In recent months, Citizen columnist Bill Graham has written columns about the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War and the impact the War had on Platte County both then and now. Following is another entry in the series.Spring and peace together, how sweet greening fields and blooming flowers must have seemed a 150 years ago. A decade of anger, violence and death over slavery in nearby Kansas during the 1850s was followed by four years of the Civil War. In Platte County, military battles were few, but robbery, murder and intimidation were commonplace.
Perhaps that’s why pioneer historian W.M. Paxton had so little to say about the war’s final months in his
“Annals of Platte County.” Or maybe he feared, even years later when publishing his history book, that dangerously hard feelings remained from those who lived through those times.
Perhaps Paxton and the others just relished the quiet but considered it not noteworthy compared to what they had survived.
Platte City had been burned twice. Presses were thrown in the Missouri River. Old men were shot down in cold blood.
The Union’s sound thrashing of a Confederate army the previous autumn in the Battle of Westport, followed by winter, had brought relative quiet. Although the Missouri River had been frozen all winter, Paxton wrote that marauding men on horseback had not crossed from Kansas to rob and pillage in Platte County, unlike earlier winters.
Residents were hoping for a return to civilian rule rather than military law.
“The end of the war is in sight,” Paxton wrote in March, 1865. “The state is quiet and has no enemy within its borders. Gold has fallen to $1.40, and peace is near.”
Newspapers carried reports about railroad building and bonds to fund them. Railroads meant town building then, the high speed Internet of its day.
On April 3, Paxton reported that Richmond in Virginia, capitol of the Confederacy, had been evacuated. A few days later, news of the war’s end arrived.
“Lee surrenders at Appomattox, Peace,” Paxton wrote.
Then tragedy arrived.
“President Lincoln assassinated,” he wrote for April 14, 1865. “On the 18th, memorial services in Platte City and Weston. The Border Times of the 21st is in mourning.”
I wish we knew more.
Those who enjoy Platte County history treasure Paxton’s accounts about the war. Rare are first-hand Civil War memories from the county, but so much more must have been happening.
Who spoke at the Lincoln memorial services and what did they say? What was the mood among the many Union sympathizers, especially in Weston? What did those freed of slavery, many probably still living on farms as if slavery was still legal, say and do when news came of Lincoln’s death?
We know how a nation felt.
The county’s mood is missing from Paxton’s accounts. Perhaps the county’s many southern sympathizers celebrated Lincoln’s death, and he was ashamed to write that. The county had many slaveholders.
Others perhaps fought for state’s rights.
Some took up arms for both reasons. Missouri Republicans early in that year were trying to abolish slavery with state legislation. Then Congress abolished slavery in February, 1865. So even though the war’s tide seemed turned for some time, slavery was still contentious.
Almost all elected county officials had to vacate their offices on May 1, 1865, repercussions of war and a state Constitutional Convention. The sheriff sold 61 properties that month for back taxes, Paxton wrote. Likely it was the property of soldiers gone or lost to war.
On May 22, “Hon. C.P. Johnson spoke to a large audience in the Baptist Church, Platte City, against the new Constitution,” he wrote.
The war was over but true peace would take more time.
Slavery was abolished, but blatant injustice and segregation would continue for another century. True harmony remains a work in progress.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.