Missouri Civil War History

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Missouri and the American Civil War

Missouri Civil War Map
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Missouri Civil War History and Battlefield Map

Missouri was the battlefield for nearly thirty principal Civil War battles.

Introduction: In the American Civil War (1861-1865), Missouri was a Border State that sent men, armies, and supplies to the opposing sides, had its star on both flags, had governments representing each side, and endured a neighbor-against-neighbor intrastate war within the larger national war.
By the end of the Civil War, Missouri had supplied nearly 110,000 troops to the Union and as many as 90,000 troops for the Confederate Army. There were battles  and skirmishes in all areas of the state. Counting minor engagements, actions and skirmishes, Missouri saw over 1,200 distinct fights. Only Virginia and Tennessee exceeded Missouri in the number of clashes. See also Missouri Civil War List of Battles, Facts, and Timeline of Events.
Missouri Compromise: Missouri was initially settled by slave-holding Southerners coming up the Mississippi River and Missouri River. Missouri entered the Union in 1821 as a slave state following the Missouri Compromise of 1820, in which it was agreed that no state north of Missouri's southern border with Arkansas could enter the Union as a slave state. Maine entered the Union as a free state in the compromise to balance Missouri.
Bleeding Kansas: One of the greatest areas of concerns for Missouri slave-holders was a Federal law that decreed that if a slave physically entered a free state, he or she was free. The Underground Railroad, in which slaves gained their freedom by heading north, was already becoming established in the state. The slaveholders were particularly concerned about the prospects of the entire western border becoming a conduit for the Underground Railroad if those new states entered the U.S. as free states. In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act nullified the Missouri Compromise and declared that the two states could decide on their own whether to enter as a free or slave state (see Popular Sovereignty). The result was a de facto war, commonly referred to as the Border War, between pro-slavery residents of Missouri (called Border Ruffians) and Kansas free staters (see Free-Soilers and the Free Soil Party) to influence how Kansas entered the Union. Most of these conflicts involved attacks and murders of individuals on both sides, with the Sacking of Lawrence by pro-slavery forces and the Pottawatomie Massacre by John Brown being the most notable. Kansas initially approved a pro-slavery constitution called the Lecompton Constitution, but, after the U.S. Congress rejected it, the state approved a free-state Wyandotte Constitution. See also Kansas Civil War History.

Missouri Civil War Border State and Secession Map
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Missouri Civil War Battlefield Map

Missouri Compromise Map
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Missouri Civil War State Map

Missouri and Election of 1860: According to the 1860 U.S. census, Missouri had a free population of 1,067,081 and an additional slave population of 114,931. In the election of 1860, Missouri’s newly elected governor was Claiborne "Fox" Jackson, a career politician and an ardent supporter of the South. Jackson campaigned as a Douglas Democrat, favoring a conciliatory program on issues that divided the country. After Jackson’s election, however, he immediately began working behind the scenes to promote Missouri’s secession. In addition to planning to seize the federal arsenal at St. Louis (see below), Jackson conspired with senior Missouri bankers to illegally divert money from the banks to arm state troops, a measure that the Missouri General Assembly had so far refused to take. 

Neutrality: By 1860, Missouri's initial southern settlers had been supplanted with a more diversified non-slave holding population, including many northerners, German and Irish immigrants. With war seeming inevitable, Missouri thought it could stay out of the conflict by remaining in the Union, but staying neutral—not giving men or supplies to either side and pledging to fight troops from either side who entered the state. The policy was first put forth in 1860 by outgoing Governor Robert Marcellus Stewart, who had Northern leanings. It was notionally reaffirmed by incoming Governor Claiborne Jackson, who had Southern leanings. Jackson however, stated in his inaugural address that in case of Federal "coercion" of southern states, Missouri should support and defend her "sister southern states". A Constitutional Convention to discuss secession was convened with Sterling Price presiding. The delegates voted to stay in the Union and supported the neutrality position. 

