Civil War in St. Joseph

Sometimes the war hits close to home

Civil War in St. Joseph

Civil War in St. Joseph Page for more information on local Civil War attractions.

Information on the opening of Fort Smith Park.


St. Joseph is known for many things; the Pony Express, Jesse James, Cherry Mash candy bars, and so much more. However, most people don’t connect St. Joseph with the Civil War. While it’s true there were no great battles here, there was conflict.  Neighbor turned against neighbor. Business partners dissolved their partnerships.  Families became divided. Approximately 2,000 men fought for the Union, while roughly the same number joined the Confederate cause.

For the State of Missouri, the Civil War began in 1854 with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The newly formed Kansas Territory would be allowed to decide by popular sovereignty whether it would become a free or, slave state. Settlers from New England began arriving in the hopes of keeping Kansas free. When it was time to vote on the question of slavery, Missourians crossed into Kansas to vote for slavery. Kansas Jayhawkers and Missouri Border Ruffians fought constantly over the next several years. “Bleeding Kansas” was merely a precursor of what was to come. 

The War was barely a month old when the United States flag was torn down from the roof of the Post Office and destroyed by a secessionist mob. Union troops arrived in St. Joseph to keep the city under Federal control and protect the Hannibal and St. Joseph railroad. It wasn’t long, however, before they were ordered elsewhere.

City leaders tried to keep St. Joseph neutral, but the city was still considered a strategic transportation and communication hub, as well as a viable commercial center to be leftalone for very long.  Shortly after the Union troops left, Confederate militia marched into town and took control.St. Joseph was looted. It is estimated that 25 wagons of various items were loaded upand then headed south. When word of the trouble in St. Joseph reached the Union Army, more Federal troops were sent to St. Joseph. These soldiers arrived in St. Joseph in September 1861. From that time until the end of the War in 1865, St. Joseph, Missouri, would remain under martial law. 

For the most part, Missouri remained under Union control during the Civil War. Missouri Confederates did win major battles in the early part of the war, in particular the Battles of Wilson’s Creek and Lexington, which kept Southwest Missouri under Confederate control for a short time, before being forced to withdrawl. 

By 1862, the major battles for Missouri ended and the large Confederate force under Sterling Price pulled out of the state. The Union had control of the principal cities, the Missouri River, and the Hannibal and the St. Joseph Railroad. However, guerrilla units, principally lead by William Clarke Quantrill, began cropping up in the state, particularly in the western half. The Union Army and militia were kept busy trying to capture these men, as well as fighting the smaller forces of Confederate volunteers still in Missouri.

Sterling Price tried once more to wrest control of Missouri from the Union in a month long campaign that culminated in his defeat at the Battle of Westport in autumn 1864.

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