General Order, No. 11: The Forced Evacuation of Civilians During the Civil War – Part III

Red Legs and Order No. 11

One of the most vehement attacks on Order No. 11 was delivered by General Frank P. Blair in St. Louis. Blair was astonished that a commander could lay waste a large section of Missouri by means of devastation, rapine and murder simply because Ewing lacked the courage to follow Quantrill. “It is the subterfuge of an imbecile,” remarked Blair. Blair continued by pointing out that 20,000 citizens were being punished because Ewing lacked the power or ability to seek out the 400 or 500 outlaws and murderers. Ewing had instead found it necessary to punish helpless people and destroy one of the finest sections of Missouri.19
It is significant that the first Governor of Kansas, Charles Robinson, concurred that Order No. 11 cast much cruelty upon the people of Missouri. Robinson, a Kansan, was a strong defender of the conduct of Kansas troops but vigorously attacked the role played by the “Red-legs” in Missouri. Robinson’s criticism of fellow Kansans should not be taken lightly.20
One of Quantrill’s officers, William Gregg, said that Order No. 11, “issued by the monster of monsters, General Ewing,” caused the people of Jackson County to suffer great hardships, by being forced to leave their homes with no money or food.”21 It is reasonable to assume that when 20,000 people are forced to leave their homes with so little, considerable suffering will occur. The cruelty of the Jayhawkers did not go unnoticed by the Missouri government. Governor Hamilton Gamble, as reported in the Missouri Democrat of 30 September, authorized the arming of men in some of the western counties to protect them- selves from raiding parties. The real leader of opposition against Ewing was Missouri State Treasurer George Caleb Bingham. Governor Gamble or Jered Bingham to Kansas City to see what could be done following the Lawrence massacre. Bingham went to Ewing’s headquarters in Kansas City and demanded that Order No. 11 be rescinded. Upon Ewing’s refusal to retract the Order, Bingham is reported to have said, “If you persist in executing that order, I will make you infamous with pen and brush as far as I am able.”22
George Bingham made good his promise. His large painting entitled “Order Number Eleven” which shows Ewing astride his horse supervising his troops as they brutally expel Missourians from their homes presents an interpretation of Ewing’s actions which is today generally accepted. The painting depicts a “Kansas Jayhawker” who has just shot a young man and is about to shoot an older man disregarding the pleas of a young girl begging for the life of the elderly gentlemen. Colonel Jennison is pictured with a number of blankets on his horse; he plans apparently to re- turn to Kansas with this booty. In the background is a funeral-like procession of people leaving their homes; columns of smoke from their burning homes and fields rise around them. This painting, as Albert Castel has pointed out, “did more than anything else to create the popular conception of Order No. 11.”23
Richard C. Vaughan, in a letter to Edward Bates, Attorney General of the United States, 28 August 1863, wrote that hundreds of loyal Union men in Jackson and Cass counties were being insulted, robbed, and even murdered. The implementation policy, he said, has caused many good men to leave their homes and seek protection in the brush. Many, he added, joined the guerrillas to insure their own safety.
Even staunch supporters of Order No. 11 saw the severity of its enforcement. Lawrence newspaper editor John Speer wrote, “Neither Sherman in his march to the sea, nor Butler at New Orleans, exceeded it in severity, but it was a just severity, conscientiously administrated by a just man. It was the extreme of humanity com- pared with the fiendish slaughters concocted and carried out by the community which it punished.24
The reaction of the South to Order No. 11 was as could be expected. Order No. 11 was not only denounced but it led to demands that guerrilla activities be increased as reported in the Daily Dispatch of Richmond, Virginia on 1 September, 1863:
The savage and inhuman measures adopted by the Yankees to put down guerrilla warfare proves that this mode of defending a country other- wise unprotected is more annoying and more dreaded by them than any other. . . . Let the guerrilla system . . . be thoroughly carried out, and if the barbarous retaliate . . . let the guerrillas, without waiting for orders exact an eye for an eye and a life for a life.
The Lexington Union on 5 September, 1863, centered its attack both on the cruelty of the order and on the possibility that the number of counties to be depopulated would be increased. It was feared that Order No. 11 might be expanded to the next tier of counties and then the next. The Union, as did many Missourians, feared an in- crease in the control the military had over local and state governments.
Ewing cannot be excused for not knowing what was going on. The enforcement was taking place only a few miles from his headquarters in Kansas City. Ewing had ridden through the district with General Schofield on his way to speak at Independence, Missouri. Many of the dislocated people of the district were flocking to Kansas City to depart for new homes. The press, alone, with its criticism of the enforcement procedure should have made Ewing aware of what was taking place. Ewing, himself, had ordered his men to track and find the bush- whackers and to take no prisoners. Another example of the extreme measures Ewing took is evidenced by his request to General Schofield made 18 September, 1863. The steamer Marcella had been stopped by guerrillas, and three Union soldiers had been shot. Ewing reported, “I have guerrillas here, convicted and unconvicted. Shall I retaliate?” Schofield’s answer was that, in his opinion, it would be just, but unwise, as it was too easy for the guerrillas to find victims for revenge.
The Official Records indicated that Ewing did little to stop the plundering until General Orders, No. 16, issued 2 October, 1863. Four days later, Ewing wrote Colonel William Weer: “There is a good deal of feeling against me already amongst Missourians. Don’t let the troops take stock except from guerrillas.” He also told Weer to leave General E. B. Brown’s people alone and reminded Weer that the second tier of counties was now in his district.25
Perhaps Ewing should not take the blame alone. The dilemma in which he found himself placed was not of his making. The cruelty of any war and especially of a civil war is great. The duration of violence was longer on the Kansas-Missouri border than in any other section during the Civil War. The “total war” of the border had begun early and ended late, as many guerrillas continued their professions as bank and train robbers. The “no holds barred” attitude of the combatants, the lack of civil authority, the political struggles among leaders, both military and civil, all added to Ewing’s woes.

