Of Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers

Want to know about guerilla warfare in the United States? Ask Howard Mann.

Today, most Americans associate guerilla warfare with far-off places, such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Pakistan, East Timor, Peru, Afghanistan and Iraq. But guerilla fighting just as savage Ð replete with execution, dismemberment, looting and burning Ð took place in the United States about 150 years ago. In fact, it occurred right in the heartland, along the Kansas and Missouri border.

The time was 1854. Kansas was still a territory, and in the pre-war fervor of the day, fighting erupted over whether it would be admitted to the Union as a free or slave state. Emotions crossed over into violence; the area was dubbed “Bleeding Kansas.” Nor did hostilities end with the admission of Kansas as a free state in January 1861.

Violent encounters occurred – mostly outside established chains of command – throughout the Civil War between pro-Union Kansans, known as jayhawkers, and pro-Confederate Missourians, known as bushwhackers (also called “partisan rangers”). The volatile mix of pro-slavery partisans, many from the South, and anti-slavery forces, many of whom moved into the Kansas Territory from the Midwest, bubbled over into vicious guerilla warfare, often in tit-for-tat fashion.

In September 1861, for example, U.S. Senator James Henry Lane led a brigade against Osceola, Mo., looting and burning the town of 3,000. A year later, in September 1862, the town of Olathe, Kan., was overrun by pro-Confederate guerillas under the leadership of William Quantrill; several men were killed, and businesses and homes were looted. In August 1863, Quantrill conducted one of the more infamous acts of guerilla warfare in the area, when he led 300 men in a dawn raid on Lawrence, Kan. By the time it was over, 150 men were dead and more than 200 homes and businesses destroyed. In September 1864, 24 unarmed Union soldiers were captured and executed at Centralia, Mo., at the hands of a group of guerillas (including future outlaw Jesse James) under the leadership of William T. “Bloody Bill” Anderson. Many other acts of violence between jayhawkers and bushwhackers have been recorded.

Guerilla warfare continued after the end of the war as well. Jesse James, for example, rallied the support of former Confederates in his criminal spree. And in 1867, a band of bushwhackers shot and killed Sheriff Joseph Bailey, a former Union brigadier general, who had attempted to arrest them. To many, the mid-1800s are a period of time best forgotten.

A student of the times
However, that’s not the case for Howard Mann, senior director of materials management for Saint Luke’s Health System in Kansas City, Mo. Rather than forgetting about this chapter of the nation’s history, Mann studies it. He is not only president of the Civil War Round Table of Kansas City, but he has researched and written a manuscript on Lane’s Kansas Brigade, which was responsible for the looting of Osceola in 1861.

Mann was born in Petaluma, Calif., but was raised in Jacksonville, Fla. In the 1950s, Jacksonville was a boom town, and so was a good place for his father, who was in the construction trade, to settle down with his family. Mann got a bachelor’s degree in art history from Florida State University, and was drafted in November 1971 during the Vietnam conflict. As a military policeman, he worked as a prison counselor at a U.S. Navy base in Japan. He was intrigued by the work, and after the war, worked as a drug abuse counselor for a while. In 1979, he returned to graduate school at the University of North Florida, and received a master’s degree in allied health science in 1979.

A fellow grad student from UNF, Jim Gandy, hired Mann as assistant materials management director at Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville. Mann held that post for six years, and then served in Baptist’s IT department for another six. “I loved IT,” he says. “I thought I’d stay in that career path.” But managed care came to Jacksonville, and Baptist embarked on a cost-cutting campaign. Mann lost his job, and went to work for Owen Healthcare (acquired by Cardinal Health in 1997), a contract management pharmacy and materials management company based in Houston. After moving several times for the company, he took a materials management position with the Sisters of Mercy Health System in Oklahoma City. He came to Kansas City 10 years ago.

Connections with the past
It was through his father – who as an Army Ranger had participated in the invasion of Normandy in June 1944 – that Mann became interested in his heritage. Diagnosed with cancer in 1988, his father had a desire to reconnect with his family of origin, from whom he had become estranged. He gave Mann a family history document, which a cousin had written. “I was amazed that I had all these relatives who had fought in the Civil War,” he says. “There were a couple who had fought in the Revolutionary War too. They weren’t significant people as far as history goes, but it was a connection to the past. And I got interested.”

