Remembering Missouri’s Civil War History


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educational museum , Museums , museum exhibits , museums , Civil War , Historic Sites / Civil War , historic , Historic Sites , National Historic Site , State Historic Site
A State Divided
Author: Barb Brueggeman
The American 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 taking 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 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 Civil 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. Photographs are rotated periodically (they have more than 8,000, so can't display all at the same time), so check 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, the Battle of Pilot Knob State Historic Site shows you where one of Missouri's major Civil War battles was fought. September 26-27, 1864, Confederate troops attached the earthen fort; more than 1,000 men, Confederate and Union, were killed or wounded. Remnants of the fort remain in the open field. The visitors center houses exhibits that tell the story. 

October 23, 1864, the Battle of Westport (often referred to as the Gettysburg of the West) was waged across 25 square miles on Missouri’s western border, in Kansas City. It was one of the largest battles fought west of the Mississippi River, with more than 30,000 men involved. Through battlefield tours and exhibits of artifacts, The Battle of Westport Visitors Center and Museum introduces Civil War buffs to the confrontation. 

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; SouthwestWhere Gray Ghosts Walked. We’d love to get the details of your trip, so visit VisitMO's Facebook page.


  Battle of Athens State Historic Site
At this site, Union troops defeated the pro-south Missouri State Guard in 1861; it was the northernmost ...

  Wilson's Creek National Battlefield
Fought on August 10, 1861, the Battle of Wilson’s Creek was a pivotal battle in Missouri and the ...

  Battle of Lexington State Historic Site
The site features the Civil War battlefield and the Anderson House, which was used as a field hospital ...

  Battle of Pilot Knob State Historic Site
The Civil War Battle of Pilot Knob was fought here when Confederate troops attacked the earthen fort ...

  Missouri Civil War Museum
History lives on at the Missouri Civil War Museum. From Ulysses S. Grant to Jesse James, Missouri's ...