I am at a National Endowment for the Humanities event this week in Kansas City. I have been telling everyone I am at Civil War Camp. That’s what those of us who have become “history groupies” call it. We spend a lot of time in the classroom and a lot of time in the field.
Our home base is the campus of the University of Missouri at Kansas City. It is a beautiful campus nested near downtown Kansas City, which is a flurry of activity this week in the wake of the All-Star Baseball Game.
We are studying “Crossroads of Conflict.” The focus of this hands on workshop deals with slavery, bushwhackers, bald knobbers and guerillas before, during and after the Civil War.
The Midwest was such a hotbed of controversy in those days. It seems only natural to me that we are in the thick of things today, as well. Some of the key players were: John Brown, William Quantrill, Jesse James, Frank James, Jim Lane and Charles Robinson.
As our speakers have explained the dynamics between those living in Kansas and Missouri back before/during/after the war, the heated competitive spirit and rivalry we still share between the two states makes all the more sense to me now.
Monday morning found us making a trek to the library to look at the archives. I have to say this has always been a real passion of mine. I love holding old documents, letters, diaries, receipts, photographs and maps in my hands.
I rekindled this bug back about eight years ago in Oklahoma at a newspaper conference there. An archivist allowed us to don gloves and touch some of Galileo’s things in a display case.
There Is something about touching these things that people saved to help tell their stories. It speaks to me. The voices from the past speak to me. I was so hooked yesterday I hid out in the library with group one’s session and then held back and continued my work when group one had to leave and it was time for group two.
One of the archivists winked at me. He knew full well what I was doing as I sat with my head down in the corner. I was given a couple of different folders dealing with the Civil War. I began to look through them and was pleased to find both of them had southwest Missouri connections.
One folder was titled the Nathaniel Lyon folder. Lyon was a brigadier general for the Union Army and died on the battlefield at Wilson’s Creek. His death was a big deal as they boarded him on a train in Rolla to make the trek back east for ceremonies and burial. Folks lined the tracks for hundreds of miles to pay their respects as President Abraham Lincoln declared a day of national prayer and fasting.
Lyon was the first Union general killed during the Civil War. His body was taken from the battlefield and placed in the family bed at the John Ray House at Wilson’s Creek.
So, when I picked up a letter he had written to Colonel Sigel dated July 10, 1861 (151 years ago to the date as I am writing this column on July 10, 2012) Lyon tells Sigel “I have heard of your fight with Jackson and regret I could not have supported you….”
Lyon’s feisty spirit is in evidence throughout the letter, which has a home address of Huffman’s Crossing on the Sac River. Lyon worries about his troop’s rations and whether or not they will be able to get more provisions.
He is down to six day’s rations and is need of support. He also tells Colonel Sigel he will be able to get help in Springfield, Missouri. Lyon would meet his demise a month later at the very place he thought he would receive tons of help and support.
While Wilson’s Creek was a victory for the Confederates, it served as a wake up call for Union sympathizers and organizers in the area. While southwest Missouri remained conflicted in its allegiances forevermore, Missouri didn’t leave the Union. The area would become a feeding ground for vigilante justice. Some of the threads of these vigilante actions are still evident today—right under our noses.
(Kim McCully-Mobley is a local educator, historian, storyteller and writer. Much of her research focuses on the Civil War and Ozark folklore. For additional information, contact her at email@example.com.)