American Civil War in Missouri

Civil War in Central Missouri

Map of Region 1 Macon County Pettis County Monroe County Audrain County Randolph County Carroll County Boone County Maries County Chariton County Howard County Cooper County Saline County Lafayette County Moniteau County Morgan County Miller County Cole County Callaway County Osage County

Counties of the Central Region

Audrain County Maries County
Boone County Miller County
Callaway County Moniteau County
Carroll County Monroe County
Chariton County Morgan County
Cole County Osage County
Cooper County Pettis County
Howard County Randolph County
Lafayette County Saline County
Macon County

It was inevitable that the central Missouri region would become deeply enmeshed in the Civil War and the events contributing to that cataclysmic explosion. Running through the heart of the region was the strategically vital Missouri River. On either bank were some of the state’s most fertile agricultural lands. A plantation slave-based economy thrived in counties along the river. Many of the state’s political leaders and economic elites hailed from this region. The Pacific Railroad passed along the southern margins of the region while the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad clipped the northern edge and the North Missouri Railroad cut south and then east across the region. Control of these transportation networks would be vital to any war effort. Although there were pockets of German settlement in the region, most residents traced their ancestry to the states of the Upper South. The state capital was situated here. For all these reasons, military control of the central Missouri region was an essential part of the struggle for domination of the trans-Mississippi West.

In central Missouri, as elsewhere in the state, the struggle was largely between pro-Union, pro-slavery southerners pitted against other equally pro-slavery southerners, often their neighbors, who were bent on carrying Missouri into the Confederacy. The small German communities were unfailingly loyal to the Union. It did not take long for violence to flare up. The capital, Jefferson City, fell to Union forces on June 15, 1861, and two days later the Battle of Boonville was fought. Bull Run, the so-called first battle of the Civil War, was still five weeks off. The Federals won the battle and quickly occupied key Missouri River towns, including several in the central Missouri area. For the rest of the war they controlled the machinery of government and the heartland of Missouri.

The smoke of battle, once unleashed at Boonville, never really cleared for the rest of the war. Although southern armies were driven south, they returned often. Lexington, Marshall, Sedalia, Glasgow, Centralia, Monroe Station, Moore’s Mill, Mt. Zion Church, Roan’s Tanyard, and many other places in central Missouri were sites of significant Civil War clashes. On a yearly basis, Confederate leaders such as Sterling Price or Joseph Shelby, both residents of the region, would reenter central Missouri at the head of large armies, only to be driven away again. But not before they fought battles, destroyed railroads, and captured Union garrisons.

Ever present were guerrillas who were sustained by a “disloyal” population. Much of the region was under the rule of martial law. Punishments ranged from imprisonment and banishment to the posting of bonds and swearing of loyalty oaths. But even the harshest of these measures could not quell the civil insurrection. Stories abound throughout the region of looting, burning, and displacement along with accounts of unarmed victims shot by some enemy who could be from either side. There were constant skirmishes everywhere in the region between Union patrols and guerrilla bands. In the fall of 1864, while Sterling Price conducted his celebrated raid through Missouri, guerrilla bands led by “Bloody Bill” Anderson, George Todd, and others elevated the guerrilla war in central Missouri to horrific levels. Few incidents in the entire Civil War can match the Centralia Massacre, September 27, 1864, for murder, horror, merciless brutality, and mutilation.

Although the Civil War officially ended in 1865, lingering tensions in Missouri lasted throughout the next decade, and the last of the guerrillas—the James-Younger gang— committed a notorious train robbery in central Missouri at Rocky Cut, near Otterville, in 1876. However, most people of the central region were ready to get on with building railroads, businesses, schools, and colleges as well as meeting all the other challenges that confronted post-Civil War Missouri.