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Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for Missouri in the Civil War

When I went to the University of Missouri-Columbia I became fascinated with the state's Civil War history. The war west of the Mississippi doesn't get much attention from historians and so I didn't know much about it. Soon I became hooked.

The Civil War in Missouri actually started years before it did in the rest of the country with Bleeding Kansas. This was a bitter border war over whether the Kansas Territory would become a free state or a slavery state. Proslavery Missouri bushwhackers raided Kansas, killing Kansans and wrecking abolitionists printing presses, while free-state Kansas Jayhawkers raided Missouri, killing slaveowners and stealing their slaves to freedom over the state line. As I've noted before, there were a lot of opportunists on both sides who used the chaos to plunder for their own benefit.

Missouri was an unusual case even when the war started in earnest in 1861. Within a year, Union forces pushed all major Confederate armies out of the state. They had a hard time holding it, though. While the urban areas supported the Union, rural areas tended to be secessionist. A nasty guerrilla war ensued and nobody was safe outside of town. This is reflected in my Civil War novel A Fine Likeness, in which a Union militia captain finds he can't even ride to the nearest town without losing men. Regular raids from Arkansas didn't help the Union position either.

The men fighting in Missouri were quite a mix. Soldiers from Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Illinois, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and the Indian Territory all fought there, and I'm probably forgetting a few states! Many Missouri Unionists were German immigrants, including some who didn't speak English, and the rebel side could boast having a young Frank and Jesse James.

All in all, a rich setting for a novel!

Engraving of the Charge of the First Iowa at Wilson's Creek courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


  1. I'll bet you're being 100% accurate in your estimation that most of the truly interesting aspects of the war played out in this part of the country, where the stakes were highest. Wasn't the whole point of the South's campaign their right to expand further? We tend to hear about the North's side of it now, the ideal to keep the nation together, and on the best possible terms, but the frontier was already at the start of the century where the population had the most to gain, and so where the most eccentric characters could be found. Interesting observation. (And yes, it does make me want to read your book that much more.)

  2. Fantastic stuff, just been doing a little research into the Iowans in Missourri

  3. A very rich setting indeed! Interesting stuff! :)

  4. Be curious what states even further west were doing during that time.

    1. Alex,

      The Indian Territory (modern Oklahoma) had their own Civil War with opposing factions taking the Unionist or Confederate side. New Mexico territory (now Arizona and New Mexico) also saw a doomed Confederate invasion in 1862. Put Arizona into the search engine for this blog and you'll find a few articles.


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