Cape River Heritage Museum focuses on Civil War

Monday, June 11, 2012
"Divided Loyalties: Civil War Documents from the Missouri State Archives," is on display at the Cape River Heritage Museum, 538 Independence Street. The museum is open from 12 p.m to 4 p.m Thursday through Saturday. (ADAM VOGLER)

The River Heritage Museum in Cape Girardeau wants to show area residents just how close to home the Civil War was with its exhibits and events this month.

"Divided Loyalties: Civil War Documents," a traveling exhibit from the Missouri State Archives, examines the turmoil in Missouri from the 1850s through the 1870s. The exhibit, which will be at the museum through the end of July, draws upon millions of documents in the state's archives and gives people a chance to learn about Missouri's role in the war.

"Because this focuses on our state's part in the Civil War, you get a chance to see just how divided Missouri was. This wasn't a war that played out only in the east," museum director Bonnie Stepenoff said. "We had lots of action here. There were over 1,000 battles in Missouri. But this exhibit focuses not only on the battles during the war, but also leading up to the war when everyone became extremely split on their opinions."

Stepenoff said "Divided Loyalties" also gives people some insight on the Reconstruction period following the Civil War.

"About a third of the exhibit is about the decade after the war, when conditions around the state and the nation were nearly as tragic as they were during the war," Stepenoff said. "People tend to think of the big death totals and slavery aspect of the war. But after the fight, poverty was a huge problem. You can also see what effect the war had on equality and the amount of hate that people were used to harboring for generations."

Ellen Ryan, digital project manager at Kent Library, has been speaking to museum visitors about a grant-funded project underway to identify and digitize original documents and photographs from 1844 through 1877, the years designated as the Civil War period. The project, "Confluence and Crossroads: The Civil War in the American Heartland," is a collaborative effort among organizations all over the nation to recognize the 150th anniversary of the war. Ryan is coordinating the efforts in Southeast Missouri with Kent Library's Special Collections, the Center for Regional History and the Department of History at Southeast Missouri State University, the Cape Girardeau County Archive Center and the Special Collections Research Center at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. Ryan said she plans on the project being completed within the next year.

"We just finished phase one, in which we collected documents, made an inventory and organized everything. It's really moving along smoothly for such a big undertaking," Ryan said. "With it being a nationwide project, we cover our area; 23 counties in Southeast Missouri and five in Illinois. It's a real discovery process, and we learn more and more just how important the Mississippi River was to the war."

The museum will host "Open Mic: Civil War" at 2 p.m. Saturday, with local people reading from diaries, letters, memoirs and poetry relating to the war. Stepenoff said everyone is welcome to listen as people share memories that have been passed down through generations or read writings about the Civil War that are close to their hearts. The museum also has an exhibit sponsored by Fort D and created by Patti House about the war's impact on Cape Girardeau.

"I think we often forget just how significant Cape Girardeau was to both Confederate and Union war efforts. We have had several occasions when people have brought in cannonballs from the period in their own backyard," Stepenoff said. "It happened right here, and it affected everyone, no matter what side you were on. And it had an effect on these people for several decades after. That's what we want people to learn from these Civil War exhibits and events."

The Cape River Heritage Museum is open from noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.


Pertinent address:

538 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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