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Enjoy History With Kansas City Missouri’s Civil War Driving Tour



Battle of Westport Plaque, Kansas City, Missouri

Plaque com­mem­o­rat­ing the Battle of Westport, Country Club Plaza, Kansas City, Missouri

When Confederate General Sterling Price marched 12,000 troops into what became known as the Battle of Westport, he had no idea the ground he was cov­er­ing would some­day be among the most-visited parts of mod­ern day-Kansas City.

But those of us 156 years removed from the “Gettysburg of the West” can dou­bly enjoy retrac­ing the steps of those who fought in the October 1864 skir­mish by not only reliv­ing his­tory, but also by expe­ri­enc­ing some of Kansas City’s most pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion neigh­bor­hoods along the Battle of Westport dri­ving tour.

Established in the 1970s, the 32-mile tour leads vis­i­tors through the streets of Westport and the his­toric Country Club Plaza to Jacob L. Loose Memorial Park, where much of the actual Battle of Westport took place. From there, tourists visit neigh­bor­hoods includ­ing Brookside and the Battle of Westport Visitors Center at Swope Park. The tour also includes a sec­tion of the Marlborough Heights and Red Bridge areas, and con­cludes at 96th Terrace and Wornall Road in South Kansas City.

Most vis­i­tors begin the route at Marker One in the his­toric Westport District of Kansas City, located at Westport Road and Pennsylvania Avenue. This marker stands upon the site of Federal Gen. Samuel R. Curtis’s head­quar­ters in the Harris House Hotel, and is now located in the heart of Westport, across the street from Kelly’s Westport Inn (the old­est struc­ture still stand­ing in Kansas City), and near sev­eral shops, bars and restau­rants in this eclec­tic mid­town neighborhood.

From Westport, the tour fol­lows Broadway, past Mill Creek Park and the J.C. Nichols Fountain, into the Country Club Plaza which offers many oppor­tu­ni­ties for a quick shop­ping break, a bite to eat or a cool drink.

The trail fol­lows majes­tic Ward Parkway before ascend­ing the rugged bluffs of Sunset Hill, which rises up from Brush Creek toward what is today Loose Park. Originally the site of the Kansas City Country Club (from which the Country Club Plaza gets its name), the land was pur­chased by Loose, and his wife, Ella, donated the 80-acre tract to the peo­ple of Kansas City fol­low­ing his death in 1923.

The park today is home to mark­ers depict­ing the respec­tive posi­tions of Union and Confederate troops dur­ing the bat­tle, as well as a row of artillery at the south end of the park along 55th Street.

Traveling south from Loose Park, the tour comes to the John B. Wornall House, which was struck by artillery shells and used as a field hos­pi­tal. Wornall, who owned slaves but did his best to main­tain neu­tral­ity, was the vic­tim of numer­ous raids and rob­beries by both pro-Union and pro-secessionist forces prior to and dur­ing the war, and at one point was nearly hanged from the bal­cony of his 1858 Greek Revivalist man­sion by bushwhackers.

From Wornall House, the tour heads east through the heart of Brookside, a “sub­ur­ban” neigh­bor­hood sur­round­ing a cen­tral shop­ping dis­trict built in the 1910s and ‘20s, to Forest Hill Cemetery, site of Gen. Shelby’s Last Stand, where a Confederate mon­u­ment now stands. Many of Shelby’s troops are buried here. From Forest Hill the tour comes to the Battle of Westport Visitor Center at the west entrance to Swope Park (6601 Swope Parkway).

The Visitors Center is open Thursday through Saturday, from 1 p.m.- 5 p.m., and is located a few min­utes’ drive from the Kansas City Zoo.

If you retrace the bat­tle, the tour actu­ally begins at the Battle of Westport Visitors Center at Swope Park and ends in Westport,” said Dan Smith, chair­man of the Howard N. Monnett Battle of Westport Fund, “but many vis­i­tors pre­fer to begin in Westport and end at the Park where they can enjoy a pic­nic or a trip to the Kansas City Zoo.”

Smith and a group of vol­un­teers are work­ing to raise funds to pre­serve his­toric sites along the Battle of Westport Trail, as well as at Byram’s Ford on the Blue River, just north and east of Swope Park. The Monnett Battle of Westport Fund Inc., is a 501 ©(3) tax-exempt char­i­ta­ble cor­po­ra­tion named in honor of the late Howard N. Monnett, a lead­ing his­to­rian, char­ter mem­ber of the Civil War Round Table of Kansas City and author of the book Action Before Westport.

The Monnett Fund raised the funds to pur­chase and erect per­ma­nent sig­nage and mon­u­ment mark­ers at 25 sites and had cre­ated the self-guided auto­mo­bile tour in 1979.

For more infor­ma­tion about events com­mem­o­rat­ing the Battle of Westport, con­tact the Westport Historical Society at westporthistorical@gmail.com or call 816–561-1821 or 913–648-0952.

The Battle of Westport is just one of many Civil War tours in Missouri. Other Missouri Civil War tours of note include: Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield in Republic, near Springfield, and the Battle of Lexington. A col­lec­tion of regional Civil War-related tour itin­er­aries is also avail­able online at www.WhereTheCivilWarBegan.com.

For more infor­ma­tion about Civil War sites in Missouri, or to order a free copy of the Official 2010 Missouri Travel Guide, log on to www.VisitMO.com, or call 800–519-4800.

Photo by ChrisM70


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