Historic Sites From Civil War to Civil Rights {Missouri & Arkansas}

Happy New Year everyone! I am excited to see where this year will take us and the adventures that are in store.

We ended the year visiting my in-laws in Missouri. On our way home we decided to take a longer route so we could visit some historic sites along the way. These sites gave a small glimpse at some powerful moments in history that took the country from slavery to the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement.

George Washington Carver National Monument {Missouri}

Our first stop was to the George Washington Carver National Monument. George Washington Carver is considered one of the country’s most profound and influential inventors and educators. But before going on to greatness, his story began here on a small farm in Missouri.

the farm where George lived

George was born sometime in the mid 1860s where his family were slaves to the Carver family. His father had died before he was born leaving his mother to raise him and his brother and sister. When George was a new born slave raiders came and kidnapped him, his mother, and sister. The Carvers sent out a man to find them but only George was recovered. Later George believed that this incident was indictive that he was destined for bigger things.

statue of young George

When the Civil War ended, the Carvers adopted George and his brother and raised them as their own children. They taught them how to read and write and encouraged the boys to get an education. George spent every morning outside by the creek where he would commune with God. It was on these walks that his passion for plants and the environment began.

Education opportunities were limited for George because he was black. As a child he walked 10 miles to get to the public school for black children. He would later go to Kansas where he graduated high school. He would be denied college entrance because of his race but he kept working and applying. During this time he was working at a homestead where he maintained the conservatory and worked the land. Then in 1891 he was accepted to what is now known as Iowa State University to study agriculture. He was the first black student at the school.

George would go on to be a professor at the Tuskegee Institute where he began to research better practices and tools to be sued for farming. He found new ways to improve depleted soil and experimented with new uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes, and other crops. His work became the catalyst for changes across the country in farming and industry. President Theodore Roosevelt was a big admirer of his. Through all of his success in the later years of his life George maintained his daily walks into nature and always held his passion for education and conservation of the land.

Pea Ridge National Military Park {Arkansas}

Our next stop was at the Pea Ridge National Military Park. The Pea Ridge Battle, also called the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, was a pivotal battle of the Civil War. This drive through park offers the history behind the best preserved battlefield of the Civil War.

At this time in the war, Missouri and Arkansas were a powerful point between the Union and the Confederates and control over the area had gone back and forth between the two sides. The confederate army was hoping to regain control of Arkansas and push the Union out of the south. The confederate army was made up of a few different divisions including some Cherokee Indians. The Union soldiers were outnumbered but after the two days of fighting they were able to take control of Arkansas which helped in winning ultimately over the Confederates and winning the war.

Battle of Pea Ridge (photo:wikipedia.org)

It is interesting to consider that during the Civil War, there were two reigning presidents. President Abraham Lincoln was the leader of the Union wanting to preserve the country as one while the Confederate president was the leader of the rebellion wanting to break away from those of the north and establish their own country. A walk through the visitor center really gave an insight into these two presidents and what they were fighting for. So often we want to make heroes and villains out of these men depending on what side they were on. But the truth is that both sides are firmly in the gray area with both good and bad parts to them.

We drove through the park looking the wide fields with the rows of cannons and thinking about these battles that changed the war and defined the country. With something as so complex as the Civil War it can be difficult to really understand the different sides. This park has a 7 mile loop that people can drive, ride, or walk through the park with stops along the way explaining the battle and the people behind it.

At one corner of the park is the Elkhorn Tavern where the two sides initially clashed and where most of the fighting happened. After the battle, the tavern was then used as a hospital. The road to the tavern was closed off while we there for maintenance and we were disappointed to not be able to get a closer look at it.

Elkhorn Tavern (photo: wikipedia.org)

It is a sobering thought to think about how different everything would be had the Confederate army had won these battles and won the war. While the union of the country was preserved, we still seem to have this fracture between us as people and in many ways those dividing lines are ever present in the country. Places like this are reminders of the high cost that came from the Civil War and stand as testaments of the need to come together. Because in the end, united we stand but divided we fall.

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site {Arkansas}

Our last stop was to visit the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. It was here in 1957 that they first started to integrate black students into a previously all white school. This site was an epicenter of conflict, but in the end it was an important force that strengthened the Civil Rights Movement.

Little Rock Central High School (photo:nps.org)

To say that this caused confrontation would be a drastic understatement. With the passing of desegregation laws this was the first school to make the changes and allow black students to join with the white students. But the Arkansas governor was determined to challenge the law and employed national guard members to block the path of the black students. In a counter defense, President Eisenhower sent in federal troops to protect them. These federal troops would escort the students (called the Little Rock Nine) to every class and act as a barrier between the Nine and the angry mobs.

the Little Rock Nine and federal troops (photo: onlyinarkansas.com)

The visitor center is located next to the high school and gives a powerful understanding of the courage of these students and how they became catalysts change in the fight for Civil Rights. To watch the videos of the Nine as they looked back on that tumultuous time was really powerful. The school was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and a few years later became a National Historic Site in 1982.

