The Civil War provides a seemingly inexhaustible supply of facts and stories. Amaze your friends, confound your know-it-all brother-in-law with these little-known nuggets of our history. Did you know that…
The nation’s first monument erected to honor Union war dead may be in Woodlawn Cemetery in Independence.
It was dedicated July 31, 1864, to troopers of the locally stationed 2nd Colorado Cavalry, killed in skirmishes and ambushes by local guerrillas. Poet Ellen Williams, a camp follower and wife of a bugler in the regiment, composed the words that today are nearly erased by weather:
“Brave heroes rest beneath this sculptured stone.
In unfair contest slain by murderous hands.
They knew no yielding to a cruel foe —
And thus, this tribute to their memory stands
Our country’s honor, and a nation’s pride
‘Twas thus they nobly lived and bravely died.”
This was done well before the monument to Union dead dedicated at Manassas, Va., (Bull Run) in June 1865. Southerners, however, likely put up the first monument of all, also at Manassas. There, a crowd of 1,000 gathered Sept. 4, 1861, to dedicate a memorial to fallen Col. Francis Bartow, a Georgian famous for his last words: “My God, boys, they have got me, but never give up the field.” This marble obelisk disappeared the next year, but another marker replaced it around the turn of the century, when most Civil War monuments were raised and dedicated.
The first black regiment recruited in Missouri was called the 3rd Arkansas Infantry.
The subterfuge was to avoid offending or frightening whites in Missouri. Later, the unit would be designated the 56th U.S. Colored Troops.
A Kansan had the honor of being the first soldier to be executed in the Civil War.
In an argument, Pvt. Joseph W. Cole of the 1st Kansas Volunteer Infantry Regiment pulled a knife and stabbed another soldier to death. Cole was executed by Gen. Nathaniel Lyon’s command on July 14, 1861, in Greene County, Mo. By the end of the Civil War, a total of 267 Union soldiers would be executed.
The CSS Missouri was the last Confederate ironclad to surrender.
This sounds brave and defiant until one realizes the boat had been constructed far up the Red River in Shreveport, La., and could not descend the shallow river. The Yankees never got far enough upstream during the war to confront it.
*One Union soldier fighting at the Battle of Westport would later become the title character in a movie, played by Robert Redford. *
Second Colorado Cavalry Pvt. John Johnson was probably born John Garrison. In the movie, he is “Jeremiah Johnson,” but on the frontier, he supposedly was “Liver-Eating Johnson,” for the tale that he devoured the livers of his Indian enemies.
Union Cemetery in Kansas City holds the grave of a Civil War Medal of Honor winner, who had enlisted the day before his heroic action.
Nathaniel Gwynne, 15, earned his medal the hard way, losing an arm and taking two bullets in the leg while charging across a Petersburg, Va., battlefield to recapture some Union colors from Confederates. Ending up a Kansas City lawyer and real estate agent, he served as a representative in the Missouri House, where he sponsored veterans’ benefits legislation. He died at age 33.
The USS St. Louis was the first U.S. ironclad gunboat.
Launched Oct.12, 1861, at Carondelet, Mo., it was the first of James Eads’ ironclads to sustain a bombardment from a hostile battery, leading the Federal fleet in victories at Island No.10 on the Mississippi and at Fort Henry on the Tennessee.
The statue of Shakespeare in New York’s Central Park was erected with the help of John Wilkes Booth, who had trod the boards in Leavenworth less than a year earlier.
Booth starred in several Shakespearean favorites with a traveling troupe and was in St. Louis in early 1863 when he was arrested and fined for wishing “the president and whole damned government would go to hell!” On Christmas Eve of that year, the Leavenworth Daily Times remarked that Booth had played the Prince of Denmark at the Union the night before. “Hamlet had a cold — and so did the audience.” Joining brothers Edwin and Junius in November 1864 to raise funds for the statue, he played Mark Antony in “Julius Caesar” — a single performance billed as “the greatest theatrical event in New York history.” At the time, he was plotting to kidnap President Abraham Lincoln. Five months later, he shot him at Ford’s Theatre in Washington.
The last slave in Missouri may not have gotten her freedom until 24 years after the war.
The 1889 death of a central Missouri farmer, Joseph Hickam, resulted in an unusual probate case in Boonville. A black woman named Eda, who had worked in his home, alleged she was never told that slavery had been abolished back when she was a 16-year-old girl. She filed suit for $1,400 against his estate for lost wages at $5 a month. A judge decided to split the difference at $785, but the family appealed. Four Hickam v. Hickam civil trials later, in which no one could prove whether the woman had been deceived, jurors denied Eda any back pay.
A Union officer at Westport would end up saving the presidency of Andrew Johnson.
Maj. Edmund Ross of the 11th Kansas Cavalry was appointed to the Senate seat vacated by James Lane’s suicide. As the Radical Republicans tried to push Johnson out of the White House, Ross became the deciding vote in the trial. Originally counted as a safe aye for impeachment, Ross soon displayed a disturbing sense of fairness. He faced tremendous pressure, including a telegram that read: “Kansas has heard the evidence and demands the conviction of the president. Signed D.R. Anthony (a Leavenworth newspaper publisher) and 1,000 others.” Once his “not guilty” vote saved Johnson, Ross was ruined politically. Just how his fellow Kansans felt about him was illustrated by a message from the chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court suggesting: “…the rope with which Judas Iscariot hanged himself is lost, but Jim Lane’s pistol is at your service.”