Guerilla Warfare, Missouri Style!

 The Black Flag of  the Quantrill's Partisan Rangers meant "no quarter" for prisoners and was the most feared Confederate battle flag to Union soldiers. This was not a practise supported by the Confederacy, which condemned the killing of prisoners. However, pro-Confederate guerillas were often given "no quarter" when they surrendered and that was more than enough reason for them to fly the black flag.

This page is dedicated to the memory of Sterling Price Camp Compatriot, Danny Shackelford who was our resident authority on Quantrill's Raiders. He is greatly missed by all that knew him. 
May he rest in peace (1948-1999) 

Don't Hear the Music ?  Internet Explorer sometimes needs page "refreshed" by selecting refresh/reload button to start playing the midi tune. If this does not help, then you probably need to download a free cresendo midi player  from:

To see the lyrics to "The Call of Quantrill", favorite song of Missouri guerilla freedom fighter, Jesse James.

Quantrill's Raiders received quite alot of publicity both during the war and after. Surprisingly this guerilla band never more than 150 men on most occasions. During the raid on Lawrence, Kansas, there were approximately 400 raiders but this number was not sustained beyond that event. Another curious fact was that three of the members were black ( John Lobb, Henry Wilson, and John Noland). Two of the most famous members of Quantrill's command were Jesse and Frank James, who would continue fighting long after the war.

 Confederate guerilla,
Clark Hockensmith,  of Quantrill's Partisan Rangers
Photo courtesy of  John Ertzgaard.

The Nature of a Confederate Guerilla

(source: "Noted Guerrillas or the Warfare of the Border: Guerillas of the West", by John N. Edwards, 1877, Bryan, Brand & Company, St. Louis, Missouri)
 "They had passwords that only the iaitiated understood, and signals which  meant everything or nothing.  A "night bird" was a messenger; a "day bird" a courier.  To their dialect they had added woodscraft, and to the caution of the proscribed men the cunning of the Indian.  They knew the names or the numbers of the pursuing regiments from the shoes of their horses, and told the nationality of troops by the manner in which twigs were broken along the line of march.  They could see in the night like other beasts of prey, and hunted most when it was darkest.  No matter for a road so only there was a trail, and no matter for a trail so only there was a direction. When there was no wind, and when the clouds hid the sun or the stars, they traveled by the moss on the trees.  In the day time they looked for this moss with their eyes, in the night time with their hands. Living  much in fastuesses, they were rarely surprised, while solitude developed and made more acute every instinct of self-preservation.  By degrees a caste began to be established.  Men stood forth as leaders by the unmistakable right of superior address  and undaunted courage  There was a kind of an aristocracy of daring wherein the humblest might win a crown or establish a dynasty.  Respect for personal prowess begat discipline, and discipline--strengthened by the terrible pressure of outside circumstances-kept peace in the midst of an organization ostensibly without a government and without a flag.  Internal feuds came rarely to blows, and individual quarrels went scarcely ever beyond the interests of the contending principals.

Wm. Clark Quantrill

Free to come and go; bound by no enlistment and dependent upon no bounty; hunted by one nation and apologized for by the other; prodigal of life and property; foremost in every foray and last in every rout; content to die savagely and at bay when from under tbe dead steed the wounded rider could not extricate himself; merciful rarely and merciless often; loving liberty in a blind, idolatrous fashion, half reality and half superstition; holding no crime as bad as that of cowardice; courteous to women amid all the wild license of pillage and slaughter; steadfast as faith to comradeship or friend; too  serious for boastfulness and too near the unknown to deceive themselves with vanity; eminently practical because constantly environed; starved to-day and feasted to-morrow; victorious in this combat or decimated in that; receiving no quarter and giving none; astonishing pursuers by the swiftness of a retreat, or shocking humanity by the completeness of a massacre; a sable fringe on the blood-red garments of civil war, or a perpetual cu~throat in ambush in the midst of contending Christians, is it any wonder that in time the Guerrilla organization came to have captains, and leaders, and disciphne, and a language, and fastnesses, and hiding places, and a terrible banner unknown to the winds, and a terrible name that still lives as a wrathful and accusing thing from the Iowa line to the Pacific Ocean?"

 What Created A Guerilla ?

