The Un-Civil War In Missouri – Pay Back
On August 18, 1863, only a few days following the collapse of the Thomas building in Kansas City that had resulted in the death of five young Southern girls, William Quantrill began to assemble his Missouri Partisan Rangers near Oak Grove, Missouri, where there was plenty of water and the terrain and heavy woodlands facilitated concealment of a large number of horses and men. He waited impatiently there for the return of John Noland and Fletcher Taylor. One of the secrets of Quantrill’s highly successful guerilla warfare was accurate and timely intelligence, and he made extensive use of spies and scouts. On any given engagement he was constantly calculating the odds for success and rapid escape. Objectives, routes, communications, and means of concealment were planned and timed in detail. A raid on Lawrenceville—the very capitol of Kansas Jayhawkers, Redlegs, and radical abolitionists—would be extraordinarily daring and hazardous. As always, he would carefully orchestrate as many details as possible to reduce his risks and enhance his probability of success.
Posing as a land speculator, Fletcher Taylor lodged at the Free State Hotel in Lawrence. Through lavish spending, generous hospitality, and friendly conversation he uncovered a wealth of important information. Noland, being black and supplied with a large amount of bribery money, easily loosened the tongues of formerMissouri slaves living in Lawrence. He was also an astute observer in all matters of military, financial, political, and personal associations in his intelligence gathering. Returning from his reconnaissance mission, Noland was stopped by Union soldiers but somehow allayed their suspicions, even though he was carrying a large sum of money. After hearing from these two trusted intelligence men, Quantrill finalized his plans and called a meeting with his captains.
On the same day, Union Generals Schofield and Ewing issued General Order Number 10 to remove all Southern sympathizers and their families from the border counties.
Once Quantrill’s captains were assembled around his campfire, he outlined the plan of attack on Lawrence. These ten captains, who usually rode with about 30 men each, were Bill Anderson, Andy Blunt, Ben Estes, William Gregg, John Jarrette, Oliver Shepherd, George Todd, Harrison Trow, Dick Yeager, and Cole Younger. Many of these men would gain fame as guerilla warriors, and some would gain fame as outlaws after the war.
Contrary to the portrait of Quantrill painted by many Northern authors, he was by no means an autocrat. His discussion with his captains drew on their knowledge and opinions and took place over a 24 hour period. At last he gathered them again, and Noland and Taylor gave full reports and answered questions. Then Quantrill explained his plan once more and spoke to them about the risks, which he considered to be very high.
“I do not know if anyone of us will get back to tell the story,” he stated frankly.
One by one—starting with Bill Anderson, who had just lost a sister in the Thomas building collapse—he asked for their vote. Many of them had had relatives murdered and homes and farms burned by Jayhawkers and Redlegs. All agreed, including Col. John D Holt, who had just arrived with a small contingent of regular Confederate cavalry. Many of them made specific mention of the sufferings of their own families.
“Where my house once stood there is a heap of ruins. I haven’t a neighbor that’s got a house. Lawrence and the torch,” added Dick Yeager.
Quantrill was still determined, however, to execute vengeance without harming women and children. He emphasized that every man in a Federal uniform should be killed but no harm should come to a woman or child.
With his officers unanimously behind him, Quantrill then addressed the men, pointing out the extreme hazards of the mission and warning that many could be lost. According to William Gregg, he added,
“Hence, I say to one and all, if any refuse to go, they will not be censured.”
Quantrill then ordered an inspection to make sure every man had a good horse and adequate weapons, supplies, and ammunition. For this trip each man also led an extra horse. Many of the horses were of the finestKentucky breeds. Most riders carried a carbine with them, but pistols were to be their main weapons, and each man carried several, as many as six.
Quantrill’s Missouri Partisans and the small force of Confederate cavalry began their march with about 250 men on August 19. That night they rode through blackened fields and past many burned homes, the work of Jayhawker cavalry. By prearrangement another 50 Partisans from Cass County joined them on the morning of August 20. In addition, Confederate Col. Holt had managed to enlist 100 new recruits in Clay County. These new recruits brought the total force to about 400. The new recruits would be used for less exacting responsibilities during the entry into Lawrence, leaving the most crucial objectives to the most experienced men and leaders.
