During the Civil War, the western front was the scene of some of that conflict’s bloodiest and most barbaric encounters as Union raiders and Confederate guerrillas pursued each other from farm to farm with equal disregard for civilian casualties. Historical accounts of these events overwhelmingly favor the victorious Union standpoint, characterizing the Southern fighters as wanton, unprincipled savages. But in fact, as the author, himself a descendant of Union soldiers, discovered, the bushwhackers’ violent reactions were understandable, given the reign of terror they endured as a result of Lincoln’s total war in the West.
In reexamining many of the long-held historical assumptions about this period, Gilmore discusses President Lincoln’s utmost desire to keep Missouri in the Union by any and all means. As early as 1858, Kansan and Union troops carried out unbridled confiscation or destruction of Missouri private property, until the state became known as “the burnt region.” These outrages escalated to include martial law throughout Missouri and finally the infamous General Orders Number 11 of September 1863 in which Union general Thomas Ewing, federal commander of the region, ordered the deportation of the entire population of the border counties. It is no wonder that, faced with the loss of their farms and their livelihoods, Missourians struck back with equal force.
About the Author
Donald L. Gilmore earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. He taught English at the college level then worked as an editor for seventeen years at the U.S. Army’s Combat Studies Institute, retiring in 2001. In addition to serving as technical consultant for the Civil War movie Ride With the Devil,
Mr. Gilmore has also written articles about the Border War for Journal of the West, History Today,
and Wild West.
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