Decades Long Foes, Missouri's War | KCUR

Decades Long Foes, Missouri's War

May 10, 2011

KANSAS CITY, MO. – American history in the form of the Civil War has become immensely popular as a field of study since the sesquicentennial began this year. Missouri is in a unique position among states that fought over slavery and states' rights. It was a war-within-a-war. KCUR's Dan Verbeck has been told of a large array of factions within the State itself. And he filed this account.

Missouri did not secede, officially sided with the Union and recruited federal troops. But the Confederacy did the same. Recruited.

Curious bits of history still come to light as old documents are discovered salted away in family archives. Fewer than 20 years ago, the little- heard story of Mamie Bernard surfaced. A Southern Belle, raised in Westport, educated at a finishing school in the East, her family sided with the Confederacy. As a teenager, she and two older women stitched a battle flag for a Confederate regiment collected in Missouri and without a flag. Her diaries tell where they did the sewing, above a Westport store. The building now houses Kelly's Westport Inn.

Historian Arnold Schofield puts it in perspective, that Missouri had two Civil Wars going on.

"You had the Civil War between the Union and the Confederate. You had the civil War going on between the Union troops from Kansas fighting against the guerrillas in Missouri. If you are of the Northern persuasion those guerrillas are called Bushwackers. If you're of the Southern persuasion, those Missouri guerrillas are partisan rangers. If you're from Missouri, the Kansans are called Jayhawkers."

The facts aren't known to a lot of people, who see the conflict simply as Union versus Confederate. Not in Missouri! Schofield has studied it for decades, first with the National Parks Service, more recently as the Director of the Mine Creek Battlefield. It's operated by the Kansas Historical Society some 60 miles South of Kansas City.

Schofield found civilian and military fighting in Missouri during the war more brutal than in most states. He asks a question when he lectures at universities and high schools. In his words, " in 1861, where was the American frontier. And most of the high school students don't know and they say, in the Wild West. No, it wasn't in the Wild West. The frontier of the United States in 1861 was in this area. Eastern Kansas and the entire State of Missouri."

To Schofield, disputes in those times tended to be handled with violence on the frontier, not the refined way of the East. "Barbaric" is the word he uses.

Passions ran high over slavery. Many area families don't like to talk about it today, but their ancestors had slaves. Sometimes only one or two people, but still, slaves. Schofield says it's not widely known there was a faction of Missourians who wanted to stay in the Union and still hold slaves. And could. Because slavery wasn't illegal until 1865.

Added to the mix of controversies begun half a decade before the War started, controversies including whether neighboring Kansas was slave or free, Schofield says Missouri's Civil War had a lingering ferociousness-- " The war out here in Missouri doesn't end in 1865, this guerrrila war in Missouri that is festering throughout the entire war, deteriorates into blood feuds between families and individuals. This continues in Missouri after the War well into the 1880's."

How deep those sentiments ran appears in the death of a Kansas City minister who worked in what is now Fairway, Kansas.

This clergyman founded the Shawnee Indian Mission. He was a slave holder who chose to become a Union supporter. He was murdered in his home, in what is now the heart of Kansas City, Missouri. It was long suspected, but never proved, that his choice of sides was the reason. His name was the Reverend Thomas Johnson. The Kansas county is named for him. Two of his sons fought in the Battle of Westport. They fought on opposing sides.

The Reverend Mister Johnson's life and death might be mentioned a time or two, in this sesquicentennial year, of the American Civil War.