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By Brent Beckett, special to the Richmond News
Editor’s note: In conjunction with a recent Civil War exhibit hosted by the Excelsior Springs Museum & Archives, area historian Brent Beckett researched several local war stories — researching and recounting Civil War events that happened in Ray County and the surrounding area.
In other stories provided to the Excelsior Springs Standard (a paper published by the same company that operates the Richmond News), Beckett retold the stories of the two battles of Fredericksburg, which took place on the outskirts of modern-day Excelsior Springs. These battles, skirmishes involving guerillas that sympathized with the Confederacy and Union troops, are commemorated with a marker on the Excelsior Springs Golf Course.
The fallen from those battles are remembered with a monument at the Pisgah Cemetery east of town, on the Ray County side of Excelsior Springs.
Beckett also researched the collapse of a women’s jail in Kansas City that killed the sister of guerrilla fighter William “Bloody Bill” Anderson, among others, and is believed to have contributed to the violent trail Anderson left during the Civil War.
The story below focuses on the end of Anderson’s life, which came during a battle in Albany, near present-day Orrick.
The 150th anniversary of the battle, which left eight other members of Anderson’s band dead, will be commemorated in October 2014 with a weekend of reenactments.
Following is Beckett’s researched account of that battle. We appreciate the author contribution and the Standard’s generosity in sharing it.
Pre Battle Events
As fall 1864 got under way, Lt. Colonel Samuel P. Cox received orders from General James Craig that his mission was to kill Capt. William T.
Cox took command of the 33rd Missouri Enrolled Militia in Hamilton with 150 men. Reports indicated there was guerrilla activity near Knoxville and Richmond so he marched south.
Oct. 24, 1864, the 33rd M.E.M. camped at Knoxville where reports indicate guerrilla activity near Millville. The 33rd M.E.M. was joined by about 150 men of the 51st M.E.M., commanded by Major John Grimes.
Lt. James Baker and his advance guard were sent to Millville, where they surprised the guerrillas who were having horses shoed by a blacksmith. The guerrillas fled, but the blacksmith was taken to Richmond.
The 33rd M.E.M. then moved from Knoxville south to the bottoms just south of Richmond. The troops were told to rest and prepare for battle.
The morning of Oct. 27, 1864, Cox instructed his men to count off in fours. The plan was for every fourth man to hold horses while the other militia concealed themselves in the timber near Albany Road. The dismounted horses were to be held behind the battle line out of the guerrillas’ view.
Military Supplies Recovered
Military supplies that were hidden near the Missouri River to prevent their capture by the forces of General Sterling Price were recovered by militia with a four-horse wagon.
During the operation it was necessary to provide cover fire into the bluffs adjacent to the location due to the presence of bushwhackers or guerrillas who had taken some of the clothing supplies that had been stashed.
Heroine for the Militia
The night before the battle, area resident Mary L. Rowland saddled her horse at a farm three miles northwest of Albany and, confiding in no one, rode in the rain past the guerrilla camp near Albany east to Camden and then north to Richmond. She is said to have located the militia encampment in the bottoms south of Richmond and told Cox where “Bloody Bill” Anderson was and the number of men with him.
Cox was suspicious of a trap, but local men in the militia vouched for Mrs. Rowland’s loyalty. She provided detailed information about the bridge crossing a ravine and described the terrain, which allowed Cox to devise a plan to trap Anderson.
Rowland was the wife of J. D. Rowland, who had lived in Ray County since 1839.
Three of their sons were serving in the Union Army. Clearly, Mary was a woman who would have liked to see the Civil War end as soon as possible.
The Militia Plan
Lt. Colonel Cox’s plan was to draw Anderson into a trap where his militia could shoot from three directions. His study of guerrilla tactics showed the guerrillas would flee if they sensed they were losing the battle. He identified all of the militia soldiers with revolvers as the pursuit group.
Cox instructed his men that they must hold their ground until he signaled for them to commence firing.
Baker was to lead 40 cavalry to lure Anderson into the trap. The plan was to charge into the guerrilla camp and fire a volley and then retreat at a gallop on Albany Road with Anderson’s guerrillas in pursuit. When Anderson’s men were within 100 yards, the militia hidden in the timber would commence firing.
