The state of Missouri was a particularly violent area of conflict during the American Civil War. Within the state there was a virtual civil war within the greater national conflict. Raiders from both sides carried on bloody raids against the supporters of their opponents on an almost daily basis.
Missouri sent troops, commanders and supplies to both sides and their points of conflict were broad and deep. By the end of the Civil War Missouri had supplied nearly 110,000 troops to the Union and about 40,000 troops for the Confederate Army.
There were battles and skirmishes in all areas of the state, from the Iowa and Illinois border in the northeast to the edge of the state in the southeast and southwest on the Arkansas border. Counting minor engagements, actions and skirmishes, Missouri saw over 1,200 distinct fights. Only Virginia and Tennessee exceeded Missouri in the number of clashes within the state boundaries.
The Battle of Wilson’s Creek on August 10, 1861 was the last large scale engagement in the state until Price returned in 1864 in a last-ditch attempt to capture the state. Between 1862 and 1864 the state endured guerrilla warfare in which southern partisan rangers and Bushwhackers battled the Kansas irregulars known as Jayhawkers and Redlegs or “Redleggers” (from the red gaiters they wore around their lower legs) and the allied Union forces.
In order to bring some semblance of order to the Confederate side of the conflict, Maj.Gen. Thomas Hindman issued the “Confederate Partisan Act in Missouri” on July 17, 1862. Hindman was an Arkansas Fire-Eater who was commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department at the time. This edit was just one among the several that he issued covering conscription and the requisitioning of supplies.
I. For the more effectual annoyance of the enemy upon our rivers and in our mountains and woods all citizens of this district who are not conscripted are called upon to organize themselves into independent companies of mounted men or infantry, as they prefer, arming themselves and to serve in that part of the district to which they belong.
II. When as many as 10 men come together for this purpose they may organize by electing a captain, 1 sergeant, 1 corporal, and will at once commence operations against the enemy without waiting for special instructions. Their duty will be to cut off Federal pickets, scouts, foraging parties and trains and to kill pilots and others on gunboats and transports, attacking them day and night and using the greatest vigor in their movements. As soon as the company attains the strength required by law it will proceed to elect the other officers to which it is entitled. All such organizations will be reported to their headquarters as soon as practicable. they will receive pay and allowances for subsistence and forage for the time actually in the field, as established by the affidavits of their captains.
III. These companies will be governed in all respects by the same regulations as other troops. Captains will be held responsible for the good conduct and efficiency of their men and will report to these headquarters from time to time.
General Thomas C. Hindman
With the issuing of this act Confederate Partisan units began to proliferate throughout Missouri. There were at least 22 officially recognized partisan ranger units and at least 62 guerrilla units that operated throughout Missouri.
On the opposing side of the Missouri internecine warfare were the “Jayhawkers”, Redlegs and Redleggers of the pro-Union militias. Jayhawker bands waged numerous bloody and gruesome invasions of Missouri and also committed some of the most notorious atrocities of the Civil War, including the James Lane-led massacre on September 23, 1861 at Osceola, Missouri, in which the entire town was set aflame and many of it’s residents killed.
On September 23, 1861, James Lane led the 1,200-man Kansas Brigade, a unit that he organized to resist the invasion of Kansas by the secessionist Missouri State Guard led by General Sterling Price. Price defeated Lane in the Battle of Dry Wood Creek near Fort Scott, Kansas. Lane retreated and Price continued his offensive further into Missouri to the Siege of Lexington.
The climax of the campaign was on September 23, 1861, at Osceola, where Lane’s forces drove off a small Southern force and then looted and burned the town. An artillery battery under Capt. Thomas Moonlight shelled the St. Clair County courthouse. According to reports, many of the Kansans got so drunk that when it came time to leave they were unable to march and had to ride in wagons and carriages.
They carried off with them a tremendous load of plunder, including as Lane’s personal share a piano and a quantity of silk dresses. Hundreds of slaves followed Lane to Kansas and freedom. The troops moved Northwest and arrived at Kansas City, Missouri, on September 29, to pursue Price as he retreated south through the state.
The Sacking of Osceola included the taking of 350 horses and 200 slaves, 400 cattle, 3,000 bags of flour, and quantities of supplies from all the town shops and stores as well as carriages and wagons. Nine local men were rounded up, given a quick drumhead court-martial trial, and executed. All but three of the town’s 800 buildings burned; the town never fully recovered.
Jayhawkers also engineered the August 13, 1863 Collapse of Yankee jail in Kansas City in which innocent civilian female relatives of the Missouri Partisan Rangers were incarcerated by Union soldiers because of their connection to the pro-Confederate guerrillas. Supports beams of the jail had been intentionally weakened and sabotaged, and the ensuing collapse of the structure killed four women including a 14 year old. The two incidents were then followed by the infamous Raid on Lawrence, Kansas by Quantrill’s Raiders on August 21, 1863.