Causes That Produced The Guerrilla

Historian John Edwards writes,"As strange as it may seem the perilous fascination of fighting under a black flag-where the wounded could have neither surgeon nor hospital, and where all that remained to the prisoners was the absolute certainty of speedy death-attracted a number of young men to the various Guerrilla bands, gently nurtured,  born to higher destinies, capable of sustained exertion in any scheme or enterprise, and fit for callings high up in the scale of science or philosophy.  Others came who had deadly wrongs to avenge, and these gave to all their combats that sanguinary hue which still remains a part of the Guerrilla's legacy.  Almost from the first a large majority of Quantrell's original command had over them the shadow of some terrible crime.  This one recalled a father murdered, this one a brother waylaid and shot, this one a house pillaged and burnt, this one a relative assassinated,this one a grievous insult while at peace at home, this one a robbery of all his earthly possessions, this one the force which compelled him to witness the brutal treatment of a mother or sister, this one was driven away from his own like a thief in the night, this one was threatened with death for opinion's sake, this one was proscribed at the instance of some designing  neighbor, this one was arrested wantonly and forced to do the degrading work of a menial; while all had more or less of wrath laid up against the day when they were to meet face to face and hand to hand those whom they had good cause to regard as the living embodiment of unnumbered wrongs.


Honorable soldiers in the Confederate army-amenable to every generous impulse and exact in the performance of every manly duty-deserted even the ranks which they had adorned and became desperate Guerillas because the home they had left had been given to the flames, or a gray-haired father shot upon his own hearth-stone. They wanted to avoid the uncertainty of regular battle and know by actual results how many died as a propitiation or a sacrifice. Every other passion became subsidiary to that of revenge.  They sought personal encounters that their own handiwork might become unmistakably manifest.  Those who died by other agencies than their own were not counted in the  general summing up of a fight, nor were the solacements of any victory sweet to them unless they had the knowledge of being important factors in its achievment. As this class of Guerrillas increased, the warfare of the border became necessarily more cruel and unsparing.  Where at first there was only killing in ordinary battle, there became to be no quarter shown. The wounded of the enemy next felt the might of this individual  vengeance-acting through a community of bitter memories- and from every stricken field there began, by and by, to come up the substance of this awful bulletin: Dead such and such a number-wounded none. The war had then passed into its fever heat, and thereafter the gentle and the merciful, equally with the harsh and the revengeful, spared nothing clad in blue that could be captured."

"Total War"

The nature of the war that the Union initiated against the citizens of Missouri and elsewhere in the South has been termed, "total war", where civilians became the targets as well as the soldiers in the Confederate Army.  These civilians not only included men but also women and children. This policy of total war was put into practice, ironically, by a St. Louisan named William T. Sherman, who became the North's most notorious general.  Gen. Sherman ruthlessly declared, "The government of the U.S. has any and all rights which they choose to enforce in war--to take their lives, their homes, their lands, their everything...war is simply unrestrained by Constitution...To the persistent secessionist, why, death is mercy, and the quicker he or she is disposed of the better..." (Maj. Gen. W.T. Sherman, 31 Jan 1864).  This war on citizens was not simply restrained to be applied against men and women but also children. Gen.Sherman in a (21 June 1864) letter to Lincoln's Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, wrote, "There is a class of people men, women, and children, who must be killed or banished before you can hope for peace and order." A reply from the Lincoln administration (Stanton), reads, "Your letter of the 21st of June has just reached me and meets my approval." While the war on civilians started much earlier than 1864, the above is simply proof that the war on children was part of that scheme also.

In Missouri, arresting and inprisoning civilians started almost immediately with the start of the war.  Simply for expressing sympathy for the South or for that matter being an vocal anti-war democrat would land someone in prison. Parents who sent their sons in the Confederate Army "care boxes" of cookies, warm socks/gloves, if found were arrested for "care and comfort of the enemy".  Out in western Missouri, seventeen young ladies who were family of Quantrill's men were arrested. On Aug 14, 1863 the old building in Kansas City, used as their prison collapsed crushing four , badly hurting many others. This was a building unfit for human habitation. Even a Union doctor had urged that the prisoners be taken to a more safe location. It was later found that supports for this structure were undermined causing the deaths of five, and the severe injury of many others. Among the dead were the oldest sister of Bill Anderson; a sister and sister-in-law of John McCorkle; and a cousin of Cole Younger. Among the seriously hurt was Anderson's youngest sister, ten year old Mary, who would be crippled for life. Crowds gathered around the ruins as the dead and wounded were carried off. Soldiers fixed bayonets as shouts of "Murder!" intensified.  This event is was what ignited William Anderson to be forever known as, "Bloody Bill" Anderson, as he took revenge for the family loss he received at the hands of the Federals.   This also was the powder keg that sent Quantrill's men on a "suicidal raid" on Lawrence, deep in Yankee territory.

While Gen. Sherman perfected "total war" on civilians, but his brother-in-law, Gen. Thomas Ewing put it into practice in Missouri, by issuing Order Number 11 in retaliation for Quantrill's Lawrence raid [which left all men of the town dead, except for Jayhawk leader, Jim Lane, who was either hiding in a corn crib or outhouse pit, according to which source one believes. True to Quantrill's oath, the women and children of Lawrence were not physically harmed in any way]. This has been called by one historian as "the harshest act of the U.S. government against its own people in American history". The order ruined thousands of lives in Missouri for people living in an area 85 miles long by 50 miles wide. This area covered the counties of Jackson, Vernon, Cass, and Bates. Over 20,000 families were affected by this. Everyone in this area were required to vacate within 15 days and move to "posts" (concentration camps) garrisoned by Union soldiers. Anything that could not be carried away was either stolen or destroyed. Homes, and crops burned. No exceptions were allowed, even those who were sick had to comply.

