A rural Missouri town is forever gone due to the Battle of Athens Civil War skirmish. The fight took place in northeast Missouri in 1861 near present-day Revere and southeast Iowa along the Des Moines River across from Croton, three miles southeast of Farmington, Iowa. The Union victory has the distinction of being the most northerly of Civil War Battles fought west of the Mississippi, and also of being the only such battle fought along the Iowa border. The war was hard on the town of Athens; and the coming of the railroad after the war led to the demise of this river port town. The state of Missouri maintains the Battle of Athens State Historic Site in the ghost town of Athens.
Battle of Athens Historic Site is now a pleasant place to visit and to vacation. Its historic buildings, tree-studded landscape, and mile of Des Moines River shoreline make the site a perfect place to enjoy Missouri’s outdoors including hiking, picnicking or camping. But, this is the site in history that was the place where the most northern Civil War battle was fought west of the Mississippi. About five hundred Union soldiers held back about four times their number of pro-Southern State Guardsmen. “The site includes interpretation and tours of the battlefield as well as a number of historic buildings, including one that was pierced by a cannonball during the battle.”
The first settler at the Athens site arrived circa 1831. By the late 1840’s, a federal lock and dam had been built on the Des Moines River that converted Athens into a bustling river port. According to the state park, the town grew to about five hundred people with many businesses that included five churches, a large hotel, a wagon factory, a meat packing plant and a large mill that produced flour, cornmeal, lumber, and cotton and woolen products and a good-sized school.
According to history “Athens prospered until the outbreak of the Civil War. Settled by people from the upper Southern states, Athens was considered by Unionists to be a hotbed of pro-South sentiment. As the spring of 1861 moved into summer, northeast Missourians began choosing sides in the ever-widening national conflict. Pro-Unionists rallied around David Moore, who had raised a force of about five-hundred men. Moore entered and occupied Athens on July 24, 1861, seizing homes and businesses from pro-South supporters to quarter and provision for his troops. Pro-South supporters rallied around Colonel Martin Green. Green raised a force of about three thousand men, including two of Moore's sons.
The confrontation between Moore's and Green's forces took place at Athens on Aug. 5, 1861. Despite being outnumbered at least five to one, Moore's men were better trained and equipped. After about two hours of fighting, at least fifty soldiers had been wounded or killed and the pro-South side was demoralized and in full retreat. What is known is that Moore captured almost five hundred horses with bridles and saddles, hundreds of arms, and a wagon load of long knives.”
By 1900, the once-thriving town of Athens was nearly gone. Today, the historic site takes in the old town site of Athens. Several buildings have been preserved and are undergoing restoration. The Thome-Benning house, locally known as "the Cannonball House" still has two holes made through the kitchen walls by a cannonball during the battle. Visitors can tour the house, visit the Thome Mill ruins, participate in guided tours of the historic town site or take advantage of numerous recreation opportunities. There are hiking trails, a lake for fishing, picnic areas, a playground, a campground and along the Des Moines River frontage.
Contact mostateparks.com/park/battle-athens-state-historic-site for additional information about the park.