Gettysburg of the West: On 155th anniversary, fight continues to preserve Battle of Westport

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- On the anniversary of what might be Kansas City’s most historically significant event, a local group is pushing ahead in a long struggle to preserve the noteworthy incident.

“Westport was a battle the Confederates could’ve won,” said Dan Smith with the Monnet Battle of Westport Fund.

On Oct. 23, the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Westport, Smith takes pride in the small victories his group has achieved but is quick to point out that a great deal still needs to be done.

“That’s why we’re engaged in this rather long siege, as it were, all trying to restore a Kansas City battlefield," he said.

All told, 32,000 troops, between the Confederacy and the Union, clashed in the Battle of Westport. Historians describe it as a last-gasp effort by the Confederacy to win a decisive battle west of the Mississippi.

It’s often referred to as the "Gettysburg of the West."

“It was an attempt by the Confederates to reclaim the state for the Confederacy on the basis of a popular uprising,” Smith said.

The large-scale uprising of men sympathetic to the Confederates never materialized, and the Union won a decisive victory that left 500 dead and 300 wounded.

Some of the most dramatic warfare happened on October 23, 1864, during an engagement known as the Battle of Byram’s Ford. That conflict happened on rolling hills around the Blue River, just north of present-day Swope Park and the Kansas City Zoo.

Although several historic markers dot the land around the Battle of Byram’s Ford, an aging industrial drive and chain link fences make the area mostly inaccessible.

“It’s like if Philadelphia put a strip mall all over Gettysburg,” Smith said.

Since 2006, the Monnett Battle of Westport Fund has been slowly chipping away at that urban sprawl in an attempt to preserve Kansas City real estate that features prominently in American history.

“When we started our project in 2006, we had nine buildings on the site to remove,” Smith said. “We’ve removed enough of them now, where we’re now down to four buildings.”

Smith bristles a bit at the direct comparisons to Gettysburg, but insists this chapter of local history is worth saving.

“It ended any hope of the Confederates being in Missouri and resulted in the emancipation of slaves in Missouri.”

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