Crisis in Missouri

The conflict in Missouri stretched back long before the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861. Violence first erupted in 1854 when Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, creating those territories, repealing the Missouri Compromise, which stated that all territories north of 36o 30' latitude would be free soil, and substituting popular sovereignty - a vote of the people there - to determine whether slavery could exist or not. As settlers poured into the Kansas Territory, a Northern, antislavery flavor was discernible. To till the balance toward slaveholders, Missourians crossed the border and cast ballots illegally and intimidated antislavery voters. Antislavery Kansans responded to violence with more violence, and soon Kansas was aflame in brutality. Border Ruffians from Missouri launched raids that resulted in rapes, murders, pillaging, and home burning. Among those who retaliated, John Brown of Osawatomie, Kansas, led a band that savagely murdered five pro-slavery neighbors.

Strangely enough, the secession crisis of 1860-61 brought matters to a lull, as both sides struggled to size up the situation. Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson advocated secession and called for the state to join the Confederacy. Pro-Union opposition, centered around the German-American community in St Louis and led by Francis P. Blair, a member of one of the most prominent families in Missouri, resisted. When the governor mobilized pro-secession militia and positioned them to seize the US arsenal in St Louis, Blair acted. He encouraged a fiery red-headed US army officer named Nathaniel Lyon to surround and disarm the militia, which Lyon accomplished. But as he marched his prisoners back, a crowd of civilians gathered and harassed and abused Lyon's militiamen. Finally, someone shot and killed one of Lyon's officers, and his troops retaliated by blasting into the crowd. When the smoke cleared, 28 people lay dead.

From this moment on, the violence took on a life of its own. Union troops and opponents of slavery in Kansas and Missouri began sacking towns and seizing slaves and other property from Missourians. These acts inflamed old passions and drove main neutrals or pro-Union advocates, among them a Mexican War veteran named Sterling

John S. Pemberton (right), a Northerner by birth, commanded Confederate forces at Vicksburg. Caught between orders from President Davis and General Johnston. Pemberton could not decide whether to try to save Vicksburg or his army. He lost both. (Ann Ronan Picture Library)

Price, into the secessionist camp. After an attempt to broker a peace failed, Lyon assumed the offensive and began driving Price and pro-Confederate forces from the state. In his wake. Lyon stirred up all sorts of guerrilla bands. William Quantrill and 'Bloody Bill' Anderson led the Rebel bushwhackers. Among their followers were acclaimed robbers Frank and Jesse James and Cole and Jim Younger. From Kansas, pro-Union guerrillas included the diminutive 'Big Jim' Lane and Charles Jennison.

By August 1861, Price had accumulated 8,000 Missourians, augmented by some 5,000 Confederate soldiers under Ben McCulloch. Before he could attack, though, Lyon struck first. Unwilling to retreat and yield all the territory he had secured, Lyon elected to surprise the enemy at a place called Wilson's Creek. Initially, his attack on both flanks made headway, but a Confederate counterassault drove both back. The Rebels then focused on the Union center, where Lyon directed the fight. Although the Union commander was killed. his line repelled Price's attacks. When the smoke cleared, the Confederates had called off the fight, but the Union forces had lost 20 percent of their men and had been so badly damaged that they retreated. Price, whose command suffered slightly fewer casualties, slowly marched northward, collecting recruits and pressing all the way to Lexington, between St Louis and Kansas City.

In St Louis, the recently appointed commander of the Western Department, Major-General John C. Fremont, overreacted. The Republican Party candidate for president in 1856, Fremont declared martial law, proclaimed the death penalty for all

Sterling Price, a Mexican War veteran and an original opponent of secession in Missouri, soured on the Union after Frank Blair and others took aggressive action to block the governor's pro-Confederate policies. He commanded Missouri's secessionist militia in 1861, led a Confederate division as a major-general at Pea Ridge in 1862, and directed the last raid into Missouri in 1864. After suffering a defeat at Westport near Kansas City, he began his retreat, enduring Union harassment along a roundabout route back to Arkansas.

guerrillas, and freed all slaves of Confederate supporters. Although the emancipation directive caused outrage in the North. Lincoln privately asked Fremont to modify his order, to save the General from embarrassment. With unparalleled temerity. Fremont refused, and Lincoln had to order it.

Having irritated his commander-in-chief and many others, Fremont needed a victory to restore his reputation. He accumulated a large force, some 38,000. and began a pursuit of Price. The militia commander fell back, a good portion of his army melting back into the countryside to complete the fall harvest. An order relieving Fremont reached him before he caught up with Price.

Price's retreat into Arkansas did not quash Confederate designs on Missouri. In March 1862, Major-General Earl Van Dorn gathered 16.000 men, including some Indian troops, with Price and McCulloch as division commanders. His plan was to brush aside Union opposition and capture St Louis, a prize that would earn him accolades throughout the Confederacy. Union commander Brigadier-General Samuel Curtis, a tough old West Pointer, had other ideas. Van Dorn attempted to swing around Curtis's rear, but Yankee scouts including 'Wild' Bill Hickok spotted the movement. When the Rebels attacked at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, they made little headway. The next

day. Union artillery silenced Confederate guns, and a Federal assault swept the field.

