July 28, 2011

Civil War Returning to Northeast Missouri for 150th Anniversary of Battle of Athens

Reenactor Kris Lancaster of Memphis, seen here giving a demonstration during the Bring John Home celebration in 2005, will be one of the many Civil War enthusiasts taking part in the Battle of Athens celebration.

On August 5, 1861, a much smaller, but vastly better supplied Union force under Colonel David Moore defended the town of Athens from a southern force nearly four times its size in a battle that holds the distinction of being the northernmost Civil War clash west of the Mississippi River.

One hundred fifty years later, gunfire and cannon blasts will once again resound at the site as the Battle of Athens State Historic Site will be observing the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Athens on the weekend of August 6-7.

"This is a big celebration with many vendors, artisans, musicians, tours, activities, and the reenactment of the battle," said Carla Derrick of Friends of Athens, a support group at the site. "We're planning to have a general store and will conduct a 'living history tour'."

The Battle of Athens had all the excitement, confusion, and bravery one expects in a Civil War battle: neighbor against neighbor, a bayonet charge, the triumph of an outnumbered force fighting with their backs to the river, and a strategic aftermath that made it an important Civil War conflict, even though it lasted less than two hours.

But what happened to the civilians in the little northeast Missouri town of Athens during those early morning hours and after the battle was over?

On the weekend of August 6 and 7 The Battle of Athens State Historic Site at Athens, Missouri will be bustling with reenactors, vendors, displays, and a variety of special events as they observe the 150th anniversary of the 1861 Battle of Athens.

Among the activities taking place that weekend will be a half-hour "living history" tour that will portray some interesting incidents that took place the day of the battle.

Guides will take visitors on an "After the Battle" tour, with stops at five locations around the historic site. Actors will portray scenes from written accounts describing the panic, confusion, anger, and despair that engulfed the citizens of Athens on that day.

The tours will begin in the shelter house at the historic site and will be presented on Saturday, August 6 from 3 to 6 p.m. Each tour will last approximately 30 minutes and is free of charge.

Friday, August 5th, activities will focus on the historic Thome Benning House, with tours available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The battle site will come to life on Saturday. The Union and Confederate Camps will open at 9 a.m.

The museum will also open at 9 a.m. in the site office area.

The McKee House will be the center of several scheduled drills as the soldiers have muskets issued and prepare for the upcoming fight.

A variety of artisans and sutlers will line Spring Street in Athens, offering a variety of goods and services for sale to guests.

The Peace Treaty scenario will be held at the Thome Benning House at 11 a.m.

The Athens battlefield will come to life at 1 p.m. as the Battle of Athens is reenacted. A variety of medical and civilian scenarios will follow running the full spectrum of life in the 1850s.

The routine will be repeated on Sunday, August 7th, offering a second day of reenactments.

Local reenactor Kris Lancaster will be among the soldiers picking up a musket for the Battle of Athens.

"My great-great- grandfather Jeremiah O'Day and his brother Andrew from Chambersburg, Mo., joined the Union's Northeast Missouri Home Guard on June 17, 1861," said Kris Lancaster, of the Elliott's Scouts Reenactor. "Jeremiah suffered a gunshot wound in the Battle of Athens. He recovered at the Army Hospital in Keokuk, Iowa and died in 1898 in Clark County. It is indeed an honor to recognize my ancestor as a Union soldier with the Holmes Brigade."

Lancaster won't hang up his Union uniform immediately after leaving Clark County. He'll be participating in reenactments in Springfield the following weekend before heading to Lexington, Mo., in September.

"I have created 15 years of friendships through Elliott's Scouts and hope to bring new people into the reenactment hobby," he said.

The recent Boonville reenactment, the former Memphis resident took part in, included 525 reenactors and an estimated 10,000 attendees.

Lancaster's group will be joined by reenactors representing Holmes Brigade USV, Inc., Hairy Nations Boys, Old Northwest Volunteers, 15th Iowa Co. B, 4th U.S. Medical Corn Fed Comrades, Tater Mess, and 2nd Missouri Co. K. Sutlers will include Nancy Clancey, Ladies Parlour, Mad Jacks and Dave Welter. There will be numerous vendors, artisans and food vendors.

In the fight that secured northeast Missouri for the Union, Captain David Moore reported that the Rebels lost 31 men, killed and wounded, while his own casualties numbered 23. Among the fruits of victory, he listed "four hundred and fifty horses, saddles and bridles complete, hundreds of arms, and a wagon load of long knives with which they expected to fight the infantry."

For all but a few of the men who fought at Athens, this was their first time under fire. But, for most, it was not to be their last. Although the small skirmish at Athens ended the military war in northeast Missouri, the raging Civil War elsewhere soon swallowed up the combatants at Athens. Most went on to continue the fight for their respective sides and many in the Home Guard fought in numerous battles including the Battle of Shiloh, TN.

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