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General Order Number 11

Part 5 of a Series
Mike Scruggs

General Order Number 11 has been called the harshest measure ever taken by an American government against civilians. The order was signed by Union Brigadier General Thomas Ewing on August 25, 1863—four days after Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence Kansas—and called for the forced evacuation of all civilians from most of four counties in West Central Missouri within 15 days. It also required all grain and hay in the district to be turned over to the Union Army. All remaining hay, grain, and crops in the area were to be destroyed. Those who could prove their loyalty to the Union would be given receipts for their crops.

The order affected about 20,000 people in Jackson, Bates, and Cass counties and part of Vernon County. It was backed by Ewing’s commander, Major General John M. Schofield, and the highest levels of the Lincoln Government as a measure to suppress civilian support for pro-Southern guerilla activity against Union troops in Missouri and Kansas. The Kansas City Western Journal of Commerce estimated that about nine-tenths of the people of Jackson, Cass, and Bates counties were pro-Southern and actively engaged in supplying and aiding Confederate guerillas.

General Order Number 11 would have been severe enough in itself, but the lawless Jayhawker and Redleg cavalry units under Senator/Brigadier General Jim Lane in Kansas swarmed into Western Missouri to make the most of an opportunity for burning and looting homes and preying upon defenseless wagon trains to rob and murder. Many wagons of household valuables were redirected to Lawrence, leaving their former owners with nothing. There were numerous instances of Missouri men being shot trying to defend their wagons and families. Quantrill’s men were successful, however, in taking a heavy toll of Jayhawkers and Redlegs and scaring others off.

Many historians have wrongly concluded that General Order 11 was simply retribution for Quantrill’s Missouri Partisan raid on Lawrence, but that sweeps far too much under the carpet. To uncover the full truth it is necessary to look at the escalating severity of the Union occupation of Missouri and the development of the Lincoln Administration’s “Total War” policies.

As Union occupation troops poured into Missouri from Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Indiana, and other states, Governor Claiborne Jackson and most of the Missouri Legislature were forced to flee south. On August 10, 1861, however, Union forces under Nathaniel Lyon were defeated at Wilson’s Creek in southwestern Missouri by Confederate forces under Benjamin McCulloch and Sterling Price, a former Missouri Governor and Hero of the Mexican War. Lyon, whom Lincoln had promoted to Brigadier General following the St. Louis massacre, was killed. Despite their victory, McCulloch refused to support Price in attempting to retake the rest of Missouri. William Quantrill was at the time a sergeant in the Third Missouri Confederate Cavalry and was promoted to captain of a Partisan cavalry unit as a reward for his valor.

Meanwhile Union war crimes against civilians in Missouri continued to increase. In Oklahoma, the misconduct of Union occupying forces in Missouri was cited in the Cherokee Declaration of Independence of August 21, 1861, as one of their reasons for declaring their independence from the United States and allying themselves with the Confederate States:

“But in the Northern States the Cherokee people saw with alarm a violated constitution, all civil liberty put in peril, and all rules of civilized warfare and the dictates of common humanity and decency unhesitatingly disregarded…”

The Cherokee Declaration is enlightening reading for those who have been taught only the Northern version of the Un-Civil War. The Cherokees were joined by the Creeks, Choctaws, Seminoles, and Chickasaws in Oklahoma. Together they were able to raise about 7,000 cavalry and mounted infantry to frustrate and bedevil far greater numbers of Union troops in the West.

On October 31, 1861, the exiled Government of the State of Missouri, operating from Neosho, seceded from the Union, and on November 28, the Confederate Congress recognized Missouri as the twelfth Confederate State.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis was reluctant to approve of guerilla warfare, but Price persuaded him that Missouri Partisan companies were needed to defend their homes and farms against the escalating crimes of Federal troops and Unionist Missouri State Militia units against Southern sympathizers. They would also be useful for intelligence and support when Confederate forces could return in strength to Missouri. Most Confederate Missouri Militia units were renamed Missouri State Guard units and later incorporated into Missouri regiments of the Confederate Army. President Davis authorized the commission of officers who could raise at least ten men in their home counties for Missouri Partisan Ranger units. The Partisans quickly grew to 60 cavalry companies totaling about 4,000 men. They turned out to be extraordinarily successful in tying down 60,000 Union troops in Missouri.

Lincoln at first envisioned that the Southern “rebellion” would be quickly put down for lack of sufficient public support in the seceded states. This proved to be a significant miscalculation. No crowds welcomed the Union invaders. Union officers in the field soon realized that they were fighting not only the Confederate Army but a whole people. The President’s champion for total warfare, General William Tecumseh Sherman, put it bluntly:

“This war differs from other wars, in this particular. We are not fighting armies but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.”