The high school itself is still a functioning high school and today it is has a majority of black students. It It stands a physical reminder of the important role it played in changing the country.

It was an educational and thought provoking tour of these historic sites. It was so interesting to consider the influence that one person, one decision, and one idea can have. One moment can change the world for better or for worse and the rest of history will feel those ripples of influence. From the awful participation of slavery, to the complexities of a country at war, to taking a stand for compassion and fairness- it is interesting to see the progression of where we were as a country to who we are now. We’ve come a long way but we still have so far to go to really become something better. I felt humbled to see these moments and the power they carried through to the present day.

If you are interested in some other Civil War battlefields, then you may want to consider these:

Shiloh National Military Park- Tennessee

Stones River National Battlefield- Tennessee

Chickamauga National Military Park- Georgia

Thanks for coming along on this series of historic sites of George Washington Carver, Pea Ridge Battlefield, and Little Rock Central High School. May you always be brave in the face of opposition and change the world with your influence.

27 thoughts on “Historic Sites From Civil War to Civil Rights {Missouri & Arkansas}

  1. This was really interesting! These are locations, battles, and people I’m largely not familiar with. I’m glad these sites are now preserved by the NPS.

    1. Thank you! They were all places I knew nothing about so it made for some interesting stops. The drive from my in laws to home is about 9 hours, usually we just power through and drive the whole way. But this time we broke up the drive which was really nice. 🙂

  2. These all look like such interesting, and poignant places to visit. I continually hope that someday the USA, and other parts of the world too, will be accepting of all races. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I love how great America is at preserving historic sites (well, its more recent historic sites), and the fact that you go out of your way to visit them. I particularly found the images of Little Rock striking – that black and white photo is famous the world over and I can imagine being there would feel very atmospheric. Thank you for sharing all these wonderful places with us Meg 🙂

    1. The pictures of the Little Rock Nine are all really powerful. You can almost feel the fear and bravery of the students. It was really interesting to see the progression through these places and how much the world changed from them. It was a great way to break up a long drive home 🙂

  4. What a great start to the year Meg with this fantastic collection of historic sights. Gradually, through several blogs, I have built up my knowledge of George Washington Carver. The farm is so pretty and delightfully understated, I love the shot of his bust with the rural background scene lit up by the wintry sun. Pea Ridge National Military Park is equally interesting. 7 miles to walk around breathing it all in! Was it busy or did you more or less have the place to yourselves? What a bummer that you couldn’t get right up close to the tavern. Little Rock Central High School is a stunning building, I’m guessing there are plenty of original fittings that have been perfectly preserved? 3 giant slabs of history here Meg, nicely documented.

    1. Thanks Leighton! It was certainly an educational trip. I knew so little about George Washington Carver and the Little Rock Nine and nothing about Pea Ridge so it was a great history lesson for me. When we were at the battlefield we had it pretty much to ourselves which was nice. We drove the loop as slow as we wanted so I could read up more on the battle. The high school has incredible architecture. Sadly though I think the high school these days is pretty rough and dangerous. Brad grew up just outside of Little Rock and he was telling me that the school is one of the worst intercity schools in the country and even being in the neighborhood made him really anxious. Sad that such a historic building is still a place of such conflict.

  5. What a great way to round out the year, Meg! We haven’t been to Pea Ridge yet, but it’s on the (very long) list. I hope that 2023 finds you in lots of great new places, my friend. Happy New Year!

    1. I understand that long list- and it seems to be every growing! I realize more and more how little I know about the Civil War so visiting the battlefields and historic sites have been a great education that way. I can’t wait to see the places you share in the new year! I always love seeing the country with you 🙂 Happy New Year to you too!

  6. Happy New Year to you as well. I like that you took the longer route home so you could visit some historic sites. I find these historic sites are a great way to learn more about history, either of a person, event or place.

    1. Thank you and Happy New Year! 🙂 I was never very good at history until I started going to the places. There is something about being there that really makes history come alive.

  7. Three intriguing, thought-provoking, places to visit. I know I would find each one of them fascinating. It is profoundly sad that we not only still have divisions in society, of one sort or another, but that people still perpetuate them – including many who don’t consider themselves bigots. Freedom is very precious.

    1. So true, those divisions are heartbreaking because we as a people should be coming together and not tearing each other apart. Life is too precious to have these divides. Thank you for reading 🙂

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