Had the Union authorities only confronted organized armies in Missouri, they would probably have eliminated the threat in 1863. But longstanding tensions, ideological differences over slavery, and the conduct of Union troops stirred up a hornets' nest of trouble from guerrilla bands. Although many Rebel guerrillas there had strong ties to slavery, quite a few others exhibited a passion for violence and destruction that may have been pathological. Helping to ignite this tinderbox were Kansans who combined fervent abolitionism with a passion for plundering.

During the Missouri campaign of 1861, there were pockets of fighting in which neither side gave quarter. Yet raids from Kansas fueled the violence when they extended from confiscation of slaves and livestock to arson, robbery, and murder. These Kansans insisted they were merely retaliating for the slaughter of seven of their people by guerrillas a few days earlier, but acts of savagery begat more acts of savagery, and soon the entire region was ablaze in deeds of violence or brutal reprisals.

In an effort to check the acts of partisans, Union occupation troops under Major-General David Hunter and John Schofieid nearly ruined their careers with repeated failures. They tried building forts in guerrilla-infested areas, but local partisans blended into the community and struck when they discovered soldiers at a disadvantage. Next, they experimented with population removal. Because guerrillas drew from friends and families for support, Brigadier-General Thomas Ewing had arrested the wives and family members of notorious guerrillas as leverage against them. Not long afterward, in August 1863, Ewing announced he would transport those under arrest as well as the families and other supporters of the Confederacy to Arkansas. Before he could do that, though, the rickety building where he housed some of the women collapsed, killing five and crippling another. Two victims were sisters of William

A West Point graduate and a former Republican congressman from Iowa, Samuel R. Curtis led a successful operation into southwest Missouri and northern Arkansas, and defeated Confederates at Pea Ridge. After heading the Departments of Missouri and Kansas, Curtis led Union forces that helped to defeat Price's Missouri Raid in 1864. (Library of Congress)

Anderson, already known for his violence. He now vowed to kill every Yankee he could find, and it was not long before he earned the nickname 'Bloody Bill,'

In retaliation, Quantrill led his party of 450 on a raid against Lawrence, Kansas, a hotbed of abolitionism. En route, they forced Kansas farmers to act as guides and then executed them. On 21 August, they slipped into town and disposed of the small number of soldiers there. The town soon surrendered, but those words meant nothing to Quantrill and his followers. All told, they murdered 150 males, wounded 30 more and torched 185 buildings.

Federals responded to the raid by ordering all western Missourians who did not live in certain cities to migrate. Those who pledged loyalty to the Union could settle around forts, and all others would have to abandon the area. Union authorities hoped to deprive guerrillas of local support and establish free-fire zones in the area, thereby eliminating much of the worry of distinguishing friend from foe. The policy had little if any effect on the bushwhackers.

What ultimately led to the demise of guerrilla activities actually stemmed from their own success. Various partisan activities had impressed Price, particularly the work of Quantrill, and when they insisted that Missourians would rise up in support of the Confederacy if he raided into the state. Price jumped at the opportunity. With 12,000 cavalry, half of whom lacked arms, Price crossed into Missouri in mid-September 1864.

In support of the movement, various pro-Rebel bushwhackers had attacked isolated posts, towns, and pockets of soldiers, massacring troops and civilians, armed and disarmed alike. Simmering divisions began to bubble to the surface among guerrilla leaders. Anderson wanted to attack the fortified garrison at Fayette; Quantrill opposed it as too dangerous. When Anderson and his men suffered a repulse and the loss of 13 men, it only infuriated them more. A few days later, they entered Centralia in search of plunder and news ot Price's whereabouts. There they pulled 25 unarmed Union soldiers off the train and executed them. When some Missouri militiamen stumbled on the guerrillas, they attacked and suffered a horrible defeat. Out of an original 147 militiamen, 129 were cut down. The guerrillas then committed a host of atrocities, including cutting off the genitals of a living soldier and placing them in his mouth.

Price, meanwhile, had advanced well into Missouri. The same day as the Centralia Massacre, his command attacked Federals under Ewing at Pilot Knob, suffering heavy losses in the repulse. As Union reinforcements arrived in Missouri, Price pressed westward along the south bank of the Missouri River, Anderson and his people met up with them, and Price sent them on a destructive spree north of the river. Before October ended, Anderson fell to two militiamen's balls. They placed his body on display, then severed his head, and eventually buried him in an unmarked grave.

As Price's columns pressed toward Kansas

City, Union forces closed in on them. With Curtis to his front and Major-General Alfred Pleasanton closing from his rear. Price attempted to beat them in detail. He attacked Curtis first, and pushed the Union command back initially, but the Federals stiffened and launched their own counterattack. To the rear, Pleasonton drove back the Rebel cavalry, and Price began his retreat. Federals continued to press him, capturing 1,000 men in Kansas. Eventually, his command limped into Arkansas with only half of his original 12,000.

Price's raid was the last major Confederate undertaking west of the Mississippi River. Guerrilla fighting continued in Missouri, however, and extended well after the war, as unreconstructed bands like the Jameses and Youngers continued to rob and plunder. Quantrill, having suffered the humiliation of a rebellion in his ranks, elected to shift his base of operations to Kentucky. In May, he was shot in the back and paralyzed by Union troops. He died almost a month later.

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