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Remember the Civil War in the Kansas City Area: 15 tips on things to do for the War's 150th Anniversary

May 25, 2011

On April 12, 1861, Fort Sumter, S. C. was attacked by Southern forces, signaling the start of the Civil War. History buffs who want to follow the historical trail of the War—and the Kansas/Missouri Border War that sparked it—should set their GPS for the Kansas City area. Here’s why:

1. Get up close and personal with dozens of attractions and events tied to history of these wars in the 31,000-square mile Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, in eastern Kansas and Western Missouri.  Highlights range from battlefields and Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence to the displays of the Clay County Museum, plus a whole slew of events such as lectures and re-enactments.

2. Visit the Bingham-Waggoner Estate, home of Missouri artist/activist George Caleb Bingham, who painted scenes of the tragedy of the war, including Order No. 11. Come back for a full blown tour.

3. View the site of the Battle of Westport—the largest battle west of the Mississippi River. The walking/driving tour in Kansas City meanders through Westport, the Country Club Plaza and Loose Memorial Park.

4. Step into chilly limestone cells at the 1859 Jail and Marshal’s Home, which housed some of Quantrill’s raiders and Frank James. Learn about Order No. 11, which forced the evacuation of thousands from five counties and resulted in the imprisonment of many elderly men, women and children in the jail.

5. Hitch a ride on a covered wagon with Pioneer Trails Adventures, where you’ll hear yarns about outlaws, bushwackers, the James gang and the battles of Independence. While you’re near the Square, stop by Blue and Grey bookstore for Civil War souvenirs, books and gifts.

6. Head to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, as you explore the new special exhibit honoring Bingham and his Border and Civil War art.

7. The Battle of Westport Visitor Center and Museum, which stands above the Big Blue River valley where 30,000 battled, is a must-see stop.

8. Plan a stop at the nearby Greek Revival John Wornall House, which served as a Union headquarters base and also a field hospital for both Union and Confederate soldiers.

9. Do some grave rubbings of headstones and markers of Civil War-era soldiers. Several graves, including that of artist Bingham, may be found at Union Cemetery in Kansas City.

10. The intertwined stories of escaped slaves and their advocate John Brown are told at the The Quindaro Ruins Overlook  in Kansas City, Kan. Take a peek into the past at this stone-and- brick stop on the Underground Railroad. A statue of John Brown completes the site.  Discover the ruins in more detail at the Old Quindaro Museum, where historical and cultural awareness of the African American community is recognized.

11. Learn more about John Brown in a display at the Old Depot Museum in Ottawa, Kan., The two-story passenger depot also includes a model railroad layout; general store, military room and more.

12. Head to Ft. Leavenworth to explore the Frontier Army Museum, boasting a 5,000-piece collection of Civil War-era weapons, uniforms, equipment and vehicles.

13. Follow the Frontier Military Scenic Byway, stretching from Ft. Leavenworth in the north through Overland Park and Olathe to Fort Scott in the south.

14. Follow a self-guided tour of 10 Civil War battlefields and sites in Independence with the help of an extensive brochure and guide.

15. The Richmond Museum in Ottawa, Kan., displays Civil War artifacts, letters, photos and information on a nearby site of the Underground Railroad. (785-836-6598)

For more Civil War information about the Civil War in Kansas City, visit MoCivilWar150.com, FreedomsFrontier.org or The National Park Service.

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