New Madrid promotes town's Civil War history

Sunday, May 22, 2011

NEW MADRID, Mo. -- As the North and South battled for control of the Mississippi River during the Civil War, New Madrid and its nearby river island were viewed as a strongpoint.

The Confederacy built a fort at New Madrid to protect its interests. Then in late February 1862, Union troops traveled overland from Commerce, Mo., to lay siege to the town while a U.S. Navy flotilla moved on the community by water.

Faced by overwhelming odds, in March 1862 the Confederates fled the town, which was then occupied by Union forces for the remainder of the War Between the States.

The community will continue to mark its role as the United States begins its commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

Local historian Lynn Bock, who co-authored the book "Island No. 10: Struggle for the Mississippi Valley," said it is only appropriate to observe the Civil War here and across the U.S.

"First of all this was one of the moments in history that defines our country," he said. "We need to reflect on it."

He said to think about the Civil War and the United States in the 1860s as a quilt.

"New Madrid is one patch in a very large quilt. You have to look at the whole quilt but each patch is important," Bock said.

The local patch is made up of many pieces, and the community will try to recreate some of these.

The first effort is to let others know about New Madrid's place in the Civil War. To that end, the city of New Madrid has had a billboard erected featuring Civil War re-enactors in front of the Hunter-Dawson State Historic Site.

"For the next year over 50,000 motorists per day will see this sign as they drive south on I-55," New Madrid city administrator John Gilbert said.

According to Gilbert, the sign costs a little more than $10,000 for a one-year contract.

"That figures out to be approximately $1.14 per hour per day," he said. "This is an excellent value and the city believes it will recover its investment from sales tax and motor fuel tax from its local businesses."

Jan Farrenburg, a member of the local organizational committee along with Bock, said additional signage to direct visitors is planned.

Special Civil War sesquicentennial signs will direct visitors to the Hunter-Dawson Home and the observation deck, where a marker details the Battle of Island No. 10.

According to Farrenburg, the state is planning numerous driving trails to take history buffs from one site to the next.

New Madrid is planning its own driving tour as well. The drive will take visitors to the New Madrid Historical Museum, where they can learn more about local Confederate Col. Amos Camden Riley, and to the sites of two Confederate forts -- Fort Thompson and Fort Bankhead.

As part of the anniversary observance, a portion of Fort Thompson will be recreated near its original site. Although still in the planning stages, organizers said the dirt-work fort will be re-created as part of a living history demonstration by Civil War re-enactors.

Other interpretive stops will include the graves of Civil War soldiers. Farrenburg pointed out while many think of New Madrid residents being southern sympathizers, two of the graves are of black Union soldiers.

Other stops will include an area where Union troops dug a canal to gain access to New Madrid.

The Union efforts to burn down the town will be noted with a stop at the Masonic Lodge, which has a cornerstone pointing out the original building was destroyed by that fire.

"We are finding out Civil War buffs love this stuff," said Farrenburg, who added she is also learning a lot about the community and history.

Another interesting tidbit Farrenburg said she has gathered was that the Union officer ordered to destroy the town was the grandson of New Madrid's founder, George Morgan.

She said there are lots of things for tourists to discover not only in New Madrid but at nearby sites such as Belmont in Mississippi County and the Stars and Stripes Museum at Bloomfield, Mo.

New Madrid Mayor Donnie Brown recently appointed a Civil War Tourism Committee to promote the area in the coming months. In addition to Farrenburg and Bock, the committee includes Mike Comer, Ann Evans Copeland, Virginia Carlson and Ken Burch.

Farrenburg said others are welcomed to assist as well either by joining the committee or relaying other local Civil War information that could be added to the brochure and driving tour.

For more information or to assist, contact any member of the committee.

Information on the driving tour and other Civil War commemorative events will be posted on the city of New Madrid's website, www.new-madrid.mo.us as they are available.

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