August 25, 1863 – Brigadier General Thomas Ewing, commanding the Federal District of the Border between Missouri and Kansas, issued repressive orders that threatened to escalate the bitter partisan war in the region even further.
Following the sack of Lawrence, William C. Quantrill’s Confederate partisans rode back to sanctuary in Missouri. Brigadier General James H. Lane’s Kansas Jayhawkers briefly pursued them but could not track them down. Lane retaliated by murdering over 100 people in western Missouri suspected of helping Quantrill and destroying the property of any alleged Quantrill sympathizers.
Lane also demanded that Ewing, headquartered at Kansas City, exact harsh revenge on anyone not clearly professing Unionist sympathies. Lane drew up a vindictive military order and, as a U.S. senator with strong political connections, threatened to end Ewing’s career if he did not issue and enforce it.
Under General Orders No. 11, Federal troops were to depopulate the four Missouri counties on the Kansas border south of the Missouri River: Jackson, Cass, and Bates, plus part of Vernon County. All people, regardless of age, race, gender, or loyalty, were required to leave their homes within 15 days. Those who proved themselves loyal to the Union could reside in military camps under protection. Those who could not had to leave without protection. Anyone resisting the order would be executed.
Ewing directed the 15th Kansas Cavalry, led by hated Jayhawker Colonel Charles R. Dennison, to enforce the order. Jennison displaced an estimated 20,000 people, many of whom were harassed and robbed by Jayhawkers as they clogged roads hauling wagons filled with all their worldly possessions. Once the counties were emptied, Federals looted and burned all remaining homes, barns, and crops.
Ewing’s order, at Lane’s insistence, was one of the most brutal ever enforced in U.S. history. Predictably, it did little to stop Confederate partisan activity in the area; if anything, it made the raiders even more determined to resist Federal authority. The order also ruined western Missouri’s economy and caused deep resentment for generations. For years, the desolate region was known as the “Burnt District.”
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