By Andy Ostmeyer
Solomon Young epitomized everything Americans admire in one of their own: self-made, a restless, westering soul hewing a life out of the wilderness with nothing but “a gun and an ax and two babies and a blanket,” according to family tradition.
Young was the son of a patriot — his father having fought in the American Revolution — and Young himself freighted goods along the Santa Fe Trail and drove cattle to California, an agent of Manifest Destiny.
That the country his father helped create — now his country — would turn on him, and that he, his wife, Harriet, and those babies would suffer at its hands must have been inconceivable. But the more Young’s generation opened up the new nation, the more they forced the question that would result in their suffering: Should slavery follow Americans into the West?
Slavery followed Young, who arrived in western Missouri in the 1840s. He was a slave owner, but as the United States fractured over the issue, he remained, like many in the state, a supporter of his country. Young even signed an oath in 1862 proclaiming his loyalty to the Union; he had waged no war against the United States.
In fact, he and his family saw themselves as victims — not perpetrators — of the violence that bled into every edge of the Kansas-Missouri border during the Civil War.
Kansas Jayhawkers and Union soldiers raided Solomon Young’s Jackson County farm time and again, slaughtered his hogs and confiscated his hay, corn, wagons and more. Some of those Jayhawkers even grabbed a treasured family quilt that Harriet had sewn in 1839 — perhaps the blanket of family tradition — and threw it in the mud. At one point, the raiders nearly hanged one of Young’s sons — stretching the neck of Harrison — while Solomon was away, trying to get the boy to tell them where his father could be found.
Then came August of 1863 and the brutality that had become a way of life on the frontier escalated to an unprecedented level: William Quantrill and his men burned Lawrence, killing civilians, some just boys.
Union Brig. Gen. Thomas Ewing, commander of the District of the Border, with headquarters in Kansas City, responded immediately with one of the harshest measures the U.S. government ever took against its own citizens.
Order No. 11 would drive out tens of thousands of residents on the Missouri side of the border — Solomon Young and family included — turning them into refugees and making a wasteland of the farms and homes these self-made pioneers had hewn with their axes.
Solomon Young’s 10-year-old daughter, Martha, never forgot.
She remembered the final scene all her long life as her family was driven out, forced into what she characterized as “bitter exile,” taking with them little more than her parents had first brought to the border two decades earlier.
The feeling of injustice left by Order No. 11 ran deep, so deep that Martha could not help but pass it on to her own child, who, in time, would see in it a lesson he would bring to bear in yet another war.
Eye for an eye
Quantrill’s raid on the abolitionist stronghold of Lawrence, Kan., on Aug. 21, 1863, is generally seen as the immediate provocation for Order No. 11. That day, nearly 200 men and boys were massacred and 185 homes and businesses were burned.
But the border had been aflame long before that, and Lawrence was only the latest in a long line of cities and villages on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri line reduced to smoke and ashes.
Missourians pointed to the ruins of Dayton and Columbus.
Kansas pointed to attacks on the villages of Aubry and Gardner.
Missourians remembered Osceola, where thousands were left homeless by Kansas Jayhawkers who torched the town in 1861.
Kansans, of course, had Lawrence.
And so it went, atrocity stacked up on atrocity, each escalating rather than deterring violence.
Historian Albert Castel has written that many residents in western Missouri saw Quantrill and others like him not as terrorists or guerrillas, but as “avengers.”
More than that, many of those same residents in western Missouri had brothers and sons who joined the guerrillas, including Solomon Young. His daughter, Sarah Ann — Martha’s older sister — had married Jim Crow Chiles, who rode with Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson.
“Consequently, they aided them in every possible way, from feeding and sheltering them to smuggling them ammunition and acting as spies,” Castel wrote of the families who lived along the border in western Missouri. “Even anti-Confederates assisted the partisans out of fear of reprisals ... in effect the federal forces in western Missouri were opposed by an entire people.”
Union Maj. Gen. John Schofield claimed that two-thirds of the families in western Missouri were kin to the guerrillas and actively supported their bushwhacking, according to Castle, and even before Lawrence was sacked, Schofield had proposed forcibly relocating those trouble-making families to Arkansas.
Then came Lawrence.
Castel called the Lawrence raid the climax of nearly a decade of fighting along the border, and the most “horrible atrocity of the entire Civil War.”
It was inevitable that the Union would match the escalation.
“All persons living in Jackson, Cass and Bates Counties, Missouri, and in that part of Vernon County included in the (military) district ... are hereby ordered to remove from their present places of residence within 15 days from the date hereof.”
Order No. 11, dated Aug. 25, 1863, was signed by Ewing.
There were some exceptions for people living within a mile of designated Union strongholds, but for tens of thousands of others, there was no choice.
Ewing sent soldiers to enforce the order, and they did so, according to one historian, with “savage efficiency,” joined by Jayhawkers. Some historians have concluded that hundreds of men were shot as the Union cleaned out the western border of Missouri. Homes and farms were burned to keep the families from returning.
“They piled all the bedding, barrels of molasses, sugar, all clothing and provisions in the yard and started a fire which destroyed everything, including the house and mill,” one victim wrote. “They left, taking all the horses, and cattle with them, leaving a pair of old oxen and a surrey they thought useless.”
