I recently came across some of the Civil War history of Missouri and much to my surprise it’s a whole lot more dramatic than I realized. A so-called neutral state, I presumed they were largely sitting out things until the conclusion of the war. Simply a backwater with none of exciting massive battles encountered in the main theatre of the War. I was completely wrong. Missouri was a fustercluck of internecine warfare, ambushes, senseless murders and summary executions along with depopulation of several western counties under Order 11. State of Missouri was a theatre of the Civil War, far more remarkable than one generally imagines.
Missouri despite only 9% of their population slaves had a large measure of Southern sympathy. The majority were not prepared to sever their ties to the Union however. The decade prior Missouri was party to the Kansas civil strife centered on the slave question. The Compromise of 1850 did not prohibit slavery in the territories gained in the Mexican War (1846-48) except for the State of California. This meant the territory west of Missouri, Kansas, was open to slavery. Missourians had originally presumed that Kansas would be settled as a slave state. The Kansas-Nebraska Act 1854 upended the Compromise and put the issue of slavery up to popular will. In 1854-55 armed Pro-slavery Missourians crossed over to Kansas to intimidate and vote illegally, led by Missouri’s most prominent politicians. Pro-slavery candidates carried the day and a pro-slavery constitution was enacted.
A mini-civil war ensued. Border men formed squads raiding opposing partisans. Slave-steeling, looting, arson were common. Infamous John Brown led a raid where five pro-slavery partisans were cut down by sabers on May 24, 1856 in southwest Kansas. Later, a band of pro-slavery partisans massacred ten free-soil men on the Marais des Cygnes River, Kansas. Kansas due to a large influx of settlers from the East, actively abolitionist, voted to prohibit slavery in 1858.
Missouri had a Democrat governor and legislator when the Civil War began. Most the residents of Missouri didn’t want to succeed from the Union but wanted to stay neutral. Missouri’s Democrat Governor Jackson hoped to lead Missouri out of the Union. A convention convened in January 1861 but secessionist delegates were outvoted by 80,000 votes. The convention chose to remain in the Union. When Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to subdue the South, four states in the Upper South chose to succeed in response to Lincoln’s call. Missouri didn’t follow them out of the Union. Yet, Governor Jackson refused to comply with the Lincoln’s request for a contribution of four regiments.
Despite remaining in the Union, great antagonisms existed in the state. A small Minority wanted Missouri to pursue a Unionist policy and support the propagation of war against the South. A segment wanted to fight with South. The majority wanted to be left alone, but five years of hostilities prior to the outbreak of the Civil War had left lasting and profound antipathies. The Union military was highly suspicious of the Missouri populace and acted accordingly with prejudice against Missourians.
Governor Jackson with Confederate sympathies raised a State Guard of 800 volunteers, called together at Camp Jackson, and obtained cannon with the complicity of Confederate President Davis in early May 1861. They were to have ransacked the massive Federal Arsenal at St. Louis some 30 miles away. A certain Captain Nathaniel Lyons, veteran of the Mexican War, was appointed to command of Union forces in St. Louis. Arms in the arsenal are transferred out of reach of the Missourians across the Mississippi to Illinois. Three thousand Union troops are led to surround Camp Jackson’s 800 member State Guard outside St. Louis, who summarily surrendered without a fight. When Union troops marched back through St. Louis they are harassed by St. Louis citizens. These troops fired on the crowd killing 28 and wounding scores. This would not be Captain Lyons only experience in murdering civilians; he was in command at the Clear Lake massacre in 1850 in California were scores of noncombatant Native Americans largely women, children and aged individuals were slaughtered. His contemporary reputation was unsullied by these savage encounters and deemed a hero, who died fighting to preserve the Union.
In response to the St. Louis massacre Governor Jackson led the Missouri assembly to fund a State Guard that would work toward Confederate interests. Nathaniel Lyons, now a Union Brigadier General raced 1700 troops up the Missouri river in June 1861 to Jefferson City the capital, finding it empty of Missouri governmental and military personnel, occupied the capital. He went further to Boonville to vanquish a small State Guard unit under Colonel Marmaduke.
A state convention was reconvened July 20, 1861 in St. Joseph, recently occupied by Union troops. They abolished the legislature, removed Governor and lieutenant governor and filled them with candidates of their choosing. An oath of allegiance to the Union was instituted for all state and county officials. And it reserved the right to remove any public official suspected of disloyalty: policies imminently favorable to preservation of the Union but contrary to the republican principles under which the country was founded. No constitutional or legal precedents legitimized their acts. The convention operated essentially outside the law, taking the judicial, legislative and executive functions of government.
