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.

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