On this day in 1821, Union General Francis Preston Blair Jr. is born in Lexington, Kentucky. The colorful Blair was instrumental in keeping Missouri part of the Union during the early stages of the Civil War.
Blair’s father served as an advisor to several presidents. His namesake and youngest son was privileged and rebellious as a youth. As a college student, the younger Blair was expelled from the University of North Carolina and Yale for misconduct. He finally finished his degree at Princeton, but was denied graduation for participating in a wild party in his final week. Blair’s degree was bestowed a year later after an influential friend intervened on his behalf.
Blair studied law in Kentucky and went onto practice in Missouri with his brother, Montgomery, who would later serve as U.S. postmaster general under President Abraham Lincoln. During the 1850s, Francis ran an anti-slave newspaper in St. Louis and served in the Missouri legislature. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1856. Blair was opposed to the extension of slavery, even though he owned a few slaves himself. His stance led to his defeat for re-election in 1858.
In 1860, Blair campaigned for Abraham Lincoln and also regained his congressional seat. When the Civil War erupted, he organized Missouri’s Unionist forces and helped save the federal arsenal in St. Louis from the Confederates. Blair personally organized seven regiments from Missouri, and became a brigadier general, winning the respect of his superiors, Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman. Blair commanded a corps during Sherman’s March to the Sea in Georgia in 1864.
After the war, Blair served in the U.S. Senate, but a stroke ended his political career. He died in 1875.