APRIL 11, 2011 -- Most kids in St. Louis – and many adults for that matter – regard the American Civil War as a conflict that took place in the distant past and in a far-off land. But while the former may be true, the latter most certainly is not.
In fact, Missouri played a major role in the war, both politically and militarily. A new museum aims to shine a light on the underappreciated role that the Show-Me State played in America's bloodiest conflict.
"Missouri has so much Civil War history and all too often it gets overshadowed by events back east," said Gary Stevens, director of marketing and public relations for the Missouri Civil War Museum, which is slated to open this summer. "Missouri was the site of more than 1,100 Civil War battles and skirmishes, ranking third behind only Virginia and Tennessee. Missouri's unique and colorful Civil War story includes characters from Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman to Jesse James and 'Bloody' Bill Anderson."
The Missouri Civil War Museum will be housed in the historic 1905 Post Exchange and Gymnasium Building at Jefferson Barracks, just south of Downtown St. Louis. The nearby Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery is the final resting place for roughly 16,000 Civil War soldiers from both the Union and Confederate armies.
When completed, the facility will be Missouri's largest Civil War museum, library and educational center. It will also stand as the fourth largest Civil War museum in the nation. The primary museum facility offers about 16,000 square feet for exhibit space and the library and research facility will provide an additional 6,000 square feet. The museum is a not-for-profit institution and will focus much of its effort on educational programming.
Stevens says that visitors to the museum may be surprised by much of what they learn.
"There were many 'firsts' in Missouri's Civil War history: The first major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi River, the first Civil War battle fought by African-American soldiers, the first Civil War general to die in combat, and Ulysses S. Grant's first Civil War battle all took place in Missouri," Stevens said. "These are the types of stories that we want to tell."
Due to the violent and disturbing nature of war, the museum is geared toward visitors from fourth grade to adults. Although there will be no minimum age for visitors, the museum advises parents to exercise judgment before bringing very young children into the facility, which will house various weapons as well as graphic images from the war.
Pictured: The exterior of the Missouri Civil War Museum as it's under construction. Photo courtesy of Missouri Civil War Museum.