A Civil War Traveler’s Guide: St. Louis & Springfield

Taking a trip to the St. Louis area puts you in touch with two of the biggest names of the Civil War-Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant. Both these men were instrumental, giants among their peers and in the history books. A short plane ride will get you to St. Louis, Missouri and (another short car ride) on to Springfield, Illinois. Believe me, you’ll be glad you took this trip.

St. Louis was founded in 1764 by Pierre LaClede and his stepson Auguste Chouteau, thanks to land given to them by the King of France. The pair began their venture with a trading post named for the King who gave them the chance to try life in a new country.

The appeal of the area was definitely the position it held on the Mighty Mississippi – just below the confluence of the Missouri River. In 1804, Missouri moved out of the grasp of the French and became permanently “American.” By 1820, the territory would forever leave its mark on the Civil War era by becoming the namesake of a Compromise that hinged on the number of slaves in any potential state. The Missouri Compromise so ruled, “Missouri shall be admitted as a Slave State,” but prohibited any “slavery or involuntary servitude” outside a set boundary of 36 degrees 30 minutes, or just outside its border. Going back and forth on this technicality, in 1821, Missouri finally became a state.

Noticing immediately how spacious and clean this large city was, I headed first to our hotel, the Hyatt Regency at Union Station (One St. Louis Union Station, 314-231-1234). Union Station opened in St. Louis in 1894 and the Grand Hall is impressive as you walk to the registration desk. Stained glass windows, Romanesque arches, a 65-foot barrel vaulted ceiling and more remind you that you have come not to just any hotel. The rooms are spacious and regal and the customer service is unmatched. Smiles, friendly conversation and a knowledge of the hotel and area all helped make my stay relaxing. The hotel has 539 guestrooms, a business center, outdoor pool, fitness center and is a AAA Four-Diamond rated property. It is also very close to Busch Stadium and within a quick drive of the Gateway Arch, St. Louis Zoo, Anheuser Busch Brewery and more. It is also possible to take advantage of some great packages at the Hyatt Regency. A 40th Anniversary for the Arch package, a RailCruise Dinner Package, A World’s Fair (1904) package and finally, an exciting Harry Potter Package that makes full use of the former train station and Potter’s track 9-3/4.

One of the unsung events of the Civil War was certainly the fight at Camp Jackson. Today, the camp is on the site of St. Louis University (3650 Lindell Blvd, 314-977-3109), the oldest university west of the Mississippi. The Battle of Camp Jackson took place early in the war, in May 1861, when Union General Nathaniel Lyon and his troops fought to protect the St. Louis Arsenal for the Federal army. Randy McGuire, author of St. Louis Arsenal: Armory of the West, an Images of America book, showed me where the Confederate camp was laid out near Olive Street.

To be sure of the information Lyon received from his scouts, legend tells us that the Connecticut general dressed as a woman and visited the Confederate encampment. When he saw boxes of artillery, Lyon returned to his men and set his plan into action. He took his U.S. Regulars from Jefferson Barracks, cut through the streets of St. Louis and attacked the camp. John Schofield, Franz Sigel, William Sherman, Ulysses Grant and others were in St. Louis that day, some fighting, some observing. Lyon won the battle, saving Missouri for the Union. With Confederate prisoners in tow, the Federals marched back through St. Louis. Lyon would go on to become the first general to die in the Civil War-at Wilson’s Creek, but St. Louis will always remember him fondly.

Also in St. Louis is the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site (7400 Grant Road St., 314-842-3298). Grant, Civil War general, author and two-term President of the United States, had a special place in his heart for St. Louis. He met his wife, Julia, while stationed at Jefferson Barracks, and returned often to their home, White Haven. It broke his heart when he had to let the property go in 1885, as he could no longer afford to maintain the place.

Ranger Larry Lapinski took me on a tour of the rather large home, that is completely devoid of furniture. The original set of Grant furniture burned in storage at Julia’s brother’s home (while the Grants were in the White House). The second set is lost. The President had to sell the furniture piece by piece when he ran out of money.

