September 4, 2017

One of the most controversial military actions against U.S. citizens happened 154 years ago

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“Evacuation of Missouri Counties under General Order No. 11”, by George Caleb Bingham, 1870. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

 

Ewing’s Gen. Order No. 11

One of the most controversial military actions against American civilians

By Diane Euston

August 21st marked the 154th anniversary of Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence where over 150 men and boys were killed at the hands of bushwhackers. As covered in the last issue, part of what perpetrated the sacking of Lawrence was the collapse of Union Prison in Kansas City, Mo. where women kin of these notorious bushwhackers were being held.

 The violence didn’t end there. Union Brig. General Thomas Ewing was in charge of the western border of Missouri at this time. He knew he had to “cut off” the bushwhackers and their Southern sympathizers.

 Prior to the outbreak of the war in 1861, people on the Missouri-Kansas border had been “at war” with each other for over 5 years. Kansas was bitter toward the bushwhackers who raided and ravaged their land. Missourians held high animosity toward John Brown and other Jayhawkers that stormed onto their soil.

 Ewing believed that up to 2/3 of the people that lived within his military control (Jackson, Cass, Bates and northern part of Vernon Counties) were actively aiding the bushwhackers. He believed that if he ripped away the support of these bushwhackers, led by William Quantrill, he could hit them where it hurt.

Gen. Order No. 11 Issued

 What would go down in history as one of the most controversial military actions against civilians in American history, Gen. Thomas Ewing, Jr. took pen to paper four days after the Lawrence Massacre to issue General Order No. 11.

 In part, the order read: “All persons living in Jackson, Cass, and Bates counties, Missouri, and in that part of Vernon included in this district, except those living within one mile of the limits of Independence, Hickman’s Mills, Pleasant Hill, and Harrisonville, and except those in that part of Kaw Township, Jackson County, north of Brush Creek and west of Big Blue, are hereby ordered to remove from their present places of residence within fifteen days from the date hereof.”

 The order allowed people to report to one of the military posts, which included Hickman Mills, Pleasant Hill, Harrisonville, and Kansas City and swear their oath of allegiance to the Union. They would be put under intense questioning, and if their answers were deemed true by soldiers at the post, they would be allowed to stay at the military station.

Families Forced to Leave

 Resident of the area were not allowed, under any circumstances, to return home. They couldn’t jump over the state line to Kansas and settle on the eastern border counties. All of their possessions were left behind. They were left to carry what they could. Many families buried priceless treasures in hopes they could one day return and reclaim them. All their crops were automatically forfeited to the government.

 Keep in mind that these families were absent of young men to help with moving; most of the men over the age of 15 were serving on the two sides of the war. Wagons to haul valuables away had been pillaged and stolen in previous raids from both sides. Horses had been taken from their stables.

 

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Brig. General Thomas Ewing

Ewing instructed his soldiers to not pillage the deserted homes left behind, but he was in no position to control what happened. Many of the Union soldiers in charge of these displaced Missourians in the camps were enraged Kansans looking for an opportunity to punish them. And pillaging and burning of homes started the minute word of the Lawrence Massacre traveled like the wind.

 The civilians of these counties, over 25,000 people, were given 15 days to clear out – most traveling on foot–of an area of roughly 3,000 square miles. The families that had rummaged up their possessions and carried them with them were oftentimes attacked on the road and robbed of what they did have.

 Union militiamen, many from Kansas, traveled through the counties and set fire to most of the abandoned homes. They carried the remaining possessions of these displaced citizens into Kansas to use for their own purposes. Stories from the survivors of the order wrote of hardships and terror as many of them watched men shot down as they were trying to obey the order.

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The Pilgrimage

The Union commander at Lexington, Mo., Bazel F. Lazear, wrote to his wife, “There is hundreds of people leaving their homes from this country, and God knows what is to become of them. . . . It is heart sickening to see what I have seen. A desolate country and women & 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 peaceable country.”

 A displaced loyal Southern woman recalled that the road from Independence to Lexington was crowded with women and children. Women walked with babies in their arms while children followed. They cried for bread and others cried to be taken back home.

Effect on Bushwhackers

The order didn’t stop Quantrill and the bushwhackers. They stuck around and took shelter in the remaining homes, fed off the cured meats left behind, and had enough feed for their horses. In October, Quantrill was forced south due to cold weather, not the inability to find shelter. In fact, the bushwhackers under Quantrill never felt this order affected them; however, there were no more raids into Kansas after it was enacted.
The Aftermath of Injustice

 In November 1863, Gen. Ewing eased up on his order and allowed people to return to their homes as long as they swore loyalty to the Union. But the damage was already done. Rev. George Miller returned to the Pleasant Hill area and noted the destruction. He wrote, “For miles and miles, we saw nothing but lone chimneys to mark the spot where a happy home stood only five years before. .. It seemed like a vast cemetery–not a living thing to break the silence.”

 These shells of homes– charred brick and stone chimney structures– became known as “Jennison’s tombstones.” In Cass County alone, 5,000 citizens were displaced due to Order No. 11, and only 35% returned after the war to their farms. In truth, there was nothing to return to. Bates Co. didn’t have a military post nearby, thus the county was completely abandoned and all of their records in the courthouse were burned. Nothing remained.

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The Burnt District Monument in Harrisonville, Mo., honors those displaced as a result of Gen. Order No. 11.

Forever Marked in History

 This Order, considered to be one of the largest atrocities of the Civil War, haunted Ewing for the rest of his career. He ran for governor of Ohio in 1880 and was defeated. The  Missouri-Kansas border, specifically Gen. Order No. 11, was blamed.

 In 2009, a memorial called the “Burnt District Monument” was erected at 2501 W. Wall St. in Harrisonville, Mo. to pay homage to the thousands of people displaced after Gen. Order No. 11 and to remember all of their homes that were burned to the ground. A stone chimney stands at the site.

 The Civil War on the border was a unique and prolific time in our area’s history. People on both sides lost everything and were left behind in the smoke and flames. The anniversary on August 25th is a staunch reminder of the suffering of civilians in the hands of chaos of the region.

Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com

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