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During the Civil War, raiders from both Kansas and Missouri fought along the

Missouri-Kansas border to antagonize settlements with opposing loyalties. For some

reason, the conflict of northern and southern ideals managed to inspire military leaders to

exercise unspeakable cruelty on their former countryman. Such offenders were Kansas

Senator James H. Lane and “Bloody” Bill Andersen. But none of their atrocities hold a

candle to the level of infamy that “Bloody” Bill Quantrill, whose barbaric tactics earned

him the distinction of being one of the most ruthless killers in American history.

Atrocities were committed on both sides of the conflict. City after city and town after

town were destroyed by both Confederate and Union forces. They were left in smoldering

ruins and never the same again. Missouri bares the scars of many Civil War battles. As

the clash between northern and southern ideals was raging all over the country, they were

playing out on a statewide level in Missouri. The ruthless defense of these ideals (i.e.

slavery) drove men into some of the most ferocious fighting of the war. Missouri was

turned into a chaotic mess of blood, turmoil, and death.

On May 30, 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened the two territories to white

settlement. The signing of the act was used to expand railroads westward and started a

course of events that would last until the end of the Civil War. The act had also left the

decision of whether or not to become a slave territory up to the governing bodies of each

of the territories. That was the initial controversy between both abolitionists and pro-

slavery advocates in both Missouri and Kansas, and it was the spark that lit the powder

keg that was the “Border War”. What followed was six years of strife and conflict along

the border that led up to the Civil War. During that time raids had been conducted from
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both sides of the of the Missouri-Kansas border, as tensions grew between the two new

states.1

Despite the fact that most Missourians were pro-slavery, the state remained

neutral throughout the war. Missouri was officially a pro-Union state with a majority of

its population pro-Confederacy. The result this was a war within Missouri’s own borders

that involved the U.S. Army, Missouri citizens, and militias (i.e. Quantrill’s band)

throughout the state. Because of this, the state of Missouri never officially joined the war

due, in large part, to its own internal struggles.2

One of the first shots of the Missouri Kansas border war during the Civil War era

was shot by Senator James H. Lane and a group that would later be nicknames “Lane’s

Brigade.” Supposedly composed of Kansas infantry and cavalry, the regiment was more

like a violent band of bushwhackers. His exploits earn him the nickname of "Grim

Chieftain" for the death and destruction he brought to the people of Missouri. One

unfortunate victim of his wrath was the Missouri town of Osceola. In September 1861

Lane’s Brigade descended on the town. When his troops found a cache of Confederate

military supplies in the town, Lane decided to wipe Osceola off the map.

In 1862, another ruthless killer gained power in what was quickly becoming a

very bloody affair in Missouri. William Clarke Quantrill was the most hated of the

leaders of the Missouri partisan units. Quantrill directed his men in a series of raids along

the Kansas-Missouri border. Military men in both the North and the South condemned
1
Richter, William “A History Of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas:

Being an Account of the Early Settlements, the Civil War, the Ku-Klux, and Times of

Peace,” Arkansas Quarterly Review 64 (2006): 90-92


2
William E. Parrish , A History of Missouri: 1860-1875 (Columbia: University of

Missori Press, 1997, University of Missouri Press, 2004) 75.


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his brutal tactics. He was despised so much so that a Confederate general even threatened

to have him and his men arrested. An Ohio native, Quantrill had joined the Confederate

forces in 1860 but was unhappy with their reluctance in aggressively prosecuting Union

sympathizers in Southern states. He then took it upon himself to take a more forceful

course with his own-guerilla warfare. In 1892 “Bloody” Bill Quantrill began his

infamous raiding career in western Missouri and then across the border in Kansas by

pillaging the towns of Olathe, Spring Hill and Shawnee. His raids gained the attention of

other opportunistic desperados. By 1863, Quantrill recruited others who joined his

company including “Bloody” Bill Anderson and the eventually famous Frank and Jesse

