Did you know that the first full-scale land battle of the Civil War was fought near Carthage, Missouri?
Sure, I’m not a Civil War expert, but I’m familiar with what I’d previously thought was the first major land battle of that war: Bull Run.
Yet, the Battle of Carthage (also called the Battle of Dry Fork) was fought on July 5, 1861.
That was 16 days prior to Bull Run.
I learned about this important Missouri battle when I visited the Civil War Museum, located just off the downtown square in Carthage.
Located in an old fire station, the museum faces another historic building: the handsome limestone Carthage post office, which was built in 1896.
The moment I walked inside the Civil War Museum, I was wowed by this stunning mural by local artist Andy Thomas, which depicts the burning of the Carthage square during the war.
The museum itself is small, yet informative. By reading through the exhibits, watching the short video, and studying the diorama of the battle itself, I learned quite a bit.
The battle itself involved 1,100 German-American Union soldiers from St. Louis, led by Colonel Franz Sigel. Confederate Governor Claiborne F. Jackson led the Missouri State Guard, commanding about 6,000 men. This was the only time in history that a sitting governor has led troops in the field.
The battle was a victory for the Confederacy.
Here are some other things I discovered at the museum:
Here’s the story behind this painting by Andy Thomas: Union supporter Norris C. Hood lived on the Carthage square with his family. Secretly, his daughters had made a U.S. flag and placed it among daughter Lucy’s petticoats in order to keep it hidden from the many local Confederate supporters.
But on July 4, 1861, when Colonel Sigel’s troops entered Carthage before the battle, Lucy removed the flag and proudly waved it overhead as a welcome to the Union soldiers.
Weapons and Ammunition
It’s always fascinating to see artifacts from the fields.
Called the “Bandit Queen,” Belle Starr led quite a colorful life. She was described as an attractive teenager with a bold personality.
Yep, that’s bold.
Born as Myra Maebelle Shirley in 1848 just north of Carthage, Starr was the daughter of a hotel-tavern owner who supported the Confederacy. Take a walk on the north side of the Carthage square and look for this building.
In front of the building, you’ll find this marker.
Starr would often entertain the hotel guests here with her skills on the piano.
But then the Civil War came to Carthage; in 1864, her brother Bud was killed by a Union soldier in nearby Sarcoxie. Enraged by the loss of her brother, Starr began living her life brazenly, going on to marry a series of outlaws, and ultimately suffering fatal gunshot wounds in 1889.
She did give birth to one daughter, Pearl, and one of the museum’s exhibits shows a portion of a letter that Starr wrote to her daughter while in prison.
The Burning of Carthage
The Civil War brought fires to the town in 1863 and 1864, destroying most of its buildings, including the courthouse. The current courthouse, which was built in 1894-95 on the same site, is one of the most photographed buildings in Missouri.
One structure that did survive the war was the Kendrick House. The oldest home in Jasper County, the Kendrick House was used as a command center for both sides during the war. It’s a short drive from the square and is located at 131 North Garrison Street.
It wasn’t long after my initial visit to the Civil War Museum that I returned, this time bringing my parents who were visiting from Chicago. My dad loves Civil War anything. He majored in history in college, so our summer family vacations always included stops at historical locations like Gettysburg and Vicksburg.
Because of that, you’d think I’d have a strong knowledge of the major Civil War battles, but I don’t. I simply have memories of staring at battlefields through glassy eyes and offering pained teenaged sighs to anyone within earshot.
But I’m happy to say that my war museum etiquette has improved dramatically as I’ve matured, and I welcomed the opportunity to prove this to my parents by bringing them to the Civil War Museum in Carthage.
I’m glad I did, because my second visit to the museum was enriched by the added information that my history-loving father provided as we walked through the displays.
And this time, I listened without sighing.
The Carthage Civil War Museum is located at 205 South Grant Street in Carthage, Missouri. Click here for more information.
To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.