Rural Missouri - September 2013 - (Page 12)
Scorching the border
General Order No. 11 ~ September 1863
Union authorities lay waste to western Missouri
by Jim Denny
counties had to be off the land within 15 days. Only
a handful of the loyal could stay near a military
post. All crops were also to be destroyed. The worst
of the forced exodus was over by Sept. 9, 1863. It
t was inevitable that the spiral of intensifying
was a grim 15 days.
violence during the Civil War would climax in
But the preceding eight years had been grim as
total war. Civilian populations who sustained
well. Free Staters, Border Rufﬁans, Jayhawkers and
enemy armies also would come to feel the “hard
guerrillas had all been “cleaning out” (to use Lane’s
hand of war” felt by those armies.
term) the Burnt District for years. Hundreds of
Gen. Sherman’s scorched earth campaign through
houses had already been “burnt” well before Ewing
Georgia during his march to the sea in late 1864
and his edict came along. Jayhawkers had stolen
showed the complete destruction that total war
themselves rich from the bounty of western Missouri
could bring to a region. But the ﬁrst scorched earth
farms. Union forage teams with armed
policy applied by Union authorities
escorts hauled away tons of hay and
during the war was not in the South,
corn. Miles of fence rails by the tens
but in Missouri, a loyal state. Some
of thousands went up in the smoke of
10,000 Missouri citizens were “depopuUnion campﬁres.
lated” by their own military leaders.
These waves of depredation and
Never — before or since — has the
destruction only stiffened Southern
government taken such harsh measures
sentiment in the countryside. Gueragainst its own people in quite the way
rillas did their own burning, looting
it did in the late summer of 1863 when
and murdering of Union folk. Most
General Order No. 11 carried the constole horses and livestock. Thousands
cept of total war to a new low.
on both sides became refugees before
General Order No. 11 was the ﬂip
Ewing’s ﬁnal blow. Hundreds of farms
side of the Lawrence Massacre, where
ceased to exist. The countryside
Missouri guerrillas committed their
became a dangerous place to eke out
worst deeds of murder and mayhem.
Now Kansans clamored to
What people remained in
repay in kind. Jayhawking Sen.
Jim Denny, a Co-Mo Electric member
the countryside were Southern
Jim Lane raged to overﬂowing
from Lupus, brings the state’s Civil War
sympathizers. Well before GenKansas audiences his plan for
history to life in Rural Missouri as we
eral Order No. 11, the Unionist
Missouri: “Burn them over! Kill
commemorate the sesquicentennial of
minority already was “depopuevery living thing! Make a desthis time in our nation’s history. Order
ert and call it peace!” General
Jim’s book, “The Civil War’s First Blood,” lated.” Neighbors and guerrillas
drove loyal families off their
Order No. 11 was something of a
online at www.ruralmissouri.coop.
farms and into crowded garrison
towns. In late June, the last few Union families were
Brig. Gen. Thomas Ewing, District of the Border
evacuated from Bates County, which now ceased
commander, intended to keep Lane and his most
to exist as a governmental entity. While Unionists
bloodthirsty followers out of Missouri. The general
became exiles in their own “loyal” state, Southern
was willing enough, however, to scorch the earth
sympathizers continued to live on their farms and
of more than 2,000 square miles of what had once
to support hundreds of guerrillas. Union military
been a fertile region of western Missouri and to forcauthorities had failed to control guerrilla activity.
ibly expel nearly every citizen who lived there.
Indeed, guerrillas seemed to be growing in number,
Just four days after the dust of the Lawrence
while an undermanned militia tried to cope with a
Massacre settled, the “depopulation” began. Nearly
situation that was getting more chaotic.
everyone in Jackson, Cass, Bates and parts of Vernon
Finally, after Lawrence, came the last, most desperate measure. If the militia couldn’t whip the
guerrillas, they certainly could remove the sympathizing civilians from the land. The guerrillas, who
caused so much terror and consternation amongst
Unionists, could offer no protection for Southern
families. They were turned out by the thousands
from destroyed farms and set upon dusty roads with
precious few possessions to ﬁnd somewhere else to
exist. Unionist families could either join the crowded garrison posts or leave the immediate area.
The evictors were in part Kansas units still chasing down Quantrill’s men. They forcibly evicted
anyone who stood in their path. Families often had
only minutes to gather possessions. The Kansans left
swaths of burned houses, barns and crops in their
wake. Any men encountered without loyalty papers
were shot as supposed guerrillas.
Even those with more time to gather possessions
were set adrift in one of the hottest and driest summers of memory. Even a hard-nosed guerrilla ﬁghter
had to lament, “it is heartsickening to see what I
have seen . . . a desolate country and women and
children, some of them almost naked, some on foot
and some in old wagons. Oh God, what a sight to
see in this once happy and peaceful country.”
In Cass County alone, 9,000 people left at one
point or another. Perhaps 800 people remained
behind in the garrison towns. Possibly half of those
who left were part of the General Order No. 11 diaspora. The total number of persons displaced may
have been in the range of 10,000, although higher
numbers have been suggested. In the months following the depopulation, the Burnt District was
picked over by thieves and loose, roaming animals.
Wildﬁres swept across the tinder-dry region. Travelers could ride for miles without encountering a
The public at large was aghast at the idea of
depopulation as a solution to the guerrilla war.
Within months, in the face of public outcry, the
worst features of General Order No. 11 were relaxed.
By early 1864, a military reshufﬂe transferred control of the region back to Missouri, and the counties
of the Burnt District were opened for resettlement.
General Order No. 11 accomplished little besides
causing the guerrilla war to shift from the Burnt District to more fertile grounds in northern and eastern
Missouri where large Southern populations existed.
Here, the deadly neighbors’ war continued with
unabated hellishness through 1864.
The moderate leaders of Missouri’s hard-pressed
militia forces had no better plan to rid Missouri of
guerrillas, nor any plans, for that matter, to protect
Missouri from the seemingly distant Confederacy.
This fact would shortly be demonstrated when Confederate Gen. Joseph Shelby paid a visit to his Missouri home.
“Back Home: April 1865,” a mural painted by Tom Lea in 1939, adorns the post ofﬁce in Pleasant Hill and depicts the utter devastation of the Burnt District.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - September 2013
Rural Missouri - September 2013
Scorching the border
Blasts from the past
Out of the Way Eats
Mowing down the competition
Hearth and Home
A place for Pershing
Rural Missouri - September 2013