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New Peaks Of Savagery

The very air seems charged with blood and death. East of us, west of us, north of us, south of us, comes the same harrowing story. Pandemonium itself seems to have broken loose, and robbery, murder and rapine, and death run riot over the country.

Bloody Bill Anderson

So wrote the editor of the Kansas City Journal of Commerce on August 13, 1864. He did not exaggerate. The summer of 1864 in Missouri saw guerrilla warfare reach new peaks of savagery. The bushwhackers and other Southern adherents expected Price's army to invade the state in a last desperate attempt to conquer it for the Confederacy. Hence they went all-out to prepare the way by terrorizing Unionists, disrupting communications, and wearing down Federal troops. They knew it was now or never, and so stopped at nothing.

As always the worst conditions existed in west Missouri. During the winter a new Union commander had replaced Ewing, and he had permitted large numbers of Southern sympathizers excluded by Order No. 11 to come back. As a result, declared the Journal of Commerce, "the rebels control the countryside. No loyal man can till a farm or raise a crop ... or safely travel the highways."

On June 11 the bushwhackers provided terrifying proof of their unabated power as Anderson's gang, dressed in blue uniforms, ambushed a thirteen-man Union detachment outside of Warrensburg, killing twelve and mutilating their bodies. Two days later other guerrillas gunned down eight soldiers escorting a wagon train south of Lexington. At the same time bushwhacker bands attacked boats on the Missouri River, peppering them from the bank with revolver and rifle bullets.

Hoping to match the bushwhackers with men equally tough, the Federals brought into Jackson County the 2d Colorado Cavalry, a regiment made up of "hardy mountaineer boys." During June the Coloradoans "mustered out" thirteen of Todd's band - or so they claimed. In any event, on July 6 Todd hit back, killing six out of a twenty-six-man detachment of the 2d Colorado near Independence without loss to himself. These Yankees, Todd's boys admitted, had "sand," but unfortunately for them they were armed with inferior pistols and "couldn't hit a thing."

North of the Missouri, bands led by "Coon" Thornton, Clif Holtzclaw, and John Thrailkill ran amuck, murdering Republicans, attacking Federal posts, burning bridges. The Federal general for that area, Clinton B. Fish, had only poorly armed and unreliable "Paw Paw" militia with which to fight back, and he called on the departmental commander, Major General William S. Rosecrans, for help. Rosecrans responded by commissioning an individual named Harry Truman (no relation to the President of the same name, whose ancestors were kicked out of Jackson County by Order No. 11) to conduct an independent anti-guerrilla campaign. But Truman, instead of chasing bushwhackers, turned into one himself! Riding in a carriage with a drunken prostitute on either side, he led a horde of ruffians from town to town, robbing and murdering indiscriminately, until Rosecrans had him arrested and imprisoned.

Following the fight with the 2d Colorado and a raid on Arrow Rock, Missouri, Todd's band spent the rest of the summer lying low in the rugged Sni-a-Bar country east of Kansas City, sallying forth only occasionally to rob stagecoaches, cut telegraph wires, and harass construction workers on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. During this period Anderson took the center of the bushwhacking stage as he rampaged through north Missouri. No longer content with just killing, his men (who now included 17-year-old Jesse James) began scalping their victims. Thus, after the slaying of two soldiers outside of Huntsville, "Little Archie" Clement, the most vicious of his followers, scalped both of the dead men, then cut pieces of skin from their foreheads. On their bodies Anderson left a note: You come to hunt bush whackers. Now you are skelpt. Clemyent Skelpt you. Wm. Anderson.

Battle of Fayette

The attacking force of approximately 250 partisans was led by two of Missouri's most notorious guerrilla chieftains, William ("Bloody Bill") Anderson, and George Todd. The recently deposed guerrilla leader, William Quantrill, was also present but did not participate in the attack. Defending Fayette were some 30 to 50 members of the Ninth Cavalry, Missouri State Militia. Sheltered in log fortifications, the militiamen held off three charges by the guerrillas and inflicted heavy casualties. The ill-advised attack turned into one of the worst defeats suffered by the guerrillas up to that time.

The attack on Fayette took place in the context of guerrilla activities in Central Missouri. The raid seems to have been mainly Anderson's idea, supposedly in retaliation for the death of five of his men captured by the Ninth Missouri Cavalry earlier in the summer.

The Missouri State Militia force stationed in Fayette at the time of the attack consisted of four companies of the Ninth Cavalry, Missouri State Militia under the command of Maj. Reeves Leonard. About Sept. 25, all but about 30 (some reports say 50) of these men, along with Maj. Leonard, left Fayette to join other companies of the ninth Cavalry at Rocheport in hunting down guerrillas. This move left Fayette nearly undefended. The men left in Fayette were mainly hospital patients, convalescents and others under the command of Lieutenants Joseph M. Street of Company A and Thomas A.H. Smith of Company H. On the day of the battle, Sept. 24, Anderson's company of guerrillas (which included Frank and Jesse James) rendezvoused with other guerrilla bands led by George Todd and William Clarke Quantrill south of Fayette and the leaders discussed the prospect of attacking Fayette. After some spirited arguments over the advisability of making the raid, Todd reluctantly agreed to join forces with Anderson to make the assault. Quantrill was opposed to the proposition of men armed only with pistols attacking an enemy who was well fortified. Anderson prevailed, however, and gave the order to proceed. The combined guerrilla commands began their movement toward Fayette.