General Sterling Price, former governor of Missouri, with hopes to re-conquer Missouri for the Confederacy, led a largely failed military campaign in the summer of 1861. Price’s short term recruited troops melted away by summer’s end. Efforts to recapitulate State Guards, here and there in the state, were easily snuffed out. When a group of a couple thousand might begin to gather in a county to congeal the State Guard, the Union troops would conveniently scatter them. There were some 10,000 Union troops patrolling the rivers and railroads but that was far too few to stop the guerillas. A guerrilla campaign of burning bridges, destroying telegraph lines and railroad tracks ensued.
General Halleck, head of the Department of Missouri, soon to be Army-Chief-of-Staff to Lincoln, in December 1861 issued order Thirty Two that called for summary execution of anyone caught in the act of burning bridges, destroying railroads and telegraph wires. Those suspected of involvement in those acts would be imprisoned and if found guilty would be executed. This draconian policy didn’t extinguish guerilla activity.
Halleck pursued military operations against the Confederates chasing them out of Missouri and defeating them at Pea Ridge, Arkansas in March 1862. General Sterling Price no longer had an army; the remainder of his troops was transferred to Confederate authority. They would fight at Battle of Corinth and serve outside of Missouri for the rest of the war.
Supplied and nourished by a sympathetic population, guerilla activity continued. Many of the active participants were returnees and deserters from the State Guard and the Confederate army. They had been granted freedom by parole and a taking of oath of fidelity to the Constitution.
The biggest factor to stimulate guerilla action in the western border area after 1861 was the Union military itself. Its misconduct against the Missourian civilian population produced great hostility and was a great source of guerilla activity. The Missourian population had Southern sympathies as stated but this was not to be tolerated. General Halleck is quoted as saying, “Those who are not for us will be regarded as against us…”.
General Pope, eventually to be head of the Army of the Potomac, commanded Union troops in north and central Missouri. He made the mistake policing the civilian population uniformly whether pro-Union or pro-Southern. He held whole communities responsible for guerilla depredations. And he demanded they begin guarding the railroad track. Any subsequent damage would be levied against the local community. Pope went further and pulled the Union troops back into camps and left the communities to do their own guard and police work. When communities failed to surrender levies for the continued damages, Pope assigned his volunteer Kansan and Illinoisan army to exact payment, they began to loot, burn and mistreat the Missourians. The most notorious were the Second Kansan and Sixteenth Illinois infantry regiments. “Drunken soldiers ran the trains and stole horses and livestock.”1
Pro-Union general agent, J.T.K. Hayward wrote,
When there is added to this the irregularities of the soldiery- such as taking poultry, pigs, milk, butter, preserves, potatoes, horses, and in fact everything they want; entering and searching houses, and stealing in many cases; committing rapes on the negroes and such like things-the effect has been to make a great many Union men inveterate enemies, and if these things continue much longer our cause is ruined.
Commanding General Freemont doubled down on this regimen. He declared martial law over the entire state August 30, 1861. All property real or personal confiscated and slaves freed of all persons in arms against United States.
Continuing to stifle insurrection in October 1862 Major General McNeil commanding troops near Palmyra, north of Hannibal in near the Mississippi executed ten prisoners without trial suspected of burning bridges and firing on Federal troops. In Rolla in the center of the state Lieutenant Boyd of the Sixth Missouri Militia executed ten suspected guerrillas and burned 23 houses near the same time. Draconian measures of this type were thought called for to squelch the insurgency. It did little to smother the violence.
Three leaders contributed mightily to ignite a full-fledged guerilla war on the border. Jim Lane was a former leading pro-slavery Indiana Democrat, lieutenant governor and congressman. He moved to Kansas in 1855 only to become a fanatical Free Soil candidate. His military strategy was following closely the retreating Sterling Price’s army in 1861. He would prey on the civilian population that was left devoid of the protection of Confederate military. Exercising Freemont’s martial law declaration, his troops went on an extended looting expedition. On September 22, 1861 they had reached Osceola, Missouri, a town of 2,000. When they were done, there was little left of the town, being looted and burnt down.
Another, Charles Jennison, a free-soil fanatic and sometime horse thief, his vigilante committee hanged two Missourians attempting to steal back freed slaves in 1860 before the Civil War had even began. In June 1861 his state guard from Kansas raided Harrisonville, MO in Cass Country. Most the stores were broken into. Large quantities of merchandize were carted off in stolen wagons. Henry Younger, a prosperous businessman and a pro-Union man, lost thousands of dollars of private property. He was the father of Coleman and James Younger, who would fight with the Bushwhackers and later become renowned as train robbers.
