Friday, April 18, 2008

Missouri's journey from slavery to freedom

In 1821, Missouri is admitted to the Union and gives its name to the Missouri Compromise. To maintain the balance among the 10 slave and 10 free states, Missouri and Maine (1820) are admitted as a package. More importantly, Missouri’s southern boundary is set as slavery’s northernmost border. As history shows, Missouri becomes a region surrounded by free territory and hence a continual fount of controversy and turmoil.

Unlike cotton-based slavery in much of the south, Missouri’s 'peculiar institution’ concentrates in the market crops of livestock, grains, hemp and tobacco. Many slaves work as teamsters and boat hands. Their numbers are concentrated in the counties along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

In 1825, the legislature declares blacks ‘invalid’ witnesses in any case involving whites. In 1847, the education of blacks is banned as well.

Elijah P. Lovejoy is a prominent abolitionist newspaper editor and publisher in St Louis where he prints editorials critical of slavery. Run out of town in 1836 he moves to Alton, Illinois in 1837, where his printing presses are destroyed 3 times by pro-slavery mobs from Missouri. In November 1837, he is gunned down by a mob seeking to destroy his fourth press.

The Missouri compromise is repealed, in effect, by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. Almost as an afterthought, the concept of ‘popular sovereignty’ is written into the law, allowing settlers to determine if slavery is allowed in new territories. Pro-slavery settlers, mostly from Missouri, go to Kansas and local elections are influenced by the votes of Missouri ‘border ruffians’. Abolitionist settlers from the north come to Kansas and the clashes now named ‘bleeding Kansas’ are inevitable.

After ten years of appeals and reversals, the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott v. Sandford decision in 1857 rules that Congress’ forbidding of slavery in the territories is unconstitutional. It also further states that blacks are not citizens and have no rights that whites must recognize. Many persons believe the decision will lead to the legalization of slavery in all the states. Lincoln says,

"what Dred Scott's master might lawfully do with Dred Scott, in the free state of Illinois, every other master may lawfully do with any other one, or one thousand slaves, in Illinois, or in any other free state."

In 1860, there are 3,572 free blacks in the state of Missouri and 114,931 slaves.

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 has no effect in Missouri, which has not seceded from the Union. Governor Thomas C. Fletcher proclaims emancipation on January 11, 1865 by executive fiat. Just under a year later, the Thirteenth Amendment forever bans slavery in the United States.

In 1866, the Legislature passes laws stating that separate schools should be provided for black children where they number more than 20 in a district.

Friday, April 11, 2008


In the fall of 1864, Sterling Price’s Army of Missouri raids through Missouri. Price, in communication with the many local partisan guerrilla groups, asks them to raise havoc and confusion by attacking Union posts and railroads. One such group, lead by William T. Anderson, operates in north central Missouri along both banks of the Missouri River. The fighting in this area is especially vicious. Anderson’s sister, Josephine, had died in Union custody when her jail building collapsed. Both sides often mutilated the dead after skirmishes and prisoners were often taken only for hostage purposes. Famous-to-be outlaws, the James and Younger brothers among then, ride with Anderson.

On the morning of September 27th Anderson’s band of 80 men, many dressed in captured blue uniforms, ride into Centralia to scout the area for the location of Union troops. The quickly locate and impress into service supplies of boots and whiskey. At 11:00 am the stage from Columbia arrives with the local Congressman and sheriff aboard. They manage to hide their identities as the guerrillas systematically rob them. During the robbery, a train whistle sounds from the east, inbound from St. Louis with 125 passengers including 23 unarmed Union soldiers on leave from Sherman’s army in Georgia.

Anderson’s blue-clad men block the rails, stop the train and herd everyone off into two groups: soldiers and civilians. The civilians are robbed and several killed as they fail to comply with guerilla orders. The soldiers are ordered to take off their uniforms. While they comply the rangers surround the half-clothed men. On Anderson’s order, his men to open fire and the Union soldiers pitch to the ground. Several run off, are chased and killed. The rangers walk among the bodies, finishing off the still-living. One sergeant, Thomas Goodman, is spared to be used as a hostage. The train is fired and sent westward on the tracks, the depot is burned and Anderson and his men return to their camp just outside of town.

That same afternoon, after seeing the smoke of the burning train and depot, a Union detachment rides into Centralia. Major A. V. Johnston commands 150 men of the 39th Missouri (mounted) Infantry, mostly inexperienced recruits carrying single-shot muzzle loading rifles. They find the smoking depot and the half-naked bodies of the murdered soldiers. Johnston interviews residents and learns that the guerrillas are still nearby. Shortly, thereafter, his scouts spy a small group of rangers who quickly ride away to the south. Not realizing the trick, Johnston orders his men to pursue across the prairie. Advancing to a ridgeline, Johnston spots a number of rangers in the tree line along a creek. His men dismount, form a battle line and move forward. Still a long way from the partisans, Johnston orders a volley, killing three men. At the sound of the volley, 2 bands of rangers emerge from the woods and attack either flank. The group in front moves up as to attack from three sides.

