Bleeding Kansas & the Missouri Border War

John Brown 1859

John Brown 1859

The toll was only a foretaste of the suffering that the Civil War was to bring to both Kansas and Missouri. In these two states, the war was fought with the special ferocity that comes when kinsmen and close neighbors fall out. The five-year border conflict had brought the nation, month by month, inexorably to the brink of Civil War. This brutal and bloody struggle between Free-State and pro-slavery factions in Kansas Territory served both as a warning and a chilling prelude for the controversy that soon would engulf the entire country. Before long the entire nation would know its dreadful fate when, in April 1861, the Civil War began.

Though Kansas had suffered terribly in the years preceding the Civil War and would continue to be a battleground for partisan bands on both sides, the war would extol an appalling price for Missouri. While Missouri was officially a Union state, never declaring to join the Confederacy, the majority of its population was pro-slavery. This resulted in a state of war within its own borders between the U.S. Army and Missouri citizens. Because of this, the State of Missouri never officially joined the Civil War due to its own internal struggles.

While the various political arguments that led to the war developed, the Missouri people at first tried to maintain neutrality. As, one by one, the southern states seceded, Missouri and Arkansas held to the Union. Finally, their position became impossible when President Lincoln ordered Missouri and Arkansas to raise a quota of men to help force the rebel states back in line. Unwilling to fight old friends, neighbors, and families, both states refused, with Arkansas seceding May 6, 1861. Missouri was now faced with a difficult choice. Hamilton R. Gamble, future provisional Governor had to say of the situation, “Our sympathies are with the South, but our best interests are with the North.”

Confederate Flag

Confederate Flag

Just six days after the President’s call for troops, Confederate sympathizers seized the federal arsenal at Liberty, Missouri on April 20, 1861.

With the official declaration of the Civil War, anti-Union Missourians, who had formerly been content to terrorize abolitionists in Kansas, now extended their operations into their native state, raiding pro-Union towns, ambushing Army columns and generally scouring the countryside, looting, and killing. Meanwhile, the Jayhawkers increased their presence in Missouri and their crimes became more ruthless.

Attempts by Missourians to get the government to control the destruction went unheeded and many Missourians joined Partisan Groups, secretly pledging their loyalty to the Confederacy, but retaining their civilian status. They aided the Confederacy in supplying them with food, shelter, clothing and revealing troop movements. The joining of the Partisan group was not always with the intent to support the southern cause but, rather, in retaliation against the crimes that had been committed against them by the Federals. The Missouri Partisan Rangers formed their own army to fight the Union troops, supporting the Confederacy because they shared the same enemy, but not necessarily the same cause.

The next internal battle in Missouri occurred on May 10, 1861, in St. Louis, which became known as the “Camp Jackson Massacre.” Missouri’s pro-southern governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson, attempted to force secession with a secret plan to obtain control of the guns and ammunition stored at the U.S. Arsenal in St. Louis. He ordered the State Guard to meet at Camp Jackson, planning to then march on the arsenal.  However, the “Home Guard” of German troops led by Captain Nathaniel Lyon, descended upon Camp Jackson from several directions.

St Louis Arsenal

Camp Jackson Massacre

Lyon demanded unconditional surrender, which he received. His force, numbering 7,000 men, marched its prisoners through the city while hostile crowds gathered to shout insults and throw rocks. The troops fired several volleys into the crowd, whose members then drew their own weapons and returned the fire.

When it was said and done twenty-eight lay dead or wounded in the streets. In the melee, a baby, two innocent men, and many other innocent bystanders were wounded. For the next month, St. Louis continued to be subject to chaos and sporadic violent outbreaks.

Yet another skirmish between Missouri State and Federal forces occurred at the Battle of Boonville on June 17th, 1861, when Captain Lyon was intent upon putting down Jacksons’ State Guard. As the guard retreated towards Boonville, Lyon embarked on steamboats, transported his men to below Boonville, marched to the town, and engaged the enemy. In a short fight, Lyon dispersed the Confederates and occupied Boonville. This early victory established Union control of the Missouri River and helped douse attempts to place Missouri in the Confederacy.

In the summer of 1861, Kansas Senator James H. Lane returned to his home state to command what was called “Lane’s Brigade.”  Supposedly composed of Kansas infantry and cavalry, the force was more akin to a ruthless band of Jayhawkers wearing United States uniforms. His antics, as he rampaged through Missouri, would earn him the nickname of the “Grim Chieftain” for the death and destruction he brought on the people of Missouri.

General James H. Lane

General James H. Lane

In September of 1861 Lane’s Brigade descended on the town of Osceola, Missouri. When Lane’s troops found a cache of Confederate military supplies in the town, Lane decided to wipe Osceola from the map.