Furthermore  no assistance was giving to civilians in their forced move. Some had no transportation so were forced to leave everything they owned behind. Many of the families managed to escape South away from Federal control, but that was a land already ravaged by the Yankees and provided little hope. "Barefooted and bareheaded women and children, stripped of every article of clothing except a scant covering for their bodies, exposed to the heat of an August sun and struggling through the dust on foot." During the process of moving, Jayhawkers and other Union soldiers looted  the caravans and executed victims at leisure. For instance one family near Lone Jack, Missouri was halted by soldiers and interrogated. Six males, ranging from age 17 to 75 were held back while the rest of the family was ordered to proceed. The family some distance off heard gunshots and when they returned all six family members were killed.

Several Union soldiers strongly objected to the carrying out of this order. Lt. Col. Bazel Lazear wrote, "It's heart-sickening to see what I have seen since I have been back here. A desolated country and men & women and children, some of them almost naked. Some on foot and some in wagons. Oh God. " Missouri artist and Union soldier, George Caleb Bingham, declared to General Ewing, "I don't approve of your order, and I sincerely believe it is unjust and will cause much suffering among innocent people." After asking the general to remove the order, Ewing replied, "Rescind it ! Rescind it ! That is impossible. I wouldn't if I could. It is a preposterous request and reveals a lack of knowledge of the military requirements of this department." Bingham replied, "I do not take issue on whether I lack or possess any military knowledge, but I do not lack a sense of what is just and right, and that order is neither." Eventually Ewing tired of arguing the matter and declared, "Mister Bingham, you can get out of here." Bingham made one last attempt to persuade the General by warning, "If you persist in executing this order, I shall make you infamous with my pen and brush so far as I am able." Bingham was true to his word and painted his famous painting, "Order Number Eleven" which portrays Gen. Ewing near two soldiers that are murdering citizens and a women begging for mercy.


"Order Number Eleven", by Caleb Bingham


"But Quantrill and his men were no more bandits than the men on the other side. I've been to reunions of Quantrill's men two or three times.  All they were trying to do was protect the property on the Missouri side of the line..."

--President Harry S. Truman

Confederate Partisans operated even within St. Louis County. For the most part, Partisan Ranger units were rarely surprised and seldom taken without a bitter fight. Guerillas controlled much of the countryside throughout rural Missouri. While Confederates like, William Quantrill, Jesse and Frank James are familiar to us all, many don't know that Yankee guerillas, like the Kansas Jayhawkers were a major source of grief for Missourians of both confederate and unionist sympathies. The guerilla warfare in Missouri made the state one of the most dangerous places to be anywhere in the war. A knock at the door at night may appear to be a soldier in confederate attire, but may as well be a Jayhawker, with no way of telling for the Missouri homesteader. Quantrill's men often wore blue union uniforms. When asked of your sympathies, "secesh" or "union", the wrong answer could bring a premature death on a nearby tree. The guerilla war greatest in the western part of the State, actually raged for ten years along the Kansas-Missouri border prior to the war. Gen. Lyon's war on Missouri only added fuel to the fire that quickly spread to all parts of the State.

"...They tried to make my uncle Harrison into an informer, but he would'nt do it. He was only a boy,...They tried to hang him, time and again they tried it, 'stretching his neck', they called it, but he didn't say anything. I think he'd have died before he'd said anything. He's the one I'm named after, and I'm happy to say that there were people...around at the time who said I took after him."

--President Harry S. Truman, 

speaking about what the Yankee "Redlegs" did to his uncle, at age thirteen during the 'War Between the States'.

Methods in Battle

Quantrill's men when going into battle, did not attack in any set formation or military order. They charged the enemy in style similiar to that of Indians giving the "yell" and rushing to the fight. Edwards described them fighting with "a revolver in each hand, the bridle rein in the teeth, the horses at a full run, the individual rider firing right and left-this is the way the Guerrillas charged.  Such was their horsemanship, and such the terrible accuracy of their fire that never in all the history of the war did a Federal line, man for man, withstand an onset.  Two to one even did not make it much better, and with the exception of the Colorado troops Quantrell scarcely ever hesitated a moment." To Quantrill's men the "Jayhawkers" were simple cowards, and a two to one odds against them was nothing to fear on the battlefield.  Only when the Jayhawkers become reinforced with much greater odds did Quantrill's men make a retreat.

