At historic places and military sites throughout the region, you can experience the settings, characters and stories that detail St. Louis’ fascinating role in U.S. history. Discover fresh, seldom-reported information that brings the past to the forefront.
Founded by French explorers in 1767 and annexed by St. Louis city in 1870, Carondelet was once a melting pot of Spanish, Italian, Irish and Hungarian immigrants. Its history contains interesting tidbits; for instance, the ironclads used by the Union Army to conquer the Mississippi River during the Civil War were built in Carondelet by James B. Eads, who also built the famous St. Louis bridge that now bears his name. The world-renowned American civil engineer and inventor is buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum, which also serves as the final resting place of 10 Medal of Honor recipients.
Stretching 470 acres, Calvary Cemetery is the largest cemetery in Missouri. It contains the graves of former slave Dred Scott, Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, American playwright Tennessee Williams and American author Kate Chopin. If you dissolved the border between Calvary Cemetery and Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum, there are more generals who commanded armies during the American Civil War buried here than Arlington National Cemetery and West Point combined.
Established in 1805, Fort Belle Fontaine served as a stopover for expeditions heading west to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. On the return trip to St. Louis in 1806, the Lewis and Clark Expedition also spent its last night at the fort. Until it was replaced by Jefferson Barracks in 1826, Fort Belle Fontaine was an important gathering place for officers and enlisted men; Native Americans; French, Spanish and American settlers; trappers and traders; and the local farmers and businesspeople who supplied the fort with necessities. Today, the fort is gone, but you can still visit the site. Follow the three-mile Lewis & Clark Interpretive Trail along the Missouri River, Belle Fontaine Spring and Coldwater Creek and through 50 acres of upland prairie and wetlands that reveal the beauty of the land and wildlife, which Lewis and Clark would have observed on their journey.
Selected for its strategic geographic location, Jefferson Barracks opened in 1826, becoming the first permanent U.S. Army base west of the Mississippi River. By the 1840s, it was the largest military establishment in the country, and during the Civil War, it served as a training post for the Union Army. Consisting of more than 310 acres, Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery was officially established on the site in 1866. The cemetery, which overlooks the Mighty Mississippi, contains burials from all major U.S. conflicts, beginning with the Revolutionary War.
Utilizing thousands of artifacts, including documents and weapons, the Missouri Civil War Museum does a commendable job of explaining Missouri’s complicated role in the American Civil War. Located within Jefferson Barracks Park, the nonprofit educational organization boasts one of the largest Civil War research libraries in the country.
The Gateway Arch is a sight to see. While we highly recommend taking the tram ride to the top of the 630-foot monument, we also urge you to explore the wealth of stories that lie below it. The Museum at the Gateway Arch offers a free, innovative and accessible experience, showcasing more than 200 years of St. Louis history. If you’re particularly interested in military history, visit the interactive gallery titled Manifest Destiny. In the mid-1800s, many Americans believed that the U.S. had a God-given right to expand. By war or by treaty, the U.S. was determined to move west. After the U.S. annexed Texas, it continued to dispute the border with Mexico, provoking the Mexican-American War. Learn more about the different perspectives of the war here.
One of the most important historic sites in the U.S., the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis is where the notable Dred and Harriet Scott cases were first heard in 1847. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 1857 claimed the U.S. Constitution did not extend American citizenship to people of black African descent, and thus, they could not enjoy the rights and privileges that the Constitution conferred upon American citizens, including protection from the federal government or the courts. The opinion also stated that Congress had no authority to ban slavery from a federal territory. The landmark decision destroyed the delicate agreement between free and slave states, increasing antislavery sentiment in the North, creating national anger and feeding sectional strife, which eventually led to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.
The Old Courthouse is temporarily closed amid a $27.5 million renovation led by St. Louis-based Tarlton Corporation, which will focus on increasing accessibility for all visitors, structural improvements and new exhibitory. The reopening will include an exhibition called Dred Scott: A Legacy of Courage.
Located in downtown St. Louis, this state-of-the-art museum honors local military service members, veterans and their families. The Missouri Historical Society assumed operations of the museum in November 2015 and began a $30 million revitalization of the site in 2016. Thanks to the renovation, the site now has more than double the amount of exhibit space, the four iconic Walker Hancock sculptures framing the entrance are free of coal dust and embedded dirt, the building is LEED-certified to the Gold level and it meets ADA compliance for the first time in the building’s history.
Known as the victorious Civil War general who saved the Union and the 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant married Julia Dent in 1848 and lived at her family home, White Haven, from 1854 to 1859. At the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, you can take a guided tour of White Haven, which was run by an enslaved African American workforce before the Civil War. The park museum – which is housed in a historic horse stable designed by Grant – features six permanent exhibits that dig deeper into the rich and varied history and culture of the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. We also recommend watching the 22-minute orientation film, which provides more insights into Grant’s military service and two terms as president.
Don’t miss out on the latest events and happenings in St. Louis!
Sign up for The Explore St. Louis newsletter and stay informed about the city’s top attractions, dining, and entertainment options.
* Indicates a required field.