Gateway to Freedom: Commemorating the Civil War in St. Louis

We are six generations removed from the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history and it’s easy to forget, in the wake of more recent wars and philosophical conflicts, how close we came as a nation to permanent division. The costs in human life, and in the shredding of the fabric of family life, were incalculable.

But a recent recalculation of the war’s dead* by J. David Hacker, Associate Professor of History at Binghamton University, SUNY – a staggering 750,000 of the three-and-a-half millions who fought (750,00 being a mid-point of the likely 617, 877 – 851, 066 dead) – is cause for renewed reflection and re-dedication to peace and civil discourse in the U.S.*

After two-hundred-and-thirty-six years this republic remains an experiment in whether or not “a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the principle that all men (humans) are created equal, can long endure,”** for the limits to individual freedom remain controversial one-hundred-and-fifty years after civil war.

A replica of the thirty-three star flag that flew over the Courthouse in 1861 decorates the rotunda of the Old Courthouse for naturalization ceremonies held annually on, or near, the Fourth of July. The original flag was briefly removed and replaced with a secessionist banner in the Spring of 1861 by Missouri Militiamen who socialized at the Berthold Mansion (today the southeast corner of Metropolitan Square) one block away.

2012 has been designated The Year of the Soldier in the City of St. Louis’ Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the Civil War, a war that had enormous impact on the population, commerce and cultural evolution of the community. For veterans of both the Union and Confederate armies returned home here – many to die, but many more to pick up the pieces of their lives and move on.

Decades ago, some who dealt with Civil War  statistics realized that the long-accepted number of 360, 222 dead could not have been accurate, for it did not include thousands of men and boys who were “discharged to die” and eventually did. It did not include the members of State Militias, Junior Reserves, Senior Reserves and Home Guards who fought in the war but were not counted.

The city’s signature event took place last Saturday and Sunday, May 5th – 6th primarily at Soldiers Memorial and the Campbell House Museum and included tours, a Civil War film series and book sale, and special exhibits.

The walking tour that I conducted on Sunday included slavery as it existed in St. Louis from the time of the city’s founding until the Emancipation Proclamation, most notably the Dred Scott Case, and covered roughly fourteen city blocks containing sites that resonated local Civil War history, from the Old Courthouse west and north to the Campbell House Museum.

The residences of Margaret Parkinson McClure (for a time the Chestnut Street Prison for Women) and Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley (Mary Todd Lincoln’s modiste in the White House), Bernard Lynch’s slave trade establishments, the Myrtle Street and Gratiot Street Prisons, street ambushes of Federal troops at 5th & Walnut Streets and near the Recorder’s Court on Olive Street, a recounting of the Affair at Camp Jackson, and St. Louis’ critical role in the survival of the Union, were some of the sites and subjects that I included.

The front doors to Campbell House, which offers the most elegant window on family life in St. Louis during the Civil War, were metaphorically thrown wide for visitors to step into the mid-nineteenth century. Robert Campbell provisioned Union troops in southern Missouri during the war.

His wife, Virginia Kyle Campbell, nursed wounded soldiers in hospitals nearby.

Andy Hahn, Director of the Campbell House Museum, guided tours of Lucas Place as it existed during the Civil War.

St. Louis’ Soldiers Memorial Military Museum provided an especially symbolic setting

for The Year of the Soldier. Exhibits in the east wing illustrated the little-known importance of Benton Barracks during and after the war, and personalized the soldiers’ experience with uniforms, photographs, and weaponry.

Dr. Lynnea Magnuson spearheaded the events at Soldiers Memorial that included films depicting the soldier’s experience such as “The Red Badge of Courage” and “Glory”.

James Erwin of Main Street Books in St. Charles ( offered an excellent selection of books pertaining to the Civil War in St. Louis, throughout the State of Missouri and in the nation, including his Guerillas in Civil War Missouri, published by the History Press in February of this year (

At the suggestion of his publisher, Erwin expanded his original concept of retelling the Battle of Centralia, to encompass the nature of and key players in Missouri’s infamous guerrilla warfare. Bloody Bill Anderson, William Quantrill and the James brothers are among the most well-known. Erwin’s book is a dramatic read.

James co-owns Main Street Books with his wife, Vicki Berger Erwin, who has twenty-three published books to her credit, including recent histories of St. Charles and Mexico, Missouri. You can purchase Guerrillas in Civil War Missouri at Main Street Books in St. Charles, and in the St. Louis area at Left Bank Books, Subterranean Books, Barnes & Noble and Pudd’nhead Books.

It is well to remember that political discord can turn deadly and that the cost to those who defend us can be horrific. Hopefully Civil War Commemorative Events like this one will help us to understand the seeds of dissension that erupted in large-scale violence and prevent the United States from ever being divided by war again.

References: *This recalculation is the result of Hacker’s meticulous study and synthesis of digitized U.S. Census Records from 1850 – 1890. ** President Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”.

