October 26, 1864: Bloody Bill Anderson Killed

LeBoeuf: The force of law! This man is a notorious thumper! He rode by the light of the moon with Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson!
Rooster Cogburn: That men was patriots, Texas trash!
LeBoeuf: They murdered women and children in Lawrence, Kansas.
Rooster Cogburn: That’s a G-d d—-d lie! What army was you in, mister?
LeBoeuf: I was at Shreveport first with Kirby-Smith, then…
Rooster Cogburn: Yeah? What side was you on?
LeBoeuf: I was in the army of Northern Virginia, Cogburn, and I don’t have to hang my head when I say it!
Rooster Cogburn: If you had served with Captain Quantrill…
LeBoeuf: Captain? Captain Quantrill indeed!
Rooster Cogburn: Best let this go, LeBoeuf!
LeBoeuf: Captain of what?
Rooster Cogburn: Good, then! There are not sufficient dollars in the state of Texas to make it worth my while to listen to your opinions. Our agreement is nullified.
LeBoeuf: That suits me!

Charles Portis, True Grit



Our Civil War was a relatively clean war in that the mass murder  of civilian populations that are often a feature of civil wars was mercifully absent from that conflict.  However, some atrocities did occur, and many of them were in the ferocious fighting that raged in Kansas and along the Kansas-Missouri border.  There the Civil War had begun in 1854, with a brief truce in 1859-60.

Anderson, born in 1839, came from a family of horse thieves.  Residing in Agnes, Kansas in March 1862, his father was shot by a local Judge in regard to a stolen horse.  Bloody Bill and his brother Jim took revenge by shooting to death the Judge and his brother-in-law.   Bloody Bill left Agnes, Kansas with his family and moved to Western Missouri.

By the spring of 1863 Bloody Bill and Jim had joined up with William Quantrill and his Confederate guerillas.

Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr., the commander of the military district which comprised Kansas and Western Missouri, ordered the arrest of relatives of the members of Quantrill’s band.  12 women among those arrested were housed in a three story house in Kansas City, Missouri.  The house collapsed on August 14, 1863, killing four of the women.  Anderson’s sister Josephine was killed in the collapse and his sister Mary was rendered a permanent cripple.

Anderson went crazy with grief and rage when he heard the news.   In retaliation, Quantrill raided Lawrence, Kansas on August 21.  200 men and boys were murdered by Quantrill’s men, with Bloody Bill living up to the nickname by which he is known to history.

In the winter of 1863 Quantrill led his men to Texas.  Here Quantrill and Bloody Bill quarrelled, with Bloody Bill leaving the band.

In March of 1864, Bloody Bill returned to Western Missouri, leading his own gang.  Bloody Bill and his men took no prisoners, and often mutilated and scalped the bodies of the men they killed, soldiers and civilians alike.  The scalps they would hang from their saddles as trophies.  One of the men who rode with Bloody Bill was the bandit, murderer and future folk hero Jesse James.

O September 27, 1864, Bloody Bill led 80 raiders into the town of Centralia, Missouri.  After looting the town, Bloody Bill and his men stopped a train.  Aboard were 125 passengers, among whom were 23 Union soldiers on leave.  22 of the 23 unarmed soldiers were murdered, and their bodies mutilated and scalped.  The raiders then set the train on fire and burned the depot.  They were pursued by the 39th Missouri Mounted Infantry.  This regiment was ambushed by the Confederates with 123 of the 155 men being slain.

On October 26, 1864 Bloody Bill died in a Union ambush near Albany, Missouri.  The Union commander Colonel Samuel P. Cox wrote this account of the ambush:

I had only about 300 men under my command and gave the word to stand their ground – this fight must be victory or death – and not a man faltered. We dismounted at the wooden bridge leaving our horses in charge of the men with the commissary wagons. Crossing the bridge I stationed my men in the timber and gave explicit instructions not to begin shooting until I gave the command. Lt. Baker was sent ahead to reconnoiter and bring on the fight with instructions to retreat through our line. Cas. Morton, now a retired brigadier general, of Washington, D.C., was sent to Baker with the word to start the fight. Baker dashed up to where Anderson and his men were having meal ground and getting provisions, and opened fire. Instantly Anderson and his men were in their saddles and gave chase to Baker, who retreated under instructions and came dashing through our line. Anderson and some 20 of his men came in their historic manner, with their bridle reins in their teeth and revolver in each hand. When my men opened fire, many of Anderson’s command went down. Others turned and fled, but the grim old chieftain and two of his men went right through the line, shooting and yelling, and it was as Anderson and one of his men turned and came back that both of them were killed. The celebrated (Capt.) Archie Clement, who had gone through our line with Anderson, kept right on across the bridge and stampeded my wagon train and its guards boy [sic] yelling to them to fly as the command was cut to pieces, and thinking it was one of their men, they ran and kept it up until I was a day or two getting them together again. In the hubbub, Clemens escaped. Clell Miller, afterwards a noted bank robber and a desperate character, was wounded in this fight and taken prisoner. It was with difficulty I restrained my men and the citizens from lynching him.

