Two Raids – July-August 1863

In an attempt to curb the activities of Confederate guerillas, Brig. Gen. Thomas Ewing ordered that any women aiding and abetting the raiders should be detained in Kansas City. The building in which the women were held collapsed, killing five and injuring many others, and spurring-on Quantrill and his men to their act of ‘revenge’

Although he obtained a captain’s commission early in the war, William Clarke Quantrill was denied promotion because of his reputation for ferocity. The son of an Ohio schoolteacher, Quantrill appears to have sided with the Confederacy because such an allegiance offered greater opportunities for the exercise of his own particular brand of offensive warfare.

To support the operations of Confederate General Bragg in the Middle Tennessee, Brigadier General John H. Morgan led 2,500 cavalrymen from Tennessee into Kentucky in early July, 1863. Morgan eluded Federal forces, crossed the Ohio River and entered Indiana on July 8. The raiders then moved east, passing north of Cincinnati, Ohio, destroying railroads and private property, and causing panic throughout the midwest.

Federal pursuit, directed by General Burnside, was clumsy but ultimately effective, as fatigue slowed Morgan’s march. Late on July 18, the Confederates reached Buffington Island, intending to recross the Ohio, but were attacked and scattered the following morning by a Federal force. Badly outnumbered, almost a third of Morgan’s men were captured; some escaped across the river, but the majority continued east under Morgan. They surrendered near West Point on July 26 Although they had caused widespread damage, Federal operations were not significantly disrupted.

William Clarke Quantrill was a veteran of the guerilla fighting between free state and slave state forces along the Kansas-Missouri border during the 1850s. After the outbreak of the Civil War, he led a band of partisans in raids on Kansas. In the summer of 1863, he targeted the town of Lawrence. His men considered their raid to be a retaliation for the deaths in August of five women held by Federal authorities in Kansas City who had died when their prison cell collapsed. On August 19, Quantrill headed west with over 300 men. He crossed into Kansas, arriving on the outskirts of Lawrence near dawn on August 21. Encountering no organized resistance, the raiders burned over 100 homes, looted banks and stores, and killed some 150 male civilians. Alerted belatedly to the raid, Federal forces m Kansas gave chase, skirmishing with Quantrill’s men on the 21st as they headed for Missouri. A brief fight occurred on August 22, but the raiders escaped. Principally as a result of the Lawrence Massacre, Federal Thomas Ewing ordered the forced evacuation of four Missouri counties bordering Kansas. This “Order No. 11” made Ewing as infamous m Missouri as Quantrill was in Kansas.


The true long-range cavalry raid was born in the western theater, where the Union had to march its armies over long distances through rough country, dependent on railroads for supply.

Theory was turned into practice in July 1862, when Major General Don Carlos Buell advanced his army toward Chattanooga, a vital rail center. Confederate generals John Hunt Morgan in Kentucky and Nathan Bedford Forrest in middle Tennessee both launched cavalry raids that cut the rail line supplying Buell. At first, Buell tried to patch the situation by sending two divisions back to protect the railroad. That robbed his advance of some force. But the full-blown Confederate invasion of Kentucky compelled his withdrawal north, saving Chattanooga for the South as Kentucky needed to be saved for the North.

Later in 1862, Major General U. S. Grant was massing his forces for an overland march south from Memphis, Tennessee, to Vicksburg, Mississippi. It was going to be a conventional march, supported by a series of supply bases. Major General Earl Van Dorn led a cavalry raid that burned out the Union depot at Holly Springs, Mississippi, putting Grant out of supply. Temporarily, Grant’s forces “lived off the land” as it marched back to Memphis. He finally solved the raiding problem in early 1863 by shifting his supply line to the Mississippi River. No cavalry raid could ever stop a steamboat.

Major General William Rosecrans took the next hit. He had spent the fall of 1862 building a mountain of supplies at Nashville to propel his army’s advance to Murfreesboro. Confederate raiding cut his rail line several times, but it became irrelevant as the water level of the Cumberland River rose, thus permitting supply deliveries by steamboat. As Rosecrans fought the Battle of Stones River, Confederate Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler’s troopers mauled several Union wagon trains coming down from Nashville. Union cavalry couldn’t protect these convoys for beans. But Rosecrans did not retreat, having enough supplies on hand to fight and hold his own in a sloppy battle.

A raid could just as easily distract an enemy commander as it could immobilize him. In 1863, Union Brigadier General Benjamin Grierson conducted a raid that ran from Tennessee through Mississippi to Louisiana. He didn’t destroy anything irreplaceable, but Confederate Lieutenant General John Pemberton had to dispatch a few brigades to guard his railroads, ignoring Grant’s maneuver that put a Union army south of Vicksburg.

Equally duped was Major General Ambrose Burnside. In July 1863, Morgan led about 380 troopers on an eighteen-day romp from Louisville, Kentucky, through southern Indiana to Salineville in eastern Ohio, where he finally surrendered. This checked the planned advance on Knoxville, Tennessee, which required an uncut supply line and quiet rear sector to ease the cautious Burnside’s worries.

But raiding also had its downsides. An army that sends its horse soldiers off on a deep raid was usually blind to the movements of the enemy. This happened to General Braxton Bragg, whose Army of Tennessee was turned out of its positions at Tullahoma and Chattanooga by the Army of the Cumberland’s well-executed flank marches. Each movement went unseen because Morgan, Wheeler, and Forrest were off raiding. Likewise, Major General Joseph Hooker blinded his own command, the Army of the Potomac, by sending his cavalry off to cut the lone railroad supplying General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The raid failed anyway, but worse, Hooker’s forces lacked cavalry reconnaissance as they crossed the Rapidan River and marched into the heavy woods surrounding Chancellorsville. Lee retained his cavalry and eventually figured where to aim his decisive counterattack.


The Civil War was not fought between just blue- and gray-uniformed soldiers who marched in columns and fought in formation. Both sides also waged a “shadow war,” especially in the western states and territories, fought by guerrillas who conducted raids, robberies, and often the murder of civilians. Some of the groups, such as John Mosby’s Rangers, were disciplined, but many were not. Union generals often treated these “partisan rangers” as outlaws, and ordered their men to “Pursue, strike, and destroy the reptiles.”

Confederates also were concerned about their lawlessness. On June 30, 1862, Confederate Major General M. J. Thomson wrote President Davis about rangers who had been “induced to believe that they are to be a band of licensed robbers, and are not the men to care whether it be friend or foe they rob.” The Confederate Congress repealed the Partisan Ranger Act in February 1864, but by then men such as William C. Quantrill didn’t need official approval to terrorize the Missouri-Kansas corridor.

Here, an area plagued by violence since the “Bloody Kansas” conflicts of the 1850s, was where guerrillas waged the bloodiest fighting of the war. Kansas senator James H. Lane organized Union bushwhackers, who sacked and burned towns that had Confederate-leaning populations. But the most savage killer was Quantrill, who counted among his deputies “Bloody” Bill Anderson, a man who tied the scalps of his victims to his horse’s bridle. Quantrill would school other cold-blooded killers—the legendary Cole Younger and the brothers Frank and Jesse James were in his band—who would continue their outlaw activities after the war.

The violence escalated in the summer of 1863 when a building collapsed on some jailed women, Confederate sympathizers who included sisters of Quantrill’s gang, killing five.

Seeking revenge, Quantrill gathered 450 men and marched to Lawrence, Kansas, a free-soil town. Quantrill’s gang killed 182 men and boys. Missouri Union Commander Thomas Ewing responded by issuing Order No. 11, which forcibly evicted civilians from the four Missouri counties bordering Kansas, displacing some ten thousand people, leaving the area barren for years.

Quantrill left Missouri in the spring of 1865 to go east to murder Abraham Lincoln. But a Union patrol caught him first in Kentucky, and killed him.


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