About 2,000 feet from the Missouri River in Lafayette County, Missouri, sits the quiet town Lexington. Just off Main Street is Big Muddy Ice Cream, a block from the Sheriff’s Office. Another block down sits the Spotted Pig restaurant, which is just around the corner from the Lafayette County Historical Society.
It’s the epitome of small-town quaintness, where most people know your name.
Further north along the riverside bluffs is the Battle of Lexington State Historic Site, perhaps the only physical evidence that the quiet town, not terribly unlike the agricultural hub it was in the 1860s, played host to one of Missouri’s most well-documented battles of the American Civil War.
And it’s where the Spirit of the Civil War Days event will take place on September 14.
Just a couple of hours to the northwest of Rolla, Lexington had roughly the same population in the 1860s as it does today. And while the state bordered both the Union and Confederacy, sentiment in west-central Missouri skewed pro-Confederate. Many people in the Lexington area were slaveowners and the county had a high slave population.
So when Union troops headed for the area in September 1861, it was no surprise that they weren’t met with the warmest welcome. Spurred by victories in the southwest part of the state, the pro-Confederate Missouri Guard advanced north, eventually encircling the Union troops holed up in the local Masonic college.
Although vastly outnumbered, the Union troops held deeply effective defensive positions, ultimately keeping the casualty count low. Much of the battle focused on the Anderson House, then a Union hospital. After the house changed command three times and the pro-Confederate troops blockaded the Union troops – preventing them from getting more water, the Missouri Guard took an unusual step to end the bloodshed.
Known for its cultivation of hemp, Lexington boasted hemp bales in and around the battle site. Pro-Confederate forces positioned the hemp bales ever closer to the Union trenches, the density of the bales rendering shelling from the defenders ineffective. Finally in close enough range to engage in hand-to-hand combat, the numerous pro-Confederate forces overwhelmed the Union. The battle was over and several dozen soldiers were dead.
In the spirit of the 1860s, Lexington hosts The Spirit of the Civil War Days on September 14 to recreate the history of this scenic river town.
Beginning with a party beginning at the Lafayette County Courthouse (be sure to check out the cannon ball lodged in a pillar of the courthouse dating back to the Civil War era), head toward the river and pack a lunch to enjoy on the picturesque grounds of the State Historic Site. Recreated soldier camps are located near the battleground at the historic site, for a taste of life lived by the Blue Coats and their opponents.
Then, visit the Anderson House for a greater taste of period life with demonstrations and handcrafted items. Beginning at 4 p.m., enjoy afternoon tea at the Anderson House.
The night artillery shoot begins at 8 p.m. and brings the day to a rousing conclusion.
If you can’t make this special event, the Historic Site feels reverent year-round, with easy hiking trails and 500 antebellum-era houses in the nearby town.