Anderson’s body was taken to Richmond, Missouri.  An indication of the profound hatred he aroused in Unionists is demonstrated by the fact that his body was decapitated with his head being stuck on a telegraph pole, and the rest of his body dragged through the streets of the town.  Eventually the body was buried in an unmarked grave in the Pioneer Cemetery in Richmond.


Published in: on October 26, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (9)  
Tags: , ,


  1. For an interesting and seasonally (as in Halloween) appropriate fictional treatment of Bloody Bill, check out the novel “A Fine Likeness” by Sean McLachlan. In this story, a Union officer whose son was killed earlier in the war encounters a teenage follower of Bloody Bill, named Jimmy, who reminds him of his dead son, and determines to save Jimmy from the clutches of Bloody Bill — who is portrayed as being in league with, shall we say, a lower power. The book can be previewed here:


    • I will have to look for that book Elaine!

  2. Unfortunately, I know for a fact that heads stuck on poles were a not infrequent feature of the civil war in southern Italy at the same period. There is a famous photograph of half a dozen or more human heads in wooden cases,apparently just left lying around. That it only seems to have happened once in the US war underlines the unusual nature of this conflict.

    • Civil Wars are often the nastiest of conflicts. It does surprise me that we didn’t have more of it in our Civil War. Kipling touched upon it in his poem a Hymn Before Action that should be required reading for all politicians and military men:

      “From panic, pride, and terror
      Revenge that knows no rein —
      Light haste and lawless error,
      Protect us yet again,
      Cloke Thou our undeserving,
      Make firm the shuddering breath,
      In silence and unswerving
      To taste Thy lesser death.”

      • The Grave of the Hundred Head

        by Rudyard Kipling.

        There’s a widow in sleepy Chester
        Who weeps for her only son;
        There’s a grave on the Pabeng River,
        A grave that the Burmans shun;
        And there’s Subadar Prag Tewarri
        Who tells how the work was done.

        A Snider squibbed in the jungle-
        Somebody laughed and fled,
        And the men of the First Shikaris
        Picked up their Subaltern dead,
        With a big blue mark in his forehead
        And the back blown out of his head.

        Subadar Prag Tewarri,
        Jemadar Hira Lal,
        Took command of the party,
        Twenty rifles in all,
        Marched them down to the river
        As the day was beginning to fall.

        They buried the boy by the river,
        A blanket over his face-
        They wept for their dead Lieutenant,
        The men of an alien race-
        They made a samadh in his honour,
        A mark for his resting-place.

        For they swore by the Holy Water,
        They swore by the salt they ate,
        That the soul of Lieutenant Eshmitt Sahib
        Should go to his God in state,
        With fifty file of Burmans
        To open him Heaven’s Gate.

        The men of the First Shikaris
        Marched till the break of day,
        Till they came to the rebel village
        The village of Pabengmay-
        A jingal covered the clearing,
        Caltrops hampered the way.

        Subadar Prag Tewarri,
        Bidding them load with ball,
        Halted a dozen rifles
        Under the village wall;
        Sent out a flanking-party
        With Jemadar Hira Lal.

        The men of the First Shikaris
        Shouted and smote and slew,
        Turning the grinning jingal
        On to the howling crew.
        The Jemadar’s flanking-party
        Butchered the folk who flew.

        Long was the morn of slaughter,
        Long was the list of slain,
        Five score heads were taken,
        Five score heads and twain;
        And the men of the First Shikaris
        Went back to their grave again,

        Each man bearing a basket
        Red as his palms that day,
        Red as the blazing village-
        The village of Pabengmay
        And the “drip-drip-drip” from the baskets
        Reddened the grass by the way

        They made a pile of their trophies
        High as a tall man’s chin,
        Head upon head distorted,
        Set in a sightless grin,
        Anger and pain and terror
        Stamped on the smoke-scorched skin.

        Subadar Prag Tewarri
        Put the head of the Boh
        On the top of the mound of triumph,
        The head of his son below-
        With the sword and the peacock banner
        That the world might behold and know.

        Thus the samadh was perfect,
        Thus was the lesson plain
        Of the wrath of the First Shikaris-
        The price of white man slain;
        And the men of the First Shikaris
        Went back into camp again.

        Then a silence came to the river,
        A hush fell over the shore,
        And Bohs that were brave departed,
        And Sniders squibbed no more;
        For the Burmans said
        That a white man’s head
        Must be paid for with heads five-score.

        There’s a widow in sleepy Chester
        Who weeps for her only son;
        There’s a grave on the Pabeng River,
        A grave that the Burmans shun;
        And there’s Subadar Prag Tewarri
        Who tells how the work was done.

  3. And recall too that our ancestors were heid hunters Maister McC! 🙂

      • The young man left out the more important part…

        He kept the Roman order,
        He made the Christian sign;
        But his eyes grew often blind and bright,
        And the sea that rose in the rocks at night
        Rose to his head like wine.

        He made the sign of the cross of God,
        He knew the Roman prayer,
        But he had unreason in his heart
        Because of the gods that were.

  4. Apologies, that should have read

    “The young man left out the more important and less flattering part… “

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: