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Jefferson Barracks History




1864 Illustration of Jefferson Barracks as it appeared as a U.S.
General Hospital. Drawn by F. Siebenmann, 12th Regiment
Missouri Volunteer Infantry, USA. [Click on Image to Enlarge]

Located just a few miles south of the City of St. Louis, Missouri, The Jefferson Barracks Military Complex is the oldest operational military installation west of the Mississippi River. Originally established in 1826 as the country’s first Infantry School of Practice, Jefferson Barracks received its name in honor of President Thomas Jefferson who had died earlier that same year. Jefferson Barracks was established on land that Thomas Jefferson had actually obtained as part of the Louisiana Purchase, which added to the argument that the first major military installation should bear his name.

Jefferson Barracks was primarily a supportive military installation overseeing the westward expansion in the new western territory and assisting in protecting the early white settlers. In its early years of activity, troops from Jefferson Barracks were regularly called upon to keep hostile Indian groups at bay and keep the peace between them and the new intruders. At times, the Army actually had to protect not only the white settlers from the Indians, but they also had to protect the Indians from the settlers who were at times fighting with the nearby tribes over land and hunting rights.

Troops from Jefferson Barracks also took part in the Black Hawk War of 1831-1832 which led to the realization that the western frontier was an enormous territory and the Army at the time was unsuited in patrolling it. This action is directly responsible for the formation of the United States Regiment of Dragoons at Jefferson Barracks in 1833. The Dragoons were an armed regiment of mounted cavalry troops who were highly mobile and could travel far distances in a short period of time. This mounted cavalry unit actually became the very first permanent cavalry unit in the United States Army.

Jefferson Barrack’s 1st Dragoons, which were eventually re-designated the 1st Cavalry in 1861, participated in virtually every conflict in America such as the Seminole War, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War and much of the Indian expeditions involving the Cherokee, Iowa, Kansas, Mahas, Pawnee, Potawattomie, Osage, Otoe, Sac, and Sioux Indians.

By the time the American Civil War erupted in 1861, many of the most well-known and prominent leaders of the war had been assigned to Jefferson Barracks while in the Federal Army. In fact, at one time or another approximately 220 Civil War Generals served duty at Jefferson Barracks such as Union Generals Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, Philip Sheridan, Winfield Scott Hancock, and Montgomery Meigs. Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, Albert Sidney Johnston, Joseph E. Johnson, and Braxton Bragg also served here, as did American President Zachary Taylor and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

U.S. troops from Jefferson Barracks played a leading role in the first action of the Civil War in Missouri. This was the capture of the Missouri State Volunteer Militia at Camp Jackson on May 10, 1861, an operation led by Capt. Nathaniel Lyon who would later ride off into immortality in the Battle of Wilson Creek and become the first General to die in the Civil War. Lyon’s unit at the Camp Jackson Affair included two companies of the 2nd U.S. Infantry under the command of Capt. Thomas Sweeny, and one regiment of the 1st U.S. Volunteers commanded by Francis Blair both of whom would serve with distinguished honors for the Union Army in the Civil War.

Throughout 1861, troops from Jefferson Barracks continued to support the Union war effort in the Western Department. By March 1862, due to the increase in illnesses and causalities, the military aspect of Jefferson Barracks took a secondary part in order to provide additional hospital space for the Army Medical Department. Although a Post Hospital had previously existed, the General Hospital opened in April 1862. By the summer of 1862, it was enlarged to accommodate 2,500 patients. Steamboats, outfitted as floating hospitals supplemented bed space, as well as providing transportation to and from the battlefields. There were times during the Civil War that Jefferson Barracks was treating more sick and wounded soldiers than any other hospital in the nation and many of these soldiers never left Jefferson Barracks and were ultimately buried there.


Jefferson Barracks Post Cemetery was created August 5, 1827 with the untimely death of little Eliza Ann Lash, the infant daughter of an officer and his wife stationed at the post. Early in the Civil War, in 1862, Jefferson Barracks became one of the major military hospitals in the nation, since it was strategically located near a major city on a vital river and railroad transportation system, including the old Wire Road, now known as Telgraph Road here at Jefferson Barracks, which then traversed southwest through the State into Arkansas. During the Civil War, with so many soldiers dying in the post hospital, and with so many wounded and dying soldiers being brought here from around the country, Jefferson Barracks became a National Cemetery under the authority of an Act of Congress passed on July 17, 1862, which allowed President Lincoln to create a network of National Cemeteries around the country. This was the same legislation used to create the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. This legislation was finally formalized one year after the war in 1866. In our Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery are the graves of approximately 12,000 Union veterans, 1,140 Confederate veterans, and nearly 3,300 unknowns from the American Civil War. There are soldiers buried here from virtually every state, from both the North and the South, the largest contingent of Civil War soldiers buried at any one place in the State of Missouri. Brother fighting against brother, the blue and the grey, and now at rest in peace side by side in the rolling hills facing the river.

