Missouri’s Civil War Significance

What if Missouri had joined the Confederacy?

Actually, most Civil War students realize that Missouri and Kentucky are represented in the thirteen stars of the Confederate Battle and National flags. Missouri’s star was added in October 1861 when a shadow government passed a secession ordinance in Neosho, in the state’s southwest corner. It was in exile during most of the war. A Rebel Kentucky government was similarly recognized by the Confederacy in December 1861. It even temporarily occupied the state capitol at Frankfurt in October 1862 during the Confederate offensive by Bragg and Kirby Smith.

Among the states represented by the 13-star flag, Missouri ranked second in population behind Virginia. Additionally, St. Louis barely trailed New Orleans as the Confederacy’s largest city.

Richmond’s war department assigned Missouri to the Trans-Mississippi District, which encompassed the vast region west of the Mississippi River. It included the populations of Louisiana’s parishes west of the river and the entire states of Arkansas and Texas. It also included the Indian Nations of present-day Oklahoma and the Arizona Territory, which encompassed the present states of New Mexico and Arizona.


Economically, Missouri dominated the Confederate Trans-Mississippi. The state’s white population was greater than the combined white numbers in the remaining regions of the district. In 1860 Missouri had about 20,000 factory workers whereas the entire Confederate Trans-Mississippi area, excluding Missouri, had but 15,000.

Although most of Missouri’s soldiers eventually fought for the Union, the state’s loyalty was questionable during the first year-and-a-half of the war when the military situation in the state was undecided. For example, at the three major battles for the state during that period – Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove – the number of Missourians fighting for the South was larger than the number fighting for the North.

If the Rebels had been successful at Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove, the number of Union-loyal volunteers in the state might have been significantly reduced and the number of Rebel volunteers might have correspondingly increased significantly.

For example, after the August 1861 Rebel victory at Wilson’s Creek, General Sterling Price took the Missouri contingent to the Missouri River where they captured the federal garrison at Lexington. More significantly, Price drew 15,000 recruits to his 5,000-man Wilson Creek force on the march to Lexington. Since the regular Confederate forces did not accompany Price, he lacked the resources needed to sustain a 20,000-man army in central Missouri.

Although Price’s recruits were only temporary they demonstrated significant latent support for the Confederacy in the “show me” state. If the Rebels could move into the state and show an ability to remain there indefinitely, the Union armies would have been required to devote more effort to the Trans-Mississippi and may not have won some of the war’s decisive victories east of the Mississippi.

That Missouri remained the key Confederate objective of the Trans-Mississippi until 1863 is evidenced by events following the December 1862 battle of Prairie Grove. After the battle many pro-Confederate Missourians correctly concluded there was little chance of recovering their home state. Consequently, they deserted.

The best history is written from the viewpoint of participants who did not know the results of contested issues in advance. Such authors recognize that hindsight handicaps historians. During the first eighteen months of the Civil War, Missouri’s Union-loyal status could not be assumed as a given. Militarily, it was contestable longer than generally supposed.


If you enjoyed the above analysis, you may want to consider buying one of my Civil War books.

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated

If you would like to read one chapter of Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies at no charge, Chapter Three is available at my blog.


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