The Rise and Fall of a Southern Guerrilla: Captain William T. “Bloody Bill” Anderson, Jr.

The idea proceeds the creation, as the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle explained to us, several centuries past. It may be speculated, with a degree of certainty, that even before the inventions of the sling, long bow and crossbow, that man must have been enthralled with the idea of manufacturing weapons, which could strike a blow by pointing the hands. The War Between the States during the mid-19th century made for conditions conducive to the quite effective use of an invention to facilitate this inclination. The giant technological leap forward had occurred a few years before the outbreak of the shooting war. This was the invention and manufacture of hand-held repeating arms. [1]  This instrument (of Northern manufacture), the single-action repeating revolver, allowed the Southern cavalryman to surpass the reach of the infantry pike, and he could manage his horse with a free hand. Its firepower was vastly superior to the musket and thus was ideal for combat while on horseback. Warriors, with revolvers, had a weapon powerful enough to stop an enemy with one solid and accurate strike. And they could keep on shooting and incapacitating multiple opponents. [2]

The centuries-old working relationship between mankind and horses has disappeared, for the most part,  in less than a century. Well-bred battle steeds (just as revolvers) displayed some incredible feats during the War Between the States. The Southern guerrilla warriors were arguably some of the best horseman the world has ever known. [3]. In the perusal of the histories (both pro and con) of the guerrilla, one finds few recounts of “gun shy” horses spooking and bolting nor of riders being thrown —-unless horse and rider had been shot. The horses of the Southern guerrilla could outrun the enemy. And they could be maneuvered at high speed, stop, and turn on a dime, then melt away in retreat or suddenly burst in an attack.

There has been and always will be a handful of men who will kill others simply for the exhilaration of doing it. [4]. The conditions of “civil war” encourages this characteristic to manifest itself. Moreover, some men thrive in conditions of anarchy. [5]. Many of the Southern guerrilla forces were of this ilk. Additionally, one of the most important attributes which distinguishes outstanding fighters from the mediocre is coolness of mind. [6]. In the former, when under the extreme stress of lethal combat, their bodies and weapons become extensions of their will. In a gunfight, one must strive to concentrate only upon one goal—-the proper placement of shots. Nothing else matters. Thus, contrary to myths spread by sensationalism and appearances otherwise, the successful guerrilla or gunfighter is usually a cool and very determined individual. This coolness, in times of lethal chaos, makes for a very deadly person.

Guerrilla warfare, in many respects, is the razor’s edge of ideology. During the War Between the States, it can be defined as the deadly practice of John C. Calhoun’s concurrent majority. [7]  The largest and deadliest of various guerrilla conflicts occurred along the border of and in Kansas and Missouri during the few years preceding, during, and following the War Between the States. And was perhaps the most intense from 1861 to 1865. The disputes were political and personal, and went back several years, but began to explode with the outbreak of the official larger war. Several persons became famous or perhaps infamous from the conflict. One was William T. Anderson, Jr. He was a horseman and a pistolero. Generally a superb tactician, and on one occasion, he displayed understanding of strategy comparable to Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. He apparently knew only one outlet for releasing deep grief and found his calling ––in the killing of enemies, both personal and to the Southern cause.

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Anderson Jr. was born in Kentucky in 1839. In the mid-1850’s, his father, William T. Anderson Sr., went to Kansas, to establish a land claim. In the spring of 1857, his mother, Martha, brothers Ellis and Jim, and sisters Mary Ellen, Josephine, and Janie, joined Anderson Sr. in Kansas. In early adulthood, William Jr. would acquire his own land and started a “pony business” which many locals suspected was a front for trading in stolen horses. [8].

The frequency of death began early in his life. His mother died from a bolt of lightening late in 1860, and brother Ellis killed an intoxicated Indian (tribe lineage apparently unknown) and thus took leave of Kansas. The remaining Andersons soon became involved in a feud with Arthur Ingraham Baker, a “jay hawker”, unionist, and political player. He had courted William Jr’s oldest sister, Mary Ellen, and then married another woman. The Andersons considered this disrespectful and felt dishonored. After the scorning, Baker added salt to the wound by sending a posse after one of the Anderson cousins for allegations of stealing horses from his new bride’s father. Anderson Sr. and Jim went to Baker’s home and threatened to kill him over the arrest warrant. The next day, the elder Anderson returned—-Baker shot him to death. Upon killing William Sr., Baker then obtained an arrest warrant for William Jr. and Jim, for horse stealing. The remaining Andersons would then move to Missouri. Within a year of their father’s death, William Jr. and Jim returned to Kansas to slay Baker and burned his home to the ground. [9]

