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 (http://mainstreetbooks.net/) 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 (http://www.historypressblog.net/sneak-peek/guerrillas-in-civil-war-mo/).
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.