To judge the effectiveness of Order No. 11 a look at guerrilla activity after the order was issued is necessary. We find that it did curtail guerrilla activity in Ewing’s district, but it did not stop it. The guerrillas simply moved into central Missouri in 1864 following their return from wintering in the South. The order may have stopped any future raids into Kansas, but the borders were also better guarded and the people of Kansas better prepared after the raid on Lawrence in 1863, and this might have been the discouraging factor. The order did cause the guerrillas to move south a little earlier than usual. As to its effectiveness then we can only conclude that Order No. 11 cur- tailed guerrilla activity in western Missouri by moving it to central Missouri.
To justify Order No. l1 as necessary is a different matter. First, the people involved were citizens of the State of Missouri and the United States, not the Confederacy. Although regulations regarding martial law are not covered in our Constitution, there is no doubt that the citizens of Missouri lost a great many of their personal liberties. General Ewing undoubtedly believed the order was justified; even so, he could have enforced Order No. 11 with disciplined Iowa, Illinois, or Colorado troops rather than with the revenge-seeking Kansans. As indicated by this paper, the Order made many loyal Missourians turn to the guerrillas for protection and caused many others to leave the state. The drastic acts of cruelty could only have been committed by angry, revenge-seeking men on both sides.
The timing of the order was unfortunate and created much hardship. Most of these people were small farmers with crops in their fields, little money, no place to go, no means of transportation, and many of the men were away fighting for the Confederacy or for the Union. With winter approaching and the bushwhackers “Jayhawkers” and “Red-legs,” General Orders, No. 11 – is that it contributed little to the outcome of the war. Preparing to go south, Ewing could have waited for spring to demand depopulation. It is perhaps most obvious here that Ewing was influenced by the cries of the press. The press crying for action, the Kansans for revenge, and Lane for “blood and fire” apparently influenced him to take immediate action. The order cannot be justified when, with a little more time and a little less emotionalism, a more sympathetic and effective means might have been devised to separate and remove the disloyal people from these Missouri communities.

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