Apparently no written record exists of concerning when or how Anderson, Jr. met William Clarke Quantrill. The latter, however, had received complaints that the Anderson brothers were robbing both pro-Southerners as well as supporters of “jay hawkers”. A Quantrill attachment chased them down at one point, took their horses and threatened to kill them if they did not cease robbing pro-Southerners.  And it seems that William Jr. and Jim never fully forgave Quantrill for this. [10]. They would, however, make amends enough to combine forces to descend upon Lawrence, Kansas for the infamous massacre and sacking of that town.

An edict was issued in July of 1863 by Brigadier Thomas Ewing Jr. of the occupying Northern forces (and brother-in-law of General William T. Sherman), which ordered the incarceration of the families of alleged “bushwhackers”. The Anderson family would suffer severely. Mary Ellen, Josephine, and ten-year old Janie were arrested by Northern military officials and locked in a three-story brick structure called “Thomas Building” in Kansas City. [11] It collapsed on either August 11th or 13th, 1863. [12] Josephine was killed, Mary Ellen was crippled for the rest of he life, and the child, Janie, received two broken legs and cuts on her face. [13] It was after this that Anderson Jr. began to fight with the intensity and ferocity which earned him the sobriquet of “Bloody Bill”. If he had been a mere rogue beforehand, he now became a Southern partisan and guerrilla warrior. By age 24, he had experienced the death of his mother’s freak death by nature. His father had been shot to death by the Yankee Baker. A sister lay dead by Northern hands. His other two sisters were mutilated while in unlawful Northern custody. It is little wonder that he then began to slay enemies with a cold-calculated rage and vengeance.

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Every Southern woman that died in the makeshift jailhouse in Kansas City had close ties with members of the Missouri irregular forces. [14]. Their deaths were apparently the catalyst for the decision to destroy Lawrence, Kansas. [15] The various guerrilla bands had united and been joined by Col. John D. Holt, C.S.A., with 104 men as early as the summer of 1862. Total strength was about 450 men. [16]. When men join together to avenge perceived wrongs, their power can be immense. Many residents of Lawrence learned that lesson as they were being shot to death. And those who survived learned the lesson as well.

The townspeople of Lawrence were not as innocent or as helpless as some historians have claimed. It had long been a center of radical abolitionism. It was the headquarters for the “Redlegs” who were an armed gang of “jayhawkers”. They had been murdering and burning out the families the Southern guerillas for months. Moreover, Capt. A. J. Pike commanded a Northern force of two companies (around 200 men) in the area. The town had a large (for that time) population of approximately 2,000. Nevertheless, the Lawrence battle was a rout. At least 150 male residents were killed with no causalities to the guerillas. [17]. “Bloody Bill” as Anderson Jr. would then become known, was christened with 14 kills at Lawrence. [18]. After his performance at Lawrence, he began to go by the rank of Captain. And he would construct a masterpiece in the art of ambush a little over a year later.

On September 27, 1864, a passenger train carrying 125 passengers and 24 Union soldiers on leave, headed to meet fate and hell in Centralia, Missouri. Anderson and his men were waiting when the train arrived in town. The passengers were relieved of their possessions and the soldiers were ordered to strip. Every soldier but one was then shot to death and the train was set on fire. [19]  On the previous day, Major A.V.E. Johnson of the Thirty-Ninth Missouri infantry had received news of the whereabouts of the Southern guerillas. One-hundred and thirty-nine men were under his command. And they set out to hunt Anderson and company down. [20]  They would find them.