The exodus burned a groove in the memory of young Francis Twyman, one of the refugees, who even 50 years later could recall the events as if they had just happened.
“The road from Independence to Lexington was crowded with women and children, women walking with their babies in their arms, packs on their backs and four of five children following after them — some crying for bread, some crying to be taken back to their homes.”
But there were no homes left.
One Union squad boasted of burning 110 homes. Many other soldiers had similar stories to tell. Fires spread to the prairies and woods that September.
“The air grew hazy with smoke,” wrote historian and Quantrill biographer Edward Leslie. “The bleak terrain would be referred to for decades as the ‘burnt district.’”
“Another woman had two cows hitched to a wagon ... inside the wagon was a very sick child,” wrote Twyman. “The wagon halted, the mother got out with her sick babe in her arms and seated herself under the friendly shade of a tree. It was apparent that the child was dying. There sat the mother with her child dying in her lap. Her husband had been killed ... O, the anguish of that brokenhearted mother as she sat there, with tears streaming down her pale cheeks knowing she was powerless to save her child.
“The crowd surged on ...” she wrote.
Thirty thousand people lived in Cass, Jackson and Bates counties and that part of Vernon County in the military district, according to the 1860 census, says Tom Rafiner, a historian and author who has studied the impact of Order No. 11 in Cass County.
“By the time Order No. 11 was completely implemented there were no people living in Bates County. Zero in Vernon County,” he said.
Cass County had 800 residents “at most,” he said.
Jackson County had been largely depopulated, too; Solomon Young and family were among the refugees.
“I think it is very reasonable to assume that by the time it was completely implemented in 1863, there were 25,000 people who were gone,” Rafiner said. “Twenty-two hundred square miles of western Missouri were converted from what it had been before the war started to complete desolation.”
One Union soldier described the country afterward: “Not a man, woman or child is to be seen in the country to which Order No. 11 applies ... turn which way you will, everything denotes a state of utter desolation and ruin.”
Two years later, a minister, George Miller, returning to the area after the war, was stunned by what had happened.
“For miles and miles we saw nothing but lone chimneys. It seemed like a vast cemetery — not a living thing to break the silence ... Man no longer existed here.”
If the goal of Order No. 11 was to create a neutral zone that protected Kansas, it succeeded, said Rafiner, but if the goal was stopping the bushwhacking in Missouri, it didn’t. In fact, according to historian James McPherson and others who have studied the period, guerrilla raids became even more aggressive, even more daring.
“It moved all of that violence to central Missouri,” said Rafiner, which is exactly where many of the refugees had landed after they were forced from their homes.
Rafiner believes that in no other place in the country was the civilian population hit as hard during the Civil War as it was in western Missouri — not in the Shenandoah Valley by Union Gen. Phil Sheridan in 1864, and not in Georgia or the Carolinas during William Tecumseh Sherman’s campaigns in 1864-1865.
“There was no single event that compared to what happened in western Missouri,” said Rafiner. “It was unprecedented.”
That view is shared by other historians.
Castel, one of the leading historians of the war on the frontier, wrote: “With the exception of the hysteria-motivated herding of Japanese-Americans into concentration camps during World War II, it stands as the harshest treatment ever imposed on United States citizens under the plea of military necessity in our nation’s history.”
Ewing’s order was sharply criticized by some Union supporters at the time, among them a Federal soldier named George Caleb Bingham, who was so incensed by what he witnessed that he vowed to use his talent as an artist to vilify Ewing, and did so with a controversial painting titled “Order No. 11.” It depicts a family being driven from its home, one of them shot by a Kansan while Union soldiers loot the furniture.
Some historians have argued that the painting cost Ewing the governorship of Ohio when he returned there after the war.
Ewing had his defenders, though.
Schofield, the Union commander who ultimately would become the top commanding general of the U.S. Army after the war and later a Secretary of War, deemed Order No. 11 “wise and just — in fact, a necessity.”
Castel concluded his historic study of Order No. 11 by noting that many sources at the time, including Miller, the minister who returned to the area after the war, estimated that 80 percent of the people in the area supported the guerrillas.
“Under the laws and practices of war,” wrote Castel, “whenever enemy civilians willingly assist guerrillas, then they must expect to take the consequences, and among the consequences is forced evacuation of their homes.”
As early as 1861, John Charles Fremont, commander of the Western District of the Union Army, with authority over Missouri, pushed for a hard war that did not spare civilians. He declared martial law throughout the state, announced the death penalty for guerrillas, and authorized the confiscation and emancipation of slaves.
President Abraham Lincoln, fearing that such aggressive moves would alienate supporters in tenuously held border states, such as Missouri and Kentucky, revoked Fremont’s orders. Lincoln still clung to the hope that he could keep the war from collapsing into a “remorseless revolutionary struggle,” said McPherson, author of numerous books on the period.
With Union victories in 1862 at Fort Donelson, Pea Ridge, Shiloh and elsewhere, Lincoln believed that the limited war strategy — McPherson called it the “soft war” strategy — might hold, but as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson rolled back Union hopes in late 1862 and early 1863, a harder war was inevitable.