When they reached the Kansas border about noon, they were about 45 miles from Lawrence. Most of Quantrill’s men then donned Federal uniforms or at least Federal jackets. Underneath they wore their specially decorated brown Partisan shirts, which would be needed to distinguish friend from foe in combat. Units with Federal jackets were put at the front of the column and carried U.S. flags. After a brief rest, they headed southwest with Gregg and his men acting as a vanguard about a quarter mile in front of the column. Todd’s men made up the rear guard. On the flanks were scouts and vedettes. Communication to Quantrill by the vanguard, rear, and flanks took place every few minutes.
At 7 P.M. a unit of the Ninth Kansas Jayhawkers spotted an unidentified column, believed to be moving northwest. But they reported it to Kansas City rather than alerting Union forces farther west. General Ewing, who was spending the night in Fort Leavenworth, would not receive the message until late morning the next day, at which time he belatedly gathered 300 men and headed for Lawrence.
Several hours later that night a farmer also spotted the unidentified column and noted that many riders had tied themselves to their saddles in case they fell asleep. The column encountered a few Union soldiers at Spring Hill, but these soldiers did not suspect anything. As they came nearer Lawrence, several Jayhawkers were recognized along the way and promptly killed. They came upon the home of Jayhawker Joseph Stone and shot him in the head. Quantrill detailed two men to find Sam Snyder, a Jayhawker lieutenant, who had been withJim Lane at the burning of Osceola and was responsible for looting several churches in Missouri. They found Snyder milking his cow and shot him dead.
Near dawn they reached the outskirts of Lawrence, and Quantrill turned to his men and said:
“Boys, this is the home of Jim Lane and Jennison; remember that in hunting us they gave no quarter. Shoot every soldier you see, but in no way harm a woman or child…Molest no women or children. Kill every man in Federal uniform.”
Quantrill then removed his Federal blouse and threw it to the ground. The rest of his men did the same. They would now be recognized by their unmistakable Partisan Ranger shirts. Turning his horse toward Lawrence, Quantrill drew his pistols, gave a Rebel Yell, and galloped toward the head of the column.
The vanguard first encountered a Union company quartered in about 40 tents along the main road. They met little resistance at first, but bullets soon began to fly from every direction. Eighteen of the 21 Union recruits in the camp were killed. Some Union soldiers retreated to a store but then surrendered. They were promptly shot. The Partisans then encountered the tents of a small troop of new black recruits who immediately scattered. Few of them survived. Quantrill then ordered an assault on the main part of town. They charged through the wide streets five or six abreast yelling like demons and gunning down every blue coat that appeared. Many of the Partisans shouted a battle cry as they blazed away: “Remember the girls and Osceola!”
But when they came to the bank of the Kansas River, a hail of bullets from about 400 men of the Eleventh and Ninth Kansas Jayhawker regiments poured into them. Yet the Jayhawkers on the other side of the river did not come to the aid of their comrades. They cut the ferry rope, not only preventing the Missouri Partisans from reaching them but also their own crossing to save Lawrence.
The Mayor of Lawrence, General George Washington Collamore, had made the mistake of storing all the local militia arms in a central armory. As men in Union uniforms rushed to fetch their arms, they were shot down by Missouri Partisans. Meanwhile, Quantrill’s men were searching and burning the houses of those Jayhawkers on their death list.
Next the Partisans surrounded the Free State Hotel. In this case, Quantrill allowed Captain Alexander Banks, a regular Union Army officer who was staying at the hotel, to surrender the 60 occupants and gave his word that they would not be harmed. Quantrill honored his guarantee by promising to put bullets into anyone who harmed the prisoners. They were moved to another hotel owned by an old friend, but the Free State Hotel was burned.
Next the Missourians surrounded the Johnson House Hotel, a known hangout for Redlegs. Fourteen men were there. Realizing their imminent danger, a few successfully slipped out the windows, but several others were gunned down trying to escape. The remaining seven asked for quarter. Quantrill reminded them that they had given no quarter to hundreds of elderly men they had killed in Missouri. Nevertheless, they were taken prisoner. Of these, one notorious Redleg, Joe Finley, was immediately recognized and shot. The other six men were interrogated and also found to be Redlegs. These were pushed into an alley and promptly executed.
To be continued.