Thursday, May 13, 2010



The Missouri-Kansas border conflict during the American Civil War was a continuation of the pre-war Bleeding Kansas violence. Known as “Bushwhacking,” the guerilla conflict in Missouri was, in many respects, a civil war within a civil war.

Original 1857 Map of the United States Showing the Free and Slave States.

Called “bushwhackers,” the perpetrators of the attacks were generally not part of the military command and control of either side. While bushwhackers conducted a few well-organized raids in which they burned cities, most of the attacks involved ambushes of opponent individuals or families in rural areas. Particularly insidious since it amounted to a fight of neighbor against neighbor, the attacks were non-uniformed, and the government response was complicated by trying to decide whether they were legitimate military attacks or criminal actions.

In most areas, irregular warfare operated as an adjunct to conventional military operations. In Missouri, however, secessionist bushwhackers operated outside of the Confederate chain of command. On occasion, a prominent bushwhacker chieftain might receive formal Confederate rank (notably William Clarke Quantrill), or receive written orders from a Confederate general (as "Bloody Bill" Anderson did in October 1864 during a large-scale Confederate incursion into Missouri).

William Clarke Quantrill (July 31, 1837 – June 6, 1865) - Confederate Guerrilla Leader.

William T. "Bloody Bill" Anderson (circa 1839 – October 26, 1864) - Confederate Guerrilla Leader.

Missouri guerrillas also frequently assisted Confederate recruiters in Union held territory. For the most part, however, Missouri's bushwhacker squads were self-organized groups of young men, predominantly from the slave holding counties along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, who took it upon themselves to attack Federal forces and their Unionist neighbors, both in Kansas and Missouri, the latter in response to what they considered a Federal invasion of their home state.

One of the most famous men who fought as a bushwhacker was Jesse James. During months of often intense combat, he only battled fellow Missourians, ranging from Missouri regiments of U.S. Volunteer troops to state militia or unarmed Unionist civilians. The single confirmed instance of his exchanging fire with Federal troops from another state occurred a month after the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, during a near-fatal encounter with Wisconsin cavalry. In the course of the war, his mother and sister were arrested, his stepfather tortured, and his family banished temporarily from Missouri by state militiamen — all Unionist Missourians.

The conflict with Confederate bushwhackers everywhere rapidly escalated into a succession of atrocities committed by both sides. Union troops often executed or tortured suspects without trial and burned the homes of suspected guerrillas and those suspected of aiding or harboring them. Where credentials were suspect, the accused bushwhacker was often executed, as in the case of Lt. Col. Frisby McCullough after the Battle of Kirksville. Bushwhackers frequently went house to house, executing Unionist farmers.

1st National Flag of the Confederacy - The "Stars and Bars"

William Quantrill led a raid in August 1863 on Lawrence, Kansas, burning the town and murdering some 200 men and boys in the Lawrence Massacre.

The raiders justified the raid in retaliation for the Sacking of Osceola, Missouri two years earlier (in which the town was set aflame and at least nine men killed) and for the deaths of five female relatives of bushwhackers killed in the collapse of a Kansas City, Missouri jail. Following the Lawrence raid, the Union district commander ordered the total depopulation of all men, women, and children (both Unionists and Southern sympathizers) of three and a half Missouri counties along the Kansas border under his infamous General Order No. 11. In other areas, individual families (including the James and the grandparents and mother of future President Harry Truman) were banished from Missouri.

George Caleb Bingham painting of General Order No. 11. In this famous work General Thomas Ewing is seated on a horse watching the Red Legs.

Next to the attack on Lawrence, the most notorious atrocity by Confederate bushwhackers was the murder of 22 unarmed Union soldiers pulled from a train in the Centralia Massacre. The action was led by William T. Anderson, one of Quantrill’s lieutenants, in retaliation for the earlier execution of a number of Anderson's own men. In an ambush of pursuing Union forces shortly thereafter, the bushwhackers killed well over 100 Federal troops.

Frank James rode with Quantrill’s Raiders, and Jesse James began his guerrilla career in 1864 (at the age of 16) fighting alongside Frank under the leadership of Archie Clement and "Bloody Bill" Anderson. In October 1864, “Bloody Bill” Anderson was tricked into an ambush and killed by state militiamen under the command of Col. Samuel P. Cox. Anderson's body was displayed and his head was severed.

The Battle Flag of the Confederacy



  1. I read an account of the slaughter at Lawrence, Kansas written a few months later with details supplied by survivors. If half of what was reported was true, you have to really wonder at the lack of humanity and the abundance of evil that was present in Kansas and Missouri during those times.

    I pray we don't see anything like it again.

    Papa Ray

  2. Some of those old boys, a couple of decades later, formed the Baldknobbers down in Taney County, Missouri, and some of the surrounding ones. The "lack of humanity" was still present then, too. They threatened but didn't harm one set of my great-great grandparents.

  3. Go back and re-read it, SteveA. Jayhawker/Union war crimes are mentioned. This just happens to be a post about the Rebs (see title and previous post), so is focuses on the Bushwackers.

  4. Go back and re-read it, Steve A. Jayhawker/Union crimes are mentioned "succession of atrocities committed by both sides."
    This just happens to be a post on the rebels (see the title and the previous post on "rebel souls"), so its about the people on that side. No one is blaming anyone here - the writer has pro-South sentiments.

  5. I don't see where it takes sides at all. I enjoyed it. Thanks

  6. Great article you got here. It would be great to read more concerning that topic.
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