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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Scorched Earth Policy in Civil War Missouri

By the middle of 1863, 150 years ago, the Civil War in Missouri had gotten nasty. Regular Confederate forces had long since been pushed out of the state, but the Union troops were constantly harassed by cavalry raiders and guerrillas.

Many Missourians supported the South, especially in the small towns and countryside, and Union troops took vengeance on them by burning their homes, barns, even entire villages. Guerrillas did the same with Unionist homes and villages.

For example, in June a Union scouting party torched the house of a Mr. Robertson after guerrillas had been found sheltering there on two occasions. They also burnt the town of Sibley, which the guerrillas used as a base for sniping at boats passing down the Missouri River. That same month, rebel guerrillas burnt the Unionist town of Butler in Bates County. After the civilians fled the inferno there were no more Union families in the county.

In August, another Union detachment torched Gouge's Mill. They'd found a recruitment poster for the Confederate army tacked to a tree nearby, and discovered it was a rendezvous point for Confederate recruiters and a local guerrilla band. There was a blacksmith shop and gunsmith shop on the premises that the rebels used to repair their equipment. Another house nearby where they were accustomed to stay was also burned to the ground.

The war in Missouri would only get worse.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. This is actually a modern fire of an early 20th century barn, with the firefighters cropped out. :-)


  1. I guess you would call that collateral damage.

  2. Sounds similar to the old mountain feuds. I agree, it was a nasty time, Sean. I remember the 'scorched earth policy' that burned Atlanta - totally unnecessary, but its purpose was to send a message. War does strange things to man's rationization.

  3. I can imagine they would have been hit harder. I had a mentor from Missouri, which is probably the only reason I know they were the only state to SPLIT allegiance in the civil war. Apparently that friction still runs through current culture.


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