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Friday, December 2, 2011

WARNING!!! GRAPHIC!!! Civil War Photo Friday: Scalping Victim

Today’s Civil War Photo is at the bottom of the post instead of the top to give squeamish readers a chance not to see it. I’m not squeamish and even I find this photo hard to look at.

This is Robert McGee, c.1890, in a photo courtesy the Library of Congress. When he was a young boy in 1864, he was scalped by Sioux chief Little Turtle. The Sioux and many other tribes in the Far West rose up during the Civil War to take some of their land back and avenge many broken treaties. Perhaps Little Turtle was thinking of all the Indian children who had been killed by the white man. None of that, of course, justifies maiming a child.

Both North and South sapped the frontier of regular troops and young men, leaving it open for attack. Local militia and small detachments of Union and Confederate troops had their hands full fighting Indian war parties. In nearly all of these fights, the white’s superior weaponry led to victory, and the victors weren’t loathe to take scalps themselves. In one notorious incident called the Sand Creek Massacre, troops and townsmen slaughtered about 150 men, women, and children who had made peace with the Federal government and had been promised protection. A good introduction to the war in the Far West is Colton's Civil War in the Western Territories, which I reviewed here.

Scalping took place in other theaters of the war too, especially Missouri. In a scene from my Civil War novel A Fine Likeness, teenaged Confederate bushwhacker Jimmy Rawlins and his friends have joined the guerrilla band of Bloody Bill Anderson. They’re appalled when they see Anderson scalp a Union soldier. The next day Anderson shows them something calculated to change their minds.

“Mount up!” Anderson ordered. “We got some riding to do.”

“Where we off to this time, sir?” Jimmy asked.

“Another fight, what you figure? Bring your boys over here. I want you to see something.”

Jimmy gathered his group and Anderson led them through the woods about a hundred yards to where some bushwhackers were digging graves. Five bodies lay beside them. Jimmy gagged when he saw they’d all been scalped.

“These were my men,” Anderson said. “Serving as rearguard as we made our escape yesterday. Some Yanks caught up with them and look what they did.”

“My God,” the Kid muttered.

“Take a good look,” Anderson said. “The Yanks won’t show us no mercy, so I don’t want no more bellyaching about the way I do things. This is war to the knife, and the knife to the hilt. If you want to win it, you do things my way.”

The Rawlins Rangers walked back to their horses in silence. As they mounted up Albert whispered, “What with what Jesse told us about Anderson’s sister, and what we just saw, I wouldn’t give a plug nickel for that Union prisoner’s life.”

“Worth more than that,” Elijah grinned, patting his saddlebag. “Two more to go.”

He trotted off as the others stared at him. Morgan paced his horse up to Jimmy’s side.

“Yankee soldier or no,” Morgan muttered, “this ain’t no way to do things. I swear to God one day I’m gonna put a bullet in that son of a bitch.”


  1. Ouch. It's tough too imagine having your head flayed like that.
    My WIP right now deals with treaties from the American Revolution and some of the bitterness between the Iroquois and Americans. The Native Americans had a lot to be bitter about, that's for sure!

  2. But Sean. . .you're talking about UNION atrocities? I thought you were one of those damn Yankees who hated the South and refused to admit the Union did anything wrong! The Neoconfederates are going to have to rethink everything they "know" about you!

  3. Their eyes will just skip over the parts that disprove their preconceptions. Besides, I think they all left after I banned anonymous comments. Turn on the lights and the cockroaches scatter.

  4. Sand Creek Massacre is such a tragic story. I don't know how factual the film Soldier Blue was, but I recall when I saw it when I was in college in the early 70s, my friends and I were so angry with the U.S. government we just wanted to go blow up a post office. Not sure what inspired that thinking--probably something related to the draft registration which I think was being handled through the U.S. Post Offices at the time.

    That scalping was just plain wrong. Ouch!

    Tossing It Out


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