Ewing versus Anthony – the nature of war on the Kansas-Missouri line

“Leavenworth is for the Union, for the Army, for Universal Freedom.” So crowed the Leavenworth Conservative on April 7th, 1863 after Daniel Anthony (the Conservative’s owner) was elected Mayor. The Conservative may have meant well, but in 1863 support for the Union and support for “Universal Freedom” were still mutually exclusive. That summer, Anthony would again find himself at odds with the official policy of the United States Government and the Union Army. This time, his opponent would be the local Union commander, Brigadier General Thomas Ewing Jr. The next few posts will document and analyze this struggle, in the broader context of both Anthony’s life, and the Civil War, but first, some background is necessary.

The Civil War in the Kansas-Missouri border area was fought as much by guerilla forces and local militias as by the small numbers of Union and Confederate “regulars” that were present. Here, the two sides had already been fighting for nearly a decade, and this bad blood fueled a special kind of savagery unique to the Kansas-Missouri region.

Like Anthony, Thomas Ewing Jr. came to Kansas when it was still a territory. Like Anthony, he worked hard to make Kansas a free state, and he would serve as the State's first Chief Justice, before joining the Union Army.

Like Anthony, Thomas Ewing Jr. came to Kansas when it was still a territory. Like Anthony, he worked hard to make Kansas a free state, and he would serve as the State’s first Chief Justice, before joining the Union Army.

As spring returned to Kansas, and Daniel Anthony began his term as Mayor of Leavenworth, guerilla commander William Clarke Quantrill was preparing a renewal of “his type of warfare.” His was a bloody style that involved harassing Union troop movements, sacking pro-Union towns, destroying infrastructure such as railroads, bridges and telegraph lines, and killing anyone who got in his way. (Brownlee, Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy, 112-113) To counter the guerillas and to protect Kansas from invasion by Confederate regulars, Kansans organized guerilla groups and militias of their own. The most infamous of these were known as the “Red Legs.” Seasoned readers of this blog may remember Charles Jennison. He was among the leaders of these irregulars, and he was joined by many of men whom he and Anthony had commanded in the 7th Cavalry. These veteran Jayhawkers conducted raids against suspected southern sympathizers and brought goods, loot, livestock, and slaves across the border into Kansas. Pro-slavery Missourians, as well as “Copperhead” Kansans were murdered, lynched, beaten, or otherwise deterred from interfering. Contemporary newspaper articles indicate that the first stop for stolen goods or liberated slaves was often Leavenworth, conveniently located on the Missouri River’s west bank.

In June of 1863, the Union commander of the Department of the Missouri, Major General John M. Schofield, created the District of the Border for the purpose of gaining greater control over the region. Ewing, then a newly minted Brigadier General was placed in command. (Smith, Thomas Ewing Jr, 189) Ewing’s new district comprised sections of Kansas and western Missouri that lay “north of the thirty-eighth parallel and south of the Missouri River” (Brownlee, Gray Ghosts, 113-114). This included the important Kansas towns of Leavenworth and Lawrence, as well as Kansas City, Missouri. Ewing made his headquarters in the latter. In order to deny shelter and comfort to confederate guerillas operating along the Missouri side of the border, Ewing recognized that he had to win back the hearts and minds of loyal Missourians. He would have to prove that the Federal Government could protect them from the Red Legs and other “thieves,” as Ewing called them, who had thus far been able to wage their own, unofficial war. To these ends, Ewing first sought to shut down the black market for stolen Missourian goods that had cropped up in Leavenworth. This was no small task, and for it to succeed, Ewing would need the help of Daniel Anthony.


Sources and references

Brownlee, Richard S. Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy: Guerilla Warfare in the West, 1861-1865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984.

Smith, Ronald D. Thomas Ewing Jr. : Frontier Lawyer and Civil War General. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008.

Newspaper articles courtesy of Chronicling America (www.chroniclingamerica.loc.gov) and Kansas 

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