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Civil War Round Table of Kansas City

Battlefield Dispatches #92

Strike Terror

One would think that by November 1862, that there would not have been any ambivalence in the minds of Union officers about waging “Total War” in western Missouri, but there was! After all the “War” had been waged for more than 18 months & was getting worse day by day, especially in Missouri where Missourian’s were killing Missourian’s with a fondness that would evolve into hate! Brigadier General Benjamin Loan commanded the Central District of Missouri, with his headquarters in Jefferson City and expressed his misgivings about “House Burning”, but did not condemn one of his subordinates for doing so because he (Loan) wanted to “STRIKE TERROR into the SOULS of these CRAVEN REBELS”. How he hoped to accomplish this is described in the following letter that is located on Pages 791 & 792 of Vol. 22, Part II of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.

Benjamin F. Loan

Samuel R. Curtis


Headquarters Central District of Missouri,

Jefferson City, November 14, 1862.

[To] Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, Commanding Department of Missouri, St. Louis:

Edwin C. Catherwood

General: I have just returned from above. Jackson County I left in comparatively good condition. La Fayette will require a GOOD DEAL of SEVERITY before it can be restored to its allegiance. I left about 250 of the inhabitants in confinement & ordered others to be arrested. Some 50 men fled the country to avoid arrest, who will probably never return & some 50 others gave their parole to leave the state in ten days, not to return during the war. The commandant there has not been in my opinion as efficient as he should have been. Indeed, it is hard to say who is commandant there or who ought to be. General Vaughan of the Enrolled Militia & Colonel McFerran of the first Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, commanding the post seem to exercise concurrent jurisdiction; both PLEASANT, MILD, AMIABLE, GENTLEMEN, BUT DEFICIENT in the decision of character & fixedness of purpose that is required to deal successfully with REBELS SO FIERCE, DEIANT, DOMINEERING, INSULTING & OVERBEARING as are the rebels there. I spent more than two weeks in la Fayette. The county is now in a condition that honest men can stay at home without DANGER of ASSASSINATION! The thieves, bandits & guerrillas have been driven out of the country. They have all gone south to join Cockrell, who lies not far from Pleasant Gap in Bates County, with a force of from 700 to 800 men. Quantrill & the guerrillas that infested La Fayette & Jackson on their way south accidentally fell in with an Ox Train sent by Col. [Edwin C.] Catherwood from Harrisonville to Sedalia & captured the train, teamsters & most of the escort. A copy of Col. Catherwood’s report is transmitted herewith. I also enclose herewith a copy of a letter written by Lieut. Col. P. A. Thompson of the 5th Mo. Cav. M. S. M. to Col. [William R.] Penick, at Independence, relating to the same matter. Col. Thompson’s statement I believe to be more correct than the official report. I have ordered Col. Catherwood here under ARREST. This disaster I think is attributable to DISOBEDIENCE of ORDERS.

William R. Penick

On my way to Saline County I sent forward from Lexington a small command of about 10 men, under Captain George Wakerlen, Co. E, 5th Regt. Cavalry, M. S. M. On the Marshall Road, the next morning, before I had come up with the column, I found the farmhouse & outbuildings on the farm of a man by the name of Webb were in FLAMES. On overtaking Capt. Wakerlen, he said the premises had been BURNED BY HIS ORDER; that BUSHWHACKERS had been harbored there & that the last of them ran into the brush as his advance guard came up. That upon inquiry he found that Webb had taken his MALE SLAVES & the YOUNGEST & STRONGEST WOMEN SOUTH; that he was in the REBEL ARMY; that he had employed an OVERSEER to live at his house & take care of some OLD NEGRO WOMEN & CHILDREN; that the BUSHWHACKERS made the house a kind of headquarters & that the OVERSEER was joined with them; thereupon he ordered the DESTRUCTION of the PREMISES! I CANNOT APPROVE OF THE ACT & YET I AM NOT PREPARED WHOLLY TO CONDEMN IT. Saline County is in a very bad condition & I must send a more efficient commander there than Lieut. Colonel Wilson of the Enrolled Militia; a clever gentleman & a good man, but entirely to MILD. The Enrolled Militia along the line of the railroad west of here are worse than useless as a whole. There are some good companies among them, but most of them should be relieved from duty. If some were appointed outside the State where we could send a few of the DISLOYAL CITIZENS & hold them under guard the effect would be most beneficial. The rebels in the district have hitherto LAUGHED to scorn the power of the government because they have never been made to feel its’ FORCE. They have laughed at the orders issued & derided the forces sent to execute them. I have been endeavoring to convince them of their mistake & think I will do so as soon as I can get some of my officers disposed of & their places filled by more efficient men; but to ship a few prominent men under guard from the State & hold them in CLOSE CONFINEMENT would be worth to this district more than (3) regiments of soldiers. It would be a manifestation pf power & determination on the part of the government that would “STRIKE TERROR” into the SOULS of these CRAVEN REBELS for most of them are cowards!

Very Respectfully, General, your obedient servant,

BEN LOAN

Brigadier General commanding


Gen. Loan was a very good Union officer from Missouri and in less than a year he would no longer hesitate to BURN HOUSES or WAGE “TOTAL WAR” because that was how the Civil War was fought with a VENGEANCE in Missouri!   

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