Andy Thomas created this artist's impression of what it was like when guerrillas, like William Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson, terrorized people in Missouri during the Civil War. Copyright, Andy Thomas, all rights reserved. Image used here as fair use for educational purposes and to acquaint new viewers with Mr. Thomas' work.


Three years of growing resentment volcanically erupted in Anderson’s Confederate guerillas as they moved-in on their trapped enemies. Their hatred of what the war had done to Missourians was just part of the story.

Anderson’s men knew that some of their fallen comrades had been shamefully treated three days before, following a skirmish at Fayette.  (See the upper-left of this Missouri battle map.) According to Hamp Watts, an eyewitness, the bodies of five Confederate partisans had been dragged into a Fayette street. Union soldiers then ran their roughly shod horses back and forth over the dead men, thereafter tossing the disfigured bodies into a common grave.

It mattered not whether the Yankees, ambushed at Centralia, were already dead following the surprise attack. (All but one were killed.) After the short-lived battle, Anderson’s men mutilated bodies in one of the worst atrocities of the war. It was, historians say, a payback for what had happened at Rocheport (where Federals had reportedly scalped Confederate guerillas) and Fayette.

Frank James - who was at Fayette - later said

We were in plain view of the Federals and they simply peppered us with bullets...I was mightily scared. It was the worst fight I ever had. (Quoted in Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend, by Ted P. Yeatman, page 54.)

Union commanders remained gravely concerned about the “crisis” in Missouri. The state was part of the Union, yet it was filled with roaming Confederate guerillas helped by a sympathetic, cooperating public. On the 28th of September, 1863, General Fisk observed

The disasters at Centralia yesterday were severe. The crisis is upon us. Loyalty and disloyalty in Missouri must separate; the two cannot dwell together. Nearly every family in this infernal region has a representative either with Price's invading column or with Anderson in the brush . . .

Quantrill directs the guerrilla movements in this section. Train captured, twenty-one taken therefrom, shot and stripped, passengers robbed, train fired, and the engine put in motion with the blazing cars attached. The war has furnished no greater barbarism.

Major Johnston, Thirty-ninth Missouri, came upon the villains with too limited a force, fought gallantly, but was repulsed-was killed himself and several of his men butchered. I am moving soldiers and citizens as rapidly as possible. The guerrillas are increasing in numbers and ferocity every hour. (Fisk to Holloway, Official Records: Series 1, Vol 41, Part 3, page 455.)

As Anderson and his guerillas continued to kill and plunder, the St. Louis Tri-Weekly Missouri Republican (whose readers were pro-Union) posed these questions in its October 19, 1864 issue:

Are the diabolical murders, robberies, and other outrages of the demon, Bill Anderson, never to cease in North Missouri? Is there no power in our troops or people to drive him and his gang of cutthroats from the State, or exterminate them? Can there not be raised a volunteer force especially for this purpose? (Quoted by Albert E. Castel in Bloody Bill Anderson: The Short, Savage Life of a Civil War Guerilla, page 123.)

Eight days later, “Bloody Bill” died in a Centralia-type of ambush with a similar aftermath. The Federals had asked a former army scout, Samuel Cox, to track him down and take him out.  It took him just a bit more than two days.

Jesse James was thus introduced to unbelievable brutality during his formative years - and he would remember the role that Samuel Cox played in killing Jesse’s mentor, William Anderson. As historian Christopher Phillips states in Jesse James, an American Experience film:

If you were a 16-year-old boy like Jesse James, you would have seen a warfare that would have been reminiscent of the frontier fighting that went on between Native Americans and Anglo-Americans on all of the frontiers for 150 or 200 years before this. You would have seen scalpings. You would have seen knifings. You would have seen a type of hit and run warfare that caused more pot shots to be taken than mass fire. You would have seen executions of Federal soldiers. You would have seen people taken off trains. You would have seen people robbed. You would have seen people maimed and you would have seen war at its worst.

Jesse’s mother, it should be noted, approved of her boys’ activities in the war. They were, as she explained, just trying to protect the people of Western Missouri. Zerelda had a point. After her husband was hanged - and nearly died - at the family farm,  she and her daughter were both imprisoned for being disloyal to the Union.

After the war was finally over, Jesse and his brother Frank opposed reconstruction of the South. They expressed their opposition in legendary fashion.

One man, more than any other, secured their fame: John Newman Edwards.  In glowing prose, he wrote of their exploits. With a forgiving pen, he told of their struggles. With an understanding heart, he tried to explain:

We called him outlaw, and he was, but Fate made him so. When the war came he was just turned of fifteen. The border was all aflame with steel, and fire, and ambuscade, and slaughter. He flung himself into a band which had a black flag for a banner and devils for riders. What he did he did, and it was fearful. But it was war . . . When the war closed Jesse James had no home.

Proscribed, hunted, shot, driven away from among his people, a price put upon his head - - what else could the man do, with such a nature, except what he did do? He had to live. It was his country. The graves of his kindred were there. He refused to be banished from his birthright, and when he was hunted he turned savagely about and hunted his hunters. (John Newman Edwards, Sedalia Democrat, April, 1882.)

Maybe the legend would have differed a bit had Edwards also included a significant fact in his stories: Most of Jesse’s victims were unarmed.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 01, 2007

Updated Last Revision: May 03, 2019

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"CONFEDERATE PARTISANS" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 01, 2007. May 30, 2020.
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