The Union troops, under Johnson, rode on horseback, into Centralia on the afternoon of the 27th after seeing smoke rising from the burning train. Fresh death lay on the ground. Surviving witnesses told Johnson that the Southern guerrilla force responsible numbered about 80 individuals, but hundreds were rumored to be nearby. Johnson chose to disbelieve the large numbers. He went into the attic of a hotel and through field glasses, spotted a group of horseman close to a patch of woods a couple of miles away. He left 33 of his men in town and rode after the horseman with the rest. When the Union soldiers would get close to the riders, they would disappear in an apparent retreat. [21]

Johnson and his men continued the pursuit, and followed the riders into a deep and wide brush-covered ravine. When they topped a ridge, a line of horseman emerged from a clump of trees approximate a quarter of a mile away. Johnson ordered his men into two lines and waited for the fight to come. The line of horseman advanced slowly. Then another line of horseman materialized from the thick brush, double the size of the first, and began advancing behind it. Simultaneously, two lines of horseman took shape atop both sides of the ravine. [22] Johnson had led his men into a classic and brilliant ambush. It can be supposed that every single Union soldier knew that his time to die had come. Every single one was killed. Two guerillas were killed outright, one was mortally wounded and ten absorbed wounds. Although some dispute exists as the whether or not Anderson Jr. was the sole commander, he at least had a leading role. [23] Although the fight was a microcosm of the war at large, neither Robert E. Lee nor Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson could have planned a military ambush any better. At Centraila, and in other fights, the Missouri guerillas demonstrated that they could out think, fight, and defeat Union troops in head-to-head combat.

Nevertheless, exactly one month later, on the 27th of October, Anderson became reckless (he may have become to take his own death lightly) and was shot (by a Union military man) and killed instantly while riding at full speed in a charge. After being shot, he fell from his horse, and even in death, both hands clasped the butts of two Colt revolvers. Two bullets had been driven into his brain (classic central nervous system hits), one entered at the left temple and the second was sunk behind his left ear. The corpse was photographed at least twice and tossed in a shallow grave. [24]

It is rather difficult to reconstruct the emotions and personality of Anderson. He left few witnesses and those who knew him apparently passed little information down. However, he did write a series of letters, addressed to two newspaper editors, the citizens of Missouri, and to three Union military officials. The letters reveal that he was literate and understood the bias and political motivations of the print media. One of the purposes of the letters was to correct errors in reporting.

One passage shows a satirical and sarcastic sense of humor concerning the contents of a report to a Union army officer, Col. McFerran,  on two fights in Johnson and Lafayette counties. Anderson Jr. penned, “…You have been wrongfully informed, or you have willfully misrepresented the matter to your superior officer. I had the honor, sir, of being in command at both of those engagements. To enlighten you on the subject and to warn you against making future exaggerations…let me know in time, and when I fight your men I will make the proper report”. He continued, concerning one of the fights, “Myself and two men killed nine of them when there were no other men in sight of us. They are such poor shots, it is strange you don’t have them practice more. Send them out and I will train them more.” [25]

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He also referred to his sisters and women in the letter, stating “I do not like the idea of warring with women and children, but if you do not release all the women you have arrested in Lafayette County, I will hold the Union ladies in the county hostage for them…General, do not think I am jesting with you. I will resort to abusing your ladies if you do not quit imprisoning ours”. Anderson Jr. closed the letter by informing McFerran that he and others had only killed nine men, rather than ten, men in the fight, and with “Farewell, friend”. Additionally, in another letter addressed to the citizens of Missouri, he declared, “…Yankees…have since that time (after Ewing’s edict) murdered one my sisters and kept the other two in jail twelve months. But I have fully glutted my vengeance. I have killed many. I am a guerrilla.” [26]  Thus, by his own written words, Anderson Jr. was invoking vengeance and was a lethal guerrilla against the invading Yankees.

Captain William T. Anderson Jr. was a guerilla’s guerrilla. The “Centralia Ambush” (actually occurred a few miles outside the town) should be included in every textbook and course on Guerrilla Warfare. The strategy applies to modern weapons and times. The horse and revolver played a huge role in his life and death. He understood the strategy, tactics and fighting tools of the time and place. And died fighting. There is something deep in human nature which seeks revenge for personal wrongs. Anderson was an embodiment of that rage, and paradoxically, an example of the delight some men can take in the kill. Only in times of civil unrest can men like him rise up. There are “William Andersons” among us today. All it takes is political and economic upheaval for them to reveal themselves. The Missouri/Kansas border war, which raged outside the larger war, is an example of just how weak our political chains can become.


-By Robert Durban



1. Eli Whitney (whose cotton gin increased the growth of slavery in the South) developed the concept of interchangeable parts. And applied it to the manufacture of firearms. By 1836, Col. Samuel Colt had applied his idea of a revolving cylinder for a hand-held firearm along with Whitney’s interchangeable parts innovation. The guerrilla warfare during the war was heavily influenced by this combination. Perhaps, ironically, the reliable and repeating sidearm was truly a weapon for the Southern guerrilla that had its origins in the North.