In the United States presidential election, 1860, Abraham Lincoln received only 10 percent of the state's votes, while 71 percent favored either John Bell or Stephen A. Douglas, both of whom wanted the status quo to remain (Douglas was to narrowly win the Missouri vote over Bell—the only state Douglas carried besides New Jersey) with the remaining 19 percent siding with Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge. 

During the war thousands of black refugees poured into St. Louis, where the Freedmen's Relief Society, the Ladies Union Aid Society, the Western Sanitary Commission, and the American Missionary Association (AMA) set up schools for their children.

Missouri President Election Map and Civil War
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1860 Missouri Presidential Election Map

Neutrality Tested: Missouri's nominal neutrality was tested in a conflict of over the St. Louis Arsenal. The Federal Government reinforced the Arsenal's tiny garrison with several detachments, most notably a force from the 2nd Infantry under Captain Nathaniel Lyon. Concerned by widespread reports that Governor Jackson intended to use the Missouri Volunteer Militia to attack the Arsenal (and capture its 39,000 small arms), Secretary of War Simon Cameron ordered Lyon (by that time in acting command) to evacuate the majority of the munitions to Illinois. 21,000 guns were secretly evacuated to Alton, IL, on the evening of April 29, 1861. At the same time, Governor Jackson called up the Missouri State Militia under Brig. Gen. Daniel M. Frost for maneuvers in suburban St. Louis at Camp Jackson. These maneuvers were perceived by Lyon as an attempt to seize the arsenal. On May 10, 1861, Lyon attacked the militia and paraded them as captives through the streets of St. Louis and a riot erupted. Lyon's troops, mainly German immigrants, opened fire on the attacking crowd killing 28 and injuring 100.

The next day, the Missouri General Assembly authorized the formation of a Missouri State Guard with Sterling Price as its commander to resist invasions from either side (but initially from the Union army). William S. Harney, Federal commander of the Department of the West, moved to quiet the situation by agreeing to the Missouri neutrality in the Price-Harney Truce. However Abraham Lincoln overruled the truce agreement and relieved Harney of command and replaced him with Lyon. On June 11, 1861, Lyon met with Governor Jackson and Missouri State Guard commander Major General Sterling Price at St. Louis' Planter's House hotel. The meeting, theoretically to discuss the possibility of continuing the Price-Harney Truce between U.S. and state forces, quickly deadlocked over basic issues of sovereignty and governmental power. Jackson and Price, who were working to construct the new Missouri State Guard in nine military districts state-wide, wanted to contain the Federal toe-hold to the Unionist stronghold of St. Louis. Jackson demand that Federal forces be limited to the boundaries of St. Louis, and that pro-Unionist Missouri "Home Guards" in several Missouri town be disbanded. Lyon refused, and stated that if Jackson insisted on so limiting the power of the Federal Government "This means war". After Jackson was escorted from the lines, Lyon began a pursuit of Jackson and Price and his elected state government through the Battle of Boonville and Battle of Carthage (1861). Jackson and the pro-Confederate politicians fled to the southern part of the state. Jackson and a rump of the General Assembly eventually set up a government-in-exile in Neosho, Missouri and announced an Ordinance of Secession. This government was recognized by the Confederacy, despite that fact that the "Act" was not endorsed by a plebiscite (as required by Missouri state law) and that Jackson's government was all but powerless inside Missouri.

Union Provisional Government: On July 22, 1861, following Lyon's capture of the Missouri capital at Jefferson City, the Missouri Constitutional Convention reconvened and declared the Missouri governor's office to be vacant. On July 28, it appointed former Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Hamilton Rowan Gamble as governor of the state and agreed to comply with Lincoln's demand for troops.

Confederate Government of Missouri: In October 1861, the remnants of the elected state government that favored the South (including Jackson and Price) met in Neosho, and voted to formally secede from the Union. The measure gave them votes in the Confederate Congress, but otherwise was symbolic since they did not control any part of the state. The capital was to eventually move to Marshall, Texas. When Jackson died in office in 1862, his lieutenant governor, Thomas Caute Reynolds, succeeded him.

