Southern History Series: The Kansas-Missouri Border War

As I said in Southern History Series: How Missouri Joined The Union, I have been reading about Missouri in the War Between the States.

I’m often in Missouri and when I was there last time I became curious about how it was transformed from a Southern state in the antebellum era into what it is today which is a state that is very confused about its identity. Some Missourians claim to be Southerners while most claim to be Midwesterners. It’s fair to say that the cause of this goes back to the War Between the States.

As we have seen, the number of White Missourians who were either foreign born or Northern born outnumbered the Southern born for the first time in the 1860 Census. The foreign born were overwhelmingly recent German and Irish immigrants who lived in St. Louis. Northerners had tended to settle along the northern tier of counties between Hannibal and St. Joseph, around St. Louis and in the prairies and Ozarks of southwest Missouri. Northwestern Missouri at this time was heavily pro-Southern and it is where the state government initially retreated toward after Gen. Nathaniel Lyon launched his putsch and occupied Jefferson City.

The Missouri state government was still dominated by native born Southerners in 1861. Gov. Claiborne Fox Jackson and Lieutenant Gov. Thomas C. Reynolds had been born in the South and retreated from Jefferson City after Lyon’s invasion. The Missouri Attorney General and State Treasurer were arrested by his forces. Three members of the Missouri State Court were removed for failing to take the test oath. Missouri’s U.S. Senators Trusten Polk and Waldo P. Johnson were expelled from the U.S. Senate in 1862 for supporting the Confederacy. Unlike the other Southern states, the Union Army occupied Missouri and started tyrannizing its people there before the rump of the state government seceded.

Martial law was imposed on Missouri and the state essentially came to be ruled by a military dictatorship. This began when General John C. Frémont issued a proclamation that put St. Louis under martial law and ordered the confiscation of all property of those in “rebellion,” not merely slaves. He later extended it to the entire state. The next step was Gen. Henry Halleck declaring that all guerrillas could be shot on sight and that the property of Missourians suspected of disloyalty could be seized to underwrite the costs of caring for refugees. He ordered that all future voters would be required to take the test oath. It escalated from there to shutting down newspapers, censoring the mail and impressing all White males of military age and banishing Southern sympathizers and stealing their property.

The following excerpts from William E. Parrish’s book A History of Missouri: Volume III, 1860 to 1875: explain how the border between Missouri and Kansas descended into massacres and ethnic cleansing after the Jayhawkers began raiding western Missouri:

“Dr. Charles R. “Doc” Jennison and Sen. James H. “Jim” Lane had begun raiding western Missouri once again in reaction to Quantrill. Among their new activities they engaged in kidnapping or enticing Missouri slaves to help fill Jim Lane’s “nigger regiment.” The Kansas senator prided himself on his black “recruits.” He taught them that Missourians were traitors and had no rights that they were bound to respect. He armed them without any Federal authority and sent them back into Missouri to seek more recruits form their fellows. Between the Quantrill and Lane-Jennison raiders, it appeared that the entire area might erupt in prolonged and bloody chaos. …

On the western border, a similar situation existed. Kansas Jayhawkers, led by Jim Lane and Doc Jennison, moved into the area in the summer and fall of 1861 for the ostensible purpose of protecting government supply trains and property from Price and his marauders. As veterans of the bitter border warfare of the 1850’s, Lane and Jennison found it impossible to think of Missourians as anything other than slaveholders and natural enemies. Consequently, they looted and burned indiscriminately wherever they went. In the process, they turned many a Union supporter into an anti-Union guerrilla.

Because of the Kansans activities, a major force of Southern irregulars was formed, which plagued western Missouri for the next three years. Led by William Clarke Quantrill, a twenty-four-year-old ex-schoolteacher who had already participated in several skirmishes during his four years on the border, this band had its first formal encounter with the Jayhawkers in mid-December when it intercepted Jennison’s raiders as they were looting a farm home in Jackson County. From that time forward, the fame of Quantrill’s guerrillas spread until they achieved the status of legendary folk-heroes among the border population …”

The Jayhawkers had started raiding western Missouri on their own authority in order to arm slaves to fight Missourians. The tyranny in Missouri steadily increased as the mothers, wives and sisters of the guerrillas were put in concentration camps, the sale and carrying of firearms without a permit was banned, churches were closed for failing to swear allegiance to Lincoln, preachers were banished from the state for being insufficiently in favor of the Union, etc. The Constitution was a dead letter in Missouri during the Union occupation and the Bill of Rights became a joke.

William Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, Kansas in 1863 was caused by Gen. Thomas Ewing, Jr.’s order to depopulate four counties in western Missouri and the death of the female relatives of his guerrillas in a Union concentration camp including the sister of “Bloody Bill” Anderson:

“Unfortunately, the new commander continued his predecessor’s policy of attaching western Missouri counties to Kansas when he determined the boundaries for military districts. On June 9, he divided the old Military District of Kansas into two new ones with Maj. Gens. James B. Blunt and Thomas Ewing, Jr. in command. Both men were ardent Radicals, and Ewing was a political sycophant of Sen. Jim Lane and a brother-in-law of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. Not trusting the Missouri militia to maintain order in their part of his district, Ewing relied on Kansas troops whose “loyalty was unquestioned.” Actually, this policy simply aggravated an already difficult situation.

With the circumstances on the border steadily deteriorating, Ewing wrote Schofield on August 3 to propose the mass evacuation of those known to have aided or abetted the guerrilla cause. Although he had some misgivings, the departmental commander finally agreed to the move on the 14th with the proviso that it be limited to the smallest number of people because of the expense involved and “the suffering it may cause to children and other comparatively innocent persons.” That same day, disaster struck one of several makeshift prisons in which Ewing had incarcerated the mothers, wives, and sisters of those men suspected of guerrilla activity. When it collapsed from overloading, five women were killed and several others seriously injured. The rumor quickly spread that Ewing had deliberately deliberately planned the tragedy. Although no evidence exists to support this accusation, the grieving guerrillas needed no proof. When Ewing’s new order for evacuation followed quickly, they were spurred into action.

The result was a raid on Lawrence, Kansas, by the Quantrill gang in which some 150 men and boys were gunned down leaving 80 widows and 250 orphans. Property damage totaled more than $2 million. The guerrillas struck so swiftly and unexpectedly that they lost only one of their own; he had stayed behind in a drunken stupor and had been shot by an Indian. His body was torn to pieces by a vengeful mob. The guerrillas seemed to vanish. The border was aflame. For a few days afterward, it appeared that Kansans would make a retaliatory strike into Missouri as Jim Lane led the cries for vengeance. He blamed Schofield and, indirectly, Gamble for being lax and demanded more positive federal action. The Radical press did not hesitate to blame the Governor for the occurrence of the tragedy. The Missouri Democrat went to the extreme of accusing him of supporting Quantrill. Indeed, it charged him with personal responsibility for failure to contain the guerrilla leader.

Schofield hastened to the border to calm the troubled situation. Without waiting for his superior’s arrival, Ewing had carried his evacuation policy to its ultimate in General Order No.11, dated August 25. Through this order all persons in Jackson, Cass, Bates and the northern half of Vernon County, who lived beyond a mile’s distance from a Union military post, were required to leave their homes within fifteen days. Those who could prove their loyalty could remain at a post in the area; all others would have to move completely outside the military district. To enforce the order, Ewing utilized the Fifteenth Kansas Cavalry under Doc Jennison, whom most Missourians hated bitterly.

Much of the border area lay in ruin within two weeks and became known for years as the “Burnt District.” In Cass County, which had a population of ten thousand before the war, only six hundred remained; Bates County suffered to an even greater degree. One officer wrote his wife on September 10: “It is heart sickening to see what I have seen since I have been back here. A desolated country and men & women and children, some of them almost naked. Some on foot and some in old wagons. Oh God.” Although called upon by Acting Governor Hall to rescind the order, Schofield felt he could not do so for fear of antagonizing hostile Kansans who were threatening to retaliate. Later that winter, however, he mitigated its effects somewhat through the appointment of a new district commander who allowed those not “disloyal or unworthy” to return to their homes.”

Here is the Lawrence Journal World on Quantrill’s raid in 1863. The black soldiers who were killed in Lawrence were Sen. James Lane’s “nigger regiment.” Lane’s Sack of Osceola in 1861 inspired the novel Gone To Texas and the Clint Eastwood movie The Outlaw Josey Wales:

“Since its founding in 1854, Lawrence had been a hub of anti-slavery forces. Jayhawkers, the anti-slavery counterparts to bushwhackers, from the town and surrounding area frequently raided Missouri farms and towns. Quantrill and many of the men with him despised Senator James Lane, a strong anti-slavery voice who lived in Lawrence. Quantrill wanted to capture or kill Lane and plunder the city as revenge for attacks in Missouri.