2. The pistolero originated during the war against Old Mexico. The offensive use of the handgun, in war, developed and reached its pinnacle during the War Between the States. The repeating rifle, shortly afterward, superseded it for this mode of usage in warfare. The handgun now serves its greatest purpose as a defensive instrument for non-military personnel, as protection from unexpected lethal threats, at close range.

3. Regardless of one’s opinion concerning the morality or actions of William Clark Quantrill, William T. Anderson Jr., Frank James, et al., these young men had to have a profound and intimate knowledge of horses. Breaking, training, care, and riding a horse well in perfect conditions takes skill —-when bullets start flying by—the back of a horse is no place for a duffer. They not only fought from horseback, but maneuvered their horses through territory held by an occupying army.

4. Convoluted and complicated pop-psychology causation theories to explain human violence, are for the most part, 20th century aberrations. The reasons why men kill others are usually rather simple. Self-preservation, honor, betrayal, greed, retribution, joy, sexual pleasure, and fear are the usual the motivations. Moreover, many accounts reveal that after looking at the muzzle end of your enemy’s gun, and then killing him, a feeling of unsurpassed elation occurs. As Winston Churchill has been quoted as saying. “Nothing is more exhilarating than being shot at and missed”.

5. The idea of life without needless government restrictions is frightening to the masses and a grand condition of freedom for the few. No evidence seems to exist to suggest that any of the Southern guerillas were philosophical anarchists. However, those in the Missouri/Kansas areas lived, in many respects, in a world of practical anarchy.

6. The often times melodramatic writer Richard S. Brownlee, in Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy, claims that Anderson frothed at the mouth and cried when attacking the enemy. Albert Castel and Thomas Goodrich, however, in Bloody Bill Anderson, state that Thomas Goodman (a Union sergeant who was held prisoner by Anderson’s guerrilla Calvary while on leave) stated that only once did he witness Anderson lose his cool. And that incident occurred in camp one evening, not during combat. (Both authors cite a primary source, an “account” written by Goodman himself). Anderson Jr. was, for a few years, a very effective killer. It is doubtful that he lost his cool in combat. However, the phenomenon of “frenzy” can occur during or before battle. (The ancient Celts, are examples). It is not usually displayed by effective leaders. Men who go into “frenzy” are more difficult to kill because of adrenaline, alcohol, or drugs —-not more effective killers. This distinction is quite stark. Moreover, the “Rebel Primal Scream” did not cause Confederates to fight better. It served to build courage in themselves, and to intimidate and rattle enemy Northerners.

7. It should be noted that much of the border wars in Missouri and Kansas were based on personal vendettas. However, Calhouns’ concurrent majority basically states that the results of a majority or plurality vote are never the accurate measurements of the mood or beliefs of a community, state, or nation. Thus, veto power built into the structure of a constitutional system must exist so that the rights and interests of large minorities are protected. The veto power is a negative force of a minority upon the positive force of the mob or prevailing power. And that this veto power is built into the constitutional system which already exists. In this case, the Southern partisans in Missouri had no veto power to exercise peacefully. It is only with a concurrent majority that all persons and interests are represented in a civilization, state or society. In the border states, where guerrilla warfare flourished, the line between majority and minority was so thin that Calhouns’ philosophy would have cured the problem like a warm and receptive woman cures a man’s desire.

Many historians and political scientist have read all sorts of fallacies and sinister meanings into Calhoun’s philosophy of government. The fact is, he strongly and clearly defended the concept of union in both Discourse on the Constitution and Disquisition on Government. Ironically, he argued that a concurrent majority was the best method to save the union because it would have the effect of simultaneously protecting the rights of all. Leftist historical hypocrites of the 20th century have also blasted Calhoun on slavery. However, in many respects, the national and state governments have taken the place of the antebellum plantation owner. A half a dozen visits to any urban government funded “housing project” or any prison will demonstrate this fact.

Instead of cutting, spiking, and hanging tobacco, one may now seek employment as a parasite on a bureaucracy. A white master no longer whips, but if a black man decides start a chemical business, (sell drugs) all of the amenities of the old slave quarters await, complete with food and shelter paid for, in a prison. Ex-Africans many now form political special interest groups which nobody cares about except Leftist academics, Leftist politicians, and Leftist mainstream media. A white master no longer provides salt pork, but an EBT card will purchase a buggy full of it. Blacks are now free to play sports, cruise with a pounding stereo, procreate like feral dogs, watch television, and lounge about on cheap plastic lawn furniture. They may also carry on the centuries old tradition of tribal warfare between the Bantu and the Bushman. (Crips and Bloods are merely modern-day versions of tribes).