First, Osceola was stripped of all of its valuable goods which were loaded into wagons taken from the townspeople. Then, nine citizens were given a farcical trial and shot. Finally, Lane’s men brought their frenzy of pillaging and murder to a close by burning the entire town. The settlement suffered more than $1,000,000 worth of damage including that belonging to pro-Union citizens.

In 1862, Quantrill began his infamous raiding career in western Missouri and then across the border into Kansas by plundering the towns of Olathe, Spring Hill, and Shawnee. His raids gained the attention of other desperados. By 1863, Quantrill recruited others who joined his company including “Bloody” Bill Anderson and Frank and Jesse James.

William Clarke Quantrill was the most infamous of the leaders of the Missouri partisan units. A daring and ruthless man, Quantrill directed his men in a series of raids along the KansasMissouri border. His brutal tactics were condemned by many military men on both sides, and one Confederate general even threatened to arrest him and all of his men.

William Clarke Quantrill, an Ohio native, had joined the Confederate forces several years prior but was unhappy with their reluctance in aggressively prosecuting Union troops. Therefore, the young man took it upon himself to take a more forceful course with his own-guerilla warfare.

Independence, Missouri

Independence, Missouri

On August 11, 1862, Colonel J.T. Hughes’s Confederate force, including William Quantrill, attacked IndependenceMissouri at dawn. They drove through the town to the Union Army camp, capturing, killing and scattering the Yankees.

During the melee, Colonel Hughes was killed, but the Confederates took Independence, which led to a Confederate dominance in the Kansas City area for a short time. Quantrill’s role in the capture of Independence led to his being commissioned a captain in the Confederate Army.

On August 15, 1862, Union Major Emory S. Foster led an 800-man combined force from Lexington to Lone Jack. Upon reaching the Lone Jack area, he discovered 1,600 Rebels under Colonel J.T. Coffee and attacked them about 9:00 pm, dispersing the Confederate forces.

Early the next morning, the rebels counter-attacked with a 3,000 man force. After a five hour battle, Foster and Coffee both lay dead and the Union forces retreated. Though resulting in a Confederate victory, the Lone Jack Battle was one of the bloodiest fought on Missouri soil, leaving 200 men dead, dying, or wounded and multiple homes and businesses in ashes.

Quantrill's Raiders sacking a town

Quantrill’s Raiders sacking a town

On October 17, 1862, Quantrill and his band moved to attack Shawnee, Kansas. As they neared their destination, they came upon a Federal supply train, where they captured twelve unarmed men. Later these 12 drivers and Union escorts would be found dead, all but one shot in the head. Continuing on, Quantrill and his men attacked the town, killing several men and burning the settlement to the ground.

In May, of 1863, Quantrill and his band moved to the banks of the Osage River on the Missouri-Kansas border. Brigadier General Thomas Ewing, Jr. from Kansas, who commanded the district border, was not happy with Quantrill’s presence.

In an effort to destroy the guerrillas’ base of support, Union troops began to arrest Kansas City area women in July 1863, who were providing support for the Bushwhackers or suspected of gathering information on the partisans’ behalf. Of particular interest to the Federal Troops were the known relatives of the Border Ruffians, including family members of “Bloody Bill” Anderson and the Younger Brothers. Detaining them in several buildings throughout the Kansas City area, women and children were detained until they could be transported out of the area and tried. Overcrowded and infested with rats and vermin of all kinds, the women and children housed in these buildings suffered inexplicably.

One such dilapidated three-story building in downtown Kansas City was in very poor condition, with a weak foundation and plaster constantly falling from the walls and ceilings. Though signs that it was unstable were taken note of, such as large cracks in the walls and ceilings, and large amounts of mortar dust on the floor, the signs were ignored. On August 13, 1863, the building collapsed killing 5 women and injuring dozens of others.

Among the killed and injured in the collapse were women who were close relatives of prominent Confederate guerrillas. Those killed in the collapse, included Josephine Anderson, sister of “Bloody Bill” Anderson, Susan Crawford Vandever and Armenia Crawford Selvey, Cole Younger’s cousins, Charity McCorkle Kerr, wife to Quantrillian member Nathan Kerr, and a woman named Mrs. Wilson. Many others were injured and scarred. Caroline Younger, sister to Cole and James Younger, would die two years later as a result of her injuries. Another Anderson sister was crippled for life when both of her legs were broken in the incident.

