As Civil War activities begin to explode across our region, consider the long-dismantled Federal powder house and arsenal south of Liberty.
The war fever exhibited there April 20, 1861 — it was raided by munitions-hungry Southern sympathizers — is likened by some as the “Missouri Fort Sumter.”
Little known, it will be explained at 2 p.m. April 23 by an impersonator of Henry Routt, a Liberty man and raid leader.
He’s part of a modern kind of “war fever” sweeping the nation. Thousands are rushing to enlist as re-enactors, lecturers and interpreters.
Museums, such as in Missouri’s Capitol, are racing to revamp exhibits on the rebellion. A new one — totally dedicated to the war in Missouri — is preparing to open in St. Louis at Jefferson Barracks.
Re-enactors who strive to deliver authentic “impressions” of Civil War soldiers will need a mobility that might impress the actual campaigners of 1861.
Mock hostilities are scheduled in Kirksville in April, Carthage in May, Boonville in June, Ste. Genevieve and Wentzville in July, and little Athens — will they try to make cannon barrels out of logs for authenticity? — in August.
The two biggest will be south of Springfield on the Wilson’s Creek battlefield in August and Lexington the next month.
The re-enactment of the First Battle of Lexington is expected to attract about 2,000 re-enactors.
That number doesn’t include the estimated 20,000 spectators expected over two days, too many for the actual battleground, now a state historic site. So re-enactment events will be at the privately owned Big River Ranch, just outside Lexington.
But not all events scheduled will involve black powder.
On May 21 and Oct. 22, hoop skirts will be on display during balls at the Battle of Westport Visitor Center and Museum at Swope Park. A separate ball April 30 at the Alexander Majors House already is sold out.
On June 25, Waverly will restage the wedding of the Confederate cavalry’s Gen. Jo Shelby.
That month, the Wornall House Museum, in conjunction with the Clendening History of Medicine Library and Museum at the University of Kansas Medical Center, will convert itself into a crude hospital, as it was during the 1864 Westport battle.
Expect simulated amputations.
Organized by historical societies and round tables, other events will remember and commemorate — but not celebrate — the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the conflict.
“?‘Remember’ is the key word,” said Chris Sizemore of the Clay County Historical Millennium Board, which is helping organizing the Liberty Arsenal event at Missouri 291 and Seven Hills Road.
“If we don’t remember, we are destined to repeat.”
In July, a new exhibit will open in the former Carnegie Library building in Lawrence. It will describe the continuing pursuit of freedom across the 41 Kansas and Missouri counties of the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, a federal Civil War commemorative district.
“Our goal is to use these old stories to challenge people to think about the many definitions of freedom,” said Deanell Reece Tacha, a federal appellate judge in Kansas and Freedom’s Frontier chairperson.
“For some, freedom meant the freedom to own land. For others it was the freedom to vote,” she said.
“For still others, it meant the freedom from bondage.”
The exhibit will include facts about the bloody 1863 Lawrence raid, as well as surrounding events.
“There continues to be a bit of reluctance about it, but I think more people are recognizing what happened here,” said Judy Billings of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
One watershed event was the 1940 Lawrence premiere of “Dark Command.” Thousands gathered to catch glimpses of John Wayne and Roy Rogers, as well as to watch a mock burning of the Eldridge Hotel by bit-actor bushwhackers.
An updated and more accurate film on the raid plays these days at the city’s Visitor Information Center.
“I’ve heard people in this town say, ‘I’ve never heard anything about Order No. 11,’?” Billings said, referring to the furious Federal reaction that evicted most of four counties from their farms and homes. “Well, that’s part of the story, too. It’s the whole story, with all of the perspective, that we want to understand.”
In Cass County, where a solitary chimney spire was erected in 2009, the story is better understood. West of U.S. 71 in Harrisonville, the “Burnt District” Monument is a reminder of the many antebellum homes torched after Union Brig. Gen. Thomas Ewing Jr.’s edict to rid most of four counties of Southern families.
“It was a visual that was needed,” said Carol Bohl of the Cass County Historical Society. “Even people who have lived in Cass County all their lives have said they didn’t know about the Burnt District.”
The area’s ultimate Civil War heirlooms are the places where men actually bled and died. One is the Lone Jack battleground, marked by a park with a small museum and cemetery from the bitter little 1862 struggle.
Freedom’s Frontier officials have submitted a grant proposal for a preservation plan with the National Park Service. That is still pending.
Another site is the Battle of the Little Blue River, in northeast Jackson County, fought as part of the 1864 Battle of Westport.
“You can still very much get a sense of what was there at the time,” said Mike Calvert, president of the Civil War Round Table of Western Missouri, which recently financed two new historical markers.
Will that scene be threatened by the Lewis and Clark Expressway, planned to connect to U.S. 24 nearby?
“I am realistic enough that one day the road will go through,” said Calvert. “But we would like to have some input on preserving the things that are left,” such as the Lawson Moore Home, a battlefield hospital.
“There is no reason why a modern road can’t co-exist with them.”
Then there’s the different challenge of Byram’s Ford battlefield, near 63rd Street and Manchester Trafficway.
“We have had an industrial park on the site for as long as 50 years,” said Daniel L. Smith, chairman of the Monett Battle of Westport Fund.
Just north of Swope Park, the area saw fights on both Oct. 22 and 23, 1864, near the shallow Blue River crossing.
Between Monett Fund and city efforts, today about 240 acres are in the public domain. The fund also negotiated a flood control plan with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that doesn’t conflict with the plan to restore the site’s “visual integrity.”
This spring, researchers will use ground-penetrating radar to try to find the precise path of the Byram’s Ford Road through the “meadow” upon which combatants clashed.
Ultimately, as local Civil War stories are told and retold during the anniversary observance, a new community narrative will be compiled, said Tacha.
“With this heritage in place, we can come together and use the old stories to make a more humane future.”