Recently I was “dragged” on a family trip out to the far west….well, the Civil War far west, Kansas and Arkansas. My friends and family who live in the region promised me “there are some really cool Civil War sites out here.” As a typical easterner, I scoffed at this idea but began to plan my history excursion.
As the trip was mostly focused on a wedding and visiting family, I politely negotiated with my wife a few days with my friend Don Pierce (who is the most extensively traveled Civil War buff out there) to “do some history.” She was agreeable to the idea, but not after she said “the Civil War was fought out there?” I am sure this is a perception that a lot of the Civil War parks and sites get from the regular visitor.
After a few fun days with family, Don picked me up in Fayetteville, AR and we began our Trans-Mississippi adventure. Ever since Don moved back to Kansas a few years ago, he has been telling me of all the great sites in the region. Again, as I did before, I discounted all this. I mean, come on…the Civil War was fought in Virginia!
But, as we began our at Prairie Grove Battlefield (Dec. 7, 1862) I was immediately impressed with the exhibits and interpretation. This continued as we made our way north to Pea Ridge National Military Park (March 6-8, 1862) and then to Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield (August 10, 1861). All of these parks were well maintained with great signage and new exhibits in the Visitor Centers. We also made our way to Mine Creek Battlefield (October 25, 1864), which is a Kansas owned battlefield. Sadly, due to budget cuts, the visitor center was not open, but the park was still impressive.
Then over the next few days we followed in the footsteps of the Border Ruffians and Free Staters of Bleeding Kansas. Several of these sites are state owned historic sites (Lecompton and Osawatomie) while others are preserved by local non profits like the Battle of Black Jack. Sadly, the area of the notorious Pottawatomie massacre is on private land with no interpretation. But that did not stop us, as we used as many sources as we could to find the area of the farmsteads that John Brown visited on May 24, 1856.
After a long five days of touring, my entire opinion changed on the history and sites of the Trans Mississippi and of Bleeding Kansas. I grew a deeper appreciation and I believe that visiting these sites is a MUST for anyone who is either interested in the Civil War or wants to gain a better understanding of the Civil War. In the coming months, I will delve more deeply into this history of some of these sites. But upon my return to Virginia, I wanted to share with others who have never been, that they should go. The history is intriguing and thankfully there are many preserved places to learn and appreciate that history.
Sites to Visit:
Helpful Books to Have:
Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide, with a Section on Wire Road.
Earl Hess, Richard W. Hatcher III, William Garrett Piston, and William L. Shea
Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era