COLUMBIA — History is ready to repeat itself in Boonville.
On June 17, 1861, Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon led some 1,700 soldiers of the U.S. forces to face off with the pro-Southern Missouri State Guard stationed near Boonville. In a short-lived battle lasting barely 20 minutes, the state guardsmen retreated, after an initial skirmish, under an infantry and artillery attack by the Union troops. Lyon was able to capture the city of Boonville and ward off an attempt to have Missouri secede from the Union.
Directions to re-enactment site: From I-70, take Exit 106 and travel north 1.7 miles to Highway 98. Turn right at Potter Transport and proceed 1.9 miles to Orchard Drive. Turn left and go one-tenth of a mile to Rocheport Road. Turn right and travel nine-tenths of a mile to re-enactment site, located at Dr. Willard Avery farm, 21100 Rocheport Road.
What: First Battle of Boonville Civil War Re-enactment.
When: Saturday, June 18, from 1:30 to 2 p.m. and Sunday, June 19, from 1 to 1:30 p.m.
Where: Dr. Willard Avery farm, 21100 Rocheport Road, Boonville, MO 65233
Parking fee: $10 for Saturday and Sunday.
General activities for public begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday at the re-enactment site.
Now, to mark the 150th anniversary of this first battle of Boonville, the Boonville Civil War Commemorative Commission has planned a battle re-enactment.
The Dr. Willard Avery farm on Rocheport Road, some five miles east of the Boonville city limits, was the site of the actual battle fought in 1861. It will serve as the location of this re-enactment and other festivities from June 17 to 19.
Commission co-chairwoman Barbara Holtzclaw said the organizers have put a lot of effort into the preparations.
“We have been planning and working as a committee for this event for over three years,” she said. “In terms of preparations, we are ahead of schedule.”
Holtzclaw said the organizers had expected about 5,000 people to attend the event when they started planning for it but now believe the turnout might be greater.
“It depends upon the weather,” she said. “People are telling us the way we have publicized this event, we could get between (10,000) to 20,000 people.”
Not only does the location of this re-enactment and the expected response make it special, but it’s also supposed to be one of the biggest re-enactments of this year in Missouri in terms of the number of re-enactors involved, re-enactment supervisor Dick Peerson said.
A grand show
The Boonville re-enactment was given a “maximum effort” status by the Missouri Civil War Re-enactors’ Association in August 2010.
“It means we are trying to get as many people as possible to participate,” Jim England, president of the association, said.
The association was set up in 1981 to provide an organized platform for the Civil War re-enactors in Missouri and operates as a nonprofit organization.
England said sometimes the group has smaller events with 30 or 40 people involved, usually doing a “living history” display. For the Boonville re-enactment, however, it is expecting re-enactors not just from Missouri, but also from Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Illinois.
So far, 725 re-enactors have signed up for the event, Peerson said.
Deborah Marshall, another organizer, said the response from the re-enactors has been overwhelming.
"Every day we are getting more folks from the country, and it's getting more exciting every day," she said.
With a few days still to go and some people opting to register on the day of the event, the number is expected to rise, Peerson said. In addition, he confirmed the availability of 85 horses for cavalry and 24 cannons that will be used during the event.
Peerson is a member of the Collins Battery B, a re-enactors’ group that represents a Confederate artillery battery and is hosting the re-enactors at this event.
As it Happened
The Boonville battle was the first land battle of the Civil War, fought just a month before the first major land battle of the war — the First Battle of Bull Run.
Although the fight didn’t last long, it is considered to be of great strategic importance as it allowed the state and the Missouri River to stay under Union control. It also denied the attempt by Missouri’s pro-Southern Gov. Claiborne F. Jackson to bring the state’s human, agricultural and mineral resources into the Confederacy.
It is this historical event the re-enactors will be recreating on Saturday, and historical accuracy is important when it comes to a re-enactment, Peerson said.
“We want to re-enact the battle as it took place 150 years ago,” he said.
He said the re-enactors will do a skirmish line, and the battle will be relatively short as it was originally. Most of the state guards will be in civilian clothes, as they — except perhaps for some of the commanders — lacked a proper uniform at that time, Peerson said.
In order to accommodate the 50 different Civil War units participating in the event the organizers have planned to show a generic Civil War battle after the Boonville re-enactment.
