William "Bloody Bill" Anderson - Outlaw

William "Bloody Bill" Anderson ?-1864

His tactics were often compared to the "uncivilized" warfare of the Indians. Union commanders in the area had issued official orders throughout the time of the war that denied quarter to guerillas. Any guerilla soldier caught in a battle with Union troops was to be executed on the spot Anderson and other guerilla leaders responded in kind and also refused quarter to Union troops. After his death he would gain the moniker, "Bloody Bill" Anderson. His philosophy of warfare was that of his Scottish ancestors who's motto was, nemo me impune lacessit (no one provokes me with impunity).
Anderson was born in Missouri but lived his teen years in Kansas during the border war that exploded in Missouri and Kansas with the Kansas and Nebraska act of 1854. The Kansas and Nebraska act became the first test of the philosophy of a popular vote to determine if Kansas would enter the state as a free or slave state. The question of slavery in states had impact on the balance of power within the federal government and many Missourians perceived that a free Kansas would slant power to the northern states. Many people from the north saw that Kansas entering, as a slave state would shift the balance of power to the south.
In response to this perceived threat to the north, the New England Emigrant Aid Company (NEAC) was formed. The goal of the NEAC was to encourage abolition-minded people in immigrating to Kansas in order to vote. Missourians reacted by crossing the border in order to vote in Kansas’s elections. Much has been made of the cross-border voting but the fact is that it was not an unusual practice and the results of such votes had been accepted in the past such as when Iowa voters crossed to vote in Nebraska elections. People from border counties of one state felt they had a vested interest in the affairs of the bordering state and so the practice was not rare.
These two opposing philosophies led to violence in a very short time. Kansans and Missourians began collecting arms and raiding across the border to punish those on the other side who were seen as a threat. Abolitionists tended to wink at lawbreakers like John Brown and treated them as heroes instead of murdering thieves they were. By the same token, many Missourians with southern sympathies saw the New England immigrants as outsiders who challenged their assumed right to settle Kansas. Many from both sides saw the unrest as a chance for personal gain under the guise of defending high ideals. From the Missouri side came a group that would earn the designation, "border ruffian." The same ilk of people from Kansas were designated, "jayhawker."
One prominent group of Jayhawkers came to be known as "Redlegs," named for the red leather leggings they wore around their legs. The Jayhawker bands were based primarily in Lawrence, Kansas which was named after a wealthy abolitionist in the east. Lawrence became the focus of Jayhawker activity in the War Between the States.
When the War Between the States began in the east, the differences between Missouri and Kansas only escalated. The majority of Kansans by that time were strong unionists. The majority of Missourians at that time wished to remain neutral in the war as conditional unionists. Federal troops soon occupied Missouri and many Missourians then felt compelled to choose sides. William T. Anderson, just 21 years old, chose for the south as a partisan ranger or guerilla.
The federal occupation forces soon came to regard the guerillas as common criminals rather than soldiers and so, under the command of General Halleck in March of 1862, they officially instituted a policy of executing captured guerillas. Further, federal forces began rounding up and imprisoning family members of suspected guerillas. The guerilla leaders accepted such terms and often killed the soldiers they captured. "No Quarter" became the rallying cry of both sides with Missouri and Kansas civilians caught in the middle. When the no quarter policy seemed to only encourage guerilla activity, the federal commanders began harassing civilians who were suspected of assisting the Confederate cause by aiding the guerillas. Some were even harassed for feeding a family member home on furlough from the war. Men and even young boys were often murdered by federal troops when they would not betray the hiding places of guerilla bands.
In August of 1863, several women from guerilla families were being held in a Kansas City jail when it collapsed killing several of them. The guerillas were convinced that the collapse had been purposely engineered by federal troops and became enraged. One of the women killed was the eldest sister of William Anderson. Anderson, by now a leader of a guerilla band, is said to have been driven insane with a lust for revenge. It is said that, after the jail collapse, he would ride into battle weeping his sister's name and that he claimed that he would never spare a federal. From that time on, there was no return to "civilized" warfare for Anderson.
