Whether you call it the War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression, the Civil War looms large in America’s psyche: pitting brother against brother; ending slavery; bringing to an end the world of the well-to-do Southern gentry. It is the bloodiest chapter in our history, with an American casualty count exceeded only by adding all succeeding wars together. Exploring Missouri’s Civil War history remains a favorite pastime for visitors spending a history vacation in the Show-Me State.
Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee trained at Jefferson Barracks military base in St. Louis, home of the new Missouri Civil War Museum. That isn’t the only way the Show-Me State ended up on both sides of the conflict. Explore the era from pre-war through battles scattered across the state, with exhibits ranging from medical supplies to wagons to muskets and medals from both sides.
One of the earliest Civil War battles in the state took place in August 1861 in the very farthest northeast corner of Missouri. The Battle of Athens State Historic Site, 30 minutes north of Kahoka, offers one- to six-hour tours of the area where Union troops defeated the pro-south Missouri State Guard who outnumbered them almost four-to-one. It was the War’s northernmost battle west of the Mississippi.
Later that same month, the first major battle of the Civil War was fought in Missouri. Thanks to the nearly pristine landscape, Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, 15 miles southwest of Springfield, is one of the best-preserved battlefields in the country. The Visitor Center, which is open year-round, is home to numerous images of soldiers, battlefields and civilians; an extensive medical tools and equipment collection; field ordnance; and many personal items. Displays are rotated, so you might want to check first to see what is available in the Visitor Center.
The following month, the War swept through Lexington in a bloody three-day battle resulting in a Confederate victory that made Missouri Unionists wonder if they could hold the state. At the Battle of Lexington State Historic Site, you are swept back in time by visiting the Anderson House, which still bears scars from cannon and gunfire. Tours of the house are by appointment – group tours are available (for a fee). You may explore the battleground on your own; the self-guided tour includes kiosks that describe the action.
If you’re in the southeast Missouri area September 20-28, 2014, don’t miss the opportunity for your own Civil War experience at the week-long 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Pilot Knob. Activities include concerts, speakers, a grand ball and the battle reenactment that includes “blowing up the fort.”
Two years after Pilot Knob, a three-day battle was waged across 25 square miles on Missouri’s western border, in Kansas City. Through battlefield tours and exhibits of artifacts, The Battle of Westport Visitors Center and Museum introduces Civil War buffs to the confrontation sometimes referred to as “The Gettysburg of the West.”
Missouri’s Civil War battlefields and museums have hours that vary by season, so be sure to check ahead for the best time to visit. For Missouri Civil War trip ideas, click these links: Southeast; Grant & Gray Ghosts; Southwest; Where Gray Ghosts Walked. We’d love to get the details of your trip, so visit VisitMO's Facebook page.