Labor Day Weekend 2020 | Battle of Athens State Historic Site
This year, Curtis was given a four day weekend for Labor Day, and we decided to go spend it with my family in Iowa! On our way there, we stopped at my grandparent’s farm in central Iowa and spent a few hours catching up. They sent us on our way with plenty of their farm fresh produce — tomatoes, peppers and onions.
Coming back to Cedar Rapids was still a shock, even 3 weeks after the derecho. It felt like it had been longer since we last visited, but driving through town and seeing all the chopped up trees on the side of every road was a reminder of how much damage was done and how much more work needed to happen. We were very happy to see my family doing well though, with their power and water fully restored and their yard in much better shape. The debris that we had piled in the ditch was all cleared away, and dad was working on re-seeding their grass.
While we were there, we went hiking at a few parks that were open. We walked around Clark Park in Hiawatha, which is newer and didn’t have big trees, so it didn’t receive much damage. We also went to Wikiup Hills, where several trails were still closed but there were trucks working on clearing away trees while we were there. Mostly we enjoyed the ability to socialize and be with family.
On Labor Day, we packed up and said our goodbyes and started our trip back to Nebraska…except this time, we took a much less direct route. We drove South on US-218 all the way to the small town of Croton, near the Missouri border. Our main stop for today was just across the Des Moines River at the Battle of Athens State Historic Site. But we stopped in Croton to look for a letterbox and mark the ‘furthest Northern battle west of the Mississippi during the Civil War’ – although there are some technicalities to that statement. Unsuccessful with the letterbox, we drove across the River and then over to the actual battlefield and the now abandoned town of Athens, Missouri.
Athens during the 1850’s was a thriving community with multiple businesses, a large mill, and a healthy population. But in 1861, Missouri was hit hard with the secessionist movement. Unlike most other states that were hard one way or the other, Missouri was split, and was determined to remain neutral in the contest. But, after federal intervention, disagreements over states rights, and a pro-southern Governor, Missouri entered the Summer of 1861 with a pro-Confederate government in exile with local support under the Missouri Guard, and a federally appointed pro-Union government in Jefferson City with local support under the Home Guard.
As the Union made more decisive victories through the center of the state and the exile government retreated to the South, pockets of pro-secessionist Missouri Guard forces were left in pockets scattered throughout the North and Central areas. One such pocket under the command Col. Martin Green attempted to make mischief and raise support in NE Missouri. This was naturally opposed by Home Guard volunteers under the command of Col. David Moore, who decided to make his stand against the more numerous Missouri Guard in Athens, due to its proximity to the Croton rail depot, and the Iowa Militia.
On the 5th of August in 1861, the Missouri Guard attacked the town of Athens. Armed with only three cannons (including a hollow log) and frontier weapons, the Missouri guard was out gunned and out maneuvered by the technologically superior Home Guard resulting in a Union victory.
After the war, the town of Athens diminished as rail transport increased and river transport diminished. But today you can walk around the remaining preserved/rebuilt homes, see the layout of the streets, see the old mills foundation, and read the signs.
So why is there a sign in Iowa calling it the furthest Northern battle if it was fought in Missouri? While it is true that Iowa Militia ‘participated’ by firing from the Iowa side of the Des Moines River, the only return fire that they received was from the two cannons, which fired wildly with one hitting the Croton rail station, the only cannonball to land on Iowa soil during the war.
Once finished at the park, we began our long journey West. We first jogged South to Kahoka, MO to see the Clark County Courthouse, then took US-136 West to Glenwood, IA-202 back into Iowa, and IA-2 all the way across the state. Along the way, we saw four more courthouses: Schuyler, MO; Appanoose, IA; Wayne, IA; and Decatur, IA. Our favorite courthouse for the day was Decatur county. All this ended up taking 8 hours when driving directly from door to door takes exactly 4 hours, but it was honestly so fun for us to drive these mostly empty roads. Another highlight was seeing a retro Hy-Vee sign along with the smallest Hy-Vee we’ve ever seen.
We returned home that night refreshed after a fun weekend away, and with enough tomatoes to last us for the rest of the month!