A little over a week after the jail collapse Anderson joined with other guerilla bands under the leadership of William Clarke Quantrill for a raid into Lawrence, Kansas. By the end of August, the federal commander, General Ewing, issued Order Number 11, which effectively expelled all citizens from the western border of Missouri and confiscated their property to federal authorities.
Waging war on the civilian population only galvanized the guerillas in their efforts to expel the federal occupation force. Anderson moved to central Missouri where he could find more Confederate sympathizers to supply and hide his band. In central Missouri his guerillas concentrated on disrupting communications and supplies to the union forces. In 1864 his primary target was the railroad system that tied Hannibal, St. Louis and St. Joseph, Missouri. His guerillas made several raids in towns along the Missouri and Grand Rivers as well. They recruited for the regular Confederate army and for their own forces. Union forces were at a disadvantage since the population tended to side with the guerillas providing supplies, hiding places, and intelligence about union troop movements.
In late September of 1864, the union commander in the area, General Fisk, issued orders to teach the Confederate sympathizers a lesson. Some say that Anderson had been notified of these orders and had suspected the town of Centralia, Missouri as a probable target of a Union raid.
On 27 September, Anderson led his men into Centralia to collect supplies and disrupt the railroad station. They found the rail schedule and noticed a train was due so they stayed in the station in order to rob the train. Anderson's guerillas blocked the rail forcing the train to stop. They boarded the train and began robbing the passengers when they discovered 25 union soldiers on furlough from General William Sherman's command in the southeast. The soldiers were lined up beside the train, stripped of their uniforms, and executed. The guerillas would often wear stolen union uniforms in order to ambush federal patrols so they took the uniforms and left town suspecting a federal force was likely on the way.
In fact, a company of about 150 union troops had been on Anderson’s trail for some time and was not far behind them. They followed Anderson's trail to just south of Centralia. Often the guerillas would send out a small group of their band to lure their enemy into a trap. This tactic worked once again as some of Anderson's men lured the federal patrol into a field surrounded by trees on three sides. When the federals came into the field, they found themselves surrounded by guerilla forces that had been hiding in the trees around the field. Several guerilla leaders had joined forces to annihilate the federal patrol. The guerillas charged and killed federals by the score giving no quarter to those attempting to surrender. They pursued and killed the troops that attempted to escape. Some guerillas even scalped their victims.
After the battle the guerilla bands separated again to elude their pursuers. Anderson and his command headed west along the Missouri river taking one of the federal troops from the train as a hostage to be exchanged for one of their men being held in federal prison. They continued to kill union militia and sympathizers along the way. By October, Anderson's band was camping in the little town of Albany, Missouri, just north of the modern-day town of Orrick. Federal troops attacked the guerilla camp and the guerillas responded with a daring charge led by Anderson. Anderson rode right through the federal lines bullets whizzing around him but as he passed through the lines his horse slowed and he dropped to the ground. The other guerillas, realizing their bold leader had been killed, scattered in all directions.
The federal troops took Anderson's body to Richmond where a series of ghoulish photographs were taken. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Richmond and in the evening federal troops were said to have been seen urinating on his grave. The federals found flowers on the grave a few days later and road their horses over and over the grave in an attempt to hide it. Just a few years ago, a simple marker was placed on his grave in what is now called the Pioneer Cemetery in Richmond, Missouri.
After his death, William Anderson gained the now familiar nickname, "Bloody Bill." It is said that in war the winners write the official history and so it is with Anderson. He has been remembered as a devil-incarnate by most and will probably always be remembered as more fiend than human. Anderson was the leader of a band of desperate men fighting for a lost cause. His philosophy in war was to inflict as much damage on his enemy as possible, and he certainly lived out that philosophy. Legend has it that Anderson carried a silk cord with a knot for every federal he killed. It is said that he stopped knotting the cord after 54 knots but there were many more after that.
To some, his legend is the epitome of evil. To others, his legend is the epitome of a fierce warrior who made his enemies feel the heat of his vengeance. His headstone reads simply, "Captain, Confederate States Army."

By J. Mark Hord