About 10:30 a.m. the guerrillas reached Fayette and rode quietly toward the courthouse square. They apparently were not detected as guerrillas since the men of the advance guard were dressed in Federal uniforms stripped from slain enemy soldiers. When they came to the courthouse square, part of the command (about 50 men) turned west to Church Street and then north toward what is now the Central Methodist University campus a short distance north of the courthouse. The main body of the guerrillas continued west on Morrison Street to Water [present Linn] Street before turning north. The command reunited at a ravine that existed on the north side of the present Central Methodist University campus.

To the east was their objective, a row of barracks or "blockhouses" constructed of logs (Frank James says they were railroad ties), which had been erected by the Federal soldiers for winter quarters. These well fortified quarters were located on the ridge north and east of the present Puckett Field House. Here, the 20 to 50 Federal soldiers capable of bearing arms were barricaded.

Only about 75 of the 250 guerrillas in the raiding party participated in the three suicidal charges made on the Federal stronghold. According to Hamp Watts, "Not one of the enemy could be seen, but the muzzles of muskets protruded from every porthole, belching fire and lead at the charging guerrillas. Horses went down as grain before the reaper…." In later years, Frank James said that the Fayette fight made him "the worst scared I ever was during the war." In his brief description of the fight, he said, "We charged up to a blockhouse made of railroad ties filled with portholes and then charged back again. The blockhouse was filled with Federal troops and it was like charging a stone wall, only this stone wall belched forth lead."

The guerrillas were usually masters of never engaging their enemy in a disadvantageous situation, but on this occasion, Anderson and Todd made a serious error in judgment. Watts complained: "Leading men, armed only with revolvers, charging an invisible enemy in blockhouses, to simply imbed bullets in logs, with no possible chance to either kill or inflict injury on the foe, was both stupid and reckless." Each charge was repulsed by the defenders, who fought with the desperation of men who knew that their attackers would show no mercy or take no prisoners. When the futile attack was finally abandoned, 13 guerrillas were dead and some 30 wounded. Only one Federal soldier died (some accounts say three), and about five were wounded. Quantrill refused to order any of his men to take part in the assaults.

Anderson's and Todd's men finally broke off the engagement and left town headed north on the Glasgow Road (present Highway 5). Quantrill and his men retired to their encampment in the Howard County hills near Boonesboro. Three days later, Anderson and Todd were encamped near Centralia. Anderson's men halted a train at Centralia and, at their captain's order, executed the 24 unarmed Union soldiers aboard. Later that day, the combined force of guerrillas annihilated a unit of mounted Union infantry and left 116 dead on the field. On Oct. 11, Anderson, Todd and Quantrill met Gen. Sterling Price and his army of invasion at Boonville, and the general hailed them as "distinguished partisan leaders." Ten days later, Todd was killed near Independence by a Union sniper. Five days after that, Anderson was gunned down in Ray County in a guerrilla-style ambush laid by Missouri state militiamen.

Late in September Price's long-awaited invasion got under way as he entered Missouri from Arkansas at the head of 12,000 cavalry. He sent advance word of his coming to the bushwhackers by Captain John Chesnut, who on September 8 asked Todd to disrupt Union defenses and communications in north Missouri. Todd forthwith crossed the Missouri and linked up with Thrailkill. Together they captured Keytesville on September 20, burning the courthouse and robbing the citizens, then marched on toward Fayette.

Near there they were joined by Quantrill, who had only six or seven followers, and by Anderson's men, some of whom had scalps dangling from their bridles. Anderson's and Todd's bands agreed to forget their past differences and Quantrill likewise said he would cooperate with his former lieutenants. However, when they proposed attacking Fayette, Quantrill objected on the grounds that the town was too strongly fortified. Anderson and Todd thereupon derided Quantrill as a coward, and he in turn rode away.

On the morning of September 25 the bushwhackers, some 300 strong, charged into Fayette. Quickly they discovered the hard way that Quantrill had been right: The small garrison, holed up in the brick courthouse and a log blockhouse, poured a withering fire into the raiders, killing thirteen and wounding thirty. Realizing that they were in a death trap, Anderson and Todd called off the assault.

From fatal Fayette the guerrillas rode on until they camped near Centralia on September 26. The next morning Anderson's gang went to Centralia, a whistle-stop on the North Missouri Railroad, pillaged the houses and stores, got drunk on stolen whiskey, and robbed the Columbia stage, on which was Congressman James S. Rollins, whom - fortunately for him - they failed to recognize.