The research into the past was therapeutic for Mann’s father. “He found out that these weren’t terrible people; they were just people, and here’s how they were involved in big historical events. I started doing research, and it became a family obsession. And my dad got a sense that there was decency in our family; they were honorable people; they did good things.”

Mann took his ill father to Illinois, where his dad’s sister lived, and he met some cousins whom he had never known before. The two also visited the grave of Mann’s grandfather, George Ernest Tracy.

Civil War connection
Through research, Mann learned that George Ernest Tracy’s father, George T. Tracy, had enlisted in Company D, 3rd Kansas Volunteers, in June 1861, and was transferred to Company H, 10th Kansas Infantry in April 1862. He fought in Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama. After the war, he returned to Kansas, married, had 12 children, and died in 1918. Though his great-grandfather left no letters or documents of his own, Mann found a contemporary reference to a Corporal Tracy in a battle at the war’s end in Alabama.

Mann’s interest in the Civil War and his own lineage grew from there. He and his wife, Sharon, joined a local chapter of the Civil War Round Table while living in Pennsylvania. (The Round Tables are local groups of Civil War enthusiasts who gather on a regular basis to discuss, research and present lectures on the conflict.)

After coming to Kansas City, Mann got involved in the local Round Table, which had been founded in 1958 by a dentist, Bert Mabee, who had been a soldier in Harry Truman’s artillery unit in World War I. “Truman, Mabee and others used to sit around and talk about history, specifically the Civil War, in this area,” says Mann. “The story goes that Truman told Bert he should formalize that discussion group into the Kansas City Civil War Round Table.” Truman himself was a charter member, though the organization never accepted dues from him, given his status as former president.

Lane’s Brigade
About three years ago, Mann was encouraged to turn his interest in Lane’s Kansas Brigade into a book. He dug into original documents, such as letters, diaries and newspaper accounts, and wrote a manuscript, which he hopes to have published.

Lane was a U.S. senator from Kansas, who had come under President Lincoln’s good graces when he (Lane) had actively defended the city of Washington and the White House from Confederate forces in 1861. Lincoln appointed Lane brigadier general and charged him with raising troops in Kansas, explains Mann. Lane did so and was immediately posted at Fort Scott in Kansas to counter the threat posed by the Missouri State Guard after the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in August 1861, near Springfield, Mo.

Lane’s Brigade lasted only a year, from June 1861 through April 1862, says Mann. “But it’s significant, because, in effect, it was an extension of Bleeding Kansas.” Animosity on the Missouri/Kansas border between pro-Confederate forces in Missouri and pro-Union forces in Kansas led Lane to form a brigade to defend Kansas against incursions by Missourians. Lane didn’t confine his activities to defensive ones, however, but rather, conducted raids on Missouri towns and communities, the most notorious being that on Osceola.

A longstanding political feud with the governor of Kansas, Charles Robinson, led to Lane resigning his post as brigadier general in 1862 and devoting his energies to his work as a U.S. senator.

Lessons learned
Mann’s work on the Civil War has given him insights into more recent examples of guerilla warfare. The primary lesson is this: In an environment of guerilla warfare, the element of trust is destroyed. “The civilian population learns to trust no one or nothing,” he says. “Certainly you saw that in Vietnam, where you didn’t know who was going to treat you honorably and who was going to pull a grenade. How do you deal with that?” Then, answering his own question, he says, “You isolate yourself, to a certain extent.”

One blunt attempt to deal with the animosity along the Missouri/Kansas border was General Order No. 11, issued by Thomas Ewing Jr., Union district commander, following the Lawrence raid. The Order called for the depopulation of all men, women and children – both Union and Confederate sympathizers – in several Missouri counties along the Kansas border.

The guerilla warfare along the Kansas/Missouri border was ruthless. “A lot of horrific things happened,” says Mann. Luckily, guerilla warfare in the States is a thing of the past, though relics of it linger. “Most people in this area see the Civil War as starting in 1855 and ending, probably, never,” says Mann, half facetiously. “It has changed; now they argue over who’ll win the next Missouri/Kansas football game.”

Speak Your Mind

*