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

Updated on March 29, 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.

George Caleb Bingham painting (about 1868) depicting General Order  11 (1863)
George Caleb Bingham painting (about 1868) depicting General Order 11 (1863) | Source
Major General Thomas Ewing, Jr., United States Army
Major General Thomas Ewing, Jr., United States Army | Source

There were many atrocities that occurred during the American Civil War that were perpetrated by the Federal government and its soldiers. One edict, General Order Number 11, would become notorious for its treatment of rural Missouri residents. The order would become known for its harsh treatment of civilians and property; regardless of their loyalties. It would be a result of the lack of discipline and effectiveness by Union soldiers in suppressing the guerrilla actions. And it had the opposite effect it actually was intended to have on the southern guerillas.

Brigadier General Thomas Ewing Jr. was the commander of Border District which encompassed the counties along the edge of the Missouri-Kansas border. Southern sympathizing guerillas had for quite some time used this area as a base for raids into Kansas to carry out their guerrilla tactics on Union soldiers and Union sympathizing citizens. The citizens of these counties were primarily pro-Southern and provided support, supplies and refuge for these guerillas. By 1863 the fighting between the guerillas and the Union army had reached a crescendo. With the attacks on Missourians by pro-abolitionist Kansans, the collapse of a makeshift prison housing women relatives of the guerillas and the brutal and vicious attack on Lawrence Kansas by the pro-slavery guerillas something had to be done by the Union command in the district.

According to records kept by the commander of the District of Missouri, Major General John Schoefield, the number of available Union soldiers was 106 officers, 3,073 troops, six pieces of heavy artillery and fourteen pieces of field artillery. This small force had the monumental task of handling all military action, police and detective work in the district. With pressure from the notorious Kansas Senator James Lane, who threatened that Ewing was, ‘“a dead dog if you fail to issue that order as agreed between us,”’ and a dire need to bring order to the region, Ewing issued Order Number 11 on August 25, 1863. General Order Number 10 was issued earlier in the month and was plans implemented by Ewing and his superior Schoefield to address the issues in a forceful manner.

General Order Number 11 raised the level of brutality to a much greater extent. The order required that all residents of Jackson, Cass, Bates and Vernon counties, regardless of their loyalties, to vacate their homes in 15 days. Any residents who by that date had proven their loyalties to the Union would be allowed to move to any military station within the district. Those who did not or would not establish appropriate loyalties were to move from the district altogether or be subject to military punishment.

The guerillas would normally lay low during the winter months due to the climate of Missouri during the winter. Winters were cold, wet and there was little to live off of for men who were always on the run and lived off the land. They became very skilled at avoiding capture and hiding out during these winter months. Federal troops would time and time again be outsmarted and outmaneuvered by the skilled bushwhackers. The biggest disadvantage that the Federal troops had and was most certainly the deciding factor in the success of the guerillas, was the aid provided them by the local, civilian population. One Union officer stated that, ‘”If anyone can do better against bushwhackers than we have done, let him try this country, where the people and bushwhackers are allied against the United States and its soldiers.”

But this loyalty was the very thing that the Union leaders realized had to be dealt with, and on a much larger scale. Moving the civilians, as the order called for, out of the affected counties was only part of the order. All grain and hay in the affected areas was to be removed or destroyed. Barns and livestock were either stolen or destroyed. Homes were ransacked, plundered and burned by a mix of Union soldiers and Kansas “Red Legs.”

But moreover the order was swift and harsh on the civilian population. Most left with only what they could carry, some with less than that. Even hardened pro-Unionists were appalled at the conditions and execution of General Order No. 11. Colonel Bazel Lazear, Federal commander at Lexington, Missouri, wrote his wife:

“It is heartsickening to see what I have seen. . . . A desolated country and men & women and children, some of them all most [sic] naked. Some on foot and some in old wagons. Oh God.”

George Caleb Bingham of Kansas City made it a crusade to confront General Ewing and have the order recalled. He wrote that he had witnessed instances of civilians ”shot down in the very act of obeying the order; and one in which their wagons and effects were seized by their murderers.” Long wagon trains full of seized property and effects made its way back towards the Kansas border. Bingham would go on to further immortalize the Order by painting “Martial Law” or “Order No.11” which fictisously placed Ewing right in the midst of the carnage in the Border Districts.

General Henry Halleck believed that ‘”all Missouri and Kansas trops should have been removed from the border and troops from other states put in their place.”’ Had this happen it is highly likely that the atrocities that occurred from the Order could have been prevented.


  • 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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