CANTON, Mo. -- Scott Giltner is working hard to preserve the lessons of the Civil War.
Giltner, a history professor at Culver-Stockton College in Canton, teaches a "Civil War Era" course focusing on what happened locally and nationally from when the war started in 1861 until it ended in 1865.
"For me, it's a fundamental course," Giltner said. "If you don't really understand the Civil War -- what caused it and then what happened as a result -- you don't get a sense of modern America."
Giltner did not have to look far to find close-up examples of what took place during the Civil War because Lewis County was a hotbed of activity during that period in American history.
Giltner said slavery -- the key issue that precipitated the war -- was a common practice in Lewis County in the years leading up to the war.
"We had more slaves than most people realize in Northeast Missouri," he said.
"It was different than slavery in the Deep South, where you had huge cotton plantations that were worked year-round by slaves and you needed lots and lots of them. In Northeast Missouri, you had some cotton farming, livestock farming and a mix of the two. So a lot of times slave owners in Northeast Missouri used them during the harvest, and during the rest of the year they rented them out to other farmers further south who needed labor more."
As a border state, Missouri was split on whether pro-slavery southern states should secede from the Union. Giltner said most of the St. Louis area was largely anti-slavery and in favor of keeping the Union intact, while a large swath from western Missouri to mid-Missouri sided with the Confederacy.
"Northeast Missouri was kind of a mix of the two," he said.
As the Civil War got under way April 12, 1861, with the bombardment of Fort Sumter in ?Charleston, S.C., much of Missouri was trying to stay neutral in ?the war.
"The hope was to keep Missouri out of it," Giltner said.
However, with so many pro-Confederacy and pro-Union Missouri residents unable to see eye-to-eye on the issue, it was not long before incidents were popping up across the state.
Canton became embroiled after an incident on July 4, 1861, when revelers from both sides of the political spectrum agreed to put aside their differences for the day and celebrate the nation's birthday with a big party in downtown Canton.
As the evening wore on, Giltner said, a Union-affiliated captain from LaGrange "who had a little too much to drink" started picking on a young man from a well-known secessionist Canton family. "Things got a little nasty, and he ended up humiliating this kid in public," Giltner said.
The young man's father heard what happened, grabbed a shotgun and marched down the street in search of the Union captain.
"He shot him and killed him dead in the middle of the street," Giltner said. "Then the whole town started to degenerate into fights."
This incident -- referred to as "the July 4 riot" -- prompted one of Canton's pro-Union militia officers to head to Quincy, Ill., to ask John Wood, who had just finished serving as Illinois governor and was now a quartermaster, to send some Union troops to Canton to help quell the fighting.
"The next day, July 5, between 600 and 800 Union soldiers arrived on a steamer from Quincy," Giltner said.
The military contingent occupied the campus of Culver-Stockton College -- then still known by its original name, Christian University, which opened in 1853. The troops took over the Old Main administrative building, which burned to the ground in 1903 and was later replaced by Henderson Hall.
Giltner said the troops stayed a couple of weeks until tensions calmed down.
Two more military occupations of the college took place later that year. One occurred in September/October when the 4th Iowa Cavalry responded to some guerilla activity led by Joseph Porter, the well-known Confederate colonel. Giltner said the third occupation took place in late 1861/early 1862 when the 21st Missouri Volunteer Infantry -- a Union regiment commanded by Col. David Moore, who went on to become a brigadier general -- took a position on campus, causing significant damage to Old Main.
"The place was a shambles," Giltner said.
While Old Main was used briefly as a barracks for officers, a hospital for wounded soldiers, a mustering and training center for Union troops and a place to house prisoners, soldiers also practiced artillery shooting while on campus. Giltner said one local family living in the target zone accumulated so many spent cannonballs that it started giving them away as souvenirs to dinner guests.
Giltner said the only confirmed combat fatality in Canton occurred in August 1862 when some Confederate guerillas stormed the town to acquire supplies. One nervous Canton businessman, J.W. Carnegy, who owned a warehouse on Front Street, was waiting for a steamer to arrive so he could ship his goods to Iowa for safekeeping when he heard the sound of horses' hooves outside his building.?"Who goes there?" he demanded.
"The answer he got was a shotgun blast to the stomach," Giltner said.
Carnegy was buried in a small Civil War cemetery that still exists on private property in Canton.
Some other local notables from the Civil War era are buried in Canton's Forest Grove Cemetery, including Gen. Moore and James S. Green, a former U.S. senator and brother of Martin Green, a key organizer of the Missouri State Guard in Northeast Missouri who became a Confederate brigadier general and died in the Siege of Vicksburg.