The Union soldiers have no time to reload. The Confederates ride upon them, killing the horse holders, scattering the horses and then turning on the main line. Each guerilla carries multiple revolvers. Some can fire 60 rounds without reloading. the ‘battle’ is over in minutes. One (again) Union soldier, Private Enoch Hunt, escapes the battlefield; the rest are killed. Johnston is reportedly shot down by Jesse James. After the battle it is noted that every Union soldier has a bullet in the head.

The rangers again walk among corpses, beheading some and scalping others. Anderson’s men then depart, leaving the bodies as a warning to others who may wish to oppose them. Only one month later, Anderson dies in an ambush similar to the one he had just perpetrated. The dead Union soldiers are buried in Centralia and moved to the national cemetery in the capital of Jefferson City after the war.

Here is a good battle description and maps and aerial photographs.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

CWPT annual meeting in Springfield

The Civil War Preservation Trust’s annual meeting is in Springfield Missouri, April 17-20. The conference focus is “War in the Ozarks: Trans-Mississippi and Missouri”.

Invited speakers and scholars include:
• Troy Banzhaf
• Edwin C. Bearss
• Vernon Burton
• Dave Hinze
• Ralph Jones
• Connie Langum
• Jeff Patrick
• William Garrett Piston
• John Rutherford
• Richard J. Sommers

See for more detail...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

General Order Number 11

Quantrill's raid and the sack of Lawrence provide the impetus for a measure previously under consideration by the Union authorities in western Missouri. On August 25, General Thomas L. Ewing issues General Order No. 11: everyone living in the Missouri counties of Jackson, Cass, Bates and Vernon, on the Kansas border, are ordered to leave within 2 weeks. Anyone living within one mile of Kansas City or 4 other towns may remain by taking an oath and posting a bond; everyone else has to pack up and go. This rule had been considered before; the Lawrence massacre renders it a practical necessity.

The area depopulated by the Order is known as the burnt district. Federal troops and Missouri State Militia patrol the area, burning abandoned crops, houses, barns and buildings and killing stock and abandoned animals. In Cass County, population 10,000 in 1860, only 600 people remained. The exodus is practically total, only 10% of the population remaining in what amounts to a chain of reservations.

The refugees are aided by Union soldiers but only with feelings of pity, not guilt: Quantrill's men had subsisted resided in these counties for months. Through August, September and into October, suspected Lawrence raiders were captured, interrogated and usually shot.

Here is the text of the order:
First, All persons living in Jackson, Cass and Bates Counties, Missouri, and in that part of Vernon included in this district, except those living within one mile of the limits of Harrisonville, Hickman Mills, Independence and Pleasant Hill and Harrisonville, and except those in the part of Kaw Township, Jackson County, north of Brush Creek and west of the Big Blue, embracing Kansas City and Westport, are hereby ordered to remove from their present places of residence within fifteen days from the date hereof. Those who, within that time, establish their loyalty to the satisfaction of the commanding officer of the military station nearest their present places of residence will receive from him certificates stating the fact of their loyalty, and the names of the witnesses by whom it can be shown. All who receive such certificates will be permitted to remove to any military station in the district, or to any part of the State of Kansas except the counties on the eastern border of the State. All others shall remove out of the district. Officers commanding companies and detachments serving in the counties named will see that this paragraph is promptly obeyed.

Second, All hay and grain in the field, or under shelter in the district, from which the inhabitants are required to remove, within the reach of the military stations, after the 9th of September, next, will be taken to such stations and turned over to the proper officers there; and reports of the amounts so turned over made to district headquarters, specifying the name of all loyal owners and the amount of such produce taken from them. All grain and hay found in such district after the 9th of September, next, not convenient to such stations, will be destroyed.

The artist George Caleb Bingham created an excellent painting of the order being implemented.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Quantrill's Raid and the Lawrence Massacre

William C. Quantrill’s 300 men are armed to the teeth, mostly with multiple, accurate, long-barreled revolvers, and can fire between 30 and 60 rounds each without reloading. They head west and north from near Warrensburg, Missouri toward Lawrence, Kansas on August 20th, 1863. Riding all night, they leave a trail of dead Kansans behind, kidnapping locals who guide them toward Lawrence. As their captives familiarity with the trail dwindles, they are murdered with a bullet to the brain and another settler is pressed into fatal service.

In Lawrence, their primary target is Senator Jim Lane, ardent free-stater and anti-Missouri US Senator; looting and murder is a given.

