The most important function of Jefferson Barracks during the Civil War was as a hospital, treating Union and Confederate soldiers alike.
The Western Sanitary Commission began construction at Jefferson Barracks in 1862. The completed hospital facilities would hold 3,000 patients. More than 5,000 had been admitted by the end of the first year, and more than 18,000 sick and wounded had been treated by the end of the war.
Many patients never left the hospital and were buried in the Jefferson Barracks cemetery. The cemetery had been created Aug. 5, 1827, when an officer and his wife lost their infant daughter. Jefferson Barracks became a national cemetery by an act of Congress on July 17, 1862. Those buried there include Union, Confederate, foreign, unknowns, black, white, women and children.
Jefferson Barracks, originally named Cantonment Miller after Missouri's Gov. John Miller, was established in 1826, south of St. Louis on the Mississippi River. Built on land that was originally part of the Louisiana Purchase, it was formally named after Thomas Jefferson in 1827 and designated the first "Infantry School of Practice."
By the time the Civil War started about 220 generals had already served at Jefferson Barracks. Union generals included Grant, Sherman and Sheridan. The South had equally impressive names: Lee, Longstreet and Bragg. Former American President Zachary Taylor and Confederate President Jefferson Davis had also served at Jefferson Barracks.
For 120 years (1826-1946), soldiers at Jefferson Barracks participated in every conflict on American soil: the Black Hawk War, the Seminole War, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. Jefferson Barracks was decommissioned as a military post at the end of World War II.
The area once covered by Jefferson Barracks is now two St. Louis County Parks, a National Guard base, Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery and a VA Hospital. The Missouri Civil War Museum was founded in 2002 and is being restored in the old 1905 Post Exchange Building.
Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written Historically Yours for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008. In celebration of Missouri's upcoming Bicentennial, she syndicated her column statewide in September 2018 and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to [email protected]