The lack of furniture did not matter. Our guide was vivid in his description of what the rooms would have looked like with the Grants and Julia’s family, the Dents, in residence. It is something to stand where this great general did and see his home in such wonderful condition. Enormous restoration going on right now. The Visitor Center has been enlarged and has a gift shop, theater and more. A barn on the grounds is also scheduled to be turned into revolving exhibits on the Grants and the Civil War.

Finally, you can’t go to St. Louis without stopping by Jefferson Barracks (533 Grant Rd., 314-544-5714). Due to budget cuts, the Barracks is being run primarily by loyal volunteers, but they are willing to tell you the stories of famous Civil War personalities who got their starts there. You can take a tour of the grounds and see wonderful views of the river, and the three buildings left on the military base (at one time, the largest in the nation) from the Civil War.

Incredibly impressive is the large national cemetery, where 21 burials a day are still taking place. Within the confines of this cemetery are the graves of 1,140 Confederates, 175 black soldiers and 13,000 Union troops. It is the 3rd largest military cemetery in the country, the 2nd oldest ,and the 1st with a chapel. Of note, Lewis Armistead’s young daughter Flora is buried at Jefferson Barracks, as she died while he was stationed there.

The first troops occupied Jefferson Barracks in July 1826 and many more soldiers would later come to the post to train in the “Infantry School of Practice.” During the Civil War, 25,000 wounded soldiers lived in the hospitals. Jefferson Barracks remained an active base until 1946.

Taking an hour drive north, you cross into Springfield, Illinois, home of Abraham Lincoln. Billboards, business signs, and street signs all begin to read derivations of Lincoln’s name so you know you are in the right place! Your first stop should be the Lincoln Home National Historic Site (426 S. Seventh St., 217-492-4241). The streets and houses have been restored to represent Abraham Lincoln’s neighborhood. Parking in the adjacent parking lot and then walking along the cobblestone paths really puts the visitor in the frame of mind of a resident of this early 19th Century community.

Starting in the Visitors Center, get your timed ticket, and join a docent on a 20-minute tour of the two-story home the family moved into in 1844. You will be much impressed as to the style in which the Lincoln family lived. Three of the four Lincoln children were born in this house and little Eddie died there. Mary was alone much of the time, while her husband rode the circuit as a busy lawyer and then as a legislator. On February 11, 1861, the family left the house for the trip to the White House. They would never see it again.

Other options for visiting include the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office, the Old State Capitol (where the slain President lay in state), and nearby Lincoln’s New Salem.

Literally five minutes away is an awe-inspiring 100,000 square foot building every American should be required to see-the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (212 North Sixth St., 217-558-8878). Besides seeing Lincoln’s life from his boyhood home exhibit through the White House and Civil War years and finally, to his assassination and funeral train, the visitor can experience other great rooms. The Ghosts of the Library show with HolavisionÃ?® technology (I assure you, you will not be able to tell what’s real and what’s not); the Whispering Gallery that lets you hear the gossip people said about the family; the Emancipation Proclamation Illusion Corridor; Lincoln’s Eyes, another special effects show where the events of the war unfold through his eyes; and finally the Treasures Gallery, a treasure-trove of Lincoln memorabilia.

“Blood on the Moon” is the first temporary exhibit showcased at the museum. The exhibit commemorates the 140th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination. Perfect for young and old alike, the ALPLM should not be missed.

Strike that, change it…the area should not be missed-if you want a true piece of Civil War history and a great road trip!

To See-
Lincoln’s Tomb (Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, 217-782-2717)-this tomb gives one cause for reflection. Wander through the marble halls and see the Lincoln family crypts as well as some beautiful sculptures.

Bellafontaine/Cavalry Cemeteries, (Florissant Ave., St. Louis, 314-381-0750)-an expansive pair of cemeteries. You can see a record number of famous Civil War generals, including Sterling Price and William Sherman. Also buried here are William Clark and Dred Scott.

To Eat-
Kitchen K (1000 Washington Ave., St. Louis, 314-241-9900)-great menu, super hospitality, and a root beer that’s to die for!

For more information on this fabulous city, its nightlife, Lewis & Clark sites, shopping and more, contact Donna Lewis at the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission (800-916-8938). THANKS DONNA!!!

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