On Father’s Day, I had a little bit of time to venture out to another spot on my list for yet another chapter of “History Boy Summer”, the project I’m using as an excuse to get out of the house and visit historical sites around my area. Seeing that I live smack-dab in an area where numerous Civil War Battles occurred, it’s safe to say that a lot of these will be of that era. For this outing, I took the little dude out with me, which is always a mixed bag for museums. In some cases he has an absolute blast, example being Fort Osage State Historic Site, others not to much, especially ones with tours that he doesn’t understand. I took a chance with this one, and it largely paid off, as he seemed to have a really good time. It was also a cool way to spend Father’s Day, something that may be a tradition going forward.
Lone Jack Civil War Battlefield and Soldier’s Cemetery and Museum: Lone Jack, MO
Despite living not very far from Lone Jack, Missouri for upwards of 20+ years, and driving past there every single day on the way to work, I somehow managed to never visit the Battle of Lone Jack State Historic Site. Lone Jack is one of those small towns that is a notorious highway speed trap; so infamous that most people have stories of that one time they were heading towards Kansas City and got pulled over going 1 MPH over the speed limit. For some reason, I never really looked at what the town had to offer, that was until I started working on this project. Little did I know that one of the bloodier battles of August 1862 happened there.
One can look at the Battle of Lone Jack and the prior First Battle of Independence as two halves of one battle, as they happened a mere five days apart within 30 miles of each other (give or take). I will more fully discuss the First Battle of Independence in a later chapter of this, but the barebones of it are that despite numerous warnings that Jackson County was becoming a hotbed of Confederate recruitment, and an entire Bushwhacker army amassing in the woods near present day Blue Springs, Missouri, Federal leadership waived it off as a non-issue and created their own worst nightmare. Lt. Col. Buel, then, had to watch in horror as men directed by the infamous William Quantrill, including Cole Younger, ransacked the town for anything not nailed down that would help the Confederate Cause.
After leaving Independence, Colonel John T, Hughes marched his forces towards Lone Jack on his way Further East. Worried that they were about to stage an attack on Lexington, MO, federal forces led by Major Emory S. Foster attempted to crush the seemingly “small” force, not realizing that their attack would draw forces from all around the area, and lead to yet another Confederate victory.
According to Good ol’ Wkipedia, the scourge of college professors everywhere:
“On August 15, 1862 Union Major Emory S. Foster, under orders from Totten, led a 740-man combined force from Lexington to Lone Jack. Other forces were dispatched from Kansas under General James G. Blunt (2,500 men) and Missouri under General Fitz Henry Warren (600 men), but they would not arrive in time for the engagement. Upon reaching the Lone Jack area, Foster received intelligence that 1,600 rebels under Col. Coffee and Lt. Col. Tracy were camped near town and prepared to attack them. The estimate of the rebel command was revised down to only 800 and at about 11:00 p.m., Foster and his men attacked the Confederate camp and dispersed the enemy. The firing of his cannon during this brief skirmish proved to be Foster’s undoing, for it alerted Colonel Vard Cockrell and other rebel commands in the area of Foster’s position and intent to fight. Foster’s men returned to town to rest along the main street, having spent several days in the saddle. Colonel Cockrell conferred with Upton Hays, Lt. Col. Sidney D. Jackman, and DeWitt C. Hunter and determined to give battle the next morning with the intent of overwhelming the much smaller Union force.[…]After five hours of fighting and the loss – by wounding – of Foster, rebel Col. Coffee and his 800 men reappeared north of town causing Foster’s successor, Capt. Milton H. Brawner, to order a retreat. The men left the field in good order and returned to Lexington. The cannon were hastily spiked or disabled and hidden before the Federals departed. The Confederates secured a victory, but the approach of Union forces including Blunt and Fitz Henry Warren forced the Rebels to withdraw on August 17. General Fitz Warren occupied the town that day”Wikipedia
For this review, I read Blood on the Streets: The Civil War comes to Jackson County, Missouri, August 1862 by Ralph A. Monaco II, you can read my full thoughts HERE. I’m sure that there is a more detailed book out there that one could read, but as a short, well-researched book on the narrow topic of this very battle that I needed information on, it was really good. It’s a self-published book, so one has to deal with all of the baggage that comes with that (typos, formatting issues etc.), but honestly, this is one of the better jobs I’ve seen with book’s of that nature. Definitely recommended for information on these battles, and I will likely be referencing it again next time, so it has served a dual purpose!
