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St. Louis: Civil War Commemoration

Courtesy Missouri Civil War Museum

Perhaps the biggest tourism event nationwide next year will be the kickoff of the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War, which began in 1861. Although people often think of the eastern seaboard and the Deep South as the battlegrounds of the war, Missouri and the St. Louis area played no small part in the conflict.

“It was a very complex situation with all that was happening on the border with Kansas,” said Jeff Meyer, curator at the Missouri History Museum. “All of the bitterness in the border wars carried over into the Civil War.”

Meyer is immersed in Missouri’s Civil War history right now as he prepares a 6,000-square-foot exhibit on the war. It will launch at the St. Louis museum in November.

“It’s going to be a combination of chronological and thematic elements,” he said. “The way it’s developing is to look at slavery in the state since Missouri’s inception and then to look at how that issue carried us into the war.”

The exhibition will draw heavily on items from the museum’s own collection, with additional artifacts on loan from other institutions. Visitors will see a flag captured by Union troops from a pro-Southern encampment, as well as many documents and photographs detailing how the war and its accompanying red tape affected the daily lives of Missouri citizens.

There will be weapons and uniforms on display, of course, along with some one-of-a-kind items such as an officer’s pocket watch that was struck by a bullet. The watch was shattered to pieces but saved the officer’s life.

The exhibit will also examine some of the more intangible ideas from the war.

“We want to look at the issue of loyalty: What does it mean to be loyal?” Meyer said. “That’s a problem that the Union had. We also want to look into guerilla warfare, because every corner of the state had guerillas, with Union soldiers trying to control them.”

A new museum
Groups with an interest in Civil War history can learn even more about the area’s role at Jefferson Barracks, the oldest active military post west of the Mississippi River. The post was founded in 1826 and played a big part in the events of the Civil War.

“Prior to the Civil War, Jefferson Barracks was considered one of the premier military bases in the country,” said Gary Stevens, director of marketing and public relations for the Missouri Civil War Museum, which is set to open at Jefferson Barracks next spring. “About 220 Civil War officers served out here prior to the war, including Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee and William Sherman.

“During the war, Jefferson Barracks was a Union military base and supply depot, but its most important role was as a hospital complex during the war. We were right on the Mississippi River, so we had boats bringing wounded soldiers from across the country.”

In 2002, a historical preservation group was formed to create a Civil War Museum at the post. The museum is scheduled to open in April in a 1905 building that originally housed the post exchange. Crews are restoring the structure to its original condition; when finished, it will contain a variety of exhibits that trace the conflict in Missouri from the time of the border wars with Kansas through the Civil War and Reconstruction.

The exhibits will also highlight the history of the barracks and the medical work that was done there throughout the war.

“We have a lot of weapons — muskets, sabers, bayonets, cannonballs and bullets,” Stevens said. “We also have a lot of Civil War stamps, currency coins and medical artifacts such as surgery kits.”

For more about St. Louis:

This is the year to come back to St. Louis
Civil War Commemoration
Behind the scenes
What’s new in St. Lou’?
WEB EXCLUSIVE! St. Louis Photo Slideshow

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.