"Union Men to the Polls, and Rebels to Their Holes": The Contested Election between John P. Bruce and Benjamin F. Loan, 1862

By Tap, Bruce | Civil War History, March 2000 | Go to article overview

"Union Men to the Polls, and Rebels to Their Holes": The Contested Election between John P. Bruce and Benjamin F. Loan, 1862


Tap, Bruce, Civil War History


"THE CRISIS OF the fall elections is upon us" wrote Major General Samuel Ryan Curtis to Brig. Gen. Benjamin F. Loan, "and some embarrassment may be expected.... Excitement runs high, and men are apt to be swayed by temporary feelings." On November 4, 1862, the state of Missouri held its first Federal election since the outbreak of the Civil War. As Curtis predicted, there was much excitement and more than a little embarrassment. For the man to whom Curtis predicted potential trouble, Benjamin F. Loan, was involved in a controversial election in the 7th Missouri Congressional district, comprising the fifteen counties in Northwest Missouri. Allegations of military interference tarnished the fall election, followed by the filing of a formal protest by Democratic candidate John P. Bruce. After a controversial and heated investigation of several months, congressional Republicans eventually upheld Loan's victory. The investigation and its resolution, nonetheless, tell a great deal about Civil War elections and how congressional committees resolved contested elections,(1)

The 1862 election was actually a contest between three candidates: Bruce, Loan, and Hiram Branch. Of the three candidates, relatively little is known about John P. Bruce and Hiram Branch, while more is known about Benjamin Loan. Bruce was a resident of St. Joseph during the Civil War and onetime proprietor of the St. Joseph Journal A conservative Democrat, Bruce, like many Missourians, was a conditional unionist at the outset of the rebellion and remained committed to "the Constitution as it is and the Union as it was." Loan had emigrated from Kentucky to Missouri in the late 1830S and established a prosperous law office in St. Joseph. After the outbreak of rebellion, Loan was appointed brigadier general in the Missouri State Militia, first commanding the northwest district, headquartered in St. Joseph and later commanding the central district from Jefferson City. Throughout the war, Loan slowly inched toward a position of political radicalism. He gained some popularity in northern circles by levying assessments on secessionists in the districts he commanded. By the end of 1862, Loan was fully convinced that any conciliation toward secession sympathizers in Missouri was misguided, and that they only way to deal with the disloyal in his district was with vigorous measures. The final candidate, Hiram Branch, was the most obscure of the three. A Colonel in the Enrolled Missouri Militia as well as Indian agent for St. Joseph, Branch was a radical Republican who got the fewest votes in the election and played no role in the subsequent congressional proceedings.(2)

"I understood that bayonets were guarding the polls," testified Duff Vaughn, a seven-year resident of Stewartsville, in De Kalb County, "and I saw the enrolled militia with guns on the platform near where they were voting." According to Vaughn and several other witnesses, ten to fifteen members of the Enrolled Missouri Militia, under the command of a Captain MacDonald, supervised the elections that day, allowing Loan's supporters easy access to the polls, while preventing those suspected of supporting John P. Bruce from voting. M. Harrison Boaz, a fifty-year-old lawyer and ten-year resident of Stewartsville, was harassed by one soldier, who yelled at him, "God damn you, leave or I will knock you out." He then raised his fist as if to strike Boaz who wisely withdrew from the court house before presenting his ticket to election judges. Boaz's treatment had a chilling effect on other voters who allegedly withdrew after observing what had happened to Boaz. "There seemed to be a general understanding," another resident later recalled, "that unless a man voted for Loan, there would be some trouble in getting to vote."(3)

Allegations of irregularities were not limited to De Kalb County. At Chillicothe, Livingston County, several observers noticed signs posted in different areas of the town that stated, "Special Order! …

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