Athens To Remember 150th Anniversary of Battle
By Kevin Fox
President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The previous was taken from President’s Lincoln’s address to the crowd gathered to dedicate a portion of the Gettysburg Cemetery on November 19, 1863. The Battle of Gettysburg saw between 46,000 and 51, 000 casualties. It is difficult to imagine a Civil War at times and then there are times when it seems as though it could happen very easily. On August 6th &7th Civil War Re-enactors will make the pilgrimage to Athens State Historic Site to recreate the Battle of Athens while at the same time attempting to honor the brave men and women who fought and lived within our very community.
The Battle of Athens is the most northern battle of the Civil War west of the Mississippi. And while it lacks the large casualties associated with the larger battles in Missouri, the men who went on line with Col. David Moore or came over the hill to face those Home Guards were just as brave and unfortunately for some, they were just as dead. The re-enactment is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Athens and will also see the return of the battle flag carried by the State Guard, on loan from State Historical Museum from Iowa. The flag has not been back in Athens since the day of the battle and will be in Athens on Saturday only.
To get the background on the actual Battle of Athens we spoke to Site Administrator Jerry Toops who had these comments, “The two leaders of the forces who fought here were Col. David Moore (Home Guard, later known as Union) and Col. Martin Greene (State Guard later known as Confederate). Col Moore was a staunch unionist, had a fiery temper and was a veteran of the Mexican War and was known as a man who could get the job done. It is believed that he brought his troops to Athens because he could get supplies out of Iowa, knowing it was a free territory. While getting those supplies out of northern Missouri in slave owning counties could and would have been difficult.
Col. Martin Greene really thought of himself as the protector of the State of Missouri. When Canton had a 4th of July celebration and Quincy, Illinois troops came over he felt as though they had entered his state unlawfully. In his opinion the sovereignty of the state was being taken over by another state and it was time to take action.
So between the 4th of July
and the 5th of August both Moore and Greene were enlisting troops, with the biggest difference being that Greene had been sanctioned by the Governor to raise troops for the State Guard and to protect the State of Missouri from invasion. The Governor at that time didn’t think that President Lincoln had the right to call troops out against fellow Americans. So Col. Greene had standing within the state. Col. Moore really didn’t have that standing. The State of Missouri had not seceded yet, so Greene’s job was to run federal troops out, which he felt, had no business being here. If he could not run them out at the very least they would take their weapons from them. Moore had a lot stronger opinion and he would enforce his will through the federal government.
Prior to August 5th there had been some skirmishes among outlying troops. Col. Martin Greene had ended up in Scotland County for a couple weeks where he was given around 400 horses. Col. Moore had also been on the western side of Clark County and a few of each men’s troops had met up and there had been some small skirmishes. At the time of the Battle, Moore could have had 500 men, but so many were on furlough it’s estimated that he had between 350 and 400 men. Col. Greene had a force of between 2,000 and 3,000 men. However, he had his base at Monticello as well as men in Scotland County. So at this particular time he could have had 1,000 to 1,500 men whereas Moore probably had 400 men. So the odds were either 2:1 or 3:1.
With odds like that the question is often asked, why didn’t Col. Greene win? A lot of that has to do with weaponry. Greene did have two cannons that had been forged in Hannibal. But a great many of Greene’s men had guns with them that they had brought from their homes, such as squirrel rifles and shotguns that may have at the most been effective at 30 yards. While Moore had Springfield rifles from St. Louis that had been commandeered for Moore by the commander in Keokuk. They were suppose to have gone to Council Bluffs, Iowa, but there was more concern and the threat of fighting here at Athens which got the riffle sent here up the Des Valley Railroad.
The importance of Col. Moore winning the battle is that the Confederacy didn’t have a free rein to do whatever they wanted. They could no longer recruit easily or get supplies easily. It really hampered what Greene needed to do to get to Sterling Price later to further the southern cause in the state of Missouri.”
Those attending the Battle of Athens Re-enactment will get to see the authentic recreation of the Battle of Athens. The battle lines will be very close to where they actually were at the time of the battle. Officials will interpret the battle as historically correct as they can.
Over the past year Historic Site officials have discovered a great deal of information about the Battle as well as the town of Athens itself. According to Site Interpreter Jo Bryant, ” By using deeds and abstracts and the 1865 tax book as well as letters of those who gave accounts of the battle, it has revealed where the actual lines of the battle were. This information also gave us different perspectives on some of the buildings that were here in 1861 over those which may have been built later. For example the significance of the Mooreland Home was that the Honorable William Mooreland was suppose to take the west flank on the day of the battle. But we now know he was taken prisoner that morning so the attack on that flank failed, because those attacking did not know the lay of the land, although had Mooreland been there he would have. The battle lines are now known to have been on St. Louis Street as opposed to Spring Street. This put the troops directly in front of the Thome Benning House (Cannonball House). So the cannonball, which struck the home, was not some errant shot that hit the house by accident. Those troops that were stationed in Athens did not only affect Athens, as we now have discovered books from a store in Farmington that supplied the goods for Moore who was paying for them in Federal Script. There are also several places in the store’s books listing the Athens Military Hospital with the first entry being August 10th and it was here at least until October. There were also many prisoners taken and military tribunals held until the end of August. So a lot of prisoners were held here as well as taken to Keokuk. Moore was here until the beginning of October although he came and went quite a bit and used Athens as his base.”
During the re-enactment Union troops (Home Guard) will be stationed around and to the west of the Thome Benning House and Confederate (State Guard) troops will be in the field behind the French House. Aside from touring camps and watching the re-enactment there will be a great many sutlers on hand including: The Ladies Parlor – Pat Mullenix, Mad Jacks, Clancy’s, Dave Welter, Charles, Where the Flags Fly – Chris Ashley. Vendors will include: Betty Hauf, Gorsett Pottery, Mickey Keller, River Bend Soap Co, Steve Baker Ironworks, Rodney Harvey – Photography, Verna Gray – dolls & bonnets, Ramseys – Honey, Shepherd’s Way Arts & Crafts, Nadine Sheffield – Quilting, Brunk’s – Kettle Korn, American Legion – Potatoes & Hot Dogs, Kahoka Meat – Larry Young – Pulled Pork, Maid rites, slaw, baked beans and drinks.
Plan now on attending the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Athens and watch history come alive before your very eyes as well as seeing the flag carried by Col. Martin Greene’s State Guard as it makes its first return to Athens.
For more information you may call 660-877-3871.