At rest here are soldiers in rank, from privates to generals. There are black soldiers, white soldiers, unknown soldiers, foreign soldiers, and women and children, all victims of the war. There are soldiers from the Battles of Shiloh, Fort Donelson, Fort Henry, Pea Ridge and many others, as well as numerous Civil War Medal of Honor recipients buried here. Today, our beautiful Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery is comprised of more than 330 acres, with efforts underway to increase the size of the cemetery through the acquisition of land from the military base and from the Veterans hosptial. It is one of the largest and most active National Cemeteries in the nation. The Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery is one of the four primary components of The Jefferson Barracks Historic Complex, all of which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998.

Benjamin Franklin once said, "Show me your cemeteries, and I will tell you what kind of people you have". William Gladstone (1809 - 1897), three-time Prime Minister of England and Victorian contemporary of Benjamin Disraeli said, "Show me the manner in which a nation or community cares for its dead, and I will measure with mathematical exactness, the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals". Louis Houck, Cape Girardeau, Missouri railroad magnate said in 1896, "The culture, refinement, and in fact, the civilization of a people, can be measured by the respect paid its honored and distinguished dead". With all of this said, our Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery is one of the most cared for and one of the most beautiful National Cemeteries in the nation. Passing through the wrought iron gates at the front entrance of the cemetery, one is overcome and awestruck with the beauty, solemnity and sacredness of the ground that has been hallowed by many men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice of love for all Americans, for all of us!

Links to more information about Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery:
Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery Home Page
Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery Search Engine (Grave Locator)
Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery Find-A-Grave, has a few select Biographies of notable people and Monuments in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery

Another component of today’s Jefferson Barracks Complex is the 426 acre Jefferson Barracks County Park. Established from land acquired from the original military installation, the Jefferson Barracks County Park still places much of its attention and emphasis to its rich military history with many of its historic buildings dating back prior to the Civil War still being utilized and preserved.


Located in the center of the complex is the active milit
ary base of the Jefferson Barracks Missouri National Guard. Since being established as the country’s first Infantry School of Practice in 1826, Jefferson Barracks has served as a gathering point for soldiers in virtually every conflict and was from the Mexican War to World War II. Today, the military presence is still very much alive at Jefferson Barracks with many historic buildings and areas preserved and utilized by the soldiers. [More on Missouri National Guard]

The Post Exchange & Gymnasium Building, which was designed in 1903 by the Federal Government and constructed a short time later, was formerly part of the military base at Jefferson Barracks until 1946. It was outfitted primarily as an athletic and activity center, for the health and entertainment of the commissioned officers stationed at Jefferson Barracks. This Post Exchange & Gymnasium Building will become the Missouri Civil War Museum. The building is known to have three surviving identical sister buildings; one at Fort Monroe Virginia, one at Madison Barracks, New York, and another at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. Interestingly, the sister building located at Fort Monroe, Virginia, is located right next to the building where Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned after the American Civil War. Davis had served in the military at Jefferson Barracks in the 1830's.

The final element of The Jefferson Barracks Historic Site is the Veterans Administration Hospital located at the southernmost edge of Jefferson Barracks. As many know, Jefferson Barracks was utilized as a major hospital complex during the Civil War and it has continued to treat and care for American veterans ever since. It is only fitting that after more than 140 years, Jefferson Barracks is still providing aid to our American veterans. [More on the Veterans Administration Hospital at JB]

All of Jefferson Barracks is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is no question as to the importance and significance of this strategic and beautiful military post, which has been in existence for over 180 years. Indeed, because of it's strategic importance and historic significance to the whole country, especially during the American Civil War, it is only appropriate, that the Missouri Civil War Museum make it's permanent home at Jefferson Barracks in a beautiful old building whose property now has "National Register" significance.

In 2003, the Missouri Civil War Museum began extensive structural restoration efforts on the Historic 1903-1905 Jefferson Barracks Post Exchange and Gymnasium Building, which was certain to be slated for demolition. The historically significant building has become one of Missouri’s largest and finest educational centers, exclusively dedicated and devoted to the study and preservation of the history and heritage of the American Civil War and its relevance to the Great State of Missouri. [More on the Restoration of the Missouri Civil War Museum]


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