Aggression among Quantrill’s men was fueled by the collapse of a women’s prison in Kansas City a few weeks before the raid. The women, all under 20 years old, were imprisoned for giving aid to Confederate sympathizers and bushwhackers. William “Bloody Bill” Anderson’s 14-year-old sister and three other young women were killed when the three-story structure collapsed. Anderson was a major player in Quantrill’s band of ruffians, and committed most of the murders in Lawrence that morning. Many bushwhackers and pro-slavists believed the disaster was the work of Jayhawkers, but no evidence supported this.

As dawn broke, Quantrill and his men descended on Lawrence from the southeast with instructions to kill any man old enough to carry a gun.

On the outskirts of town, the raiders found a group of tents filled with goods taken during the Jayhawkers’ raids in Missouri. A number of freed slaves and African-American soldiers still asleep there were awoken by gunshots. The startled men fled away from the camp, but the bushwhackers chased them to the river. The men were either shot or drowned.

“None succeeded in reaching the opposite shore,” John McCorkle wrote in his 1914 account of riding with Quantrill.

The riders moved into the heart of Lawrence. On New Hampshire Street between Ninth and Tenth streets they attacked an encampment of young Union recruits. When Quantrill’s gang left the encampment, 17 of the 22 boys had been slain. They were unarmed.

Reaching the central business district, Quantrill dispatched his men in various directions to search for plunder and in search of notable Jayhawkers. At the Eldridge House, Captain A. R. Banks waved a white sheet out his window at the raiders. He requested that Quantrill not harm any of the hotel’s residents. Abiding, Quantrill ordered all guests out into the street and took them prisoner in the neighboring City Hotel. The owner of that establishment had offered charity to Quantrill when he was living in Lawrence as Charlie Hart, so Quantrill ordered his men to leave the City Hotel alone.

At the Eldridge, his men sacked the building, removing valuables before torching it. For the second time in 10 years Missourians burned the Eldridge House.

Across Lawrence, Quantrill’s raiders tore through houses. They attacked the home of mayor George Collamore. He hid from the attackers in his well, but suffocated there when the men lit his house on fire. His son and a friend died trying to rescue him.

The offices of Lawrence’s three newspapers, the Journal, Tribune and Republican, were leveled. The papers were anti-slavery publications and had been the victim of the previous sacking seven years before as well. Tribune employee John Speer Jr. was killed by the raiders while trying to defend his home.

The Bell residence was under construction at 1008 Ohio Street. Mr. Bell left his wife and eight children there to confront the attackers. A raider who happened to be an old friend of Bell’s shot him some time later.

Dr. Walter Griswold, a local pharmacist, and a two other men were murdered in Griswold’s yard in front of his family.

At James Lane’s house, Quantrill was told the senator was not home. Having previously heard that Lane was out of town, Quantrill decided not to pursue a search for him. In fact, Lane had been home — but escaped through a cornfield in his nightclothes. …”


Skip to 7:18 for William Quantrill’s speech in the 1999 movie Ride with the Devil on the eve of his famous attack on Lawrence, KS on August 23, 1863.

About Hunter Wallace 8840 Articles
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3 Comments

  1. He taught them that Missourians were traitors and had no rights that they were bound to respect.

    Lane was actually wanted for Treason at one time, and had the U.S. Marshals after him. Some of the Bushwhackers were originally deputised as U.S. Marshals to seek out and arrest Lane, Jennison and Brown.

    “Missourians were traitors and had no rights-”

    Yankees were always making up fictional laws or using nonexistent Constitutional amendments to justify their crimes against the Southern People.

    The South had the Law and Constitution on its side. But legal arguments directed at daemon possessed, insane criminals are of no avail.

  2. I live in southern Missouri. Sometimes people say midwest, other times south’ The fact is Ozark culture is basically Southern Highland Culture. Remember, Kentucky is farther north than we are. This is a land of small stock farms, not corn and row crops. Even the politics are still shaped to some extent by what happened during the Civil War. It makes for an interesting place sometimes. During, and after the Civil War it was a violent place more like Afghanistan in some ways than the way it is now. A land of isolated communities and farms, and clans. Hunter if you want to get a good idea how Ozark culture was, and to some extent still is, read books by Vance Randolph, one of the best cultural historians of the Ozark region. The book “Ozark Magic and Witchcraft” is particularly fascinating.

  3. whatever. Massuh Linkum did the rahhht thing:

    he wanted a powerful, industrial nation on the world stage,

    and he put it there. HW,

    you Southron Cavaliers will never again dance the Quadrille, and

    Genghiz Yang is not going to be Prez. Fergit it.

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