Cox’s 33rd Mounted Enrolled Militia and Grimes’s 51st M.E.M. moved at a steady pace from Richmond to Camden, where Cox halted the march to wait for information from his scouts about the guerrilla activity and whether the trap could be set. Guerrilla pickets fired at the militia, but were driven back toward Albany by Baker’s advance guard.
At noon the column of militia arrived at Albany and the troops dismounted so they could be positioned in the timber on both sides of the Albany Road.
Baker prepared his advance cavalry group for the initial assault. Cox gave Baker the order to begin the assault on the guerrillas.
Baker’s advance guard charged into the guerrilla camp, fired a volley and retreated to the east at a full gallop with Anderson in pursuit.
When Baker’s cavalry charged through the open battle line, the dismounted horses were startled and many scattered into the brush.
The Guerrilla Plan
Anderson realized his encampment was surrounded by Federal troops, so his plan was to break through the battle line and move east into Carroll County.
Many guerrillas in the camp were new, unarmed recruits who could not provide help during the battle.
Anderson organized his guerrillas into a north group under Capt. Hendley, a south group under Clell Miller and a middle assault group that he would lead down the road through the militia battle line.
“Bloody Bill” was confident his men could charge through the battle line and escape.
When Lt. Baker’s advance guard charged into the guerrilla camp and fired a volley, Anderson’s pursuit began immediately with a rebel yell announcing it.
Anderson was 25 yards ahead of the rest of his guerrillas with only one other rider able to maintain his pace.
The guerrilla charge began about 600 yards from the militia battle line. At 100 yards from the battle line, the militia commenced firing and the volley immediately slowed the guerrilla charge as several men were shot, but the charge resumed immediately toward the militia line.
At the battle line, Anderson was struck in the head by two bullets and fell from his horse. The guerrilla next to him also fell, but scrambled into the brush.
Anderson’s men realized he was wounded or dead and made a frantic effort to retrieve his body, to no avail.
After the Battle
Residents of the Millville area reported seeing large numbers of guerrillas passing through the area late in the day.
The day after the battle, militia searching for horses stampeded during the battle located the Anderson’s gray mare on the farm of W. T. Brown west of Richmond. Saddlebags were behind the saddle.
Although numerous people identified the body Anderson’s, the militia utilized the photographic services of Dr. Robert B. Kice, a Richmond dentist, so a visual record could be established.
The bugler for the 33rd Regiment assisted Adolph Vogel in positioning the corpse in a chair for the ambrotypes.
At the time of his death, Anderson was wearing a white hat with a single feather plume. His undershirt was of high quality. His top shirt was nicely embroidered. His left ring finger was severed and the ring removed. A gold watch and a silver watch were in his pockets along with gold amounting to $323. He had Union currency totaling $273, and $18 of Confederate money. Photos of Anderson and his wife, a short letter from her, and a lock of hair were in a pocketbook. There were orders from Gen. Sterling Price and a receipt from Presley Garvis. He wore a tan top coat and matching pants.
Capt. Anderson’s remains were placed in a suitable coffin and buried in the corner of the potter’s cemetery five blocks from the courthouse. Head and foot boards were placed at the site. The flowers left on his grave were later trampled by militia soldiers on horseback.
Several years later, one-time Jesse James gang member Cole Younger brought a traveling Wild West show to Richmond. When he learned Anerson hadn’t been given a proper funeral, Younger organized one, including a march to what is now Pioneer Cemetery with a carnival band.
Bloody Bill Anderson, The Short Savage Life of a Civil War Guerrilla, Albert Castel and Thomas Goodrich
Bloody Bill Anderson in the Civil War, Larry Wood
Sgt. Thomas Hankins Civil War Diary, Resident of Rayville, MO, Published in the Daily News, November 1926
Battle Report sent to General James Craig providing the details of the conflict.
Other assistance provided by John Crouch (writing for the Richmond News), and researchers Liz Murphy, Jesse James Museum, and Linda Emley, Ray County Museum.