For those in the area, Lone Jack is relatively close to the Kansas City Metro area, roughly ten miles East of Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Be careful of the speed trap, and you can’t miss the Visitor’s Center as it sits a stone throw from the main exit off of the highway. I went on a Sunday, so it was fairly quiet, I had some extra time to have a long chat with the two ladies that were working there at the time regarding the battle. I’m not sure if they sometimes have a video or not, but they ran through the history of the site, the battle and other bits of background information in a similar manner to a guided tour. This part bored the little dude a bit, so I bought him a wooden snake toy in the gift shop and all was good.
Next is the museum portion of the Visitor’s Center, which sits directly behind the main desk and takes up most of the building. While smaller, the museum is packed with cool artifacts including guns, mortal launchers, cannonballs, horse buckles, and old documents all on display. My favorite part were a series of highly detailed dioramas of the battles and The infamous Order Number 11. that pushed Jackson County residents out of their homes to combat guerilla warfare in the area. These were apparently created in the 1960’s but show absolutely no sign of aging, and are crafted in such a way that I was amazed at the fine details. One, for example, used different scales of soldier miniatures to show a battlefield resulting in this sense of vast space in a box no larger than a few feet across. I have a picture of one of them up in my slideshow above, it’s truly amazing work!
The site itself sits adjacent to the rebuilt Cave Hotel, a building that was unfortunately burnt down by Confederate Forces during the Battle of Lone Jack despite being used as a hospital. That said, much like what was alleged in Lexington, it appears that the Union troops has positioned people around the hospital using it as cover and taking shots from the windows, defying rules of battle that were agreed upon at the time. Sadly this arson attack was responsible for the only civilian casualty in the battle:
“In the fighting, the family who owned the hotel fled into the underbrush. Lucinda Cave, a 29-year-old mother, told her two little boys — William, 10, and Jesse, 5 — to lie still and keep their heads down. But after a time, her baby girl, Phenella, cried. When the mom raised up on her side to nurse, a Minié ball pinged into her chest.”Kansas City Star article on the Hotel
The Hotel is usually not open to the public, but we walked around it a bit to see the area and look off to where a large portion of the battlefield would have been.
Finally, the main area that the Visitor Center sits on is a cometary built on top of a mass grave for all of the fallen Union and Confederate soldiers as well as their horses, and later the family of the people that owned the property after the war. There are a few headstones, but the majority of them do not coincide with an actual body as hundreds are buried in the ground. There are two large memorial obelisks in the center of the site, one for Union and One for Confederate soldiers, showing the magnitude of the loss of life in such a (relatively) small battle? Why did so many die? Due to the close quarters nature of fighting within the city itself, and a general lack of cover, resulted in the armies to engage in hand-to-hand combat almost exclusively. Union troops were vastly outnumbered and lost almost 40% of their forces, while the Confederates around ten percent. Both numbers were well over 100 dead.
The Cemetery is surrounded by a metal fence and is a somber reminder of all of those men that needlessly died in the war. Had it not been 100 degrees, I would have like to just sit on he bench outside and look around a bit. If you have kiddos with you, there are some trees around that one can walk around and look at, even some suitable for climbing (they suggested it, so I had permission!).
Seeing everything takes anywhere from an hour on up, depending on how fast on reads and how much you want to look around. If they are having a special event or something, I’m sure you could make a full day trip out of it. The cost is five dollars to look at the museum, children under five are free.
For the inexpensive cost, and number of things to see, I’d definitely try to make a trip over to Lone Jack to see this museum. The battle itself is an interesting one, and one that doesn’t get talked about very often unfortunately. My only quibble, and something I was discussing with the ladies that were running the site, is that Missouri seems to have a problem with the upkeep and funding for historical sites such as this. Thankfully, The Lone Jack Historical Society does a great job of keeping everything up and making it look good to the visitors. It’s sad to me, although I suppose I can see why, that Battle sites where Confederates won are almost seen as “inferior” to the opposite. Honestly, I chalk it up to arrogance from people that champion everything St. Louis does, at the cost of ignoring rural areas. Yeah, the Confederates were traitors and fought for questionable causes, such as preserving slavery, BUT this happened in our state, and I wish Missouri would help to preserve it more. I am in no way a “Lost Cause” mythologist or anything, I just want to see history not matter how uncomfortable it is. If done well, a site like this CAN be neutral and not exist as some kind of shrine to the Confederacy which is what I assume legislators are scared of.
Stepping off of my soapbox here, but I would definitely recommend visiting this site, supposedly August will be a good time as it’s their anniversary month, and they are planning a special event. You never know, maybe I’ll see you there!
This review is part of my 2021 series History Boy Summer, which you can read more of following this LINK.