9 Facts You May Not Know About Missouri During The Civil War

Last updated on July 7th, 2023 at 04:34 am.

Missouri was one of the most interesting states during the Civil War when it came to politics, everyday life, as well as historical significance. Missouri during the Civil War was very divided. Missouri was claimed by both the Union and the Confederacy, had two rival state governments, and sent representatives to both the United States Congress and the Confederate Congress.

Many historians believe that events that took place in Missouri years before the American Civil War led to it happening.

Missouri During The Civil War

In this article, I’m sharing some of the most pivotal events that took place before and during the Civil War in Missouri. Keep reading because I’m also sharing a few facts you may not know about Missouri during the Civil War.

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Missouri – Kansas Border Events That Happened Before the Civil War

The Kansas-Missouri Border War, also known as Bleeding Kansas, was a series of violent civil confrontations between the people of Kansas and Missouri that occurred immediately after the signing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. The border war began seven years before the Civil War officially began and continued into the war.

Did The Civil War Start Along the Missouri and Kansas Border? 

The Missouri Kansas border War took place from about 1855 and 1859 and it known for it’s violent guerrilla warfare between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces (Bleeding Kansas) that many historian agree significantly shaped American politics and contributed to the coming of the Civil War.

Sacking of Lawrence

It is believed by many historians that the beginning of the Civil War was sparked when Missourians and Kansans fought over whether Kansas would be a free state or a slave state.

One of the most famous events in this feud was the sacking of Lawrence, which occurred on May 21, 1856.

The sacking of Lawrence is when pro-slavery settlers led by Douglas L Jones, a sheriff of Douglas County ransacked Lawrence Kansas, a town that was founded by settlers from Massachusetts, hoping to make Kansas a free state. color

The Pottawatomie Massacre

The Pottawatomie massacre was another pivotal point in this conflict. John Brown and other abolitionist settlers killed five pro-slavery settlers in front of their families in Franklin County between May 25-26 of 1856. This was 5 years before the start of the Civil War, illustrating how the Civil War was a long-in-the-making conflict. 

9 Facts You May Not Know About Missouri During The Civil War

Missouri During The Civil War

1. Was Missouri a Confederate State?

Missouri was claimed by both the Union and the Confederacy. As I shared above, it had two rival state governments, and sent representatives to both the United States Congress and the Confederate Congress.

In Missouri over 110,000 men enlisted in the Union Army, while over 90,000 men enlisted in the Confederate Army. These Confederate men however would go on to enlist in other states such as Arkansas and Texas. This included over 60% of Missouri’s fighting-age men.

2. Over 1,200 Civil War battles were fought in Missouri

Missouri Civil War Battles

From 1861 to 1865 Missouri saw over 1,200 battles of varying degrees. In the first year of the war, 1861, 42% of all battles and casualties were on Missouri soil

Some of the biggest battles during the Civil War that happened in Missouri were fought in the Kansas City area.

For those of us living in Kansas City, you may have driven past Jacob L. Loose Park. What you may not know is that the park is the site of the Battle of Westport. The battle was fought on October 23rd, 1864, where Major General Samuel L. Curtis of the Union Army and his troops defeated the forces of Major General Sterling Price of the Confederates troops. 

The Battle of Lexington, Where Oliver Anderson’s house was the center point of a three-day battle where to this day you can still see bullet holes and Cannonball holes in its walls.

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek was the first major battle fought west of the Mississippi in the Civil War. It is also known as the Battle of Oak Hills And was fought on August 10th, 1861.

3. Missouri was the 3rd most fought-over state in the Civil War

map of u.s. during civil war

Missouri was the third-most fought-over state of the Civil War, after Virginia and Tennessee.

The struggle for Missouri was one of the most prolonged and violent conflicts of nineteenth-century America according to essentialcivilwarcurriculum.com, and extended far beyond the boundaries of the Civil War.

It is widely accepted that events in Missouri prior to 1861 triggered the national debate over the westward expansion of slavery.

Missouri was a contested border state populated by both Union and Confederate sympathizers.

Thus, Missouri was claimed by both the Union and the Confederacy. Each side wanted to have Missouri for their fight.

Many Missouri citizens wanted Missouri to be a free state, while others advocated for it to be a slave state. Many people do not realize that certain fought-over States had men enlist on both sides of the war.

Out of the eight Upper South States that had not seceded, Missouri was the most populous state west of the Mississippi, making it a prime spot for people on both sides to fight for Missouri to join their side of the war. 

4. Missouri had over 114,000 slaves before the Civil War

According to the 1860 census, Missouri had a free population of 1,067,081 and a slave population of 114,931. Surprisingly, this number is not relatively small compared to the other Southern States, even the larger ones.

In 1860 Texas had a reported 182,566 slaves which was roughly 78,000 more than Missouri. With that said, when you take into account that Texas’s population was 602,432, it turns out that per capita, Missouri and Texas had a similar number of slaves.