Missouri Civil War Battlefield Map
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Missouri Civil War History Map

Civil War: The first major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi River was on August 10, 1861, at Wilson's Creek, Missouri, whereas the largest battle in the war west of the Mississippi River was the Battle of Westport at Kansas City in 1864.

Conflicts and battles in the war were divided into three phases, starting with the Union removal of Governor Jackson and pursuit of Sterling Price and his Missouri State Guard in 1861; a period of neighbor-versus-neighbor bushwhacking guerrilla warfare from 1862 to 1864 (continued long after the war had ended; until at least 1889); and finally Sterling Price's attempt to retake the state in 1864. 

The largest battle to oust Jackson was the Battle of Wilson's Creek near Springfield, Missouri, on August 10, 1861. The battle marked the first time that the Missourians had sought formal help from the Confederate States of America. A combined force of over 12,000 Confederate soldiers, Arkansas State Troops, and Missouri State Guardsmen under Confederate Brigadier Ben McCulloch fought approximately 5,400 Federals in a punishing six hour battle. Union forces suffered over 1,300 casualties, including Lyon, who was fatally shot. The Confederates lost 1,200 men. The exhausted Confederates did not closely pursue the retreating Federals. In the aftermath of the battle, the southern commanders disagreed as to the proper next step. Price argued for an invasion of Missouri. McCulloch, concerned about security of Arkansas and Indian Territory, and skeptical about the possibility of subsisting his army in central Missouri, refused. The Confederate and Arkansas troops fell back to the border, while Price lead his Guardsmen into northwestern Missouri to recapture the state.

Price's emboldened Missouri State Guard marched on Lexington, besieging Col. Mulligan's garrison at the Battle of Lexington on September 20. Deploying wet hemp bales as mobile breastworks, the rebel advance was shielded from heavy cannon fire. By early afternoon, the rolling fortification had advanced close enough for the Southerners to take the Union works in a final rush. By 2:00 p.m., Mulligan had surrendered. Price was reportedly so impressed by Mulligan's demeanor and conduct during and after the battle that he offered him his own horse and buggy, and ordered him safely escorted to Union lines. Years later, in his book The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Southern president Jefferson Davis opined that "The expedient of the bales of hemp was a brilliant conception, not unlike that which made Tarik, the Saracen warrior, immortal, and gave his name to the northern pillar of Hercules."

Missouri Civil War Battles Map
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Missouri Civil War Border State History Map

Missouri States Rights Facts
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Missouri Secession History

The hopes of many Southern-leaning, mostly farming-dependent, families, including Jesse James and family in Liberty, MO., rose and fell based on news of Price's battles. "If Price succeeded, the entire state of Missouri might fall into the hands of the Confederacy. For all anyone knew, it would force Lincoln to accept the South's independence, in light of earlier rebel victories. After all, no one expected the war to last much longer." The Battle of Lexington, also called the Battle of the Hemp Bales, was a huge success for the rebels, and meant rebel ascendency, albeit temporarily, in Western and southwest Missouri. Combined with the loss of such a pivotal leader of the Federals' Western campaign in Nathaniel Lyon, and the Union's stunning defeat in the war's first major land battle, First Battle of Bull Run, Missouri's secessionists were "jubilant." Exaggerated stories and rumors of Confederate successes spread easily in this era of slower, often equine-based communication. St. Louis' (ironically named) Unionist-Democrat Daily Missouri Republican reported some of the secessionist scuttlebutt a week after the rebel victory at Lexington:

"A party with whom I have conversed, says no one has any idea how much the secession cause has been strengthened since PRICE'S march to Lexington, and particularly since its surrender. The rebels are jubilant, and swear they will drive the Federalists into the Missouri and Mississippi before two months are over. A party of rebels recently stated that LINCOLN had been hanged by BEAUREGARD, and that for weeks past the National Congress had been held in Philadelphia. Reports are rife in Western Missouri that the Southern Confederacy has been recognized by England and France, and that before the last of October the blockade will be broken by the navies of both nations. The rebels prophesy that before ten years have elapsed the Confederacy will be the greatest, most powerful, and prosperous, nation on the globe, and that the United States will decay, and be forced to seek the protection of England to prevent their being crushed by the South."