Despite riding through Kansas for nearly 12 hours, no alarm is given. Entering the town at dawn, on August 21st, Quantrill misses Lane, who escapes in his pajamas to a cornfield. His men than embark on a morning of mayhem and murder. Houses and stores are looted and burned, men are shot down in their yards and chased into their houses before being summarily executed. Bodies are dumped down wells and thrown onto the burning pyres of houses.

A bit after 9 a.m., the bushwhacker column leaves Lawrence with 1/4th of the town destroyed and at least 185 dead men scattered about. They withdraw in the same general direction from which they came. A scattered and generally ineffective pursuit, poorly organized by various US and militia forces, cannot intercept Quantrill but does force him to abandon some loot and they kill and capture a small number of stragglers.

In response to the massacre, General Thomas Ewing, commanding the Union District of the Border, issues the (in)famous General Orders No. 11. The Order, in effect, depopulates 3 ½ counties of western Missouri, in an attempt to destroy Confederate guerilla’s support base and prevent similar future raids.

The Lawrence massacre is unique in the annals of American history. Large-scale massacres are not unknown – in 1862 Dakota Sioux attacked and killed many settlers near St. Paul in Minnesota; a year later, Colorado militia will massacre Indians at Sand Creek in Colorado. These other massacres in American history are all inter-racial or on the edges of frontier and 'civilization'. Lawrence, however, was a model American town and the perpetrators are other white, protestant, Anglo-Saxon Americans.

Friday, April 4, 2008


In September, 1862, Confederate forces under Colonel Joseph C. Porter raid Palmyra, in northeast Missouri, and capture, among others, Andrew Allsman, thought to be a Unionist informer. Eventually, Allsman is allowed to leave, but is never seen again. Speculation is that he has been murdered by local, secessionist residents or by some of Porter’s men.

On October 8, US Provost Marshal William R. Strachan publishes an open letter in the local Union newspaper, the Palmyra Courier to Porter, declaring that unless Allsman is returned within ten days, 10 of Porter's men, held as prisoners in Palmyra and Hannibal, will be executed.

The ten days elapse and nothing is seen of Allsman who, no doubt, has already been killed. On October 18, ten men in US custody are chosen by lot. The Courier reports:

“A few minutes after 1 o'clock, Colonel Strachan, provost-marshal-general, and Reverend Rhodes shook hands with the prisoners, two of them accepting bandages for their eyes. All the rest refused.

A hundred spectators had gathered around the amphitheater to witness the impressive scene. The stillness of death pervaded the place. The officer in command now stepped forward, and gave the word of command, "Ready, aim, fire."

The discharges, however, were not made simultaneously, probably through want of a perfect previous understanding of the orders and of the time at which to fire. Two of the rebels fell backward upon their coffins and died instantly. Captain Sidner sprang forward and fell with his head toward the soldiers, his face upward, his hands clasped upon his breast and the left leg drawn half way up. He did not move again, but died immediately. He had requested the soldiers to aim at his heart, and they obeyed but too implicitly. The other seven were not killed outright, so the reserves were called in, who dispatched them with their revolvers.

It seems hard that ten men should die for one. Under ordinary circumstances it would hardly be justified; but severe diseases demand severe remedies. The safety of the people is the supreme law. It overrides all other considerations. The madness of rebellion has become so deep seated that ordinary methods of cure are inadequate. To take life for life would be little intimidation to men seeking the heart's blood of an obnoxious enemy. They could well afford to make even exchanges under many circumstances. It is only by striking the deepest terror in them, causing them to thoroughly respect the lives of loyal men, that they can be taught to observe the obligation of humanity and of law.”

In 1907, Palmyra citizens erect a monument inscribed:
Erected to the Memory of
Capt. Thomas A Sidenor
Willis T. Baker
Thomas Humston
Morgan Bixler
John Y. McPheeters
Hiram T. Smith
Herbert Hudson
John M. Wade
Francis M. Lear
Eleazer Lake

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Civil War Missouri - top 10

After thinking a bit more (what a concept) on yesterday's post, by adding one more event this becomes a neatly chronological 'top 10' list:

1) Bleeding Kansas
2) Camp Jackson affair
3) Wilson’s Creek
4) battle of the hemp bales
5) Palmyra
6) The sack of Lawrence
7) General Order Number 11
8) Centralia massacre
9) Price’s 1864 raid
10) Westport

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Civil War Missouri - a very brief history

Missouri has a rich Civil war history. No other state better reveals the tension, bloodshed and politics of the era. The following 6 incidents offer the full flavor of the state and the nation from 1861- 1865:

1) Bleeding Kansas,
2) Camp Jackson affair ,
3) Wilson’s Creek ,
4) battle of the hemp bales ,
5) General Order Number 11,
6) Centralia massacre

A shorter list comprise a sort of second cut, but are somewhat redundant to those above:
1) The sack of Lawrence
2) Westport
3) Price’s 1864 raid

I'll shortly be writing on the remaining 3 topics that, in my mind, offer a primer of Missouri: 1861-1865.