2021: History Boy Summer (Part 8) Clay County Museum

After going to Lexington, Missouri earlier in the year, I discovered that a small battle had occurred at Liberty, Missouri directly leading into that more famous siege. I knew there wasn’t a big battle museum or anything, but wondered if it was recorded anywhere at all. Thankfully, the battle is honored to a degree at the Clay County Museum, a large three story historical building located on the Courthouse Square in that town.

Clay County Museum; Liberty, MO

This was part of a three museum day trip that my son and I made, including a Jesse James Bank Museum, and a historic Jail – both of which will also get entries in this series. my main draw for this was definitely the Civil War battle, but what I found was pretty cool!

Background

Information on the building itself can be found on the museum’s official webpage:

“A variety of exhibits and ever changing displays acquaints visitors with Clay County’s past history. The newly renovated lower level features early cottage industries, farming equipment, tools, a vintage kitchen, a “touch table” and 1900s Boy Scout equipment. The main floor is divided by a glass partition with vintage display cases filled with china, toys, railroad artifacts and apothecary paraphernalia. Behind the partition the visitor will find letters by the Jesse James family; Civil War, WWI and WWII items; antiques quilts; and Native American artifacts. ​The 2nd floor includes Dr. Goodson’s office, as set up by his son also Dr. Goodson; 3 rooms of antique furniture; and displays of the county courthouses, vintage sewing machines and other bits and pieces of the past. “

For information on the battle, let’s consult our old friend Wikipedia:

Battle Map

“The action at Blue Mills Landing, also known as the Battle of Liberty, was a battle of the American Civil War that took place on September 17, 1861, in Clay County, Missouri. Union forces unsuccessfully attempted to prevent pro-Southern Missouri State Guards from northwestern Missouri from crossing the Missouri River near the confluence with the Blue River to reinforce Sterling Price at Lexington.

Lieutenant-Colonel Scott broke camp at 2:00 A.M. on 17 September. He arrived in Liberty at 7:00 A.M. At that point Southern troops were already crossing the Missouri River at Blue Mills Landing. Lt. Colonel Scott sent 20 mounted scouts towards the landing to locate the enemy and determine the status of their crossing. At a location near the modern day intersection of Liberty Landing Road and Old Highway 210, the rear guard of Atchison’s troops waited in ambush. The Union scouts rode directly into the trap with four of their men killed and a fifth severely wounded. The surviving scouts retreated back towards Liberty. At noon, Scott began moving his entire force towards the river landing.

General Atchison, who had lived in Liberty, deployed his men in the brush on either side of the Missouri River bottom land road leading to the landing. At about 3:00 P.M., Scott’s troops encountered the State Guard pickets and were attacked from both sides.

Scott’s artillerymen fired two rounds of canister, inflicting some damage. However, a fresh volley from the State Guards scattered or killed most of the gunners. Scott ordered his outnumbered force to fall back towards Liberty, hauling off the gun by hand. Atchison attempted a flanking movement on the Federal right, which resulted in a sharp fight. The Union force continued to withdraw, firing as they retreated, taking with them nearly all their wounded, but abandoning their ammunition wagon and a caisson. The State Guard pursued for some distance, but Atchison did not press the attack.

Just before nightfall, Scott’s force retired to Liberty, entering the town about an hour after sunset. Atchison and the State Guards from northern Missouri crossed the river to reinforce Price in his successful attack on Lexington. After sunset the Union troops returned to retrieve their dead from the field. The battle, which lasted about an hour, was a decisive victory for the Pro-Southern Missouri State Guard.”

Reading

For information on The Battle of Liberty / The Battle of Blue Mills Landing, I’d recommend The Siege of Lexington, Missouri by Larry Wood. The Battle of Liberty is a somewhat minor battle, so there isn’t a ton of scholarship on it all by itself, but there is a decent amount of information in this book. The battle itself leads directly into the First Battle of Lexington. Truthfully, the Wikipedia blurb I posted above has more information on the battle itself than any book I’ve read.

The Trip

If you are going specifically for information on the Civil War battle, you may be a tad disappointed because the exhibit on the battle, while being thorough” is on a series of signs in the middle of the museum. There are also a number of artifacts of the battle including rifles, bullets, and a large canon. The majority of the museum honors other facets of the Clay County experience, such as a antiquated doctor’s office on the third floor, complete with an audio tour component accessed via a very inviting red button. There are tons of clothes including war uniforms for just about every war the US has participated in, and even a huge machinegun from WWI. A nice little surprise for me was a robust Native American artifact exhibit that has rivaled other exhibits I’ve seen.

We really enjoyed a video presentation on the Battle itself held in a side room of the museum, the 20 minute or so presentation summed up everything we’d need to know about the Battle itself, and featured re-enactors dramatizing the events.

Conclusion

This was a good county museum, and although something more centered on the battle would have been cool, it’s a small battle and they devoted quite a bot of space to it amongst the other artifacts that are literally filling the walls. If you are in Liberty, I’d recommend my three museum tour that I recommended above, admission to this one is free, but donations are suggested.

This review is part of my 2021 series History Boy Summer, which you can read more of following this LINK.

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