When news of the collapse reached the families of the dead and injured, they went wild. Soon crowds began to gather around the ruins as the dead and wounded were carried off, shouting “Murder!” at the Union forces. Just four days later on August 18, 1863, General Ewing issued General Order Number 10, which “officially” stated that any person – man, woman or child, who was directly involved with aiding a band of guerrillas would be jailed.

Later, Quantrill and his men would claim that the building was deliberately weakened, giving them ammunition for the infamous attack on Lawrence that was about to come.

Lawrence was a town long hated by Quantrill and his men. Home of the demagogic anti-slavery Senator, Jim Lane, it was also a stronghold of the Red Legs, Union guerrillas who had sacked much of western Missouri An attack on this citadel of abolition would bring revenge for any wrongs, real or imagined, that the Southerners had suffered.

Lawrence, Kansas Raid during the Bleeding Kansas Affair

The Lawrence, Kansas Raid as illustrated in Harper’s Weekly, September 1863.

Early on the morning of August 21, 1863, Quantrill, along with his murderous force of about 400, descended on the still sleeping town of Lawrence. Incensed by the Free-State headquarters town, Quantrill set out on his revenge against the Jayhawker community. In this carefully orchestrated early morning raid he and his band, in four terrible hours, turned the town into a bloody and blazing inferno unparalleled in its brutality.

Quantrill and his bushwhacker mob of raiders began their reign of terror at 5:00 a.m., looting and burning as they went, bent on total destruction of the town, then less than 3,000 residents. By the time it was over, they had killed approximately 180 men and boys, and left Lawrence nothing more than smoldering ruins.

In response to the Lawrence Massacre, Union Brigadier General Thomas Ewing signed General Order No. 11 on August 25, 1863, which required all persons living more than one mile from Independence, Hickman’s Mill, Pleasant Hill, and Kansas City to leave their farms unless they took an oath of loyalty to the Union. The cities that were excluded were already under Union control This order included Cass, Jackson, Bates, and portions of Vernon Counties. Some did take the oath, but many others fled to other areas never to return. The remaining homes, buildings, and crops were burned by the Union Army and the entire area became known as “No Mans Land.”

Jackson County Evacuation

Evacuation of Missouri Counties under General Order No. 11, painting by George Caleb Bingham, 1870.

By denying Quantrill and his guerillas the support of the populace, the Union hoped to force them out in the open where they could be destroyed. The enforcement of Order No. 11 resulted in terrible hardships for the people of Jackson County. Many Union and Southern families alike were killed in the ensuing melee.

By October, Quantrill and his men were riding south towards Texas to spend the winter. Along the way, his men attacked a column of Union cavalry and wagons near Baxter Springs, Kansas. Then they went on to capture nearby Fort Blair commanded by Union Major General James Blunt. Blunt escaped to nearby Fort Scott, but more than 80 his soldiers (60 of whom were black) were captured and massacred. Blunt was relieved of command as a result. Later a drunken Quantrill boasted that he had accomplished in one day what Confederate Colonel Jo Shelby and Major General John Marmaduke had failed for years to do — beat Blunt.

Upon his arrival in Texas, Quantrill reported at Bonham on October 26, 1863, to General Henry E. McCulloch. Quantrill and his men were ordered to help round up the increasing number of deserters and conscription-dodgers in North Texas. The band captured a few but killed even more, whereupon McCulloch pulled them off this duty. The General then sent them to track down retreating Comanche from a recent raid on the northwest frontier, which they did without success.

During this time, Quantrill’s behavior had become too bizarre for many of his own men and he was beginning to lose control over them. Some wanted to join the regular Confederate army. Anderson’s quarrels with Quantrill led him to form a fierce band of his own, including Frank James and his 16-year-old brother, Jesse James. During their winter in Texas“Bloody Bill” Anderson, took his group and began to terrorize the area. With two such groups in the neighborhood, Texas residents became targets for so many raids and acts of violence that regular Confederate forces had to be assigned to protect residents from the activities of the irregular Confederate forces.

Finally, General McCulloch determined to rid North Texas of Quantrill’s influence and on March 28, 1864, Quantrill was arrested on the charge of ordering the murder of a Confederate Major. However, Quantrill escaped, returning to his camp near Sherman, Texas, pursued by over 300 state and Confederate troops. His band then crossed the Red River into Indian Territory, where they re-supplied from Confederate stores and started the journey back to Missouri.

Soon, his guerrilla band began to break up into several smaller units and his vicious lieutenant, “Bloody Bill” Anderson, known for wearing a necklace of Yankee scalps into battle, would continue with his own band to terrorize the state of Missouri. As Quantrill’s authority over his followers disintegrated they elected George Todd, a former lieutenant to Quantrill, to lead them.

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