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 scourging 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.

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