Situated between pro and anti-slavery forces, the Kansas City area was ground zero for the Civil War in the West. Many of those battles took place as early as the 1850's, and interest is peaking as we approach the 150th anniversary, or sesquicentennial, of the Civil War.
To satisfy public curiosity, a number of observances are planned, and there are several “don’t miss” museums in the area. In fact, this area is so rich with history from that period that Congress recently designated 29 counties in Kansas and 12 in Missouri as the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.
Hop in the car to take a driving tour through several noted Civil War battlefields, most of them now quiet neighborhoods. One tour travels through the site of the largest Civil War battle to be fought west of the Mississippi. Confederate General Sterling Price marched 12,000 troops in October of 1864 into what became the Battle of Westport, also known as the Gettysburg of the West.
That site is now one of the most popular spots in Kansas City, home to lively bars, shops, and restaurants. The 32-mile tour takes visitors through the streets of Westport, the historic Country Club Plaza and finally to Loose Memorial Park, where much of the battle took place. The historic John B. Wornall House is also nearby, which served as a field hospital for both sides of the conflict.
Visit the Battle of Westport Visitor Center and Museum, which overlooks the Big Blue River Valley, a vista where you can stand and look down on the fields where war raged 150 years ago. Another must-see: the Lone Jack Battlefield Museum and Soldier’s Cemetery, the only Civil War museum in Jackson County, and one of the few battlefields where soldiers who perished there are buried.
Evidence of the bloody Border Battles can be found in plaques all around Kansas City, making it a treasure trove for history buffs. There were about a thousand Civil War battles fought in Missouri, making it third to only Virginia and Tennessee.
The city of Independence has a Walking Trail Series, which takes tourists into the footsteps of those who fought. Many friends, neighbors and even brothers stood eye-to-eye, fiercely defending their beliefs to the death.
Battle of Island Mound
The Battle of Island Mound marked the first time that African-American troops were engaged in Civil War combat, nearly a year before the battle depicted in the film Glory. Battle of Island Mound State Historic site encompasses Camp Africa, where the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry were camped in 1862 before a pitched battle with pro-Confederate forces near a low hill named Island Mound. When the site is developed, it will interpret the battle, as well as the effect that the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry has on later Union decisions to allow African-American units to fight.
The battlefield is located in nearby Butler, MO. Find more information on the Battle of Island Mound by visiting the Missouri State Parks website.