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Guerrilla warfare and the Civil War in Missouri - Part 2

Updated on October 27, 2015
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.

William T. "Bloody Bill" Anderson, one of Missouri's most notorious bushwhackers  2009 Clay County Museum
William T. "Bloody Bill" Anderson, one of Missouri's most notorious bushwhackers 2009 Clay County Museum

We left off with a brief overview of guerrilla warfare in Missouri during the Civil War and today we will look at the stories of a few of these famous (or as some may say infamous) bushwhackers and partisan rangers of Missouri.

William Clarke Quantrill
The "kingpin" of all the guerrilla leaders in Missouri was undoubtedly William Clarke Quantrill. Quantrill led many raids and attacks on known Union towns and against Union soldiers as well as robbing stagecoaches. These actions led Union commanders to brand him an outlaw, even as he apparently secured a captains rank in the Confederate army in charge of partisan rangers.

Quantrill is probably best known for his raid and sacking of Lawrence, Kansas in 1863. Lawrence had strong ties to the Union and was the base for the abolitionists in Kansas. When a makeshift jail collapsed, killing four young women accused of supporting Quantrill's Raiders, Quantrill and his men blamed the collapse on the Union. With the fire fueled Quantrill ordered the attack on Lawrence, and by his orders, his guerrillas killed 183 men and boys "old enough to carry a rifle".

Quantrill met his end in Kentucky when he rode into a Union ambush on May 10, 1865. He was shot in the chest and died on June 6th.

William T. "Bloody Bill" Anderson
One of Quantrill's allies was another notorious guerrilla of note, William T. "Bloody Bill" Anderson. Two of William T. Anderson's sisters, Josephine and Mary were in the collapsed jail in Kansas City that fueled the fire for the attack on Lawrence. Josephine was killed and Mary was crippled. Anderson rode with Quantrill's Raiders until a dispute with Quantrill in Texas led Anderson to head his own band of partisans and they headed back to Missouri.

Anderson was known for his savagery and made a habit of not only shooting his prisoners, but also mutilating and scalping them. This was the case on September 27, 1864 during the Centralia Massacre where he killed, mutilated and decapitated almost 150 Union solders.

Anderson met his end when he led a charge against an ambush in Ray County, Missouri. Anderson fell from the saddle after having been shot twice in the head. His remains were taken to Richmond, Missouri where he was put on display, then decapitated, his head stuck on a pole and his body dragged through the streets before being buried in an unmarked grave.

Bill Wilson
The name Bill Wilson is probably one you have never heard of in reference to the Civil War, but his story is probably one of the most interesting and one that could be said is the story of Missourians in the Civil War. Bill Wilson lived in the foothills of the Ozarks in the Phelps county Missouri area. He maintained a neutral stance leading up to and during some of the war. This changed when his wife and children were pulled from their home by Union soldiers and then watched it burn to the ground. Wilson went on a killing spree and enacted his vengeance on anything and anyone even remotely having ties to the Union or with the attack on his family.

Wilson was notorious for being unrivaled when it came to shooting and was also very adept at ambush techniques. The foothills of the Ozarks, and the close family ties there afforded Wilson considerable security. As the war continued Wilson enacted his vengeance and was considered a criminal for his actions by Union commanders and ultimately fled to Texas.

At this point the story of Bill Wilson becomes cloudy, as no one is completely sure what happened to him. Some stories have him joining William Quantrill while he was in Texas. According to the book "Bushwhacker" by George Clinton Arthur, Wilson was shot to death in March 1869 by two Missourians, John Thompson and William O. Blackmore and supposedly covered with brush in a hasty burial.

Both men were tried and hung in Sherman, Texas. No grave or remains have been found to date of Bushwhacker Bill Wilson.

One would be remiss to leave out Jesse James, his brother Frank James and Cole Younger as three of the most recognizable and notorious bushwhackers or partisans in Missouri's history. We will discuss them in a future article. Their eventual notoriety would be a direct result of their respect, admiration and tutelage of their mentors, William Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson.


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