10/24/06 - American Terrorists

In today's excerpt - for those reading current headlines from Iraq: Missouri, Bleeding Kansas, and the pro-slavery 'bushwhacker' William Clarke Quantrill and his marauders, which included Frank and Jesse James. Rooted in the ill-fated Missouri Compromise of 1820, and starting in earnest with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, Missouri and Kansas had been the site of a slaughterfield—a guerrilla war pitting pro-slavery forces against abolitionists. This anti-slavery guerrilla warfare continued well through the Civil War, and then in diminished form after the death of Jesse James in 1882 and beyond:

"In early 1862, Quantrill and his band of bushwhackers launched a series of strikes into Kansas that all but paralyzed the state. Then, in 1863, the revenge-minded Quantrill set his sights on a new target: Lawrence, Kansas. One would be hard-pressed to find a place more thoroughly despised by Quantrill and his comrades than Lawrence. It functioned as a Free-Soil citadel during the 1850s, then as a haven for runaway slaves, and during the war, as a headquarters for the Redlegs, a band of hated Unionist guerrillas. Early in the morning of August 21, Quantrill and his 400 bushwhackers—including Frank James and Coleman Younger—struck. ... For the next few hours, his fierce and sweaty long-haired men ... rumbled up and down the streets of Lawrence, looting stores, shops, saloons and houses. ... By day's end, the deed was done. The city lay in ashes; 200 homes were burned to the ground. Over 150 civilians, all men and young boys, had been murdered in cold blood. ...

"The Federals swiftly retaliated, issuing the harshest order of the war by either side against civilians, known as General Order Number 11. [It was] almost as ruthless as the Lawrence raid itself, ... four whole counties were quickly depopulated; virtually every citizen was deported; their crops and their forage were destroyed. So were their homes, which were burned. ... In one town, the population dwindled from 10,000 to a mere 600. ...

"Thus escalated the vicious cycle of retaliation and revenge. ... By 1864 ... it was no longer simply enough to ambush and gun down the enemy. They had to be mutilated and, just as often, scalped. When that was no longer enough, the dead were stripped and castrated. ... Then the victims were beheaded ... ears were cut off, faces were hacked, bodies were grossly mangled. Soon, Quantrill and his men rode about wearing scalps dangling from their bridles, as well as an assortment of other body parts—ears, noses, teeth, even fingers—all vivid trophies attesting to their latest victims."


Jay Winik


April 1865: The Month That Saved America


HarperCollins Publishers


Copyright 2001 by Jay Winik


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment