Western front Civil War battles often overlooked
Published: June 30
By Derek Spellman
Scholars and historians say the Civil War on the Kansas-Missouri border, and the Civil War in the Ozarks, has been overlooked by outsiders and overshadowed by larger engagements in the East.
Yet they say this region was a unique crucible of conflict both before and during the Civil War.
Before the war, abolitionists and pro-slavery elements fought in Kansas and western Missouri.
“We are very rich in Civil War history,” said Connie Langum, a historian at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield at Republic.
Including skirmishes, Missouri was host to 1,200 engagements during the Civil War — more than any other state except Virginia and Tennessee. Both sides sought the state in large part because of its central location and waterways.
At Newtonia, battles were fought in September 1862 and October 1864. American Indians fought on both sides during the first battle, according to the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission.
A group of lawmakers sympathetic to the Confederacy even met in October 1861 in Neosho and voted for Missouri to secede, although the vote carried no legal weight.
The most significant battlefield in Southwest Missouri is Wilson’s Creek, where Union and Confederate forces squared off in August 1861. That battle saw about 2,330 casualties between both sides, including the death of Union Gen. Nathaniel Lyon, and was the first large battle west of the Mississippi River, according to the National Park Service.
Langum, the Wilson’s Creek historian, said Missouri saw something of its own conflict inside the larger Civil War. Guerrillas were “stirring up trouble throughout the war in this area” in actions that often were deadly, she said.
Neighbor did fight neighbor, she said, and brother did fight brother.
“It’s very personal here,” she said.
Wilson’s Creek is part of a triad of significant battles fought within the Ozarks.
The others are Pea Ridge — considered the battle that kept Missouri out of Confederate hands — and Prairie Grove. The Battle of Pea Ridge was fought in early March 1862, while Prairie Grove fighting took place in December 1862. Arkansas was a Confederate state.
Pea Ridge, in Benton County just south of the Missouri state line, saw thousands of casualties, mostly Confederate, and today the site is as close to its appearance in 1862 as any Civil War battlefield.
“I would venture to say that Pea Ridge is probably one of the best preserved battlefields left in the United States today,” said John Scott, superintendent of the Pea Ridge National Military Park.
Kansas has several Civil War battlefield sites, including a cemetery in Baxter Springs where soldiers killed by Confederate guerrilla leader William Quantrill’s forces are buried.
The biggest battle in the state was fought in October 1864 along the banks of Mine Creek and featured one of the largest cavalry engagements of the war.
Fort Scott played its own role in the Civil War.
The Fort Scott National Historic Site consists of 20 structures, a parade ground and five acres of restored tallgrass prairie, according to the National Park Service.
Kelley Collins, the chief ranger at the site, said a number of people fleeing the fighting in places in Arkansas, for example, stopped at Fort Scott while en route to Fort Leavenworth or other places. Some stayed in Fort Scott.