While most people think of a slave’s job to be cotton-picking, that was primarily in the Deep South. In Missouri, the majority of slaves were field hands on farms along the fertile valleys of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Despite the difference in work, however, by all accounts, the treatment of slaves in Missouri was no better than in southern states such as Texas and Alabama. 

5. Missouri Men Who Fought in the Civil War

A huge number of Missouri men fought in the Civil War. It is estimated that over 109,000 men enlisted and fought for the Union and at least 30,000 Missouri men fought for the Confederacy. This represents almost 60 percent of men of military age fighting in the Civil War and places Missouri first among the states in proportion to population.

6. An estimated 14,000 Union soldiers from Missouri were killed during the Civil War. 

american civil war soldier

While not all 14,000 of them died specifically in Missouri, all of them were Missouri men that joined the union.

Thousands more Missouri men were wounded.

7. Missouri men who joined the Confederacy have an Unknown Death Count

Battle of Lexington, Missouri
Battle of Lexington, Missouri

The Civil War was the bloodiest war in American history, with a recorded 360,222 soldiers on the Union side, and 280,000 on the side of the Confederates.

Because Missourians who enlisted in different states, as well as less record-keeping on The Confederate side, there is no known death count for confederate soldiers from Missouri.

8. The secession of Missouri from the Union

During the American Civil War, the secession of Missouri from the Union was controversial because of the state’s disputed status. Missouri was claimed by both the Union and the Confederacy, had two rival state governments, and sent representatives to both the United States Congress and the Confederate Congress.

9. Frank & Jesse James Fought in the Civil War in the Quantrill Raiders

Quantrill’s Raiders were the best-known of the pro-Confederate partisan guerrillas (also known as “bushwhackers”) who fought in the American Civil War. Their leader was William Quantrill and they included Jesse James and his brother Frank.

William Clarke Quantrill is most famous for having led a raid on the Unionist town of Lawrence, Kansas, in August 1863.

Civil War Timeline (Focusing on Missouri)

  • March 2, 1820 The Missouri Compromise was passed into law in and regulated slavery in the western states. The Missouri Compromise consisted of three large parts: 1) Missouri entered the Union as a slave state, 2) Maine entered as a free state, and 3) the 36’30” line was established as the dividing line for slavery for the remainder of the Louisiana Territory. It is considered the beginning of what led to the American Civil War.
  • August 10, 1821 President James Monroe signed the federal legislation officially making Missouri the 24th state in the union.
  • 1854-1859 The Kansas-Missouri Border War known as Bleeding Kansas, Bloody Kansas, or the Border War was considered a small civil war in the United States, fought between proslavery and antislavery advocates for control of the new territory of Kansas and over the legality of slavery in the proposed state of Kansas.
  • January 29, 1861 President James Buchanan signed the bill into law officially making Kansas the 34th state in the union.
  • April 12, 1861 The Civil War began when the Confederates bombarded Union soldiers at Fort Sumter, South Carolina on April 12, 1861. 
  • May 11, 1861, The Missouri State Guard (MSG) was formed. This was a state militia organized in the state of Missouri. While not initially a formal part of the Confederate States Army, the State Guard fought alongside Confederate troops and, at times, under regular Confederate officers.
  • June 17, 1861 The Civil War’s first significant land battle took place in Boonville, Missouri.
  • July 21, 1861 The First Battle of Bull Run, also known as the Battle of First Manassas, was the first major battle of the American Civil War. The battle was fought in Prince William County, Virginia, just north of the city of Manassas.
  • Aug. 10, 1861 Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri. Another major battle of the war — and the next major Southern victory after Bull Run — happened at Wilson’s Creek, near Springfield, Missouri. Union commander Nathaniel Lyon became the first Northern general killed in the war.
  • September 20, 1861– Lexington, Missouri falls to Confederate forces under Sterling Price.
  • April 26, 1863, on the banks of the Mississippi River, The Battle of Cape Girardeau occurred. Cape Girardeau was occupied by federal troops and is considered a win for Union forces.
  • August 10, 1861, Considered the most significant Missouri battle of 1861, The battle of Wilson’s Creek, gave the Confederates control of southwest Missouri.
  • August 21, 1863– Sacking of Lawrence, Kansas. In a murderous daylight raid, Confederate and Missouri guerillas under William Clarke Quantrill storm into Lawrence and destroy most of the town. Approximately 150 men and boys are murdered by Quantrill’s men.
  • Oct. 21-23, 1864 The Battle of Westport, was a major Union victory. Nearly 37,000 Americans fought there.*
  • January 11, 1865, the ordinance to abolish slavery in Missouri passed. This document is significant in the state’s history because it was approved three weeks before the United States Congress proposed the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
  • April 9, 1865 The war ended when Robert E. Lee surrendered the last major Confederate army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

*Westport has a 32-mile driving tour, a museum, historical society and dedicated volunteers trying to save what’s left.

