Book Review: The Civil War in Missouri: A Military History


by Louis S. Gerteis

Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 2012. Pp. xiv, 242. Illus., maps, notes., biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 0826219725

An account of the Civil War in an often overlooked, but very important theatre.

Prof. Gerteis (Missouri–St. Louis) open The Civil War in Missouri by noting that histories of the war often pass over Missouri rather lightly, after touching upon the battles of Wilson’s Creek, Lexington, and, possibly, Westport, otherwise treating events in the state as “peripheral” to the larger struggle, in his words “an abyss of undifferentiated guerrilla attacks and Federal retaliations.”  He concedes that the three battles named were the only major clashes in the state, but then points out that only Virginia and Tennessee saw more battles, skirmishes, and combats than did Missouri, albeit that those in the state tended to be small actions.  Gerteis then goes on to show how Union and Confederate strategy in Missouri differed.  The fighting in the state began with improvised forces, and while the Union would eventually commit sizable forces, the Confederacy was never able to do so, which led to the “small” war.  While irregular forces were vital to the Confederate war effort in the state, those alone could not gain control without the support of regular troops, and Union strategy was to keep the Confederacy from reinforcing the guerrillas with conventional forces.  Reflecting the fact that the major clashes in Missouri came early, Gerteis devotes about half his pages to those, and the rest to the numerous, often complex marches and skirmishes and maneuvers of small forces back and forth across the state for much of the war.  The Civil War in Missouri is an easy read, and despite being primarily a military treatment, Gerteis gives us an overview of the political background and the Kansas-Missouri “border war.”

Gerteis does an effective job of weaving political, economic, and local problems into the overall picture.  The Civil War in Missouri is a useful read for anyone interested in the Civil War.

A volume in the series "Shades of Blue and Gray," The Civil War in Missouri is available from Amazon, at

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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