I’m proud to be a Missourian, but I don’t often think about where that pride comes from. Enter, The Civil War Missouri Compendium: Almost Unabridged. The introduction of this book does a great job of bringing you up to speed on Missouri’s place leading up to the civil war and stoking that Missouri pride all at once. Missouri used to be the center of it all! The crucial intersections of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers in St. Louis, and the central departure point towards the West in Kansas City made the Show Me State the place to be. For many, we are simply a fly-over state, a “Where are you from?” moment, in a conversation with someone new, but Missouri plays an important part in our nation’s history and that’s something to be proud of!
From the first pages of the introduction it’s clear that this is not your typical history book, and that’s what makes it great. Rather than following the familiar narrative style of most historical accounts, The Civil War Missouri Compendium takes a bullet point style, making history approachable in the age of “too-long-didn’t-read” culture. Following the Civil War in Missouri day by day, action by action until the final peace was struck (and then some), it cuts to the chase, right to the juicy details. I also like that rather than focusing on the glorious career of one officer or general, the star is Missouri itself. Giving you a real glimpse of the flow of battle, how one conflict leads to another, and the cause and effect of the actions taken by both sides
Not to fear, The Civil War Compendium could also be a great companion piece to a more detailed biography. I’m reading Ron Chernow’s Grant at the moment, and I’ve so enjoyed getting a more Missouri specific account of some of his earliest successes.
It’s interesting to read a book like this in a time of such modern warfare. With today’s technology, it’s possible to monitor what occurs during every moment of a mission. Yet in 1861, sometimes all they could know is simply that action took place and nothing more. It leaves so much room for the imagination to wander, to romanticize even, what those times must have been like.
Looking back, we often view the Civil War with very polarizing views. As a fight to end the injustice of slavery, or The War of Northern Aggression. But The Civil War Missouri Compendium paints a much more nuanced picture than that. Through these battle snapshots you get a glimpse of the deep struggle many Missourian’s felt over the issues of a war that hit very close to home. A state which was as divided as deeply as the Nation over a conflict which pitched brother against brother, set against the backdrop of sights that are very familiar to us. All of these qualities work together to bring the war out of the past and into the present.
Perhaps my favorite elements of this book were the Tourism Notes. I have a huge passion for American History, especially Presidential history, and I love visiting historical locations. I’m so excited to get out and see some of these up close and personal with this book as my guide. The best part? We don’t have to go far to see Missouri’s Civil War history first hand. All we have to do is walk to the Capitol building. Tell me, how many of you have walked past the placard on High Street in front of the Capitol? Now how many of you stopped to read it? Turns out, it gives us a picture of the Union’s struggle to maintain control of the capital city in the early days of the Civil War.
Staying home for Spring Break? Take a road trip through Missouri and explore some of the defining locations with your family. You get your family out of the house, AND you get to secretly teach your kids about our heritage and history. Win/Win!
Now that I’ve peaked your interest, let’s take a moment to hear from one of the book’s authors, Joseph W. McCoskrie Jr.
Are you originally from Mid-Missouri? If not, how did you come to be here?
Other than time spent in the Army, I spent most of my life in Kansas City. I was recruited to come to Fulton to run Bank Star One 20 years ago. I retired from banking in 2006 and was hired to be an instructor in American Military History at the Army ROTC program, University of Missouri.
How has being a Missourian influenced your writing career (or work?)
The book was an evolving recognition after teaching at Mizzou for 6 years that there was no one source to go to for a comprehensive guide on the civil war in Missouri and to provide a scholarly account of Missouri's importance strategically in the outcome of the American civil war.
What’s your favorite part about writing?
The research was the most revealing. Most civil war buffs probably do not know Missouri had the highest number of white males of military age among all southern states. As the book discusses there were over 1000 battles and skirmishes and it affected almost every county in Missouri. Some of the cruelest accountings of warfare occurred in Missouri that affected all citizens, not just combatants. Grant could not have successfully conducted the Vicksburg campaign in 1863 if the Union did not control Missouri.
What is your favorite Missouri Civil War Battle or site?
I am probably most partial to the massacre at Centralia by the cruel and bloodthirsty guerillas riding with Bloody Bill Anderson. I have taken many students there on field trips and strongly recommend all Missourians interested in the civil war go visit and read up on it. 1864 was a difficult and terrible time for Missouri.
If you could share a meal with any author, living or dead, who would it be and why?
A lot of magnificent authors on the civil war, military history for that matter, and I now appreciate how much work is involved in it, particularly the editing. But if I was to pick one, General Ulysses Grant whose biography I consulted, would be fascinating to have lunch with. Actually, the official records of the War of the Rebellion, which I consulted for much of the book was fascinating because they were the actual field reports by commanders after engagements.
What are you reading now?
Actually, I scan a lot of books but rarely finish them. I read a lot of Winston Churchill since I am the tour guide at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton. Searching for Churchill, by Martin Gilbert (Churchill's official biographer) is fascinating as it tells the story of chronicling Churchill's vast life experiences.
Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration, I think, comes from an intense curiosity of understanding an important period of history and the individuals who were influential during that period. A lot of fascinating individuals come from Missouri. This was my first book, not sure what I will try to do next, I want to stay with Missouri history, maybe Reconstruction, very interested in the microbrewing industry also.
What’s the most challenging part of being an author? / What do you wish everyone knew about authors?
Motivation is what gets the job done. Brian and I made a pitch to History Press and they offered us a contract. When we signed, we knew we had to deliver a book or lose any credibility. We learned about all the facets of writing from organization, research challenges, endless editing, building index, appendixes, to bibliography. You really find out that you probably are not as good a writer as you think you are after you start. A lot of late nights. Before the advent of the computer, I don't know how authors did it. But when you get it published it seems like it was all worth it. Sales have been surprisingly strong, and we have been invited to several presentations and book signings.
Coffee or Tea?
Computer or pen and paper?
Both I am a voracious note taker
Letter or email?
Fiction or non-fiction?
Robert E. Lee or U.S. Grant?
Grant but don't tell my classmates at Virginia Military Institute
Paperback, Hardback or Tablet?
Next time you’re on High Street, go take a look at the Capitol. Instead of all the construction equipment, imagine it surrounded by trenches, and cannon, and the smoke of battle. Doesn’t that just blow your mind?!
This book brought the history of Missouri to life for me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. And if you let it, I think it could do the same for you. You can pick up your own copy at Downtown Book and Toy!
For more from Sydney Turner, check out her blog On The Sunny Side.
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