Order No. 11 was a legalization of that hard war, a blurring of the lines between civilians and soldiers, and between military property and civilian property, and it would soon spread to the East.
According to McPherson, “Most of the Union commanders who subsequently became famous practitioners of total war spent part of their early Civil War careers in Missouri — including (Ulysses) Grant, Sherman and Sheridan. This was more than coincidence. What they saw and experienced in that state helped to predispose them toward a conviction that, in Sherman’s words, ‘We are not only fighting hostile armies but a hostile people’ and must make them ‘feel the hard hand of war.’”
Sheridan implemented a total war strategy in the Shenandoah Valley, breadbasket of the Confederacy, burning thousands of barns and countless fields, and leaving little in it, he said, “for man or beast.”
No one is more famous — or infamous — for the scorched earth tactic than Sherman — Ewing’s brother-in-law, by the way — who used it to devastating effect through Georgia and the Carolinas, where farms, homes and cities, including the state capitals of Milledgeville, Ga., and Columbia, S.C., followed Osceola and Lawrence into the ash heap. Many of Sherman’s top Corps commanders during the Georgia and Carolinas campaigns — Schofield among them — also were men who had known the war on the frontier.
Martha Young’s boy
In 1905, more than 40 years had passed since Order No. 11 drove Solomon Young and his family from their farm.
Solomon died in 1892, but his wife, Harriet, was still alive when her grandson — Martha’s son — strolled into her parlor wearing the blue uniform of the Missouri National Guard.
Harriet told her grandson it was the first time a blue uniform had been in her home.
“Do not wear that uniform in my house again,” she warned him.
The story is one of many her grandson, born in Lamar in 1884, liked to tell. That boy was molded to his core not only by his father’s Democratic politics, but also by his mother’s Southern heritage and their experiences during the war, experiences passed down through Harriet and her daughter, Martha, who by that time had married John Truman. John and Martha named their son after Martha’s brother, Harrison, the boy who had survived that neck stretching during the war.
Harry Truman grew up listening to stories told by his mother and grandmother, his uncles and others who knew the war firsthand. On the streets of his hometown, he also met old men who had once ridden with Quantrill, as well as freed slaves. Truman, a formidable student of history, consumed their stories of the Civil War on the frontier and made studying that war a lifelong passion.
In Washington, as a U.S. senator, he walked old battlefields, and attended lectures by leading Civil War scholars of the day, sometimes skipping out on Senate business to do so.
During World War II, Truman was named to head up the Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, looking for fraud and waste. He took a lesson from the Civil War and made sure the Truman Committee, as it was called, would not make the mistake of those radical Republican senators whose meddling in military matters undermined Lincoln’s war effort.
But it was as president after World War II that Harry Truman implemented one of the lessons from the war on the frontier.
The experience passed down to Truman by his mother’s family, the refugees of an earlier war, had shaped his world view and would become an important part of his support for the Marshall Plan, according to historians such as Ethan Rafuse, who teaches at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and David Shafer, whose career in the National Park Service has included tours at the Fort Scott and Harry Truman national historic sites.
The Marshall Plan — an aid effort the United States launched after World War II to provide financial support to war-ravaged European countries to return them to prosperity — also was framed by Truman’s 20th century experience as a soldier in World War I, the consequences of the Versailles Treaty, his experience as a U.S. senator and president during World War II, and fears that communism would spread throughout Europe.
But as Shafer has written, the Civil War “burrowed deep into the soul and sinew” of Truman, and as much as anything was responsible for his perspective. What’s more, Truman himself said after his presidency that his awareness of what his family in particular and the South in general had endured influenced his support for the Marshall Plan.
“You can’t be vindictive about a war,” Truman said, according to Rafuse.
“For Harry Truman, the past is always present,” said Shafer. “His basic understanding of the border war was always in the background for him.”
According to Rafuse and Shafer, Truman sought to avoid the postwar bitterness and recrimination he had experienced as a boy, a bitterness still so potent in 1945 that his mother, Martha, at the age of 92, when visiting her son in the White House, refused to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom. More than eight decades after she was exiled by Order No. 11, Martha said she would rather sleep on the floor.
“My mother and father hated the Yankees until both of them died,” Truman said at one point after he left office, according to Shafer. “And I didn’t want hate to be this war’s gift to the future.”
Source notes: This narrative was constructed from multiple sources, including: “Battle Cry of Freedom,” and “Drawn with the Sword,” both by James McPherson; “The Devil Knows How to Ride,” by Edward Leslie; “Black Flag,” by Thomas Goodrich; “Truman” by David McCulloch; “Order No. 11 and the Civil War on the Border,” by Albert Castel in the Missouri Historical Review; “Far More Than A Romantic Adventure: The American Civil War in Harry Truman’s History and Memory,” by Ethan Rafuse in the Missouri Historical Review; “Border State Son, Harry S. Truman and the War Between The States,” by David Shafer in North and South; and interviews with McPherson, Leslie, Rafuse, Shafer and historian Tom Rafiner.