Jennison, for his good deeds, was commissioned in September 1861 as a lieutenant colonel and his band of criminals designated the Seventh Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, also known as the Jayhawkers.
The last prominent Unionist (Jayhawker) to consider was Colonel Jim Montgomery of the 3rd Kansas Infantry; he was Second-in-command of U.S. Senator James H. Lane's Kansas brigade. Montgomery was a former Kansas border raider and fanatic abolitionist, considered himself a “hand of the Lord striking down slavery”. He participated in the sack of Osceola, Missouri on September, 1861 that burned the town down and saw summary execution of nine citizens of the town. He raised an all-Black regiment later in the war. He’s portrayed in the movie Glory.
Eventually, the Jayhawkers were ordered out of Missouri by military authorities only to be called back in response to disruptions by Bushwhackers to Jackson County, whereupon, they began their depredations on the currently quiescent civilian population of Independence, Missouri. Wagon loads of dry goods, groceries, drugs and “every horse, mule and conveyance they could lay their hands on.” Jayhawkers committed two cold blooded murders of men not fully cooperative during these pillages.
As stated above, in January 1862, General Halleck ordered Lane’s brigade and Jennison’s men out of Missouri. Union General Henry Halleck described these marauding bands as "no better than a band of robbers; they cross the line, rob, steal, plunder, and burn whatever they can lay their hands on”. Jim Lane was elected senator of Kansas in November 1861. He is now a senator and a military officer.
After General Halleck departed for Washington to become General-in-Chief to Abraham Lincoln on July 23, 1862. Foreign troops of Kansas, Illinois, etc. were deemed again to be the source of the depredations. They were sent away. Fourteen thousand local Missouri were raised but that yielded continued reprisals and pillaging.
The infamous William Quantrill and his Raiders activities arose as the inevitable result of these ravages. Born in Ohio, and after a series of not altogether successful careers, one of which was school teaching, farming Kansas prairie, and a trip to Salt Lake City in 1858, he went back to Kansas to teach. He had shown a tendency for larceny. He was initially caught up in Jayhawkers, oddly enough. And finally betrayed his compatriots. He found himself fighting in General Sterling Price’s army from spring of 1861 to the fall 1861 but returned to Jackson County, Missouri in November 1861, tired of standard military life.
Soon he was leading young Jackson County farmers “driven into armed resistance” by Kansans under Lane. Quantrill used hit and run tactics against much larger Union forces and be able to disperse into the countryside that they knew so well and find shelter among the sympathetic populace. He would terrorize western and central Missouri. In fact one of his most notorious raids took place against Lawrence, Kansas, home of the hated Jim Lane August 1863. Some 450 riders spread out across the town with an execution list. Seventeen Union soldiers were pistoled to death. Infamous Senator Lane only escaped by hiding in a corn patch nearby his home.
What transpired was a “diabolical, unpardonable massacre, one which has no parallel in the Civil War.” “Houses and buildings were looted, set on fire, and almost every Kansas man encountered was pistoled down. Some Lawrence men were chased like rabbits and shot down. Many tried to hide and were burned in their houses. In two hours 150 male citizens of Lawrence were killed.”1
Quantrill’s troops spirited away upon the approach of the Union cavalry, unharmed. Union reprisals followed a pace. The infamous Order 11 by General Schofield was issued in the after of the raid. Several Missouri border counties were ordered to be evacuated; the populace was forcibly removed as an antidote against any continued support of the Bushwhackers.
Quantrill would continue his marauding nonetheless until the summer of 1864. Union military pressure built and the Bushwhackers scattered into some ten smaller units. They would continue with their marauding. The Union cavalry’s efforts would be futile. Quantrill would leave the leadership under various circumstances, finding love in a romance instead.
Bloody Bill Anderson, in his early twenties, would come to prominence operating from the summer of 1863 to 1864, attacking Union troops, when it seemed advisable and preying on civilians, mostly those with Union sympathies. Calling him a criminal psychopath, albeit spawned in this chaotic milieu, is not far from the truth. Much of what they perpetrated can be considered simply lawless activity, pillaging, looting, summary executions of Union troops and civilians. Frank and Jesse James would accompany him on many of the gang’s outrages. He operated with impunity until he was finally ambushed by Missouri State Militia in October 1864. He chose to die in a blaze of glory by charging through the Union lines, only to be shot dead twice in the back of the head.
