An Account of Order No. 11

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Kansas City Public Library

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Context: Accounts of Order No. 11

In the Missouri-Kansas Border War, the lines between justified military action and guerrilla warfare or personal vengeance frequently blurred. The history of border violence dated back to Kansas being opened for settlement as a territory under the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, with its status as either a slave or free state to be determined by settlers under the provision of “popular sovereignty.” The dispute resulted in much bloodshed and national attention paid to the Kansas troubles, or “Bleeding Kansas.”

Nine years following the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the nation was engulfed in a bloody Civil War, and paramilitary violence in the Missouri-Kansas border region had only escalated. While the Union ostensibly controlled Missouri, bands of pro-Confederate guerrillas staged attacks in northwest Missouri and across the border in Kansas, while so-called “jayhawkers” from Kansas did the same in Missouri. Among the more famous incidents was the sacking and destruction of Osceola, Missouri by Colonel James H. Lane’s 3rd, 4th, and 5th Kansas Volunteers in September 1861 (with few deaths), “Colonel” William Clarke Quantrill’s raids into Kansas at Aubry, Olathe, and elsewhere, and the Palmyra Massacre of 10 Confederate prisoners of war in October 1862.

Missouri artist and Union officer George Caleb Bingham immortalized Order No. 11 in his painting, Martial Law (or Order No. 11). Wikimedia Commons image.

Most notorious of all was “Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence” on August 21, 1863. Quantrill’s Raiders’ killed an unprecedented 160-190 men and boys in Lawrence on the morning of the 21st and destroyed some 185 buildings. Quantrill and his fellow raiders, including William T. “Bloody Bill” Anderson and Frank James, justified the attack as retaliation for Union actions in Missouri, including Lawrence resident Jim Lane's 1861 raid on Osceola and the collapse of a makeshift prison in Kansas City that held female prisoners believed to be associated with the Missouri guerrillas. Among the dead was the sister of Bloody Bill Anderson.

Despite the belief among Quantrill’s men that their actions were justified, the sheer scale of slaughter shocked Kansans and the Union military, including Brigadier General Thomas Ewing Jr., commander of the District of the Border. Hoping to quell the border violence once and for all, and to prevent vigilante retaliations by Kansans, Ewing took the harsh and contentious step of issuing General Order No. 11 on August 25, 1863, removing almost the entire rural population of Jackson, Cass, Bates, and northern Vernon counties to create a buffer zone in northwestern Missouri. Statistics are unclear, Union records were sketchy, and reports of atrocities committed against the civilian population difficult to confirm, but it is clear that thousands of citizens, including many who were loyal to the Union, were forcibly removed, their farms destroyed, and their home region destined to remain known as the “Burnt District” for decades to come.

This document is an account of just one of the displaced citizens – Mattie Jane Tate.

Document: From Mattie Jane Tate to Cousin Mary

In a letter written from Jackson County, Missouri to her cousin Mary, Mattie Jane Tate described the devastation her family suffered as a result of Brigadier General Ewing’s notorious General Order No. 11. What she described was nothing short of a massacre, in which “some Soldiers from Kansas” took her father, brother, husband (named Calvin Tate), and at least five others and shot all of them except her father and brother, who were released. According to Tate, none had taken up arms against the Union.

From the letter: “for my part I wish they were all in Africa[,] if it had not been for them and Negro loving white men I might have had my husband with me now”She reported that the victims were left to rot, and her father, brother, and 70-year-old uncle had to bury the dead without assistance. Describing the loss of her husband, Tate wrote, “But alas I never shall hear his lovely voice again on Earth for he is gone gone from me forever[,] and I am left with three small children to take care of[.]”

Left a widow, Tate went on to describe her troubles over the ensuing year. She lived with her father and children, and reported ongoing tensions with her father, who was “on one side and me on the other.” While evidently her father held some sympathies for the preservation of the Union, Mattie Tate could not bring herself to forgive Ewing and the “Negro loving white men” who murdered her husband.

Considering the brevity of the letter, Tate reveals a surprising amount of detail about their flight to Ray County, Missouri after the massacre, the mourning of her husband, the hardships she faced in providing for her children as a widow, and her resulting hatred of the Union, African Americans, and the antislavery cause. While it would be difficult for researchers to confirm each incident she recorded or whether it was representative of common experiences, it is abundantly clear that her bitterness was authentic and undoubtedly held in common with the widows or widowers on the other side of the border. Near the end of the letter, Tate summarized, “suffice it to say that war[,] war[,] cruel war absorbs all things else.”

Additional Resources

Neely, Jeremy. "General Order No. 11." Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865. The Kansas City Public Library.

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