James.3

Quantrill was heavily involved in many of the military conflicts in Missouri and

eastern Kansas. On August 11, 1862, Colonel Hughes’s Confederate forces, which

included the barbaric Quantrill, attacked Independence, Missouri. An eventual

Confederate victory, the fight gave the Confederacy control over the Kansas City area for

a short while. On October 17, Quantrill moved to attack Shawnee. On his way there, he

and his band raided a federal supply train. Union soldiers later found all of the operators

of the train dead, murdered execution style.4

But that pales in comparison to the atrocities he inflicted on the population of the

city of Lawrence, Kansas. Quantrill hated Lawrence with a passion. It was the home of

vigilant abolitionist James H. Lane and the dreaded “Red Legs,” who were responsible

for countless raids into Missouri. An attack on Lawrence would provide Quantrill and his

band a chance at revenge. Early on the morning of August 21, 1863, Quantrill, along with
3
MAJ Jeffrey Wingo,, “Civil War on the Missouri Kansas Border,” Military

Review, 13 (May-June 2006) 119


4
Ibid.
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400 raiders, attacked Lawrence. In an attempt to liquidate the entire population of the

city, he left it in smoldering ruins in just four hours. He and his men killed about 180 men

and boys. Then they made their way to Texas for the winter. In response to the

“Lawrence Massacre,” Union commanders demanded that the residents near

Independence take an oath of loyalty to the Union. Those who refused had their farms

burnt to the ground. It was a very hard time for the citizens of western Missouri.5

Because of a series of events in Texas, Quantrill’s control over his band began to

disintegrate and it began to splinter into smaller parts, the largest of which was under the

thumb of his lieutenant, “Bloody” Bill Andersen. His greatest military victory came in

September 1864, when he sacked the central Missouri town of Centralia. After leaving

the city in smoldering ruins, a Union regiment chased Anderson and his men throughout

Missouri. They then sacked the nearby city of Booneville, but Anderson was killed in

battle five days later during a skirmish in Orrick, Missouri. Just a year later Union troops

killed his former leader, Bill Quantrill, in Kentucky. After his death in 1865 there was a

collective sigh of relief in both states.6

The remaining members of the guerilla bands, having tasted the excitement of

gunplay, were in no mood to lay down their arms meekly and become good citizens, not

to mention that surrender meant death. Following the war, outlaws like Jesse and Frank

James, who raided alongside Quantrill, went on to famous lives of crime. Other former
5
Alice Nichols, Bleeding Kansas, by Jeff Donaldson (Boston: Oxford Press,

1954), 140-150
6
Richter, William “A History Of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas:

Being an Account of the Early Settlements, the Civil War, the Ku-Klux, and Times of

Peace,” Arkansas Quarterly Review 64 (2006): 90-92


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raiders turned to a lives of crime as well, employing their guerilla “hit and run” tactics in

train robberies and burglaries. Many of Quantrill’s cohorts survived to become prominent

members of the Ku Klux Klan, a hooded order that immerged after the war that reflected

white supremacists values. But Union brigades hunted down and killed the vast majority

of Quantrill's men.7

It wasn’t always small bands of militia that caused bloodshed in Missouri during

the Civil War; there where many instances in which official Confederate and Union

armies did battle in the state. On August 15, 1862, Union Major Emory S. Foster led his

men to the small western Missouri town of Lone Jack only to find Colonel J.T. Coffee

and a force of about 3000 Confederates. After the ensuing battle, both Foster and Coffee

were dead. The Confederate victory was one of the bloodiest battles on Missouri soil and

left around 200 soldiers dead or wounded. In mid-September of 1864 Confederate

General Sterling Price, a former Missouri Governor, made a last ditch effort to take the

state for the south. After dodging Union strong-hold St. Louis and struggling through

central Missouri, Price gathered up volunteers and supplies for an assault on Westport,

another small town along Missouri’s western border. The battle turned out to be the worst

Confederate defeat of the war in Missouri, and it finally gave the Union complete control

of the state. Westport was the last Civil War battle fought west of the Mississippi and all

but broke the back of the Confederates.8

Turmoil within Missouri’s own borders was not exclusive to people on the

western side of the state because violence broke out in St. Louis as well. After the

beginning of the Civil War, anti-Union marauders, that where used to killing the
7
Alice Nichols, Bleeding Kansas, by Jeff Donaldson (Boston: Oxford Press,

1954), 140-150
8
Ibid.
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abolitionists in Kansas, saw fit to turn there attention to Missouri targets. Makeshift

militias like the Missouri Partisan Rangers formed to fight Union armies on behalf of the

Confederacy. The Camp Jackson Massacre was the next violent outbreak within the state.

