September 27, 1864 – Pro-Confederate guerrillas ravaged a Missouri railroad town and murdered nearly 150 Federal soldiers.
On the night of September 26, a band of 225 ruffians under guerrilla leaders William “Bloody Bill” Anderson and George Todd camped at the Singleton farm, four miles south of the tiny railroad town of Centralia. The next day, Anderson’s men entered Centralia to collect St. Louis newspapers, but after they got drunk on a barrel of whiskey, Anderson declared from the town square, “From this time forward I ask no quarter and give none.”
The raiders terrorized residents for three hours, committing robbery, rape, and murder before finally burning the town. When the train from Columbia arrived at noon, they forced the passengers out and robbed them. They tore up a stretch of track, forcing the westbound train from St. Charles to stop before it could reach the depot. The ruffians robbed these passengers as well, then killed 24 unarmed Federal soldiers on furlough along with two civilians trying to hide their valuables. Anderson spared Federal Sergeant Thomas Goodman, hoping to exchange him for an imprisoned Confederate guerrilla. The raiders made off with $3,000 in greenbacks from the train’s express car, returned to the Singleton Farm, then released Goodman unharmed.
Later that day, Federal Major A.V.E. Johnson and 158 men from the 39th Missouri arrived in Centralia. Johnson left half his force to restore order in the town and led the other half in pursuit. Three miles out of town, Anderson and Todd suddenly wheeled around and attacked their pursuers. The raiders shot or cut the throats of most Federals, including Johnson, with the 23 men on the fastest horses escaping.
The raiders then returned to Centralia and killed most of the remaining Federals, many of whom begged for mercy. The 39th lost a total of 116 killed, two wounded, and six missing. Anderson and Todd scalped and decapitated many of their victims and wore their hair and heads as trophies. On the 29th the district commander, Brigadier General Clinton Fisk, arrived at Centralia and reported that some Federals “were shot through the head, then scalped, bayonets thrust through them, ears and noses cut off, and privates torn off and thrust in the mouths of the dying.”
- Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 123
- Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 12127-37
- Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 501-02
- Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 61
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 575
- Time-Life Editors, Spies, Scouts and Raiders: Irregular Operations (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 159-61