Civil War St. Louis

Louis S. Gerteis

New in paperback: October 2004; xii, 410 pages, 24 photographs, 6 x 9; Modern War Studies;Paper ISBN 978-0-7006-1361-8, $17.95 (t)

Civil War St. Louis By Louis S. Gerteis
Civil War St. Louis By Louis S. Gerteis

In the Civil War, rough-and-tumble St. Louis played a key role as a strategic staging ground for the Union army. A citadel of free labor in a slave state, it also harbored deeply divided loyalties that mirrored those of its troubled nation. Until now, however, the fascinating story of wartime St. Louis has remained largely unchronicled.

By the mid-nineteenth century, St. Louis had become the nation’s greatest inland city, providing a “gateway to the West,” a riverine crossroads for national commerce, and an ideal base for expansion-minded industrialists from the abolitionist Northeast. Yet as Louis Gerteis reveals, many of its citizens were staunchly dedicated to both slavery and the southern agrarian tradition. For them especially, federal martial law was an outrage, one that only served to nail the coffin shut on their loyalty to the Union.

Gerteis’s rich and engaging narrative encompasses a wide range of episodes and events involving the lynching of freeman Francis McIntosh and murder of publisher Elijah Lovejoy, the infamous Dred Scott saga (which began in St. Louis), city politics and martial law, battles in and around the city (at Camp Jackson, Wilson’s Creek, and Pea Ridge), major river campaigns, manufacture of ironclad combat ships, prison camps and hospitals, and efforts to secure civil rights for blacks while denying the same to former Confederates who would not swear loyalty to the Union.

Featuring famous figures like Thomas Hart Benton, John C. Fremont, Claiborne Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Sterling Price, Gerteis’s study also sheds considerable light on the participation of women and the status of blacks throughout the conflict, offering gripping images of black and white Missourians contending with the issue of emancipation.

Ultimately, Gerteis presents a compelling portrait of a war-torn city–teeming with wounded soldiers, displaced civilians, runaway slaves, federal prisoners, and profiteers–that was forever changed by its wartime experiences, even as it anchored Union victory in the west.

“An outstanding and welcome examination of a city of immense importance.”—Civil War Book Review

“A great read for local Civil War buffs and all of us enchanted by the city’s past. Gerteis fills his narrative with vignettes that vividly capture the tone, mood, and values of the time.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“The bloody divisions created by the Civil War were deeper and higher in the Union slave states, where Americans were divided from the beginning and where there were numerous civil wars within the Civil War. Nowhere is this more true than in St. Louis. And no one has told the story of St. Louis’s civil wars better than Louis Gerteis. . . . A triumph.”–Ira Berlin, author of Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America

“Gerteis does a masterful job of unraveling the tangled mix of ethnic, racial, political, religious, economic, and kinship groups that defined this robust, cosmopolitan city. In so doing, he shows that not all the drama of the war took place on the battlefield.”–Daniel E. Sutherland, author of Seasons of War: The Ordeal of a Confederate Community, 1861–1865

“Replete with gripping and unforgettable images.”–Mark E. Neely, Jr., author of Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties

LOUIS S. GERTEIS is professor of history at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and author of Morality and Utility in American Antislavery Reform and From Contraband to Freedman: Federal Policy toward Southern Blacks, 1861–1865.

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