Life in Missouri During the Civil War Era

No one living in Missouri in the 1860s escaped
the touch of the Civil War. Today, the lives and lifestyles of everyday Missourians are
on display, even 150 years after the war, which had a profound impact on what was one
of the nation’s most prosperous and diverse economies.
The Mississippi and Missouri rivers were the state’s first highways and the riverboat captains
who navigated cargo and passengers through their treacherous channels were among the
wealthiest men in The Show-Me State. Today, their majestic homes still stand on the bluffs
of towns such as Cape Girardeau, Hannibal and St. Joseph.
Kansas City’s historic River Market is home to the Arabia Steamboat Museum, which boasts
the largest collection of pre-Civil War era artifacts in the world. These items, recovered
from the hold of the sunken steamboat, are rich in beauty, as well as history. Excavated
from a Kansas corn field, the Arabia carried dishware, jewelry, fine silks from China and
perfumes from France among other fascinating pieces of cargo. A full-scale replica of the
Arabia’s main deck inside the museum brings the size and strength of the steamboat to
life. Kansas City is also home to the John Wornall
House, once called the most pretentious house in the section. Occupied by both Union and
Confederate troops and used as an emergency field hospital during the 1864 Battle of Westport,
today, Wornalll House sits in the thriving Brookside neighborhood, much of which was
built on the 500-acre Wornall Farm. Visitors today can experience the house as it existed
in the 1860s, as the house’s interior and furnishings accurately reflect the time period.
Gardens located behind the house grow historically accurate herbs and perennials. Wornall House
features many special events through the year, with special Christmas tours held annually.
The state’s wealth wasn’t restricted to the riverways, either. A central swath of Missouri,
known as Little Dixie, was built on the backs of African slaves. Anderson House, in Lexington,
was one of the grandest plantation homes of Lafayette County. Seized by Federal troops
as use as a hospital on September 18, 1861, the house literally found itself in the midst
of a battle. Three Southern prisoners were killed at the base of the grand staircase,
leaving bullet holes throughout the interior of the house. A cannonball, shot through the
attic, crashed through the floor and into the hallway below, where a hole remains today.
The Anderson House suffered extensive damage, but retains much of its original architecture
and furniture. Just east, in Boonville, is Thespian Hall,
one of the country’s oldest theaters still in use and one that has seen its share of
the gory and grizzly. Built by the Thespian Society as a home for the arts, it later accommodated
wounded soldiers as a hospital during the Civil War. Since then, Thespian Hall has functioned
as an opera house, a library and even as a skating rink. Boonville also retains a collection
of elegant pre-Civil War era homes, where wealthy Missouri slave owners once lived.
For more tales from Missouri’s colorful Civil War history, log on to or
call 1-800-519-4800 for a copy of your Official Missouri Travel Guide.

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