Book Review: The Civil War in Missouri: A Military History


by Louis S. Gerteis

Columbia: University of Missouri, 2012. Pp. xiv, 238. Illus., maps, notes, index. $29.95. ISBN: 0826219721

Missouri’s Civil War within the Civil War

Prof. Gerteis (Missouri-St. Louis), author of several books on the Civil War and American slavery, opens by noting that accounts of the war don’t pay much attention to events in Missouri. Usually, after mentioning the Battles of Wilson’s Creek and Lexington in 1861 most books skip to Stirling Price’s 1864 campaign in the state, essentially dismissing everything else as peripheral to the war. Yet the state ranks third after Virginia and Tennessee in the number of battles fought on its soil.

Gerteis opens with an overview of the state during the immediate prewar years. He touches upon the role of slavery in the state, Missourians in the “Bleeding Kansas” crisis, and events in the state around the election of 1860, which sparked the Secession Crisis. He then gives us a comprehensive account of the state’s wartime experience.

Gerteis discusses the efforts of the governor and pro-slavery leaders to keep Missouri “neutral,” as a preliminary to joining the Confederacy. His account of the Unionist response, including the role of the state’s large, mostly German immigrant community, and the Confederate victories at Wilson’s Creek and Lexington are good, combining operational detail with looks at personalities including generals, politicians, and some ordinary citizens. Gerteis then discusses the successful Union operations that maneuvered the state’s troops and Confederate forces out of Missouri.

Gerteis devotes more than half the book to the partisan campaign that followed the Union’s success in overrunning the sate. While challenging Union control of Missouri, the partisans never actually threatened to regain control of the state, even as events spiraled into brutal faction fighting among neighbors, resulting in much suffering. In 1864, came Price’s invasion of Missouri in 1864, essentially a strategic diversion, though one with hopes of raising a “silent majority” of Confederate sympathizers who never materialized, and ended dismally with the state remaining in Unions hands.

Gerteis writes well, takes pains to explain the complexities of the battles and movements, discusses the reasoning for various command decisions, and gives us interesting profiles of many of the principal participants, such as Sterling Price, Nathaniel Lyon, Thomas Shelby, Franz Sigel, and more.

A volume in the University of Missouri series “Shades of Blue and Gray,” The Civil War in Missouri is a useful work on a neglected theatre of operations, and a valuable one for anyone interested in the role of partisan operations in the Civil War.

Note: The Civil War in Missouri is also available in paperback, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8262-2078-3, and as an e-Book, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-8262-7274-4.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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