For a full American Civil War timeline, I really like this one from the National Park Services.

While it may seem like a long time ago, spanning 1861-to 1864, the Civil War was a relatively recent event in history. During the Civil War, the people of Missouri had access to many everyday items we still use today, such as batteries which were invented in 1800, Microphones which were invented in 1827, and even early refrigerators which used ice to keep things cool.

This being said, the Civil War was a terrible time for people to live in. We have to recognize the great sacrifice that these men made by fighting for the rights of African American slaves to be freed.

These are men who fought for the right of all men of all races to be free, and to this day we still see the effects of what they accomplished everywhere we look.

To learn more about you might want to plan a visit to the Missouri Civil War Museum in St. Louis.

American Civil War movies that Include Missouri

It also might be of interest to check out some of the best American Civil War movies that include Missouri:

Ride with the Devil (1999)

Directed by Ang Lee and based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel, Woe to Live On, Ride with the Devil focused on the border state wars of Missouri and Kansas. It is centered around the Antebellum period before the war, including with the Bleeding of Kansas and the famed Missouri Compromise. It shows how neighbors slaughtered neighbors based on political persuasions and the guerrilla warfare between Americans.

By joining the Bushwhackers (Confederate sympathizers) they fought as insurgents against their Jayhawk neighbors (Union troops). The film’s central hero of Jake Rodel (Tobey Maguire) isn’t even an American; he’s a German immigrant who traveled with his father as a boy to Missouri. However, his best friend is Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich), a man from a family with gentry pretensions, albeit only George Clyde’s (Simon Baker) family is rich enough to own slaves—including Daniel Holt (Jeffrey Wright). Ergo, Jake must be a Bushwhacker.

Watch Ride with the Devil on Amazon Prime

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

The Oscar-nominated Outlaw Josey Wales features Western icon Clint Eastwood as Josey Wales. The film is set during and after the American Civil War. Eastwood plays a Missouri farmer who seeks revenge for the murder of his family by Union militants during the Civil War. Driven to revenge, Wales joins a Confederate guerrilla band and makes a name for himself as a feared gunfighter.

According to legend, this movie is based on the life of Thomas Atticus Hawkins, a Missouri farmer from Maries County.

Watch The Outlaw Josey Wales on Amazon Prime

The Red Badge of Courage (1951)

Based on the 1895 novel by Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage takes place during the U.S. Civil War over four days in May of 1863. The story takes place during an unnamed battle during the Civil War. Crane deliberately never mentions the place, the date, or even the fact that the war is the one between the states.

Watch The Red Badge of Courage on Amazon Prime

The Civil War Mini-Series (1990)

The Civil War is a 1990 American television documentary miniseries created by Ken Burns about the American Civil War. The nine-part series explores the 10,000 places the war was fought in, more than 3 million Americans fought in it, and over 600,000 men – 2 percent of the population – died in. It saw the end of slavery and the downfall of a southern planter aristocracy.

Watch The Civil War on Amazon Prime

Lincoln (2012)

Directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook and Tommy Lee Jones. Lincoln zeroes in on a defining moment from near the end of the Civil War –January 1865 and the debate over the proposed amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery.

Scene 3 takes place in the White House, with Mr. and Mrs. Jolly from Jefferson City, Missouri entering the office and Seward uses the couple to illustrate a point about the Thirteenth Amendment.

Watch Lincoln on Amazon Prime

Gone with the Wind (1939)

Gone with the Wind takes place in the state of Georgia during the American Civil War (1861–1865) and the Reconstruction Era (1865–1877). While it’s not filmed in Missouri, it is the most famous film about the Civil War and was hard to not include!

Watch Gone with the Wind on Amazon Prime


Question: Were the Majority of Men fighting For the Preservation of the Union or Freedom of Slaves?

Many feel that the majority of men fighting for the Union were fighting for the preservation of the Union and not the freedom of slaves. With the attack on Fort Sumter and the succession of South Carolina, some believe that Lincoln’s original intent was to preserve the Union.

Related Article: 7 Most Interesting Weapons From The War (Used in Missouri)

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9 Facts You May Not Know About Missouri During The Civil War Learn the most pivotal events that took place before and during the Civil War in Missouri. Plus, facts you don't know about Missouri during the Civil War.

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1 thought on “9 Facts You May Not Know About Missouri During The Civil War”

  1. I am surprised that the sacking of Osceola was not mentioned. An unprovoked attack on civilians by the Union Army. Then again, Lawrence Ks is portrayed as a peaceful community. No mention of it also being a Union Army stronghold or Gen Lane narrowly escaping the raid. He was a primary target as he was the one who lead the raid on Osceola, Mo.


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