The success of the Bushwhackers was due to several factors. They rode far better horses in comparison to the Union cavalry’s substandard mounts. They fought with two or more repeating revolving pistols on their possession which could get off many more shots than the Union contingents with the standard Army issue. Sometimes these troops were given muskets, no less. The populace was supportive and supplied them, thus the draconian Order 11 issued to vacate several border counties of Missourian residents, mostly but not all sympathetic to the Bushwhackers. The raiders rode with pilfered blue Union uniforms so in very many cases they could approach Union forces closely before detection.
After the Confederate army was driven from the state in 1862, even then it was virtually impossible to secure all railroads, trains, bridges, river boats and Union supporting citizens from the marauding Bushwhackers. The 10,000 Union troops assigned to protect Missouri Union interests were spread too thin. Pursuit of the Bushwhackers was generally futile and small Union contingents sent out to root out them were often suddenly overwhelmed by the raiders. Larger Union forces would only scatter the Bushwhackers, where they would secrete themselves in the hills.
Confederate General Sterling Price gathered a large contingent of cavalry of some 12,000 that invaded Missouri once again in the fall of 1864. The goal was to embarrass the Lincoln administration before the election of 1864 in hopes the election would turn to General McClellan who would lead the Union out of a war with the South. Here General Price employed the Bushwhackers, despite their ruthless reputation to work in conjunction with his force. They were meant to distract and harass the Union forces, but instead restricted themselves to pillage rather than attacking actual military targets.
Price had some small victories but never reached St. Louis his stated objective and decidedly lost to a Union Army on October 23, 1864 outside of Kansas City. The retreat from there ultimately led to the complete destruction of that Confederate army.
As you might know cavalry in the Civil War was not an effective force against disciplined infantry and their rifled muskets. The old musket wasn’t really effective until 40 yards and before infantry could reload the cavalry would be upon them. Rifled muskets were good at 400 yards and cavalry would be met with some thousand bullets from a small regiment, being able to reload, by the time they ever reached the opposing line. General Price’s army was largely a contingent of cavalry and ineffective against disciplined infantry, thus their unsurprising failure in 1864.
The government in Missouri during the Civil War years was installed chiefly by force of arms, undemocratically; who represented the minority Union interests. The Union military in Jefferson City supported a convention in July 1861 that arbitrarily removed the governor and lieutenant governor and abolished the legislature. Martial law was declared August 31, 1861 and remained for the duration of the Civil War. Union arbitrary, punitive actions against civilians led to resistance by Missouri civilians and to the rise of the armed partisans in the border area already unstable due to hostilities of the five years previously. For the Union prompt action against Governor Jackson and the Legislatures attempt to act on the side of the Confederacy saved Missouri for the Union. Union prejudice against the Missouri citizenry, largely based on animosities generated in the civil war fought in Bleeding Kansas 1854-1860, did much to initiate the rise of guerrilla warfare.
Michael Fellman in his fine book, Inside War, details the animosity the industrial Northern held against the more agrarian South. Despite the fact that Missouri possessed a tiny minority of slave owners (12%) most of whom held four slaves or less, the North considered this was a society where “all yeoman were debased into subhumanity by such an institution”. Slavery was a taint on all white society. The pejorative term Northerners used to depict them was the Pukes: lazy, unindustrious, sodden with whiskey, disheveled and at best quaint relics of an antiquated agrarian past. They were symbols of a benighted cultural regress.2 The civil war fought in Bloody Kansas (1854-58) saw this attitude born out, with reciprocal response by the Missourians. Union policies in Missouri during the Civil War (1861-65) reflected the same animosities as well toward a society largely Unionist yet holding Southern sympathies.
As an example of the animosity I refer you to a speech made in the US Senate by Senator James Henry Lane from Kansas. "I would like to live long enough to see every white man in South Carolina in hell, and the Negroes inheriting their territory. It would not wound my feelings any day to find the dead bodies of rebel sympathizers pierced with bullet holes in every street and alley of Washington. Yes, I would regret this, for I would not like to witness all this waste of powder and lead. I would rather have them hung, and the ropes saved! Let them dangle until their stinking bodies rot and fall to the ground piece by piece."
I’ve touched on just some of the highlights of the disorders in the Civil War Missouri. This is a truly dramatic period with shocking criminality, violence and brutality. Much more has been written about this period. I’ve borrowed liberally from Richard S. Brownlee’s fine book, The Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy in much I write here. I highly recommend it.
Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy, Brownlee, Richard D., page 124.
2. Inside War, Fellman, Michael, page 11.