Henry Clay Pate

Henry Clay Pate (1832-1864)

"A lazy, windy, adventurous arrival from Virginia."
[Illinois State Historical Society]

Henry Clay Pate was born in Bedford county, Virginia, entered the University of Virginia in 1848, but left after only two years for Kentucky. He drifted to Cincinnati, eventually leading a party of Virginians to Westport in April 1855 with the intent "of swelling the emigration from the South and making Kansas a slave state." [Connelly, History, Ch. 31]

In Cincinnati in 1852, Pate wrote a guidebook for students at the University of Virginia called "The American Vade Mecum; or, The Companion of Youth, and Guide to College." The volume included a description of a Bedford county landmark, "the Peaks of Otter," with an homage to the residents of his hometown, Liberty, Virginia, written in Pate's purple prose:

"They, indeed, are the very princes of freemen; breathing, as they do, the pure breezes of their own blue mountains, and daily learning lessons of liberty and independence from the wild bird that soars in unobstructed flight and proud defiance about the towering summit of the Peaks of Otter." [Pate, American Vade Mecum]

A Cincinnati newsman remembered Pate's Cincinnati days:

"Some years, four or five years perhaps, ago, the door of a lodging room, in the third story of an obscure building of this city, was labeled with startling letters "H. CLAY PATE, AUTHOR!" Behind this door were the quarters of a slight young man who had thrust distinction upon himself, by publishing at his own expense, a book! The frontispiece thereof was a wood cut of the "author," with a facsimile of the autograph of that illustrious individual. .... It was made up of several mournful attempts at "tales," and a mass of essays perpetrated at college, introduced by a prodigious exhortation to all young men of the country, to go straightway and take a college course at the institution of the workmanship of which the "author" was a blossoming specimen.-- Would that we had kept our copy of the volume..." [Quindaro Chidowan, February 13, 1858]

Arriving in Westport, Pate was soon publishing his own newspaper variously called the "Border Star," "Frontier News," or "Star of the Empire." He was also engaged as the local correspondent for the St. Louis Missouri Republican, covering the Kansas battle including the meetings of the Bogus Legislature. [House Journal, 32] Pate took a strong pro-slavery and pro-Southern view. He believed the Northern states were exploiting the South, including his native Virginia. "The longer we submit to the blasting monopoly of the northern merchants," he wrote, "the more difficult will it be to cast off the yoke of oppression under which we live." [ Carmichael, The Last Generation, 45]

One Missouri historian, writing about the inequality of propagandists in the "Kansas-Missouri War," measured the "tremendous energies and inventive zeal" of the Kansas corps of writers against the sole Missouri correspondent, Henry Clay Pate, "a lazy, windy, adventurous arrival from Virginia, who could write but possessed something that will ruin any propagandist-- a sense of humor." Describing his famous encounter with John Brown "Pate wrote for the outside world a short, matter-of-fact description of the fight and ended with the cryptic finale, 'I went to take Old Brown and Old Brown took me.'" [Lewis, Propaganda, 9ff]

Pate also announced himself as an attorney-at-law and was soon appointed to fill a vacancy as Justice of Peace for Kaw Township. He entered the real estate business, as well, platting "Pate's first addition" in Westport in 1857. . [Union Historical Company, Jackson County, 353,354]

In summer 1856 Pate went back to Virginia to recruit settlers for Kansas. In a public meeting, Pate "gave most flowing descriptions of the territory, its climate, soil, and productions, and its vast importance to the south as a territory and prospective state." He aroused his listeners to action and "much interest was manifest in order to induce immigration, that a colony might be established in that, when, almost (a) New World, around which as a nucleus, emigrants might rally." [Letter, Thomas H. Rosser, 1886, Leavenworth Times Reprint] Thomas Rosser from Petersburg, Virginia and living in Westport, also recruited Virginians. [Goff, Rosser, 16]

Jefferson Buford, an Alabama lawyer, recruited 400 men from Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia. On their arrival the citizens of Westport presented Buford with a "fine horse, saddle and bridle, in a public manner." Pate made the presentation, addressing Buford and the crowd:

"Major Buford, in the name of the people of Westport, I present you with this horse, bridle and saddle. The horse is given by Mr. Samuel McKinney, a gentleman of this place; the rigging was purchased by subscription of the citizens. They are presented as a testimonial of your noble services in behalf of the South and the cause of slavery for Kansas."

