Missouri Civil War Museum to open to public

New museum ‘tremendous opportunity’ to keep county on the map, Dooley says

By Gloria Lloyd

The Missouri Civil War Museum is scheduled to open its doors to the public for the first time Saturday, June 29.

The long-awaited opening is the culmination of a decade-long effort to open the museum in a historic abandoned building at 222 Worth Road in Jefferson Barracks National Park. The museum is the brainchild of Executive Director Mark Trout, who has coordinated with St. Louis County, volunteers and corporations to secure private donations totaling $1.7 million to renovate the Jefferson Post Exchange Building and start a collection of items that is now one of the country’s largest.

“It’s a wonderful piece of history for not only our community, for Lemay, but for the entire country,” Denny Coleman, president of the St. Louis County Economic Development Council, said at the June 14 ribbon-cutting ceremony.

More than 100,000 Missourians fought on both sides of the war, and the state saw more Civil War battles than all states except Virginia and Tennessee, Trout said. Yet many people overlook Missouri’s key role in the conflict.

“It’s an untold story of the Civil War,” he said. “We hope the opening is just the stepping stone of many things to come.”

One of the happiest onlookers at the museum’s ribbon-cutting ceremony was museum backer Mary Pitcher of south county, who has volunteered at the museum every week since 2001.

“This is going to help so many people that don’t know about the Civil War,” she said.

Based on the more than 100,000 visitors who attended the Missouri History Museum’s Civil War exhibit, Trout believes there is a pent-up local demand for seeing items of Civil War history that will make the museum a popular place to visit, as well as a tourist attraction for out-of-state visitors and the million visitors that go to Jefferson Barracks every year. The museum is the first step in a master plan for Jefferson Barracks that hopes to turn a section of the military installation-turned-park into a museum district.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to keep St. Louis County on the map,” County Executive Charlie Dooley said at the ribbon-cutting.

A key item in the museum’s collection is the Medal of Honor of Gen. Charles Bieger. Then-Pvt. Bieger risked heavy artillery fire to save his captain’s life in battle with the 4th Missouri Cavalry in 1864 and was awarded the military’s highest honor by President Grover Cleveland in 1897.

The museum also has Bieger’s spurs and sword. Rarities include a regimental flag and a 35-star national flag, as well as an original chair that belonged to Mary Todd Lincoln.

The museum also will display the Civil War collection of George Cain, a firefighter with Ladder 7 of the New York Fire Department, who was killed as a first responder to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Cain’s mother contacted the museum and donated his collection, which includes many Civil War weapons.

Cain had no specific connection to Missouri, which signifies the prominence of the Missouri Civil War Museum’s collection even before it opened, Trout said.

The collection also includes many Missouri-related items, including a list of members of a United States Reserve Corps regiment that includes some names familiar to St. Louisans: Eberhard Anheuser and William Lemp.

The newly renovated Post Exchange Building served as a barracks, military hospital, a gymnasium and a store until it was abandoned in 1946. Trout took his idea to house a Civil War museum in the building to the county a dozen years ago.

The building had been in severe disrepair after six decades of neglect, Pitcher said — volunteers initially going into the building found caved-in roofs and dead animals.

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery is the fifth-largest national cemetery, with 183,000 gravesites of veterans and their families. The cemetery grew after the Civil War, when people went around Missouri hillsides and gathered corpses buried in temporary, shallow graves and brought them to Jefferson Barracks for a proper burial, Trout said.

Jefferson Barracks was the site of one of the largest military hospitals in the nation during the war, and 16,000 Civil War soldiers are buried there — including soldiers from every state.

“The largest burial ground of Civil War dead is here,” Trout said at the ribbon-cutting. “These fields can talk.”

The St. Louis County Port Authority contributed $500,000 to the project through its Community Reinvestment Fund, from lease payments made by River City Casino. In the end, the museum was $19,000 short of the money it needed to open, and the Pinnacle Foundation, River City Casino’s charitable arm, stepped in to make the final donation.