Despite a high concentration of Southern sympathizers among its citizens, Missouri never seceded from the Union. It remained a state divided, suffering from a fractured identity and caught up in a war of no quarter between its battling factions.
That violent period of near-anarchy is examined in The Civil War in Missouri, a traveling exhibit on display Saturday, May 5 through July 1, 2012, at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
The exhibit is a smaller, portable version of a major civil war exhibition that opened in November at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis. Kansas City is the first stop for the touring exhibit; the show will then go to Kirksville (July 21-Sept. 16), Joplin (Oct. 6-Nov. 21) and Sedalia (Dec. 22-Feb. 17).
Claimed by both the Union and the Confederacy, during the war Missouri actually had two state governments that grappled for control.
The Civil War in Missouri examines the business of slavery and its legal framework, as well as events like the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the election of 1860 which contributed to the polarization of Missouri's citizenry.
"The community is in a very unsettled and unhappy state of ruin on account of the political condition of the country," Missourian Minerva Bow wrote in 1860. "Friends are divided in sentiment and even relatives who should cling closely to each other under all circumstances are estranged."
Among the population of the state were German immigrants who were fiercely pro-Union, Southerners who embraced slavery, Northeasterners who brought with them abolitionist sentiments, and African Americans. Their often conflicting attitudes are examined in the exhibit.
Meanwhile a guerilla war raged. Federal troops seemed powerless to stop the back-and-forth mayhem generated by Kansas "Jayhawkers" who led raids into Missouri and the Confederate "bushwhackers" who opposed them.
"It is an awful thing to lie down at night with a feeling of insecurity, not knowing but what you may be aroused by a band of cutthroats demanding your life or your money," Lowndes H. Davis wrote to his fiancé in 1863.
This unofficial war reached its zenith with the 1863 raid on Lawrence, Kansas, when Confederate guerillas led by William Clarke Quantrill descended on that abolitionist stronghold and killed 183 unarmed men and boys. The federal authorities retaliated with the notorious Order No. 11, which resulted in the civilian evacuation of several Missouri counties along the Kansas border.
Among the bushwhacker ranks were figures like "Bloody" Bill Anderson and Jesse James, who would hold a unique place in America's collective memory: half hero, half outlaw.
Today Missouri and its role in the Civil War continue to generate controversy among historians, academics and Civil War enthusiasts.
A State Divided: The Civil War in Missouri is a partnership between the Missouri History Museum and the Missouri Humanities Council, with additional support provided by the William T. Kemper Foundation - Commerce Bank, Trustee; The Commerce Trust Company; Emerson; and Wells Fargo Advisers.
Admission is free. Free parking is available at the Library District Parking Garage at 10th & Baltimore.