By late in 1861 it had become common practice for Union troops to execute captured Partisans. General Henry Halleck made the practice official on March 13, 1862 with General Order Number 2, the “No Quarter Order” branding all Partisans as outlaws subject to immediate execution on capture. Even Confederate recruiting officers were shot. The Partisans in return also “raised the black flag” of no quarter warfare on Union military units—but not civilians.

But even Halleck complained about the depredations of Jim Lane’s Kansas Jayhawkers and Redlegs on Missouri civilians. Halleck complained to General George B. McClellan, commander over all Federal Armies, that Lane’s atrocities and crimes against civilians had turned Missouri against the Union and resulted in 20,000 men joining Sterling Price in the Confederate Army. McClellan in turn complained to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and ultimately to Lincoln himself, but no action was ever taken against Lane. Lincoln and Stanton continued to favor Lane and to advocate severe measures against anyone who supported the Confederacy or openly opposed the Lincoln Administration. Both Halleck and McClellan were soon replaced.

In 1862, three towns in Northeastern Missouri were the sites of mass executions of Partisan prisoners of war and in some cases partisan civilians. In August, sixteen prisoners of war were executed in Kirksville. In September, ten men who refused to take the Union Oath of Allegiance were executed in Macon. On October 18, Col. John McNeil ordered the execution by firing squad of ten hostages including one older man when a Union informer was not returned to Union hands. The Union oriented Palmyra Courier editorialized the next day that:

“The madness of rebellion has become so deep seated that ordinary methods of cure are inadequate.”

Despite great controversy as far away as London, Lincoln promoted McNeil to Brigadier General. In August of 1862, Lincoln had also promoted Col. Ivan (John) Turchin to Brigadier General after his troops taught the town of Athens, Alabama, a lesson in pillaging and rape. Total war against civilians—which included burning, pillaging, torture, and sometimes murder and rape—had become meritorious conduct in a strategy to defeat a whole people.

General Order Number 11 was not just retaliation for Lawrence. It was part of a growing “total war” against Southern civilians that culminated in Sherman’s devastation of Georgia and South Carolina in 1864 and 1865. In scope, it exceeded the Cherokee “Trail of Tears” in which 17,000 Cherokees were removed from Georgia and North Carolina to Oklahoma in 1838. It was only surpassed during World War II, when 120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly removed to internment camps.

Ironically, General Order 11 was not effective in reducing Partisan warfare against Union forces. Enough stray cattle and hogs were left in the affected counties to feed thousands of Partisans. Quantrill withdrew to Texas only when winter came.

While they were in Texas, Bill Anderson quarreled with Quantrill over disciplinary issues and split off from him. In September1864, Sterling Price was gathering a Confederate army in a desperate plan to influence the 1864 U.S. Presidential election by capturing St. Louis and Jefferson City. Price’s Confederate Missouri Guard was to be supported by Partisan Rangers. On the morning of September 27, Anderson and about 30 of his company of 80 men rode into Centralia, Missouri, to intercept a Union passenger train. After a brief resistance by some of the Union soldiers, the Partisans boarded and forced the 125 passengers off the train. Twenty-three men in Union uniforms, most on furlough from Sherman’s Army, were separated from the rest. Anderson chose the highest ranking, a sergeant, for a possible prisoner exchange. Still seething with anger because six of his men had recently been scalped by a Union patrol, Anderson told the others why, despite their pleading, they would not be spared. He gave the order to “muster them out,” and all 22 were shot down, but none were scalped or mutilated as Union propagandists later charged.

In the afternoon a force of about 155 men commanded by Union Major A.V.E. Johnston of the newly formed 39th Missouri Mounted Infantry Regiment arrived in pursuit of Anderson’s Partisans. Despite warnings that there were hundreds of Partisans gathering in the area, they followed Anderson right into an ambush by a combined Partisan force of 225 men. Armed with new but only single shot Enfield rifles, Johnston’s men dismounted and formed ranks for a volley into the Partisans just as they began their cavalry charge. The Partisans rode low in their saddles—Comanche style—and only three were hit and killed before their horses knocked down or trampled almost every Union soldier. Before the Union riflemen could recover and reload, the Partisans reversed their direction and charged into them, each horseman blasting away with two pistols. After a few more gun-blazing passes, Major Johnston and 123 of his men lay dead on the field. More than a dozen others were pursued and shot while trying to escape on horseback. None of the bodies were scalped or mutilated. According to Frank James, his brother Jesse fired the shot that killed Major Johnston.

The end of the war did not bring peace to members of the Partisan Rangers. They were still counted as outlaws. Those who stayed in Missouri were forced to live as outlaws. Thus began the outlaw careers of the James brothers and the Younger brothers.

To be continued.