Monday, June 12, 2006

"The Half Not Told" by Preston Filbert

Preston Filbert's The Half Not Told: The Civil War in a Frontier Town is one of those Civil War books that are published and almost immediately --and undeservedly--forgotten (although the vague title probably didn't help much!). The Half Not Told is a fine history of the Civil War in NW Missouri. Although it centers around the bustling town of St. Joseph, the book also covers political and military events over the larger area of Andrew, Buchanan, and Platte counties, all of which border the Missouri River. It really is a unique piece of history as the NW region is almost completely overshadowed in the publishing world by histories of events that occurred in the western and southwestern portions of the state.

While not neglectful of political analysis and social history, the author's focus on military subjects is a welcome change of pace from recent city studies that tend to move these events into the background. One of the most confusing tasks of any study of the Civil War in Missouri is the attempt to make sense of the labyrinth of militia organizations from the state (Kirby Ross' short article Federal Militias in Missouri is of some help). Although Filbert forgoes a systematic analysis, he does provide some insight into the militia system that prevailed in the region when regular Union formations left the state. One of the more fascinating organizations is the so-called "Paw Paw" militia, armed by Federal authorities but made up largely of Southern-sympathizing citizens.

A tragic event that I had not heard of, the "Platte River Tragedy", is detailed in the book. The Platte River railroad bridge east of St. Joseph was weakened deliberately by fire and a train loaded mainly with civilians plunged into the water, killing and wounding scores of passengers. The perpetrators were never caught, but accusations of involvement would be used as weapons to stain many a reputation.

Filbert, a journalist himself, also makes an interesting point about how towns along the Missouri River attempted to manipulate politics and/or social turmoil for economic gain. Papers in one town would attempt to exaggerate (or just as often completely fabricate) reports of violence and secessionist sentiment in rival communities in the hope that easterners would pick up on the news and redirect their business towards their own merchants. The increasingly fierce economic rivalry between St. Joseph and Kansas City was exacerbated in this manner. Of course, in the post-war period, Kansas City became king.

The Half Not Told is a slim volume that contains much to recommend it. It's a well written and researched study that will increase the level of understanding of any reader interested in learning more about Civil War Missouri's tangled politics and vicious guerrilla warfare.

1 comment:

  1. Brazos, Preston! - John Mier, MWSC Class of '78, former writer for the local on the St. Jo Gazette


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