Rebel ascendancy in Missouri was short-live, however, as General John C. Frémont quickly mounted a campaign to retake Missouri. And "...without a single battle, the momentum suddenly shifted." On September 26, "Frémont moved west from St. Louis with thirty-eight thousand troops. Soon, he arrived at Sedalia, southeast of Lexington, threatening to trap the rebels against the river." On September 29, Price was forced to abandon Lexington, and he and his men moved into southwest Missouri. "...their commanders do not wish to run any risk, their policy being to make attacks only where they feel confident, through superiority of numbers, of victory."

Price and his generals stuck firmly to this cautious strategy, and similar to General Joseph E. Johnston's infamous retreat toward Atlanta, Price's Missouri State Guard fell back hundreds of miles in the face of a superior force. They soon retreated from the state and headed for Arkansas and later Mississippi. 

Small remnants of the Missouri Guard remained in the state and fought isolated battles throughout the war. Price soon came under the command and control of the Confederates. In March 1862, any hopes for a new offensive in Missouri were dimmed in the Battle of Pea Ridge just south of the border in Arkansas. The Missouri State Guard was to stay largely intact as a unit through the war and was to suffer heavy casualties in Mississippi in the Battle of Iuka and Second Battle of Corinth. See also Missouri and the Civil War: A History.

Missouri American Civil War Map
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Missouri Civil War Border State Map

Ironclad Navy and Riverine Campaigns: While various forces battled inconclusively for southwest Missouri, a unique Army-Navy-civilian cooperative effort built a war winning riverine navy. St. Louis river salvage expert, and engineering genius, James Buchanan Eads won a contract to build a fleet of shallow-draft ironclads for use on the western rivers. An unusually cooperative relationship between Army officials (who would own the vessels) and Navy officers (who would command them) helped speed the work. Drawing on his reputation and personal credit (and that of St. Louis Unionists) Eads used subcontractors throughout the midwest (and as far east as Pittsburg) to produce nine ironclads in just over three months. Built at Eads' own Union Marine Works (in the St. Louis suburb of Carondelet), and at a satellite yard at Cairo, Illinois, the seven City class ironclads, the Essex, and heavy ironclad Benton were the first U.S. ironclads and the first to see combat.

St. Louis' Benton Barracks became the mustering depot for western troops, and in February 1862, Department of Missouri commander Major General Henry Halleck approved a joint invasion of west Tennessee along the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Army troops under Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant and the newly built Western Gunboat Flotilla, commanded by Navy Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote, captured Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, unhinging the Confederate defensive perimeter in the west. After the subsequent Battle of Shiloh, the Federal Army pushed into northern Mississippi, while the Gunboat fleet moved down the Mississippi with cooperating Federal troops, systematically capturing every Confederate position north of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The riverine strategy put the Confederacy on the defensive in the west for the rest of the war, and effectively ended meaningful Confederate efforts to recapture Missouri. The defeat of a Confederate army in northern Arkansas, at the Battle of Pea Ridge, further discouraged the Confederate leadership as to the wisdom, or possibility, of occupying Missouri. Subsequent military Confederate military action in the state would be limited to a small number of large raids (notably Shelby's Raid of 1863 and Price's Raid of 1864), and partial endorsement of the activities of Missouri guerrillas.

Civil War Border States Map
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Map of Civil War Border States

