KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Battle of Westport was one of the largest Civil War battles west of the Mississippi River, but good luck finding many Kansas Citians who know much about Westport beside the entertainment district.
Ten years ago, Kansas City Historian Dan Smith commissioned an architectural group to conduct a study asking people about the Battle of Westport.
The most common response? People thought it was a drunken brawl.
In describing the Battle of Westport, Smith says you could even compare the events leading up to Oct. 23, 1864 with the current day.
“In many ways it’s very similar to what’s happened in the Civil War; to what we’ve been experiencing this past year with COVID-19," Smith said. "In both instances, right before the Civil War and right before the COVID-19 epidemic started; everything was going great. The economy was going great. Everything was rosy, so to speak economically. And all of a sudden, it stopped. All of a sudden. And that’s the experience people had of the Civil War here in Kansas City.”
Tensions were already high in Missouri leading up to the Civil War.
Because of the Missouri Compromise, it was the northernmost state to allow slavery. But there were union sympathizers and abolitionists everywhere. Bordering state Kansas was a free state and Jayhawkers often crossed the border to fight pro-slavery forces.
“It’s actually one of the most significant battles,” Smith said.
There are several markers across the city in remembrance of the Battle of Westport, including the cannon in Loose Park, just south of the Country Club Plaza.
The markers also convey just how big the battlefield was, which measured 35 miles from east to west and roughly five miles from north to south.
There are several artifacts and replicas on hand at the Battle of Westport Museum, located at 4000 Baltimore in Kansas City, Missouri. The museum is a house that once served as a lookout point during the war. Every room helps tell the story leading up to battle.
Some of the trailblazers recognized include Patrick Henry Minor, who Smith says was the lieutenant of Douglass’ (KS) Independent Colored Battery.
“He was the first African American to man black troops in combat during the Civil War, and that happened right here as we look out the window toward Loose Park," Smith said during a recent interview. "These people were fighting not just for themselves, but for the cause. Because they believed unless everyone had freedom, no one had freedom.”
Kevin's Chronicles of KC is a year-long series looking at the history of Kansas City. You can read more about the project and other stories at kshb.com/chronicles.