Too many today have forgotten or ignored the fact that thousands of young men of European descent slaughtered one another over what form of government would persist and over what lifestyle was fitting for ex-Africans.

8. Albert Castel and Thomas Goodrich. Bloody Bill Anderson: The Short Savage Life of a Civil War Guerrilla. (Mechanicsberg, PA. Stackpole Books). 1998. 11-13.

9. Ibid, 12, 14-17. William T. Anderson, Jr. wounded Baker after Baker had attempted to shoot his brother. A witness to the incident stated that the wound did not kill Baker. The Anderson brothers locked him in the “basement” and then set the dwelling on fire. Baker’s death was not the direct result of William T. Anderson Jr’s gunfire.

10. Ibid., 19

11. Ibid., 27

12. Castel and Goodrich date the tragedy on the 13th. Michael Fellman in Inside War, states it was the 11th. William T. Anderson Jr. was, no doubt, never confused over the date.

13. Albert Castel and Thomas Goodrich. Bloody Bill Anderson: The Short Savage Life of a Civil War Guerrilla. (Mechanicsberg, PA. Stackpole Books). 1998. 27.

14. Richard S. Brownlee, Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy: Guerrilla Warfare in the West, 1861-1865. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.) 1958. 118. Besides William T. Anderson Jr.’s sisters, John McCorkle’s sister was killed. Coleman and James Younger were cousins of two of the women and four others had brothers in the Missouri Southern partisan forces.

15. Ibid., 200-3.

16. Michael Fellman. Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri During the American Civil War. (New York. Oxford University Press.) 1989. 255. Fellman cites John McCorkle’s Three Years With Quantrill. McCorkle was the only Southern guerrilla to write a published work about his exploits. Fifty-two years afterward, he still seethed with anger over the death of his sister and the other women.

Northern military personnel never could seem to competently handle the complexities concerning how to deal with the women who supported the guerrillas. Nevertheless, the jailing of the woman was blatantly unconstitutional. The 14th Amendment did not exist much less the 20th century doctrine of incorporation. Thus, the women were citizens of Missouri and only under the laws of Missouri and its constitution. They were, therefore, arrested and jailed illegally by Union military personnel.

Undoubtedly. The deciding factor for the Lawrence raid was the collapse of the makeshift jail. Certainly the Southern Guerrillas believed that it occurred because of malice. However, Lawrence was a target for the symbolism. It can only be wondered if the raid would have occurred if the building had not crumbled onto the women. Moreover, William Conelly, in Quantrill and the Border Wars, postulates that Quantrill was scouting near Lawrence months before the raid. This suggests that destroying the headquarters of the “Redlegs” was already on the agenda before the women died or were injured.

17. Richard S. Brownlee, Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy: Guerrilla Warfare in the West, 1861-1865. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.) 1958. 21

18. Ibid., 122, 124. No women of Lawrence were injured of killed. They were merely made to weep in sorrow and live with the horrors they saw for the rest of their lives.

19. Albert Castel and Thomas Goodrich. Bloody Bill Anderson: The Short Savage Life of a Civil War Guerrilla. (Mechanicsberg, PA. Stackpole Books. 1998. 27

20. Ibid., 76-77, 83

21. Richard S. Brownlee, Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy: Guerrilla Warfare in the West, 1861-1865. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.) 1958. 216.

22. Albert Castel and Thomas Goodrich. Bloody Bill Anderson: The Short Savage Life of a Civil War Guerrilla. (Mechanicsberg, PA. Stackpole Books. 1998.88-8.

23. Ibid., 89-91.

24. Ibid., 95. The Union soldiers were shot and literally cut to pieces. Castel and Goodrich’s account differs from that of Richard Brownlee. However, Frank James claimed to have fought at Centralia and Brownlee cites an interview with James which was published in the Columbia Missouri Herald newspaper. (Could not be found on microfilm for this project)

25. Ibid., The photos are published in Castel and Goodrich’s book.

26. Richard S. Brownlee, Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy: Guerrilla Warfare in the West, 1861-1865. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.) 1958. 200-3.

27. Ibid.

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