Nowhere Was The Civil War More Brutal Or More Neighbor Vs. Neighbor Than In Missouri.
By the time a Confederate naval gun battery opened fire on Fort Sumter, the West was a mess, a tangled complex matrix of states, territories, Indian reservations, bustling cities, massive desolate deserts, wide, empty unmapped rolling plains, rocky untamed coastal shores, serene inlets, islands, forests, mountains, volcanoes and farmland. If a geographical feature existed, it could be found in the vast American West. Perhaps it was too soon in 1850 to call it the American West, but here we were, and there was little in between us and the coastline save for a few indigenous peoples who had made North America home for tens of thousands of years — and Mexico. Fueled by the notion of Manifest Destiny, the idea that somehow that European settlers should inherit the biggest land windfall in history was a divine canon moved to the forefront of political thinking. This was no replevin. It was a purloining, plain and simple.
The landscape was large and inchoate to the American mind. Some areas were unclassified lands. In places like St. Louis, or in San Francisco, the refinements and luxuries of high society could be found in abundance, even mature architecture and theater. Most of the American west was lawless, or under the purview of a hundred Indian bands and intermittent white settlements. Municipalities popped up instantly where money was to be made. The gold rush in California, railroad jobs, gold and silver and coal mining created mini retail environments. Where there were horses, there were saddles and saddle makers and clothes makers, and haberdashers and gunsmiths. Where there were wagons there were repairmen who could fix a wheel, replace an axle or remake horse restraints. Where there were men there were guns and alcohol and prostitutes as well and all of those things smoothed the way for commerce.
In particular the areas known as Missouri and Kansas were at war with each other. This was a bitter and savage war that few Americans remember in history. It was bloody and murderous and cruel. Missourians had had statehood for 40 years, yet they had a strong xenophobic libertarian streak and were on the side of secessionists and slavers and thugs who grabbed land at the border and anarchy soon reigned. Kansan authorities raided Missouri territory to keep the brigands off balance and to raid storehouses and thus promote the impecunious circumstances that would hopefully slow the raiders down. These bands in Missouri were well organized and used their cavalry and repeating rifles for mobility and firepower. The Union Army in turn used it’s brute strength, large infantry formations, cannons and of course its own formidable cavalry. Major General Samuel Curtis led Union troops to victory over the Confederates aligned with Missouri Brigands under Major General Earl Van Horn at Elk Horn Tavern.
However, the war in the West and in particular the violence between Kansas and Missouri was decentralized. Hatred between the two groups was deeply inculcated and so raids were tit for tat and this low level war did not end until the Civil War ended and a Federal force could be installed. Typical raids might include cold-blooded executions of able-bodied men, or hangings, home burnings, and forced displacements. Kansas and Missouri had a refugee problem. Unfortunately the Union Army acted with wanton abandon and licentiousness. Housing insurgent women in a building that later collapsed did the Union Army no favors for reputation. Then there was Order Number 11, delivered by Brigadier General Thomas Ewing that forced a large number of people out of their homes in a single night.
Revenge midwifed raiding groups that had the same fame and fortune as august military histories like the 14th Hussars or the Welsh Bridge. Capt. William Clarke Quantrill led a famed group of pro secessionists known as Quantrill’s Raiders. They were forced into the Confederate Army under the Partisan Ranger Act, but he led his men with the same fiery independence and headline seeking cruelty as ever before.
He died in Union hands in 1865, a product of the wild and violent American West.
In the end the state of Missouri sent 110,000 soldiers to serve in the Union Army and 40,000 to serve Jefferson Davis. Missouri and Kansas were fighting neighbor to neighbor across state lines and inside state lines. There were 1200 distinct battles fought intrastate during the American Civil War in Missouri.
This was the Civil War that few in this country now about, a separate war, a Hell of is own design.
Originally published at civilianmilitaryintelligencegroup.com on March 11, 2013.