After assembling a staff, General Grant boarded a steamboat in St. Louis on August 30, 1861 and arrived that evening to take command in Cape Girardeau. He took lodging in the St. Charles Hotel, which stood at the southwest corner of Themis and Main Streets, a half block east of where you are standing. One of Grant’s first acts was to order Union regiments stationed in the interior at Ironton to march to meet him in Cape to prepare for offensive operations. In the next days, those regiments (among them the 17th and 24th Illinois regiments, and the 7th Iowa) marched to meet Grant. The arrival of these troops, on September 2, was the occasion for a dispute between Grant and General Benjamin Prentiss of Illinois.
Grant moved his headquarters to Cairo, Illinois, on September 4, 1861. Then, on the evening of September 5, Grant engineered a movement upon Paducah, Kentucky, an immediate response to the decision by the Confederate army to enter Kentucky despite that state’s declared neutrality in the early months of the Civil War. On the next day, only a week after taking command in Cape Girardeau, Grant with a small force occupied the City of Paducah.
-excerpted from historic panel at Common Pleas Courthouse