Guerrilla Warfare: The Battle of Wilson's Creek was the last large scale engagement in the state until Price returned in 1864 in a last-ditch attempt to capture the state. Between 1862 and 1864, the state endured guerrilla warfare in which southern partisan rangers and Bushwhackers battled the Kansas irregulars known as Jayhawkers and Redlegs or "Redleggers" (from the red gaiters they wore around their lower legs) and the allied Union forces. Kansas Jayhawker raids against perceived civilian "Confederate sympathizers" alienated Missourians and made maintaining the peace even harder for the Unionist provisional government. As Major General Henry Halleck wrote General John C. Frémont in September 1861, [Jayhawker raider] Jim Hale had to be removed from the Kansas border as "A few more such raids" would render Missouri "as unanimous against us as is Eastern Virginia." While Jayhawker violence alienated communities who would've otherwise been loyal supporters of the Union, marauding bands of pro-secession bushwhackers sustained guerrilla war and outright banditry, especially in Missouri's northern counties. Major General John Pope and, who oversaw northern Missouri, blamed local citizens for not doing enough to put down bushwhacker guerrillas, and ordered locals to raise militias to counter them. "Refusal to do so would bring an occupying force of federal soldiers into their counties." Pope, Ewing and Frémont's heavy-handed approach alienated even those civilians who were suffering at the hands of the bushwhackers.

Although guerrilla warfare occurred throughout much of the state, most of the incidents occurred in northern Missouri and were characterized by ambushes of individuals or families in rural areas. These incidents were particularly nefarious because their vigilante nature was outside the command and control of either side and often pitted neighbor against neighbor. Civilians on all sides faced looting, violence and other depredations.

Among the more notorious incidents of guerrilla warfare were the Sacking of Osceola, burning of Platte City and the Centralia Massacre.  Quantrill's Raiders, which included the most well-known Missouri Partisans and guerrillas--William Clarke Quantrill, Frank and Jesse James, the Younger brothers, and "Bloody Bill" Anderson--participated in the atrocities at Centralia.

Missouri Slavery Map
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Missouri and the US Civil War Map

Regarding Quantrill's Raiders (which included many Ruffians), in the Official Records*, Union Lieutenant Colonel Dan M. Draper reported to Brigadier General Fisk on September 29, 1864, the following descriptive battle report for what is commonly known as the Centralia Massacre:

"After leaving Centralia on Tuesday the guerrillas fell back about two miles to the timber, keeping pickets in view of the town. Major Johnston was then following their trail with 150 men. He went to where they were, and when he came in sight dismounted his men and were moving toward him, but checked up at this, but soon came on a charge. When 150 yards distant the major ordered his men to fire, came on, and when within 100 yards the men began to break, many of them not firing the second shot, and none of them more than that. It then became a scene of murder and outrage at which the heart sickens. Most of them were beaten over the head, seventeen of them were scalped, and one man had his privates cut off and placed in his mouth. Every man was shot in the head. One man had his nose cut off. One hundred and fifty dead bodies have been found, including the twenty-four taken from the train.
I endeavored in every way to find out their whereabouts, but have not been able to hear of them since they went into that country. Anderson was at least thirty hours ahead of me when I got to Centralia, and I knew he must turn back or cross the river before I could get to him. I came back here, after ordering the citizens to bury the eighty-five bodies left at Centralia, as this was the best point at which to get information from the country. Colonel Stauber sent out scouts this afternoon, which have not yet returned, to ascertain the cause of firing heard by citizens of the country south of this. The party has orders not to fight but get information. As soon as it returns I will give results.
Dan M. Draper, Lieutenant-Colonel."
*Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Volume 41, Part 1, pp. 440-441.

Price's Raid
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Missouri Civil War Raid Map

Price's Raid: With the Confederacy clearly losing the war in 1864, Sterling Price reassembled his Missouri Guard and launched a last gasp offensive to take Missouri. However, Price was unable to repeat his 1861 victorious campaigns in the state. Striking in the southeastern portion of the state, Price moved north, and attempted to capture Fort Davidson but failed. Next, Price sought to attack St. Louis but found it too heavily fortified and thus broke west in a parallel course with the Missouri River. This took him through the (relatively) friendly country of the "Boonslick", which had provided a large percentage of the Missouri volunteers who had joined the CSA. Ironically, although Price had issued orders against pillage, many of the pro-Confederate civilians in this area (which would be known as "Little Dixie" after the war) suffered from looting and depredations at the hands of Price's men.