When the bridle was placed in the Major's hands, "deafening shouts arose from the multitude assembled." [Cutler, History, Part 31]

Soon the southerners were in Kansas, mustered into the "Kansas Militia" under a proclamation from Governor Shannon. Captain Pate, commanding the "Westport Sharpshooters," escorted two Lawrence men arrested for treason from Westport to Lecompton, where they arrived on May 19, 1856. Pate was present at the 'Sack of Lawrence,' learning of the Pottawatomie Massacre on the 25th. Appointed Deputy United States Marshal, Pate resolved to find John Brown and arrest him. [Sanborn, John Brown, 1891]

John Brown, in Kansas during the summer of 1856

H. C. Pate told his friends: "I went to take Old Brown and Old Brown took me."

Pate and about thirty of his Westport Sharpshooters camped near Blackjack in Douglas County and "began to terrorize the citizens of the surrounding country." Dr. Graham of Prairie City was arrested and taken to their camp. Others were "annoyed and alarmed," and reports of outrages circulated. [Griffith, Black Jack, 524] When word reached John Brown of the Missourians' Black Jack activities, Brown called his company together and traveled all night to the site. At daylight, Brown attacked Pate and his company, who took shelter behind their wagons. Although Pate's forces outnumbered Brown's, after two hours, Pate sent one of his men out with a prisoner as a shield and under a white flag. Pate surrendered and became Brown's prisoner. [Robinson, Interior and Exterior Life, Ch.19]

Soon Colonel Sumner, in command of Federal troops at Fort Leavenworth, arrived with orders from Governor Shannon to release Pate and his men. The Westport men were allowed to recover their weapons. One witness remembered what happened next:

"Then, Captain Pate got up on a log and said he would like to make a few remarks. Colonel Sumner then lifted up his voice and said distinctly, "I don't want to hear a word from you, sir. You have no business here, the Governor told me so." Captain Pate and his company then disappeared..." [Griffith, Black Jack, 525]

Among Sumner's officers was Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart, who along with Thomas Rosser of Westport, would figure in Pate's later life.

James Ewell Brown Stuart (1833-1864)

"Even critical officers shared (the) opinion that "Jeb" was the greatest cavalry officer ever foaled in America."
Douglas Southall Freeman

In October 1857, Pate participated in the most famous election fraud in Territorial Kansas. At Oxford, in Johnson County adjoining New Santa Fe, Missouri, about forty voters cast ballots in the election of the Second Territorial Legislature. Henry Clay Pate, "who was entrusted with the records," took the list to New Santa Fe that night and then on to Westport the next day. When the vote was received by the Secretary of State, Oxford had cast 1,628 votes. At the next election in December 1857, on the Lecompton pro-slavery constitution, the Oxford vote was 1,250, overwhelmingly in favor of the constitution. The next month, in January 1858, officers under the Lecompton constitution were elected.. Oxford precinct cast only 696 illegal votes, "a big slump." Later that month a census was taken for the township, showing forty-two legal voters. [Blair, Johnson County, 181] A free-state man from Ohio recognized that the voter list was written in alphabetical order, and had been copied from an old Cincinnati city directory. [Cordley, Lawrence, Ch. 10] Undoubtedly, Pate had kept a copy of the directory when he moved to Missouri.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Pate joined the Confederate Army, rising to Lieutenant Colonel of the 5th Virginia Calvary. He was even said to be the designer of a revolving cannon firing five shots of four pound balls. [Melton & Pawls Guide] At the battle of Yellow Tavern in May 1864, Pate served under General J.E.B. Stuart, defending the Confederate left. In addition to knowing Pate in Kansas, Stuart had testified at Pate's court martial arising out of Pate's dispute with his old friend and superior officer, Thomas Rosser, now a Brigadier General in the Virginia calvary. Stuart had taken Rosser's side in the feud. [Guttman, Last Ride]

The first Federal attack at Yellow Tavern was repelled by the 5th Virginia "in a hand-to-hand grapple." General Stuart was apprehensive that Pate might fail to hold on the next attack. He rode over to Pate's position, gave the colonel instructions and asked him to hold the position until reinforcements arrived. Pate "got up and looked squarely at the General from whom he was estranged." "I will do it," Pate said. Stuart thanked him and, as the two men shook hands, "all difference" between them was "effaced." [Freeman, Lee's Lieutenants, 421]

Federal troops again attacked; Pate stood as promised and was quickly killed. J.E.B. Stuart was also mortally wounded in the battle and died the next day. Among the Union officers making their name at Yellow Tavern was George Armstrong Custer of Michigan, breveted Lieutenant Colonel for his gallantry.

Charles Clark