Law professor Frank Bowman gave a lecture on the events of the Civil War and its effects on Boone County on Tuesday.
An audience of about 250 students, faculty and Columbia residents gathered in the ballroom of the Reynolds Alumni Center to listen to Bowman’s presentation.
Bowman joined the MU law faculty in 2005 after almost 20 years of work in both government justice offices and private firms. But it was only after he arrived at MU that he began more extensive study in the significance of the Civil War period law to better understand law in society today.
“You can’t understand modern America generally without understanding the Civil War,” Bowman said. “You just can’t. It still influences our society.”
The Century Corps of Discovery, a committee whose members aim to teach students and residents of Columbia about the history of mid-Missouri, organized the event.
“We felt that, with the university being on that edge of the frontier, we wanted to push frontier knowledge and select individuals from our midst to educate us,” Chancellor Brady Deaton said.
Bowman’s lecture, “Homicidal History: Shootings, Stabbings, Lynchings, Melees, Massacres and the Legacy of the Civil War in Modern Missouri,” focused on criminal justice during the Civil War.
Bowman explained how Missouri’s geographic location and social history made living in the area particularly dangerous during the war. Not only was Missouri a border state with clashing influences from both the North and South, but it was a rather lenient community in terms of crime and even murder, Bowman said.
Add those features in Boone County, with a slave population that made up more than a quarter of the whole population (one of the highest ratios in the state), and the people of Missouri were set for a time of great chaos.
A hopeless tale of violence, though, was not Bowman’s objective.
“I wanted to know how, with a surprising amount of violence, the community knit itself back together,” Bowman said.
Bowman did not want to lecture on law or history without relating them to one another, he said. He was bringing the two together.
The shocking percentage of unpunished homicides in Missouri during the war, the influence of the mob on the killing of slaves, the seemingly self-contradicting lifestyle of slave-owning unionist James Rollins (the “Father of the University”) — these and plenty other pieces of history have their place in the definition of our current society, Bowman said.
Ultimately, there was never any fundamental difference in the nature in which Missourians of opposing sides lived, despite the splintering that had occurred between North and South, Bowman said. The community of Boone County eventually healed but not completely.
There is still obvious separation between social classes in Columbia and Boone County that reflects the continual influence of the Civil War, but MU is playing a crucial part in the continual healing process, Bowman said.
Bowman said that despite the university’s service as a resource to help bring the community together, it is often taken for granted.
“We have an immense amount of resources here,” Bowman said, “and a plethora of young people who want experience.”