Then at noon, a train approached. Its boiler being almost empty, it slowed down, and the bushwhackers brought it to a complete halt by piling ties across the track and setting them afire. They then made all the passengers and twenty-five soldiers, who were on leave and unarmed, get off the train. The former they robbed, slaying two men who tried to hide their valuables. They lined up the latter on the platform, forced them to remove their uniforms, then shot them down in a bloody heap, sparing only a sergeant whom they planned to kill later but who eventually escaped. Next they looted the train, after which they set it afire and sent it rolling down the tracks, its iron wheels mangling the bodies of some of the dead soldiers. Finally, after murdering the crew and plundering the cars of a freight train which also came along, they rode off, yelling and laughing, to tell Todd's boys about the fun they had been having at Centralia.

A half hour later 147 Union militia under Major A. V.• E. Johnston rode into the village. When he saw what Anderson's gang had done, Johnston set out in pursuit. Some bushwhackers spotted him approaching and alerted Anderson and Todd, who assembled their men in a long, curving line which advanced at a slow trot towards Johnston's oncoming force.

On beholding the guerrilla array, Johnston halted and ordered his troops to dismount and form a skirmish line. Since they were poorly mounted, armed with singles hot, muzzle-loading rifles, and trained as infantry, he reasoned that their best chance would be to fight on foot.

At 200 yards distance the bushwhackers charged. The militiamen fired one volley, then dropped their rifles and fled. In a matter of seconds they were ridden down and shot, among them Johnston, killed by Jesse James. When the slaughter was over, guerrillas roamed about scalping, castrating, even beheading their victims. One of their chieftains, Dave Poole, hopped from one body to another. It was the best way of counting them, he explained. Altogether he stepped on 124 corpses.

The Centralia massacres "stirred up a hornet's nest" of Federals bent on revenge, causing Anderson and Todd to scurry across the Missouri River. There they split, Todd heading west, Anderson east. On October 11 the latter met Price's army at Booneville. Price was appalled by the scalps bedecking the bridles of "Bloody Bill's" boys and insisted that they be thrown away. He then ordered Anderson to "proceed to the north side of the Missouri and permanently destroy the North Missouri Railroad." At the same time he dispatched instructions to "Colonel" Quantrill to wreck the Hannibal & St. Joseph. Obviously he was unaware that Quantrill had fallen from power.

Anderson recrossed the river and burned a couple of, depots on the North Missouri but failed, Price later complained, to do any "material damage." However, his earlier raids already had stopped regular traffic on both the North Missouri and the Hannibal & St. Joseph, neither of which played a part in Union operations against Price in any case. Thus Price assigned him and Quantrill (who probably never received his message) missions of no military value.

From Booneville Price marched towards Kansas City. On October 18 Todd's band joined him. Three days latter, while scouting the advance on Independence, Todd was killed by a Union sniper. His men buried him that night in the Independence cemetery, tears coursing down their cheeks.

Union newspapers, on the other hand, cheered the death of the "notorious Todd." Soon they reported more good news: Anderson too was dead, shot from his horse while recklessly charging a company of militia outside of Richmond, Missouri on October 26. The jubilant Unionists cut off his head and mounted it atop a telegraph pole.

By then Price's army, defeated at the Battle of Westport on October 22, was streaming southward in utter rout, accompanied by most of Todd's gang. The last desperate effort of the Confederate cause in Missouri had failed. To it the bushwhackers had contributed ghastly horror - and little else.

During the winter the bushwhackers who accompanied Price's retreat debated whether or not to return in the spring to Missouri. Some decided to remain in Texas, others followed John Thrailkill across the border where they joined the French army in fighting Mexican guerrillas. But most, late in April, headed back under Poole and Clement to their old "stomping grounds."

They announced their return on April 7 with a dramatic double raid on two towns in Johnson County, burning houses, pillaging stores, and murdering civilians. Then they galloped off into Lafayette County, killing fifteen more men on the way, and took refuge in the Sni Hills.

These butcheries were, so to speak, a final fling. Obviously, with the main Confederate armies surrendering, guerrilla war was "played out" - it no longer had the remotest military justification, and even Southern sympathizers were demanding that it cease. So, on May 14, Poole informed the Federal commander at Lexington that he and his men wished to surrender. In reply he was told that the military would take no further action against partisans who gave up their arms and obeyed the laws. Accordingly on May 21 Poole, at the head of eighty-five guerrillas, rode into Lexington, where a large body of Union troops stood in battle formation. In front of the courthouse they halted, dismounted, tossed their revolvers and rifles into a pile on the ground, took the oath of allegiance, and received each a certificate of parole. They then remounted and rode out of town. That evening the Federal commander in west Missouri telegraphed departmental headquarters: "Bushwhacking is stopped."



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