NEW MADRID — While the nation commemorates the Civil War battles of Appomattox, Gettysburg, Bull Run and Shiloh, one of the key battles in the western theater of the War Between the States was fought at New Madrid. Historians there want the public to know there is a lot to learn about the war and those who fought in it in New Madrid.
The city and local historians have joined forces to create a new brochure featuring a driving tour through the community pointing out its Civil War-related sites.
The project initially began as a tourism promotion last year. The city used funds to erect a billboard on Interstate 55 in St. Louis touting New Madrid as a Civil War site.
But once the visitors arrived, they needed to know what there was to see, so a committee was appointed to develop a driving tour of local sites.
For the past year, committee members Ann Evans Copeland, Jan Farrenburg, Virginia Carlson, Mike Comer, Ken Burch and Lynn Bock have searched and researched, uncovering information about the role of the community and its citizens in the war that divided the nation.
"New Madrid is just so full of history," Copeland said.
With strong ties to the South, it was in New Madrid on Aug. 5, 1861, that expelled Missouri Gov. Claiborne E. Jackson signed a secession proclamation for the state of Missouri, she noted.
Also, Copeland said, the town was the home of Company I of the First Missouri Infantry. This company was the first Missouri unit of any type to enter into the service of the Confederacy.
But the biggest involvement during the Civil War for the community was the Battle for New Madrid and Island No. 10 from February through April 1862. The last remaining Confederate stronghold in Missouri, Gen. John Pope laid siege to the town.
"The whole town was a battlefield," Copeland said. She said both sides volleyed shells at one another. The Southerners burned down houses to create a clear view for their cannons to lob shells at the Union while Union artillery bombarded in return.
Burch said the war swelled the ranks of the community. Soldiers were entrenched on either side with townspeople caught in between. He estimated some 18,000 people were in the county at the height of the battle.
As for the Battle of Island No. 10 and the Union's digging of a canal to enable soldiers to attack from the Tennessee side, Burch described this as an engineering feat that was one-of-a kind during the Civil War.
In working to develop the brochure, Copeland said the committee found "all sorts of little tidbits" and many different spots in the community that pertained to the Civil War.
"I didn't realize we had so many until we started," she said. "I never realized the cornerstone at the Masonic Lodge clearly states that the building replaced one burned in the Civil War."
Some things that have long been a part of the community gained significance. She pointed out for years a mortar shell from the Civil War has stood at the base of flag pole at the New Madrid Library branch. The shell was picked up on Island No. 10 many years ago, she said.
Burch suggested marking some of the spots of interest with cannons that he created from wood telephone poles. The cannons now mark the site of Fort Thompson, the federal siege lines and Fort Bankhead.
A pyramid of cannon balls he created sits at the Eastside Cemetery where a gravestone marks the service of Private Henry Riddle of Cypress Bend. The Missourian enlisted into Company C, Fourth Regiment of the U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery at age 14 as a drummer.
There is a treasure trove of artifacts in the New Madrid Historical Museum for those interested in learning more about the Civil War, Copeland said. She said reenactors often come in to see the coat that belonged to Col. Amos Camden Riley and the cavalry breaches worn by Capt. William Riley. There also is a remnant of a Confederate flag which flew over the town, she said.
"It is incredible the amount of solid artillery shells found here and on display," Copeland said.
The city and committee hope that, with the brochure, the public can get a real sense of the Civil War and its impact.
"Of what a vital role New Madrid played in the Mississippi Theater," Farrenburg said.
"And how important the Mississippi River was to the Confederacy," Copeland added.
And with the loss of control for the river, Burch noted, "The end of the Confederacy started here."
The brochure can be found at the historical sites in New Madrid and throughout southeast Missouri and at the state's welcome centers.