Guerrillas Captured in St. Louis County ?

In an article out of "The St. Louis Republican" on Aug 20, 1862 reported one confrontation with a unit of "guerrillas". It is doubtful that this unit was truly a guerilla unit, especially since they were captured without a bitter fight.  This unit probably was a band of new recruits getting ready to head south and join Gen. Price.  In any case, Union Officials of St. Louis categorized them as "guerrillas".


Breaking Up A Rebel Camp On The Meramec

Capture of 49 prisoners. For some time it has been known that guerrilla camps existed in the county, but short distances away from the city, and rebels have even boldly stated that St. Louis would be speedily in their hands. To disperse these lawless bands, every means has been and is being used.  Forces are scouting the countyr and seeking out the guerrillas in their hiding places. They have been remarkably successful, and it is more than probable that three fifths of the adventurous spirits who have left for the Confederate service will speedily find themselves eating prison rations on Gratiot Street instead of roaming at pleasure through the country, getting subsistances easily and without compunctions as to whether it is paid for or not.

 Several days ago we gave an account of the dispersal of a body of rebels near Manchester.  A portion of the attacking party were left behind to learn the whereabouts of other camps.  It was ascertained that a body of about fifty rebels were resting near the Meramec River in Jefferson County.  Lt. Schuell started for the locality, having with him one company of Schofield Hussars and two hundred Home Guards. He used every precaution to prevent his approach becoming known and was successful.  The rebels, camped one mile from the Meramec, were completely surprised, and the whole number, forty nine, captured. They are all from this county, with the exception of one.  They arrived in the city during the afternoon, and were at once placed for confinement in Gratiot Street prison.  Their names are as follows:

Capt. Nathaniel Ferguson

Lt. Charles L. Kretschmar

Lt.  R. L. Botteller


Robert G. Stevens
George O"Flarety
Basil Elder
R.G. Coleman
George Shaffner
William Stirling
E.A. Botteller
Joseph Seiker
Stephen Bacon
Henry Boley 
Ferdinand Alvarez
Valentine Carney
Charles Ravencraft
Louis J. Ramsey
George A. Vaughn
Isaac Shaw
Stephen E. Fitzwater
James Doss
William Doss
John T. Eoff
George W. Eoff
John K. Baily
William A. Stewart
Alton Long
Charles A. Blackburn
Josephus Patterson
John R James
John Maughn
John Stevenson
Josiah Thorn
William Thorn
James Vaughn
William Vaughn
Jacob P. Lash
John W. Bacon 
John Bacon
Thomas H. Sappington
G. H. Sappington
Mark Sappington
Francis M. Story
Richard Caulk
Henry Brooks
Thomas L. Farris
John W. Davis
Henry Humphrey
Charles Bennett

Note: All of the above are from St. Louis, Mo, except for Henry Boley of Jefferson County.

"The Call of Quantrill"

This song was reportably the favorite of Jesse James.

1st Verse:

Up! comrades, up! The moon´s in the west, and the hounds of old Pennock will find out our nest.
We must be gone ere the dawning of day; the Quantrill they seek shall be far, far away.
Their toils after us shall ever be vain. Let them scout through the brush and scour the plain;
We´ll pass through their midst in the dead of the night. We are lions in combat and eagles in flight.
Rouse, my brave boys, up, up and away; press hard on the foe ere the dawning of day;
Look well to your steeds so gallant in chase. May they never give o´er till they win in the race.

When old Pennock is weary and the chase given o´er, we´ll pass through their midst and bathe in their gore. We´ll come as a thunderbolt comes from the cloud; we´ll smite the oppressor and humble the proud. Few shall escape us and few shall be spared, for keen is our saber, in vengeance ´tis bared; For none are so strong, so mighty in fight, as the the warrior who battles for our Southern right.


Rouse, my brave boys, up, up and away; press hard on the foe ere the dawning of day;
Look well to your steeds so gallant in chase. May they never give o´er till they win in the race.

3rd Verse:

Though the bush is our home, the green sod our bed, our drink from the river, and roots for our bread, We pine not for more; we bow not the head, for freedom is ever within the green wood.
Tyrants shan´t conquer and fetters shan´t bind, for true are our rifles; our steeds like the wind.
We´ll sheathe not the sword; we´ll draw not the rein, till Pennock is banished from valley and plain.
Rouse, my brave boys, up, up and away; press hard on the foe ere the dawning of day;
Look well to your steeds so gallant in chase. May they never give o´er till they win in the race.

The background midi sound file for "The Call of Quantrill" comes from "The Borderland Collection",
Copyrighted 1998, Scott K. Williams, All Rights Reserved.

For more on Missouri Partisan Rangers, visit the website of Capt. Wm. T. Anderson Camp, SCV.