The battle lines had been drawn, and Americans picked up their weapons. The Civil War was about to change the face of the nation as they knew it. Most of us are familiar with the battle that raged on the East coast, but what about the Midwest? Few realize the impact the Civil War had on both historic, and present-day Pulaski County.
While alliances were mostly clear in the East, loyalties were much hazier in Pulaski County. Missouri was Confederate territory and, indeed, Waynesville initially flew the Confederate flag. The rugged terrain and relative isolation of the Missouri frontier shielded locals from strong opinions for or against slavery, however, and secession from the Union held little immediate consequence. As debate raged in the young country, the prevalent support in Pulaski County remained with the South; the presidential election of 1860 yielded only seven votes for Abraham Lincoln to John Breckenridge’s 281. As war became imminent, however, opinions began to shift, and this trend continued throughout the war. In Pulaski County, neighbors, families and friends found themselves on opposite sides of the battlefield.
It soon became clear that the key supply road from St. Louis to Springfield would be critical to either side’s success, placing Pulaski County as a main thoroughfare. What is now Route 66 was, at the time, a path for transporting troops and supplies for each army; the Union Army eventually strung a telegraph wire along the route, resulting in its nickname of “The Wire Road”.
Many Pulaski County farmers joined either the Union Army or Confederate militias or guerrilla groups , and by 1862, Waynesville had become the center of the war in Pulaski County. While a few women remained to support local fighters, most fled with their children to safer territory. Union soldiers took over the town and erected a large fort on Fort Street, overlooking the downtown square. A marker at the site is now all that remains of the fort. The Pulaski County Courthouse was so badly damaged by rifle fire that it had to be torn down in 1870. The stagecoach stop, which still stands as The Old Stagecoach Stop museum in downtown Waynesville, was converted to a hospital for wounded soldiers.
As Union forces patrolled the streets, the wilderness was alive with Confederate militias that ambushed supply wagons. Pulaski County’s rugged terrain and numerous caves changed the face of battle from traditional fighting methods to brief clashes between armies. The area was host to bloody skirmishes and raids.
By the time Union troops left Waynesville in 1865, Pulaski County was deserted. Some estimates maintain that up to 75 percent of the population had left. Homes and farms were vacant. Buildings were looted and destroyed; livestock was gone, and farms were overgrown. Many citizens never returned; for a time the Ozark region remained dangerous territory.
Fortunately, word of land ownership opportunity traveled east. Southerners who had lost their homes in the war seized the opportunity and headed west to establish new roots. The Southern Pacific Railroad opened rail lines to Springfield, giving rise to numerous small towns along the tracks, opening new economic possibility and establishing much of modern-day Pulaski County.
History has not been forgotten. Pulaski County still holds many remnants of the Civil War, allowing glimpses into our rich past. Two markers indicate areas of interest from the battles. The Old Courthouse Museum holds many relics from county history; the Old Stagecoach Stop features a Civil War medical display as well as artifacts from local history. The original structure still stands as a testament to the ties that bind modern-day Pulaski County with memories of the past.
The text of this posting is a reprint of an article that appeared in “Visitor Guide Pulaski County Missouri” published by CommunityLink circa 2008.