© 2021 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Missouri Hopes For Boost From Civil War Tourism

St. Louis, whose location on the Mississippi River made it a hub for the sale of slaves, marked the Civil War sesquicentennial by re-enacting a slave auction in January. Missouri officials hope the anniversary will draw more attention to the state's Civil War history.

With 2011 marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War's beginning, tourists and history buffs are expected to travel to famous battle sites, such as Gettysburg and Bull Run, in record numbers. Missouri would like some of that attention — only Virginia and Tennessee contain more Civil War battle sites.

Missouri was on the western front of the Civil War. The Battle of Wilson's Creek was fought there; in total, more than 1,000 skirmishes and battles took place in the state.

A few miles south of St. Louis, Jefferson Barracks was the first federal Army post west of the Mississippi River. Both Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee served there in the years before the war.

Today, the barracks are a county park. On a recent visit, the peace was being disturbed, by re-enactors preparing to wage battle. Re-enactor Frank Aufmuth said the group was re-creating a clash that hadn't been done before.

"We're doing the Battle of Blackwell," he said. "But, yeah, there's a lot of battles, too many to name."

Aufmuth was playing a general. In real life, he's a history teacher. And he says Missouri is a great place to study the Civil War. "We have some of the firsts; we have some of the lasts," he said. "I mean, if you can't find a Civil War site in Missouri, you're not looking."

Getting tourists to come look is Katie Steele Danner's job.

The director of Missouri's tourism division, she knows her state is not the first place people think of when it comes to the Civil War. "We know Americans are interested in the history of the Civil War, and we'd like them to know how important Missouri was in that total history," she says. "Over 1,000 battles took place, and in fact, Missouri was a state divided."

Missouri was one of just four slave states that fought in the Union. The war was both bloody and personal, as families and neighbors split their loyalties between the North and South.

Danner says her office is working to attract attention to Missouri through advertising in historical publications and websites. But she acknowledges the competition is stiff in the year of the 150th anniversary.

The Civil War Preservation Trust, which works to preserve battlefields, estimates that more than 20 states are promoting Civil War-related sites.

And spokesman Jim Campi says there's a lot of money at stake.

"Your average family of four spends about $1,000 when they visit a Civil War site when you look at lodging, gas, food, souvenirs, etc.," he says.

Campi says Missouri is well-positioned to get some of those dollars. He calls Wilson's Creek National Battlefield one of the best-preserved in the nation. The first major battle west of the Mississippi occurred there on Aug. 10, 1861. Some 2,500 men were wounded or killed.

"The Civil War did take place here," says Connie Langum, a historian at the park. She says it's her personal mission to educate people about Missouri's role in the war.

"We have a long way to go, as far as to make up for the press that the East Coast receives," she says. "But that's typical; even during the war, it was the East Coast that got the press, because that's where the newspapers were."

Langum says one reason Missouri had so many battles was its location. And state tourism officials hope that with nearly half the U.S. population living within a day's drive of Missouri, more tourists will come here seeking Civil War history.

Copyright 2011 St. Louis Public Radio

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.