BATTLE OF ATHENS – AUGUST 5, 1861
The most northern battle fought west of the Mississippi, further north than the Battle of Gettysburg.
Forces Engaged: 1st NE Missouri Home Guard 500 vs. Gov. Jackson’s secessionist Missouri State Guard 3,000
Stamp Location: Battle of Athens State Historic Site Park Office, when staff available.
Address: 12378 Athens State Park Rd. (County Road CC), Revere, Mo, 63465
Phone Number: 660-877-3871
Staff Available: Apr-Oct, Mon-Fri: 8 am-4 pm ; Nov-Mar, not regularly staffed, phone messages checked Mon-Fri.
Visit Fee: None
Missouri’s northernmost Civil War battle, Battle of Athens, not only was significant in keeping northeast Missouri under Union control, but had a major impact on a thriving river town.
John Boon of Kentucky was the first settler at the Athens site around 1831 and by 1841, it had a post office. By the late 1840s, a federal lock and dam had been built on the Des Moines River that converted Athens into a bustling river port. The town grew to be a village of about 500 people with 50 businesses, five churches and a two-story public school. Businesses included a large hotel, a wagon factory, a meat packing plant and a large mill that produced flour, cornmeal, lumber, and cotton and woolen products.
Athens prospered until the outbreak of the Civil War. Settled by people from the upper South, Athens was considered by Unionists to be a hotbed of pro-South sentiment. As the spring of 1861 moved into summer, northeast Missourians began choosing sides in the ever-widening national conflict.
Pro-Unionists rallied around David Moore, who had raised a force of about 500 men. Moore entered and occupied Athens on July 24, seizing homes and businesses from pro-South supporters to quarter and provision his troops. Pro-South supporters rallied around Col. Martin Green. Green raised a force of about 3,000 men, including two of Moore’s sons.
The confrontation between Moore’s and Green’s forces took place at Athens on Aug. 5, 1861. The battle began around 5 a.m. Moore and his Unionists were surrounded on three sides by Green’s troops, with the Des Moines River to their rear. Despite being outnumbered at least five to one, Moore’s men were better trained and equipped. After about two hours of fighting, at least 50 soldiers had been wounded or killed and the pro-South side was demoralized and in full retreat.
The big loser in the battle was the town of Athens. Bitter feelings between neighbors continued for decades following the Civil War. Athens was also hurt by the shift from river to railroad transportation in the post-war era. By 1900, the once-thriving town was nearly gone.
ARTICLES ABOUT THE BATTLE OF ATHENS
McCrary, George W. “The Battle of Athens.” In War Papers and Personal Reminiscences, 1861-1865: Read before the Commandery of the State of Missouri, Vol. 1; Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Becktold & Co. (1892): p. 169-176.
NEWSPAPER ARTICLES ON THE BATTLE OF ATHENS
Aug 9, 1861 · New York Tribune “Another Skirmish in Missouri–Attack by Rebel Plunderers” [Summary: A band of 1,200 rebels attacked Union men at Athens, Mo. Union forces were reinforced by Iowa troops. They were led by Martin Green, brother of Ex-Senator Green. More info on Dug Springs fight: The charge made by the Lieutenant probably prevented the rebels from attacking Lyon‘s main body of men.]
Aug 9, 1861 · New York Tribune “The Latest War News” [Summary: Dug Springs fight in a nutshell. No loss on Union side. On Sunday, Lyon retired to Springfield. There was a skirmish at Athens, MO. 1,000 to 1,200 rebels attacked a Union camp of 350. After an hour of fighting the rebels fled. The Union troops, now reinforced pursued the rebels and more fighting is expected.]
Aug 20, 1861 · Missouri Republican “Fight in Northeast Missouri” [Summary: A Union force of 450 men encountered about 1,000 men under Martin Green, 20 miles west of Canton. The secessionists were completely routed, leaving five dead and many wounded.]
Aug 28, 1861 · New York Tribune “Missouri Rebels on the Run” [ Summary: Martin Green (Confederate), instead of attacking Athens is heading for the Missouri River, with Gen. Hurlbut in pursuit. Deserter from New Madrid says most of the men under Gen. Pillow (Confederate) are demoralized and only stay in hopes of taking St. Louis.]
Nov 3, 1889 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch “Unwritten History” [Summary: on the Battle of Athens]