The Confederate Memorial at Higginsville, MO, is the closest Confederate Memorial to the Northwest Missouri region (the Missouri River is the north boundary of Lafayette County) . The origins of today’s Confederate memorial date back more than 100 years.
In 1889, an annual reunion of Missouri Confederate veterans was held at Higginsville in Lafayette County. At the encampment, as it was called, a movement began that reflected similar benevolent projects in our other Southern states – to establish a Confederate veterans’ home.
Almost 30 years after the Civil War’s start, even the youngest of the veterans were moving well into middle age. The more prosperous of these aging men recognized the need to help impoverished veterans who never fully recovered from crippling wounds or diseases contracted during their years of service. Ex-veterans and interested parties joined forces and, with private funding, founded the Confederate Home Association.
Within a year, the association raised enough money to purchase 365 acres of prime farmland just north of Higginsville in West-central Missouri. Newly formed Southern patriotic women’s organizations such as the St. Louis-based Daughters of the Confederacy (forerunner to the national United Daughters of the Confederacy) and the local Ladies of Lafayette County also lent their talents and influence to raising funds for the construction and outfitting of dwellings. In April 1891, a Missouri veteran named Julius Bamberg became the first Confederate veteran in the state to receive admission as a resident of the new Confederate Home of Missouri.
During the Civil War, Bamberg had served as a Confederate soldier in Capt. Henry Guibor’s Missouri Battery in Gen. Sterling Price’s division. He later served as a special agent to Gen. Price and was captured by Union troops, tried as a spy and sent away to military prison for the duration of the war. Upon his parole at age 52, Bamberg was among the oldest men to have served in the Civil War. In 1891 at the age of 79, this St. Louis tailor and dressmaker became the first of more than 1,600 Confederate veterans, their wives and widows who eventually sought shelter at the home in their declining years.
By the mid 1890s, the Confederate Home faced serious financial crisis. Insufficient funding, due in part to a nationwide economic depression forced the Home Board to appeal to the state legislature to assume financial control, which it did in 1897. At the time, the state agreed that the home would not be closed until the last veteran or veteran’s widow died or left of his or her own accord.
As the years passed, the home continued to grow along with the aging veteran population in Missouri. At the height of its use, the home provided care for more than 300 veterans and their families. Eventually the property consisted of more than 30 buildings, a thriving farm and dairy and a memorial park that served both as an arboretum and a favorite fishing place for the veterans. They generated their own electricity, and the Missouri and Pacific train line even made a scheduled stop here. It was a community unto itself.
The home was conceived as a place of refuge for honorable and deserving ex-soldiers. Many application rules existed to keep out undeserving or undesirable applicants – such as men who may have deserted during the war. The first of these rules required Missouri residency for one, and later, two years, as well as proof of honorable service with the Confederacy in any state. This effectively excluded many applicants. Even so, the home cemetery records show that soldiers from Missouri, and the other border states of Kentucky and West Virginia, as well as soldiers from every state in the Confederacy except Florida lived and died here.
Unlike many other Southern veterans’ institutions, Missouri allowed the admittance of women and children from its inception. First wives were always allowed into the home with their husbands; however, admittance of second and third wives was subject to Home Board approval. Only children under the age of 14 could be admitted.
Another rule required the applicant to prove his (or the deceased spouse’s) military record by writing to the Adjutant General’s office in Washington, D.C., for official verification. Lacking such official records, the applicant also could obtain written affidavits from fellow veterans with whom they served. Sometimes the Home Board required further explanations. For instance, applicant John Way had to explain why his service record included duty with both the Union and Confederate armies. After being captured, Way was given some uninviting choices – continued imprisonment, Union service against fellow Confederates or fighting Indians in the West. Way chose the latter and served out his time with the federal army in Colorado. The board accepted his explanation and allowed both his wife and him entrance to the home.
Two other hurdles the applicants were required to pass also were considered the most demeaning: poverty and sanity. To receive entry, the applicant could have no assets, no relatives willing to take them in, nor any means of earning a livelihood; even the meager $10 military service pension provided by the state had to be forfeited. A doctor’s examination also was required to prove the applicant still possessed a sound mind and had no “infectious” diseases.
All veterans listed their rank and branch of service in their home applications. Most of them were infantry, artillery and cavalry privates; but there also were men who served as officers, sharpshooters, partisan guerrillas, musicians, paid conscription substitutes, gunboat engineers and sailors on the first ironclads. The most unusual included a member of the Cherokee Mounted Rifles, a spy and an Alabama drillmaster. The veterans served in every theater of war and in every major battle from the first shot fired at Fort Sumter to the last at Appomattox.
The “comrades,” as they commonly referred to one another, were minor celebrities in Missouri, and often were displayed alongside those seeking political office. Senator Harry Truman once visited the home, as did the perennial presidential hopeful and silver standard advocate William Jennings Bryan.
The United Daughters of the Confederate lavished the men and women at the home with attention by holding holiday celebrations, dances, memorial services and other events regularly. They also awarded medals of honor to the veterans, gave them appropriately dyed suits of gray, and provided the women with new dresses.
Local school children, now adults still living in the area, remember visiting the home, as well as Southern veterans throughout Missouri, was Decoration Day. Held annually on June 3, it was the Southern equivalent of Memorial Day and was traditionally held on the anniversary of the birth of the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis. They celebrated the day with picnics, speeches by former Confederate officers and, most significantly, the decoration of the graves in the home cemetery.
The last veteran buried in that cemetery was Johnny Graves, a private in Gen. Joseph Shelby’s army. On May 8,1950, Graves, the last surviving Missouri Confederate veteran, passed away at the Missouri Confederate Home at the grand age of 108. He was buried alongside 803 veterans, wives and children, a full 53 years after the passing of the first resident. A handful of widows, the majority of whom were born after the Civil War ended, were transferred to a nursing home in Columbia, despite the agreement made 53 years earlier.
Because many of the home structures were dilapidated, the decision was made to demolish them. The structurally sound buildings and most of the acreage were then transferred to the Missouri Department of Mental Health. In 1952, the remaining property, consisting of the 90-acre Confederate Memorial Park, the cemetery, and a cottage were delivered into the care of the Missouri State Park Board, which administered the state park system before it was turned over to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in 1974.
Today, Confederate Memorial State Historic Site consists of 192 acres and now also includes the original chapel, an old farmhouse and the last building erected at the home – the 1922-era hospital building. Visitors to the site today can enjoy the memorial park with its many small lakes, fine old trees and beautifully kept lawns. Here they can take part in fishing, picnicking and other outdoor activities. They also can venture to the site of the former home buildings, where they can walk through the 106-year-old chapel and the historic graveyard where the veterans and their families rest. Three other buildings, the farmhouse, hospital and cottage, are open to viewing from outside. Exhibits and displays throughout the park and historic area tell the story of the Confederate Home of Missouri.
Confederate Memorial State Historic Site is located on Business Highway 13, one mile north of Higginsville in Lafayette County. For information, call the site directly at (816) 584-2853 or call the Department of Natural Resources toll free at 1-800-334-6946, or 1-800-379-2419 with a Telecommunications Device for the Def (TDD).
Source: Missouri Resources, Winter 1997-98, Vol. 14, Number 4. Written by Jill G. White, the historic site administrator at Confederate Memorial State Historic Site.