Photo Credits: “Bloody Lane at Antietam”, “Soldiers- Black-White – 1861”. All other photographs: Mosaic Ceiling in the Atrium of Soldiers Memorial, Thirty-Three Star Flag in the Rotunda of the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, Walker Hancock Sculpture – “Sacrifice” – at Soldiers Memorial St. Louis, Front Doors of the Campbell House Museum, Photographic Portrait of Margaret Parkinson McClure in the Missouri in the Civil War Exhibit at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park, Benton Barracks Exhibit in Soldiers Memorial – St. Louis, Audie Murphy in John Huston’s Film Version of The Red Badge of Courage Showing in the Auditorium at Soldiers Memorial and Stan Prater’s Photograph of the 8th Missouri Infantry Re-enactors – Maureen O’Connor Kavanaugh, author of this blog.

About stltourguide

I am a walking tour and narrated coach tour guide in St. Louis, Missouri specializing in the history of the area.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, Art & Architecture, Civil War, Happenings, History, St. Louis, St. Louis Walking Tours and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Gateway to Freedom: Commemorating the Civil War in St. Louis

  1. Kathy Bommarito says:

    Do you know if Margaret McLure ever got back her home on Chestnut from the gov’t.? Did she ever live there again?

    • stltourguide says:

      I do not, Kathy. It’s a great question. My hunch is that Margaret McClure took up residence again at Pine Lawn, her country estate, which to my knowledge was never violated. I will try to find out.

  2. Robert E. Fallert says:

    Do you know the address of the Margaret A.E. Parkinson McClure home on Chestnut Street in St. Louis, Missouri? also known in 1863 as the Womens Chestnut street Prison. or the address of her last residence in Pine Lawn? My Great Aunt Genevieve Plummer was a member of The UDC Chapter 119 named after Margaret A.E. McClure. Thank You Sincerely Robert E.

    • stltourguide says:

      Hi, Robert. I do not know the exact address of either of Margaret McClure’s homes. I sometimes give tours to Seniors from the Hazelwood Community Center and in the course of a Civil War Tour with them a few years back, a couple of people remembered either seeing an old photo of the family house that stood on the McClure country estate, which they called Pine Lawn, or barely remembered the house before it came down. I have never been able to find a reference or images for it online. There is no Pine Lawn Historical Society that I can find.

      In terms of the townhouse, with the aid (some years back) of a Reference librarian from the main St. Louis Public Library on Locust Street downtown, who cross-referenced Margaret McClure’s listing in an old city directory, I think from the early 1860’s (you can search by name) with an old street map she thought it might have been near the northeast corner of 7th and Chestnut streets, perhaps one or two houses east of the intersection. There were no images of the houses there and addresses have changed from when that was a highly residential area, so hers was an educated but approximate guess.

      I am sorry not to have a definitive answer to either of your questions. I have never tried to find answers to those questions from Reference at the St. Louis County Library. You might try there.
      I wish you the best of luck with your search!

      • Robert E. Fallert says:

        Thank you for responding. Every little bit of information,such as the Pine Lawn residence is helpful. I also discovered a son was killed during the war, about 1862. Do you know which son? I see that Kathy Bommarito is interested in this subject. You may give her my e-mail and name if she would like ti share McClure or McLure info. Thanks again . Robert E.

      • Kathy Bommarito says:

        According to the Kennedy’s St. Louis Directory in 1860, McLure’s address was: 70 n. 6th. I’ve also read it described as on Chestnut between 6th and 7th. She was put under house arrest, and her home was turned into the Chestnut Street Prison for Women. She was among southern sympathizers (male and female) banished in May, 1863.
        The son who died in the war was William Parkinson (or simply Parkinson or even Park) McLure who evidently died in 1863. At least Margaret AE Parkinson McLure evidently believed he died about April, 1863, probably in fighting near Cape Girardeau, MO where his unit, the First MO cavalry, was involved in fighting. (Another source, that I don’t trust as much, states he died in fighting in 1863 but in Indian territory–Oklahoma.) McLure dedicated a plaque back in a church in her home state of PA that notes April, 1863 as when he died. I’ve not been able to prove (or disprove) she owned land along Natural Bridge Road (Pine Lawn).

      • Robert E. Fallert says:

        Great read, THANK YOU very much. You are helping an old guy a lot by filling in the blanks about this strong woman

      • stltourguide says:

        Robert, it looks like Kathy has found some interesting information, I will share your email address with her. If you haven’t already, you might want to see if either The Missouri Historical Society Library and/or the St. Louis Genealogical Society has further information. I knew that William was fighting in the war. I did not know that he had died. Margaret had a younger son, too young to go to war, but I’m not sure where he wound up.

  3. Regina Galloway says:

    I am interested in your discussion as I am researching Margaret McClure for a haunted history program at Gaineswood, an Alabama state museum in Demopolis, Alabama. My GGG grandfather Nathan Bryan Whitfield built Gaineswood. Mrs. McClure and her younger son, after being arrested as Southern spies and being sent across the South, lived with General Whitfield’s family at Gaineswood during the last two and a half years of the war. She was interested in connecting with the soldiers at the parole camp in Demopolis. Thank you, Regina Ulmer Galloway

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