Thome-Benning (Cannonball) House (ca. 1853)

Battle of Athens State Historic Park

Today's Athens, Missouri is nothing more than a loosely clustered mix of farms and riverfront homes, with nothing but a small, virtually unknown, state park bearing its name to draw anyone's Attention to it on a map. At the outbreak of the Civil War the town was a bit larger and was a fairly important town in the region. A small but growing town in 1861, Athens was home to a large grist mill and the only ferry to allow passage across the Des Moines River for quite a distance in either direction. Like the rest of Missouri, loyalties at the outbreak of war were sharply divided and it became a target for Union loyalists in neighboring Iowa. Seeking to suppress southern sympathies in the region and gain control of the ferry, which provided the most direct line of supply from nearby Keokuk, a small band of some 500 local militia under command of Colonel David Moore moved in and occupied the town on July 22, 1861.

A secessionist force of around 2,000 had already been assembled under Colonel Martin Green and soon moved out to dislodge the Yankees from Missouri. They arrived on the outskirts of Athens on August 4, 1861 with three cannon. The federals were surrounded in the town on three sides with the Des Moines River to their backs. The attack came with first light on the 5th. Though outnumbered nearly 4 to 1, the federal militia managed to repel the two hour rebel attack, largely due to their superiority in firearms. The federals held the town and, as such, northeastern Missouri remained in Union hands for the entirety of the Civil War.

Today, a small Historic State Park preserves the surviving buildings that existed at the time of the battle. This park is much different from more well-known parks farther east. A small room at the main office holds a few artifacts and important info on the battle and the only other displays to be found are at the Thome-Benning, or Cannonball House, which still bears a large scar from the battle. Aside from this the grounds are open and quiet, at least when I visited, which contrasts pleasantly with larger, busier battlefields. Here's the tour...

Battle Statistics

United States of America

Armies Engaged: Missouri Home Guard

Commanding Officer: Colonel David Moore

Strength: 500

Casualties: 23 or 4.5% (3 killed, 20 wounded)

Confederate States

Armies Engaged: Missouri State Guard

Commanding Officer: Colonel Martin E. Green

Strength: ~2,000 Casualties: 31 or 1.6%


  • Jim Crawford

    on August 4, 2018

    The gray home was the location of the ford across the Des Moines River. The corn field to the southeast(?) of the home was where some horsemen were fired upon by Iowa Militia from the Croton side in Iowa.