Anthony Joined the Seventh Kansas Volunteer Cavalry in October of 1861. The Seventh, led by Col. Charles Rainsford Jennison, (left) was made up of Free-Staters from the Leavenworth area, many of whom had suffered through Bleeding Kansas. Historian Stephen Starr notes the several notable members of the Seventh, including John Brown Jr and Buffalo Bill Cody. When the 7th rode to war, “Kansas had a long score of quite legitimate grievances to settle with the “Border Ruffians of Missouri” (Starr, 1973 21). The entire story of the 7th is one of the more gripping tales of any U.S. military unit I have ever read and I cannot tell it all here. Readers are directed to Stephen Z. Starr’s Jennison’s Jayhawkers (Louisiana Univ. Press, 1974), or Simeon Fox’s work for the Kansas State Historical Society.
Daniel Read Anthony played a critical role in the regiment (which was originally called the 1st Kansas Volunteer Cavalry). Initially Anthony was charged with overseeing recruitment from the Leavenworth area. A recruitment poster from August of 1861 directs potential recruits to see him. The poster (below, right) calls for “Independent Kansas Jay-Hawkers” and promises horses, a Sharps Rifle, Navy-model Revolver, and sabre for each man. According to Starr this was a huge promise. (For more on Civil War weapons, see Earl Coates’ and Thomas Dean’s An Introduction to Civil War Small Arms).
According to Starr, the Kansas 7th set out on campaign largely independent of a larger parent force. Their first fight with the Confederates involved a skirmish with guerillas on the Little Blue River near Westport, Missouri. Anthony led the men, and in what Starr characterizes as a rather unremarkable start to a military career, surprised and drove the enemy out of its camp. He then took casualties when he ordered a foolish frontal attack by just a small fraction of his already outnumbered force (Starr, 90-92). He took heavy casualties, and retreated, though he did destroy the camp on the way out. And so Daniel Read Anthony’s first true war experience ended in failure.
Though it may have been an innocuous start, Anthony, Jennison, and their unit would gain one of the most fearsome reputations for atrocities in the entire war. Much of the blame for that can be cast on Anthony. Jennison is said to have proudly claimed the Seventh to be “a self-sustaining regiment” and Anthony wrote home about the his personal spoils of war, including horses, a black servant, and food and supplies.
The first serious atrocity that Anthony took part in came around November 17, 1861, less than a month after his promotion to Lt. Colonel on Oct. 30. Anthony and the other officers received reports that a supply train bound for them had been taken by rebel guerillas. In response, Anthony, the son of a Quaker, personally led eight of the ten companies in the Seventh to the town of Pleasant Hill Missouri, fighting off guerillas and taking casualties the whole way. Upon arrival, the town was utterly pillaged, and then burned to the ground as vengeance for the attack on the supply train. At this early stage, Anthony was already proving to be a merciless wager of war, a reputation he would take pride in burnishing.
Later, after spending some time at Fort Leavenworth, the regiment was ordered to the vicinity of West Point, MO. While en-rout, with Anthony at the helm due to a prolonged
absence by Jennison, “every house but one along the line of march was put to the torch; and as the column moved southward, it could see for miles, off to the left, on the Missouri side of the road, columns of smoke from burning houses and barns set alight by the flankers” (Starr, 108-109).
Starr offers a third example of Anthony’s cruelty towards CSA sympathizers, citing The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, DC, 1880-1901). According to those records, on New Years Day, 1862, Anthony had pursued rebel forces to the town of Dayton, MO. Finding his quarry had disappeared, Anthony elected to “punish” the town just as he had Pleasant Hill; he torched it, save for one house, which “belonged to a Union man” (Starr, 114).
These accounts paint a picture of Anthony as the true leader of the Seventh, one who filled the void of an absentee commander. To Anthony, anyone who harbored southern soldiers was just as guilty as the soldiers themselves, as was anyone who held slaves. That also saddles him, according to Starr, with much of the blame for the brutal reputation that the Seventh acquired. Anthony was good at revenge, and James C. Malin wrote in The Kansas Historical Quarterly in 1953 that “Anthony hated with the same vigor he put into his other activities” (Kansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 8). He certainly hated the rebellious Southerners, or “secesh” as he called them, and he gave no quarter to civilians or soldiers. This role would acquire him and his regiment great notoriety among civilians and soldiers alike throughout the western portion of the Confederacy. He and his men also irked the Union high command, however nothing he did before June of 1862 would bring as much attention to himself and the regiment as his actions of that month.
Starr, Stephen Z. Jennison’s Jayhawkers. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1973.