The Federals attempted to retard Price's advance through both minor and substantial skirmishing such as at Glasgow and Lexington. Price made his way to the extreme western portion of the state, taking part in a series of bitter battles at the Little Blue, Independence, and Byram's Ford. His Missouri campaign culminated in the battle of Westport in which over 30,000 troops fought, leading to the defeat of the Southern army. The Missourians retreated through Kansas and Indian Territory into Arkansas, where they stayed for the remainder of the war.

Reconstruction: Since Missouri had remained in the Union, it did not suffer outside military occupation or other extreme aspects of Reconstruction. The immediate post-war state government was controlled by Republicans, who attempted to execute an "internal reconstruction", banning politically powerful former secessionists from the political process and empowering the state's newly emancipated African-American population. This led to major dissatisfaction among many politically important groups, and provided opportunities for reactionary elements in the state.

As a Border State, Missouri had provided troops to both sides, pitting neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, and father against son. Guerrilla warfare had reigned over the state for most of the war, during which time William Quantrill, Bloody Bill Anderson, and Frank and Jesse James began their infamous careers. A unified Confederate force was not seen in Missouri again until late 1864, when Sterling Price failed in a desperate attempt to regain control of the state.

Legend has it that every general on both sides of the Civil War served at Jefferson Barracks Military Post, Lemay, Missouri, at one time. Among those were Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and William Tecumseh Sherman. During the war, Jefferson Barracks had one of the largest Federal hospitals in the country, with over 3,000 beds, accommodating patients from battles as far away as Vicksburg.  Among the Civil War veterans buried in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery are 1,140 Confederates.

The Democrats were to return to being the dominant power in the state by 1873 through an alliance with returned ex-Confederates (almost all of whom had been part of the pro-slavery Anti-Benton wing of the Missouri Democratic Party prior to the Civil War). The reunified Democratic Party exploited themes of: racial prejudice; a (largely fictional) version of a Missouri "Lost Cause" which purported Missourians as victims of Federal tyranny and outrages; and depiction of Missouri Unionists and Republicans as traitors (to the state) and criminals. This capture of the historical narrative was largely successful, and secured control of the state for the Democratic Party through the 1950s. The ex-Confederate/Democratic resurgence also defeated efforts to empower Missouri's African-American population, and ushered in the state's version of Jim Crow legislation. (This was motivated both by widespread racial prejudice and concerns that former slaves were likely to be reliable Republican voters.)

Many newspapers in the 1870s Missouri were vehement in their opposition to national Radical Republican policies, for political, economic, and racial reasons. The outlaws James-Younger gang was to capitalize on this and become folk heroes as they robbed banks and trains while getting sympathetic press from the state's newspapers—most notably the Kansas City Times. Jesse James, who killed with bushwhacker Bloody Bill Anderson at Centralia, was to excuse his murder of a resident of Gallatin, during a bank robbery, saying he thought he was killing Samuel P. Cox, who had hunted down Anderson after Centralia. In addition, the vigilante activities of the 'Bald Knobbers' in south-central Missouri during the 1880s have been interpreted by some as a further continuation of Civil War related guerrilla warfare.

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Related Reading:

Bibliography: National Park Service; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Library of Congress; Astor, Aaron. Rebels on the Border: Civil War, Emancipation, and the Reconstruction of Kentucky and Missouri (Louisiana State University Press; 2012); Fellman, Michael. Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri during the American Civil War (1989); Hess, Earl J. "The 12th Missouri Infantry: A Socio-Military Profile of a Union Regiment," Missouri Historical Review (October 1981); Lause, Mark A. Price's Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri (University of Missouri Press; 2011); Parrish, William E. A History of Missouri, Volume III: 1860 to 1875 (1973, reprint 2002) (ISBN 0-8262-0148-2); Phillips, Christopher. Missouri's Confederate: Claiborne Fox Jackson and the Creation of Southern Identity in the Border West. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000. (ISBN 978-0-8262-1272-6); Geiger, Mark W. Financial Fraud and Guerrilla Violence in Missouri’s Civil War, 1861–1865. (Yale University Press, 2010) (ISBN 9780300151510).

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