|The story of how Missouri became embroiled in the Civil
War conflict and why.
Missouri Civil War History in the Arcadia Valley Region & Black River Recreation
Since 1857, the nation had been deeply divided by the Dred Scott decision, the
Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Lecompton Constitution, and John Brown's 1859 raid on
Harper's Ferry. When it came time for the 1860 presidential election, the pro-
slavery Southern states knew the Republican Party was against the expansion of
slavery into US territories, and Southern Democrats believed Lincoln’s stand
against slavery would ruin the South. So, although it was regarded as rebellion,
seven Southern states—South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia,
Louisiana and Texas---declared their secession from the Union, as soon as
Lincoln's victory was announced. These seven states formed the Confederate
States of America and elected Jefferson Davis President. Davis took his oath of
office in Alabama just before Lincoln’s inauguration.
Both sides began to build their armies. The first battle of the war was in April 1861
when the CSA gained control of Fort Sumpter, causing four more states to secede
from the Union—Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee. The five slave-
holding border states—Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, West Virginia and Delaware—
belonged to the Union, but their citizens were divided in allegiance. Missouri was a
friend to both sides, sending men and supplies to both the Confederate and Union
forces, it had a star on both flags and state governments on each side as well.
When the Union Army under Nathaniel Lyon seized the arsenal at St. Louis and
moved its supplies to Illinois, pro-Southern Democratic Governor Claiborne F.
Jackson called out the Missouri State Militia, under Brig. Gen. Daniel M. Frost. Lyon
perceived their maneuvers as an attempt to seize the arsenal and attacked the
Militia, parading them as captives through the streets of St. Louis.
The next day, on May 11, 1861, the Missouri General Assembly authorized the
formation of a Missouri State Guard commanded by Sterling Price. Exactly two
months later, Lyon met with Jackson and demanded that Missouri honor Lincoln’s
call for troops. Jackson refused and was escorted (and eventually evicted) from
office. The State Guard endured attacks by federal forces and ultimately,
Claiborne Jackson and his State Guard troops were chased to southwest Missouri.
The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, near Springfield, was the first battle in which
Missourians sought formal help from the CSA. With more than 2,300 Union
casualties, one of whom was Lyon, the Confederate Army won the battle. But they
were too disorganized and ill-equipped to pursue the retreating Union regiments,
and Price soon began a withdrawal of State Guard units from Missouri.
Missouri endured a trying period of bushwhacking guerrilla warfare from 1862 to
1864, which often pitted neighbor-against-neighbor. During this time, small
regiments of troops from both sides were stationed throughout the state, including
Fort Davidson at Pilot Knob, a Union fort, and nearby Fort Barnesville, which is
believed to have been built and occupied in 1863. It is believed that the Union 13th
Cavalry was camped at the village of Barnesville. This was known as a picket,
meaning their main camp was elsewhere other than the fort. A small group of
soldiers would have been placed at the fort for guard duty while the others were
busy carrying out raids to keep control of this area and the extremely crucial military
trail to Pilot Knob. The Confederates desperately wanted to regain control of this
area and the trail to Pilot Knob. There is not much recorded history on the fort at
Barnesville (near present-day Ellington). It was discovered in 1997, and although
there is no evidence of a battle there, through the diligence of a local historian,
Gerald Angel, Fort Barnesville was added to the National Register of Historic Places
in 1998 and is on the civil war tour of our region.
Although, or perhaps because, the Confederacy was clearly losing the war, in 1864
Price renewed his attempt to put Missouri under Confederate control by
reassembling the Missouri Guard. Unfortunately for the Confederacy, and for
Price, he was unable to repeat the victorious streak he had in 1861. Price’s Raid
began in the southeastern portion of the state where he advanced northward to the
end of the St. Louis and Iron Mountain Railroad at Pilot Knob, in the Arcadia Valley.
There he attempted to defeat the army at Fort Davidson in the Battle of Pilot Knob,
He lost nearly 1200 men who were killed, wounded or missing, and ultimately, the
battle. From there he struck northward where he found St. Louis to be too heavily
fortified with Union troops and set out westward, parallel with the Missouri River.
The Federal soldiers attempted to stop his advance—resulting in some minor and
major skirmishes—The advance culminated in the Battle of Westport (in present-
day Kansas City) and the defeat of the Southern army.
Since Missouri never actually seceded from the Union, it wasn’t forced to suffer the
worst aspects of Reconstruction, and Democrats, who had been pro-slavery prior to
the war, returned to being the dominant power in the state by 1873.