The War for Southern Independence on the Missouri-Kansas border was brutal. It was probably the most dangerous place in the country at the time. Much of what happened in the area during the time has been overlooked or forgotten. There was near genocide of Western Missouri at the time. I’m going to do my best to help you know what it was like for Missourians at the time and the extremely difficult hardships they were dealt.
Paul Petersen, in his book Quantrill at Lawrence: The Untold Story, detailed the exact nature of the guerrillas’ campaign in Lawrence and their reasoning behind it. I will give you different statements from Missourians and Jayhawkers alike during that time and provide details of the conditions along the border according to Mr Petersen’s book.
The Perdee farm in Missouri is the place where, en route to Lawrence, Quantrill’s 300 guerillas camped. Here Quantrill formulated his plans and put together the ‘Death Lists’ and the list of ‘Buildings to be destroyed.’ When the guerrillas of Johnson County, Missouri gathered at Perdee’s it was with a feeling of a just retaliation. Their county seat of Columbus and 50 homes had been completely destroyed by Captain Clark S. Merriman of the 7th Kansas Jayhawker Regiment on 9 January 1862. The same sense of anger and resentment could be felt by the 50 guerrillas from Cass County who joined Quantrill along the banks of the Grand River before crossing the state line into Kansas. Cass County before the war enjoyed a population of more than 10,000 people. By the start of the Lawrence raid in August 1863 there were only 600 surviving citizens.
Lieutenant William H Gregg was 22 years old when he joined Quantrill and had a reputation among the guerrillas for his skill in throwing a bowie knife. He was known for the ability to open up a Fed at 20 paces with this weapon as a projectile. He found that it was Colonel Charles Radford Jennison, the leader of the Jayhawkers, who had shot his uncle, David Gregg, for being a Southern sympathizer. Gregg’s own mother was also abused by Jayhawkers. She wore her watch and jewelry concealed in the bodice of her clothing, but the Jayhawkers finally discovered the watch chain about her neck. They tore her dress open, robbed her, almost choking her to death in trying to release the chain. Written accounts state:
In January, 1862, 17 of Jennison’s Kansans had been at the senior Gregg’s house, and had cruelly hanged and almost choked to death the inmates, and also poured out 2 casks of wine. Gregg was coming home that night. He had four men, only one of them armed. The 17 men fought Gregg, captured 2 of the unarmed men, and shot them after surrender. Gregg and the one man drove them back and saw the 2 men shot. The day after the 2 men were killed Gregg saw 14 houses burned at one time.
Gregg also found that the father of his fiancee Miss Elizabeth Hook had been jailed. In addition, the Federals who jailed him stole every one of the family’s horses, slaughtered every pig they owned, and seized the family’s slaves, money, jewelry, and even their bedclothes. After learning about this incident, Gregg immediately sought out Quantrill and joined his command. Elizabeth Hook later recalled:
Everybody was happy and prosperous…. But it was not until 1862 that the horrors of war were realized. I had never known a sorrow or a care until one day a company of Federal soldiers came to our home with wagons in which they loaded the negroes and their belongings; the negro men were mounted on my father’s horses and forced to ride them away. Colonel Jennison came down from Kansas, robbed, murdered, and burned everything in his way. Mother had spun and woven 5 pairs of blankets; had only recently before had them scoured, and these Redlegs took every one of them, placing them under their saddles.
A Missouri citizen at the time spoke of Captain Richard P Maddox and his family’s ranch:
When the rebellion broke out and Kansas troops under Jennison and Lane marched into Missouri in 1861, old Maddox and his sons were early victims of their hatred and revenge. The Redlegs made a descent upon the Maddox ranch, carried off their mules, horses and other stock, burned their houses, barns, Negro quarters, cribs and out-houses of all descriptions and took away with them all the Negroes on the place. They would doubtless have exterminated the last Maddox on the face of the earth if they could have laid hands on them, but some fled to the brush and the old man found it convenient for him to make a certain visit to the “loyal” state of Kentucky. It’s said that George Maddox joined Quantrill at Blue Springs in June of 1861 and fought with him in every fight until Quantrill left the state. The elder Maddox ventured back into Missouri before the close of the war but was speedily nabbed and lodged in the Independence jail and languished many months among the bushwhackers and lice.
This should give you but a small taste of what loyal Southerners from Missouri had been dealt and the extreme hardships that no man, woman or child should face. In part two, I shall dig more deeply into the hardships faced.