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General Order No. 11 and the Missouri-Kansas Border: Part II

Updated on August 25, 2013
Nick Burchett profile image

Nick is a US Army veteran, husband and father of three, and has a BA in history. He is a Civil War aficionado and also enjoys genealogy.

Jayhawkers and Bushwackers fight it out over Kansas becoming a Free-State or a pro-slavery state.
Jayhawkers and Bushwackers fight it out over Kansas becoming a Free-State or a pro-slavery state. | Source
Lawrence Kansas, 1863
Lawrence Kansas, 1863 | Source
Burnt District Monument Marker in Harrisonville, Cass County Missouri
Burnt District Monument Marker in Harrisonville, Cass County Missouri | Source

Vigilante justice ran rampant. Many of the Union soldiers were Kansans who now had carte blanch to enact retribution on the Missourians. Union Soldiers were ordered by General Ewing not to take part in any marauding or vigilante actions, but these were for the most part empty orders. By the end of September the district was a desolate, forsaken land of crumbled chimneys next to charred ruins.

Not only were the inhabitants of the soon to be called “Burnt District” forced from their land and homes, many, even those loyal to the Union, would have encounters with Union commanders who enacted punishment as they saw fit. Martin Rice was a loyal Unionist, but was forced from his home and land. He had obtained the required papers showing his loyalty to the Union but on his five mile journey to his new home in Johnson County, along with a number of his neighbors he was met by the Ninth Kansas Regiment and arrested. After being questioned by the arresting officer, Captain Charles F. Coleman, Rice was instructed to ‘”Travel!”’ and set back out on his journey. He then heard shots fired and turned around to find that his neighbors and travelling companions all had been accused of assisting a group of guerillas the night before and therefore all had been shot and killed.

With the Border District now a desolate wasteland and no civilian population there to aid the guerillas the Union army believed they had finally brought and end to the bushwhackers and their harrassement of Union soldiers and civilians. Those in the charge of the Union army, specifically the Kansasans, believed they now had free reign to enact revenge on any remaining citizen as they surely were bushwhackers. However, this was not the case. Even by September 3rd, William Quantrill would arrive back in Jackson County with over 200 men.

The desolated country and the quickness of the forced evacuation left the land ripe for guerillas to forage and to actually live better than they did when the counties were populated. Albert Castel relates the story of an actual bushwhacker who stated,

"Quantrill was in no hurry to leave the country for the South. The farmhouses were nearly all vacated as required by Order No. 11, but in every smokehouse there hung from the rafters hams and bacon, and the country was full of stray hogs, cattle, and chickens which the owners had been forced to leave behind. There was plenty of feed for horses, and the men gathered the food at night.”

George Caleb Bingham is also noted by Castel to reiterate this point when he stated,

"Bushwhackers, who, until the close of the war, continued to stop the stages and rob the mails and passengers, and no one wearing the Federal uniform dared to risk his life within the desolated district.”

The issuance of General Order No. 11 did stifle guerrilla activy, but it did not stop it. Mostly what it did was move the action from the western border to the central and northern parts of the state. Some of these moves were in preparation for General Sterling Price’s one last attempt to storm into Missouri and take the state for the Confederacy. William T. “Bloody Bill” Anderson caused a reign of teorror that put every single Union soldier or sypathizer on edge. With the central and northern portions of the states paralyzed with terror, Price would have a better chance to easily move his men across the state with Union troops in hot pursuit of Anderson.

However, the move into Missouri by Price was futile at best and most of the guerillas by this point had broken the binding ties with each other that had made them strong and were now engaging in nothing short of murder. By November of 1863 the Border was calm enough that General Ewing issued Order No. 20 which partially rescinded General Order No. 11. He would be replaced the following year by General Egbert Brown who issued yet another General Order No. 11 which completely nullified Ewing’s General Order No. 11. And not surprisingly, the bushwhackers returned in large numbers and mostly started where they left off in August of 1863. The southern cause was lost by the spring of 1865 and even with their bloody deeds, the guerillas were given the opportunity to lay down their arms and given generous terms by Union officials.

General Thomas Ewing’s issuance of General Order No. 11 would have many different outcomes. Obivously, those directly affected by the Order grew to feel animostity towards the military leadership in the West. This included many staunch pro-union citizens. Like George Caleb Bingham, who felt the order too drastic. However there are many reasons when one looks from the outside in and realizes that General Order No. 11 was necessary. It provided a military need to deprive the guerillas of their support system, it was needed to help Kansas feel safe after the Lawrence Massacre, there also needed to be a way for Ewing to surpress the mob violence that was rising in Kansas by men such as James Lane and Daniel Anthony.

In the end what the order did was save lives of civilians and soldiers alike. The years leading up to the Civil War and during were bloody, harrowing times in Missouri. Ewing’s General Order No. 11, while harsh, was in the same mindset as that of his brother-in-law, William T. Sherman. Sherman would take the same approach in the South by destroying resources, not people. However, the distrust an animosity that remains today in the South towards William T. Sherman is exactly the same distrust, animosity and rivalry that exist today between Missourians and Kansans.General Order No. 11 would be coup-de-gras of violent hostilities along the Western Border.


  • Brownlee, Richard S. Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy. Baton Rogue: Louisiana State University Press, 1984.
  • Busch, Walter E. General, You Have Made the Mistake of Your Life. Independence: Two Trails, 2003.
  • Castel, Albert. "Order No. 11 and the Civil War on the Border." Missouri Historical Review, Vol 57, No. 4 (1963): 357-368.
  • Gilmore, Donald L. Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas Border. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 2006.
  • Mink, Charles R. "General Orders, No. 11: The Forced Evacuation of Civilians During the Civil War." Military Affairs, Vol. 34, No. 4 (1970): 132-137.
  • Neely, Jeremy. The Border Between Them: Violence and Reconciliation on the Kansas-Missouri Line. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007.
  • Nichols, Bruce. Guerrilla Warfare in Civil War Missouri. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2007.


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