Thursday, June 23, 2016

Peter Westerhouse - Civil War Years #1

Lexington and Freedom, Missouri, were the sites of many skirmishes during the civil war. Many people lost their real estate holdings, personal properties and their lives.  German immigrants, including the Peter Westerhaus family, were anti-slave advocates living in a pro-slave state. They supported the Union Army and its beliefs. Living near the Missouri River port in Lexington, Peter and his family would have interacted daily with pro-slave owners and their slaves.

Peter was strongly against slavery and joined the Missouri Home Guard Infantry, 14th Regiment, Company E, in Lexington, Missouri, 6 July 1861, for a three year period. His Missouri Home Guard unit supported the Union Army, but received very little income, equipment or training. His unit was composed mostly of German non-English speaking immigrants with the purpose of supporting anti-slave advocates in the community.

When Peter enlisted in the Missouri Home Guard, Anna and Peter had four children:
                   Henry - age 7
                   Mary - age 5
                   Amelia - age 3
                   Emma - new born

The Battle of Lexington began 18 September 1861, near Peter's property in the Anderson Addition.  The citizens were cheering the Confederate troops as they approached Lexington, hoping the Confederate Army would regain control from the Union Army. In the Battle of Lexington, there were 15,000 Confederate troops and 3,500 Union troops, including Peter Westerhaus and his Missouri Home Guard unit. Confederate troops used hemp bales as shields, and pushed the bales forward as they advanced toward the Union troops for their final charge 20 September 1861. Union troops surrendered at noon,  20 September 1861, with very few causalities.
Peter Westerhouse's Muster Roll
Peter Westerhouse was wounded and taken prisoner during the 'The Battle of Lexington'. Wounded troops were taken to the Anderson House which served as a Union Hospital.  However, no medical records have ever been found for Peter. 

Peter, along with 3,000 other captured Union troops, was released at 2 PM, 20 September 1861, after they all had listened to a speech by pro-confederate Missouri Governor, Claiborne Jackson.  Also paroled by Confederate General Sterling Price, troops were forced to take an oath not to fight again and to leave the area.  General Price told troops if they were caught fighting again, they would be executed.  Peter and other Home Guard troops walked home through crowds of cheering pro-slavery townspeople. As he was walking back to his home at the corner of Broadway Avenue and 3rd Street, Peter must have felt disappointment as to how the battle had ended.  He would have been welcomed by his wife and their four children, so excited to see he was safely home.  This may have been the moment Peter and Anna began to consider moving their family to the free-slave state of Kansas, and into a community having the views more aligned with theirs.

Peter was mustered out 19 October 1861, in St. Louis, Missouri.  His muster roll indicated he was wounded and taken prisoner at Lexington and afterwards, released on oath.  He was originally mustered in for a three year period, but only served 3 months before being mustered out.

The 'Hawkins Taylor Commission' authorized the Missouri Home Guard troops to receive a payment for their military service.  Peter received $54.65 for his 3 months and 13 days of service in the Missouri Home Guard.  He collected this 30 June 1864. 

Peter Westerhouse's  Hawkins Taylor Commission Pension Card

Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into Law 20 May 1862, encouraging settlers west, promising a wonderful life in the new frontier. The new law established a three step process by which to acquire 160 acres as a homestead for any American citizen. First, the homesteader must file an application with the local land office. Second, they must live on the land, improve it by building at least a 12 feet by 14 feet dwelling, as well as grow crops for five years. Third, after five years, they would need to file for a deed of title and prove to the local land office that the terms of the Homestead Act had been met. The land office would forward the paperwork to the General Land Office in Washington, DC, where it would be reviewed and either approved or denied.

Before leaving Lexington, Missouri, Peter and Anna had their fifth child, Edward Westerhouse, 22 September 1862.  Edward would join the growing family of three sisters and one brother.  After Edward's birth, the family started making final plans to move to Kansas and homestead 160 acres.  These must have been both exciting and scary times, leaving the security of having a home, income, friends and family, for the unknown in Kansas. Peter would leave his cooperage business behind, and learn the skill of farming.  

Peter and Anna sold all of the Lexington properties to Henry Sandler 2 January 1863. The four First Addition lots were sold for a profit of $4675 after an initial investment of $1000. The Six Anderson Addition lots were sold for a loss of $150 after an initial investment of $350.  The two Pomeroy, Houx & Grahams Addition lots were sold for a loss of $200 after an initial investment of $845. The Lafayette County Courthouse property deeds revealed that Peter and Anna were able to collect a total of $6520 for their properties.

Lafayette County Courthouse
On a February morning in 1863, Peter and Anna were packing in preparation for their move to Kansas. Two escaped slaves came to their doorstep asking for a place to hide.  Peter and Anna took them in and also offered passage to Kansas.  The Westerhouses must have welcomed the possibility of having help with their five children, including an infant, on the 300 mile trip to Kansas. 

The two Negroes, Betty and Abe, had escaped earlier from their owner, Mrs. Catherina Cavanaugh, and had been hiding in homes around the Lexington area. They were trying to leave the area and get to a free-slave state.  Only 4 or 5 hours after Betty and Abe had arrived at Peter's home, Sheriff Jacob Price knocked on their door, demanding to be let in to search for the escaped slaves.  Neither Peter nor Anna spoke English, so it must have been difficult for them to communicate with the sheriff.  It was not long before the sheriff was able to find Betty and Abe and take them away.  The sheriff then came back to the Westerhaus home to question Peter. He charged Peter with 'attempting to entice and decoy away slaves from Missouri to Kansas'.  Peter offered the sheriff money and explained that he was not aware he was doing something wrong.  The sheriff did not accept the money and Peter was charged with bribery.

Peter was allowed to continue on his trip to Kansas, as long as he would promise to be present at his trial which had been set for 5 March 1863, at the Lafayette County Courthouse in Lexington, Missouri.  The Lafayette County Courthouse was newly built in 1847, and located only four blocks south of Peter's home.  Today, it is the oldest active courthouse west of the Mississippi River.


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