Battlefield Dispatches No. 210: 'Guerrillas, Outlaws, Red Legs and Knights of the Golden Circle'
Friday, April 16, 2010
Arnold W. Schofield
By the spring of 1863, the western tier counties of Missouri were part of the District of Kansas in the Department of Missouri and there were strict instructions circulated concerning the fate of Confederate Guerrillas, Bushwhackers and the Union Red Legs. If any of these individuals were captured their future longevity was very short as described in the following letters of instruction that were issued to Union commanders in the field. Both letters are located on "Pages 222-224 in Series I, Vol. 22 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion."
"Headquarters District of Kansas,
Fort Leavenworth, April 16, 1863.
Col. E. Lynde,
Commanding Ninth Regiment Kansas Volunteers:
Colonel: The western tier of counties of the State of Missouri, lying south of the Missouri River, being now embraced within the limits of this district, you will therefore, for the purpose of protecting loyal citizens and punishing traitors and insuring peace and quiet upon the borders of KANSAS & MISSOURI, move the troops under your command into the border tier of counties before mentioned (your headquarters remaining at Paola, Kansas) & co-operate with such other loyal Federal troops as you may find within the limits of this district. The troops should be kept moving or patrolling the border counties & exercise the utmost vigilance and promptness in discovering & destroying all BANDS OF GUERRILLAS & OUTLAWS & when such parties are met with ARMS IN THEIR HANDS, opposing the Federal authorities, they are not to be considered as belligerents, according to the rules & usages of civilized warfare; but having organized within the Federal lines to oppose the Federal authorities by armed resistance, THEY MUST BE TREATED AS INSURGENTS & SHALL SUFFER DEATH! When such persons are taken prisoner, WHICH SHOULD BE AVOIDED AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, they will be summarily tried before a military commission, to be appointed by the senior officer present & if found GUILTY, MUST BE executed by HANGING or SHOOTING, without delay; but, in carrying out these instructions, great discrimination should be exercised, to the end that no loyal or innocent person shall suffer. The troops must be kept under complete discipline and subordination & all officers held accountable for the conduct of the men under their command.
ALL OPERATIONS AGAINST REBELS MUST BE DIRECTED BY THE LEGAL MILITARY AUTHORITIES. This injunction is to apply especially to an organization known as the "RED LEGS", which is an organized band of THIEVES & VIOLATORS OF LAW & GOOD ORDER. All such persons found prowling over the country, without a legitimate purpose must be DISARMED, & if they shall be caught in the act of thieving or other lawlessness, or in the possession of stolen property, for which they cannot give a good & sufficient reason, THEY SHALL BE SHOT ON THE SPOT!
And as there is reason to believe that officers in the military service are implicated, directly or indirectly, in the offenses committed by "RED LEGS" & other lawless bands, therefore, upon evidence that any officer has failed or neglected to carry out the foregoing instructions in reference to such offenders, they shall be dishonorably dismissed from the Service of the United States. All stock and other property taken from the rebels in the State of Missouri will be turned over to the commanding officer at Kansas City.
Copies of the foregoing instructions will be furnished to the commanding officers in the border counties of Missouri, for their information & guidance.
JAMES G. BLUNT,
Major General, Commanding."
[Note: The "Knights of the Golden Circle" was one of a number of secret organizations in the "Border States" such as Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland & Delaware and some northern states that consisted of men & women who supported, supplied and spied for the Confederate States of America. The following letter is one of the few "official" Union documents that mentions & describes the activities of the Knights of the Golden Circle in Missouri.]
"Headquarters District of Kansas
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, April 17, 1863.
Major General Samuel R. Curtis,
Commanding Department of the Missouri:
General: In my opinion the rebel's purpose is not to move through Missouri, but upon Kansas. This opinion is confirmed by information I obtain through the Knights of the Golden Circle. I have a man who joined sometime since in Missouri for certain purposes [as a Union Spy]. He has been for sometime with Todd's Band of guerrillas in Jackson County & is well posted in the working order & the purposes for which they are organized. I expect to make a descent upon one of their lodges a few nights hence and if successful in taking them, I think I SHALL HANG ALL I CATCH. There are about 800 of them in Kansas & 10,000 in the State of Missouri. They are all sworn to support the southern confederacy & are secretly procuring arms & are confident that [Major General Sterling] Price will succeed in invading Kansas & Missouri. Recruiting Officer's from Price's army are constantly arriving & a regular correspondence by rebel mail is carried on between here & the rebel army. The plan of Price, as revealed by these Knights of the Golden Circle, is to make a feint with a small force in the direction of Springfield & Rolla, while with his main force he will move up the Arkansas [River] & through the Indian Country [,0klahoma] upon Kansas, while the troops for the protection of this line are diverted for the protection of Rolla.
Thus in addition to being the most desirable plan for them, for there is no State they would so much like to DEVASTATE as this. It is the most feasible plan, for leaving Fort Smith [, Arkansas] with 10 days of supplies of rations, they could reach Fort Scott through a country well provided with grazing, provided there was no force to oppose them; whereas they cannot move a large army up through Arkansas for want of grass.
Besides there is NOTHING TO ATTRACT THEM IN MISSOURI or supplies to sustain them, except for the government stores at the posts, which could be easily destroyed by us if necessary, while KANSAS would furnish abundance of supplies after reaching her south border. We should not suffer ourselves to be deceived in regard to their anticipated movements. Whatever I may be able to learn through the "Order" I will keep you posted. The telegraph should not be used in making mention of the "Knights of the Golden Circle." General Ewing has received orders from General Herron to join his command with the Kansas troops now in this district. I shall retain them in my district unless I receive orders from you to the contrary, as I believe that all of them & many more will be needed here before long.
I have the honor to be general, respectfully, your obedient servant,
JAMES G. BLUNT,
Major General, Commanding."
Now then, the potential Confederate invasion of Kansas that General Blunt mentioned in this letter did not occur in 1863 so some of the information his spy in the "Knights of the Golden Circle" was not reliable and of course the War Went On!
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