When most people think of touring Civil War battlefields, they think of the south and Mid-Atlantic, but the war made its way out west to Missouri too. As I learned last week, there are a lot of things that Missouri offers for a great guys weekend - stay tuned for more!
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When Confederate General Sterling Price marched 12,000 troops into what became known as the Battle of Westport, he had no idea the ground he was covering would someday be among the most-visited parts of modern day-Kansas City.
But those of us 156 years removed from the "Gettysburg of the West" can doubly enjoy retracing the steps of those who fought in the October 1864 skirmish by not only reliving history, but also by experiencing some of Kansas City's most popular destination neighborhoods along the Battle of Westport driving tour.
Established in the 1970s, the 32-mile tour leads visitors through the streets of Westport and the historic Country Club Plaza to Jacob L. Loose Memorial Park, where much of the actual Battle of Westport took place. From there, tourists visit neighborhoods including Brookside and the Battle of Westport Visitors Center at Swope Park. The tour also includes a section of the Marlborough Heights and Red Bridge areas, and concludes at 96th Terrace and Wornall Road in South Kansas City.
Most visitors begin the route at Marker One in the historic Westport District of Kansas City, located at Westport Road and Pennsylvania Avenue. This marker stands upon the site of Federal Gen. Samuel R. Curtis's headquarters in the Harris House Hotel, and is now located in the heart of Westport, across the street from Kelly's Westport Inn (the oldest structure still standing in Kansas City), and near several shops, bars and restaurants in this eclectic midtown neighborhood.
From Westport, the tour follows Broadway, past Mill Creek Park and the J.C. Nichols Fountain, into the Country Club Plaza which offers many opportunities for a quick shopping break, a bite to eat or a cool drink.
The trail follows majestic Ward Parkway before ascending the rugged bluffs of Sunset Hill, which rises up from Brush Creek toward what is today Loose Park. Originally the site of the Kansas City Country Club (from which the Country Club Plaza gets its name), the land was purchased by Loose, and his wife, Ella, donated the 80-acre tract to the people of Kansas City following his death in 1923.
The park today is home to markers depicting the respective positions of Union and Confederate troops during the battle, as well as a row of artillery at the south end of the park along 55th Street.
Traveling south from Loose Park, the tour comes to the John B. Wornall House, which was struck by artillery shells and used as a field hospital. Wornall, who owned slaves but did his best to maintain neutrality, was the victim of numerous raids and robberies by both pro-Union and pro-secessionist forces prior to and during the war, and at one point was nearly hanged from the balcony of his 1858 Greek Revivalist mansion by bushwhackers.
From Wornall House, the tour heads east through the heart of Brookside, a "suburban" neighborhood surrounding a central shopping district built in the 1910s and '20s, to Forest Hill Cemetery, site of Gen. Shelby's Last Stand, where a Confederate monument now stands. Many of Shelby's troops are buried here. From Forest Hill the tour comes to the Battle of Westport Visitor Center at the west entrance to Swope Park (6601 Swope Parkway).
The Visitors Center is open Thursday through Saturday, from 1 p.m.- 5 p.m., and is located a few minutes' drive from the Kansas City Zoo.
"If you retrace the battle, the tour actually begins at the Battle of Westport Visitors Center at Swope Park and ends in Westport," said Dan Smith, chairman of the Howard N. Monnett Battle of Westport Fund, "but many visitors prefer to begin in Westport and end at the Park where they can enjoy a picnic or a trip to the Kansas City Zoo."
Smith and a group of volunteers are working to raise funds to preserve historic sites along the Battle of Westport Trail, as well as at Byram's Ford on the Blue River, just north and east of Swope Park. The Monnett Battle of Westport Fund Inc., is a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt charitable corporation named in honor of the late Howard N. Monnett, a leading historian, charter member of the Civil War Round Table of Kansas City and author of the book Action Before Westport.
The Monnett Fund raised the funds to purchase and erect permanent signage and monument markers at 25 sites and had created the self-guided automobile tour in 1979.
For more information about events commemorating the Battle of Westport, contact the Westport Historical Society at [email protected] or call 816-561-1821 or 913-648-0952.
The Battle of Westport is just one of many Civil War tours in Missouri. Other Missouri Civil War tours of note include: Wilson's Creek National Battlefield in Republic, near Springfield, and the Battle of Lexington. A collection of regional Civil War-related tour itineraries is also available online at http://www.WhereTheCivilWarBegan.com/itineraries_stl.cfm.
For more information about Civil War sites in Missouri, or to order a free copy of the Official 2010 Missouri Travel Guide, log on to www.VisitMO.com, or call 800-519-4800.