The generic battle will last for an hour and will take place immediately after the Boonville battle on both days. It will involve infantry, cavalry and artillery displays.
Preparing for the battle
Holtzclaw said Boonville's city government has shown terrific support for this event, including giving official status to the Commemorative Commission and providing $20,000 for the event.
Marshall said the community also helped raise money for the preparations.
"We were given some seed money by the city of Boonville about a year and a half ago, and then we went to the community and did some fundraising with the local businesses," she said.
Lisa McClary, the city's tourism director, said she hoped local industries would benefit from the influx of visitors.
"Some of these people will be visiting Boonville for the first time," she said. "I hope they will like the city and visit again."
She said the tourism department had helped the commission use billboards on Interstate 70 to promote the event and also set up dozens of Civil War panels at historically significant places in town to promote Boonville's Civil War legacy.
Organizers have kept an eye on administrative issues, including parking problems, that the public might face at the event and made arrangements to handle the influx of spectators.
“Right across the road from the actual re-enactment sitethere is another farm,” Marshall said. “We have been able to open that up for parking.”
Site manager John Holtzclaw said the re-enactment site will be made one-way for traffic during the event to prevent a traffic jam on the main road. He said the city government, in its efforts to help with the preparations, had also put a "dust retardant" on a country road, Merna Drive, that the public will use to exit onto Highway 98 from the battle re-enactment site. County commissioners are also helping with the roads.
What's in store before the battle
The Commission has also planned activities in the run-up to the re-enactment.
The re-enactment festivities will kick off Friday morning with an opening ceremony at the Hain House, a historic 19th-century home in Boonville.
Boonville Mayor Julie Thacher will read a proclamation, followed by Sanford Lee's "The Great American Medicine Show" music performance. The opening ceremony will begin at *11:45 a.m. and continue until 1 p.m.
Later Friday, Chris Edwards will give a multimedia presentation on the life of “Bloody" Bill Anderson at Thespian Hall, 522 Main St. in Boonville. The program will also feature Civil War songs by folk music duo Cathy Barton and Dave Para. The presentation starts at 7:30 p.m.
Organizers have also planned a school day program for all students in the area from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday. Children will get a chance to participate in an interactive “living history” exhibit and develop an understanding of life during the Civil War era, Holtzclaw said.
The school day program will take place at the battle re-enactment site. Adult supervision will be required for the children.
For the whole family
Holtzclaw said there will be plenty of entertainment opportunities for families at the event other than the re-enactment:
- The “living history” exhibits will open at 1o a.m. Saturday, and people will get a chance to see demonstrations by 19th-century blacksmiths, medical units, crafters and cooks.
- Civil War-era games and activities will be available for children.
- Folk musician Chris Vallillo will present “Abraham Lincoln in Song” on the main stage at the re-enactment site at 4 p.m. Saturday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday.
- On Saturday evening, artists like Dave Para and Cathy Barton will entertain audiences with music from the Civil War period. The music and dance performances by various artists and re-enactors will continue into the night.
Educating the crowd
The organizers have also planned some seminars at the event on Saturday to educate visitors about Civil War history:
- 9 to 10 a.m. – William Berry will deliver a talk about the conditions in Missouri at the beginning of the Civil War.
- 10 to 11 a.m. – U.S. Army historian David Chuber will give a talkentitled “Civil War Medicine.”
- 11 a.m. to noon – Douglas Scott, an archaeologist and professor of anthropology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, will give a presentation about the archaeological and historical findings he made at the First Battle of Boonville site in 2007.
Firing up the night
The 24 cannons amassed for the re-enactment will be fired between 9:30 and 10 p.m. Saturday.
Peerson said re-enactors will also engage in a light skirmish just before the cannons are fired, which will involve infantry and cavalry units.
The cannons will also be used to set off fireworks during this “night fire” ceremony.
“It will be like an early Fourth of July,” Holtzclaw said.
On-site registration will remain open from 9 a.m. Friday to 9 a.m. Saturday.
Peerson said for safety purposes, all re-enactors willing to participate must be members of the Missouri Civil War Re-enactors’ Association. Non-members can apply for association membership at the event by paying a $10 annual fee that covers the whole family. England said the fee is used primarily for insurance to cover the re-enactors.
Re-enactors who wish to register for the event before Friday can contact Dick Peerson for more information at 573-659-6989.