was killed while striving to rally his troops.


This information comes from the 1911 Edition Encyclopedia Online