During just four years of brutal military and political conflict, a divided Lawrence County, Missouri was “whipsawed” by the Civil War, “inflicting severe hardships, death, and destruction.” While Lawrence County was similar to other Missouri counties in that it was divided during the war, its location in the southwestern portion of the state made its citizens under constant threat of guerrilla violence and the occupation of Federal and Confederate/Pro-Secessionist armies. Lawrence County was front and center to much of the violence in southwestern Missouri, which took a major toll on its communities.
In his book, Murder and Mayhem: The Civil War in Lawrence County, Missouri, Lawrence County native and historian J. Dale West tackles the military, political, and social history of Lawrence County during the war. While some microhistories of communities tend to ignore or forget to place their study in the context of the larger war, West does a nice job at fitting Lawrence County’s unique story in with the war nationally and regionally.
Divided in 19 chronological and thematic chapters, Murder and Mayhem discusses the Home Guard, Enrolled Missouri Militia, and Missouri State Guard units from Lawrence County, skirmishes and affairs, occupying units, guerrilla warfare, and several topics regarding the war’s casualties and aftermath. Additionally, many images of soldiers and civilians are scattered throughout the book, showing of the faces of Lawrence County’s war. The book as a whole reads very well and is filled with interesting stories and content.
Not only is Murder and Mayhem a fascinating book about one county’s story in the war, it also shows the importance of microhistories – especially in regard to the Civil War in Missouri. Each county had varying experiences in the Civil War, particularly due to the nature of widespread conventional and irregular warfare, as well as long-term Federal occupation. These microhistories help share the overlooked or forgotten stories that help shed light on new topics and themes regarding the war.
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