On May 10, 1861, Claiborne Fox Jackson attempted to attempt to seize the state for the

confederacy by capturing the state armory in St. Louis. He was surrounded, however,

during the attempt by Union troops. Jackson eventually surrendered to Captain Nathanial

Lyon, the commanding officer of the regiment. But when the prisoners where paraded

through the streets of St. Louis, they were met with an angry mob. The troops fired

several volleys into the crowd. Twenty-eight lay dead or wounded in the street as a result

of the riot. St. Louis was rife with violence over the next several days. Later Lyon guard

dispersed the remainder of Jackson’s guard in the Battle of Booneville in July 1861. This

was an important victory because it helped the Union establish control of the Missouri

River, and thus, much of the state.9

Among all states, Missouri had the third most armed conflict during the Civil

War- 1,162 altogether. Only Virginia and Tennessee had more. The differing loyalties of

Missouri soldiers reflected the split in their sentiments. 40,000 Missourians joined the

Confederate ranks, while nearly 120,000 joined Union Army. When the war was over,

Missouri had, tragically, lost 27,000 men.10

The Civil War had exacted a very heavy price on the people of Missouri. The back

and forth attacks on Kansas and Missouri soil cost many people their lives and burnt

many towns to the ground. Beliefs that were so imbedded into the northern and southern
9
Alice Nichols, Bleeding Kansas, by Jeff Donaldson (Boston: Oxford Press,

1954), 140-150
10
William E. Parrish, A History of Missouri: 1860-1875 (Columbia: University of

Missouri Press, 1997, University of Missouri Press, 2004) 123.


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psyches drove countless people to murder, torture, rape, and cruelty. Senator James H.

Lane and Bill Andersen were just two of the many murderous people who for whatever

reason acted with extreme cruelty. But “Bloody” Bill Quantrill will forever sit on the

throne of infamy in the history of the Civil War in Missouri. The barbarism that he

exhibited is beyond comprehension for the normal person and he has been justifiably

demonized by modern historians. One side was just as guilty as the other when it came to

committing of atrocities. Both pro-Unionists and pro-Confederates burnt countless

homes, businesses, schools, shops, and churches to the ground. They forced people to

watch to watch all that they knew and all that they had worked for in their entire lives end

up as a smoking, charred pile of rubble in the street. Missouri was never the same after

the turmoil of the Civil War. The state was a microcosm of the country at the time.

Neighbors killed each other. Soldiers, who may have fought side by side in previous

wars, were now enemies. It is a great example of how far people are willing to go to

defend something they believe in, whether it be freedom or white supremacy. Missouri

had, indeed, been turned into a chaotic mess of blood, turmoil, and death. But, one can

only pray, that the scars of yesterday remind us of how not to act tomorrow.

Sources Consulted

Nichols, Alice. Bleeding Kansas. by Jeff Donaldson (Boston: Oxford Press, 1954)

Parrish, William E. A History of Missouri: 1860-1875 (Columbia: University of Missouri

Press, 1997, University of Missouri Press, 2004)

Richter, William. “A History of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas: Being an

Account of the Early Settlements, the Civil War, the Ku-Klux, and Times of

Peace.” Arkansas Quarterly Review 64 (2006)


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Sinisi, Kyle. “Civil War on the Missouri Kansas Border.” History: Reviews of New

Books. 34 (Summer2006)

Smith, Sherry L.”Galvanized Yankees on the Upper Missouri.” American Historical

Review 109 (April 2004)

Suhr, Robert Collins. “The antiquated Austrian Consol musket was into the hands of

reluctant union troops in Missouri.” America’s Civil War. 14 (Mar2001)

Wingo, MAJ Jeffrey. “Civil War on the Missouri Kansas Border.” Military Review. 13

(May-June 2006)