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First Posted: May 5, 2010
Oct 11, 2010

William T. Anderson or Bloody Bill

William T. Anderson (1839 - October 26, 1864), a.k.a "Bloody Bill"

Anderson was known for his brutality towards Union soldiers, who were called Jayhawkers, and pro-Union civilians in Missouri and Kansas. Anderson participated in Quantrill's raid on Lawrence, Kansas on August 21, 1863. An estimated 200 civilian men and boys were reported to have been killed and many homes and buildings in Lawrence were burned to the ground.

On October 26, 1864 Anderson was killed after he and his men were lured into an ambush near the hamlet of Albany, which is now part of Orrick, in Ray County, Missouri. The ambush was carried out by a group of militiamen lead by Colonel Samuel P. Cox.

Early Life

Born during 1839 in Kentucky and grew up near Huntsville in Randolph County, Missouri. His parents were William C. Anderson, a hat maker, and Martha (née Thomason) Anderson. In 1850 his father traveled to California leaving Anderson and his two brothers, Ellis and James, to provide for the family in his absence. In 1857, after William Anderson Sr. returned from California, the Anderson family moved to Agnes City Township, Kansas.

Prior to the Civil War Anderson worked for a time escorting wagon trains along the Santa Fe Trail and was suspected of being a horse thief. During this time he had supposedly conducted several forays into Missouri with the primary purpose of stealing horses. It is during this time period, from roughly 1854 through 1858, a bloody border war called Bleeding Kansas was raging between residents of Missouri and Kansas. Guerrilla forces from Kansas, called "Jayhawkers," and Missouri, called "Bushwackers," engaged in attacks against each other as well as civilians.

Anderson's father was shot dead in March 1862 by a local judge over a stolen horse. Anderson and his brother Jim later confronted the judge killing him along with his brother-in-law. Now in trouble with the law Anderson and his family left Kansas and moved to western Missouri.

Civil War Service

By the spring of 1863 Anderson along with his brother Jim had become partisan rangers joining Quantrill's Confederate guerrilla company. Anderson later became one of Quantrill's lieutenants.

Anderson participated in Quantrill's raid on Lawrence, Kansas on August 21, 1863. About 200 civilian men and boys were reported to have been killed, and many homes and buildings in Lawrence were burned to the ground. General Thomas Ewing, the local Union commander, ordered the arrest of the relatives of the leading members of Quantrill's guerrilla company. Anderson's sisters Mary, Josephine, and Martha were imprisoned with nine other women who were accused of spying and assisting the Confederate partisans. The group of women were housed in a three story building at Kansas City, Missouri.

On August 14, 1863 the building collapsed killing four of the women. Anderson's sister Josephine was among the dead while his sister Mary survived but was permanently crippled. Allegations as to the reason for the building collapse were made on both sides. Some claimed that Union soldiers made the structure unsound by removing partitions and posts in an effort to make more space for prisoners. General Ewing countered by making claims that the prisoners had caused the collapse themselves by digging an escape tunnel. This incident has been suggested as the spark for the virulent brutality that Anderson would henceforth demonstrate against Union soldiers and civilians.

Quantrill led his men on a winter retreat to Texas where Bill Anderson married Bush Smith of Sherman, Texas. Quantrill and Anderson quarreled during this time and Anderson returned to Missouri in March 1864. Now Anderson headed his own Cavalry company.

In 1864 Anderson gained notoriety for his particular savagery against Union soldiers and civilian sympathizers alike. He and his men usually shot their prisoners along with mutilating and scalping the dead. He sent letters to newspapers in Lexington, Missouri, promising further violence against pro-Union civilians and threatening to take women of Union families as hostages. That year he was joined by a group of recruits who had served briefly with Archie Clement, his own lieutenant; these recruits included Frank James, who had been one of Quantrill's Raiders, and the sixteen-year-old Jesse James. During this time, Anderson's men adopted the practice of dangling the bloody scalps of their victims from their horse bridles.

Anderson reportedly wrote to a newspaper in Lexington, Missouri on July 7, 1864 stating:

"I commenced at the first of this war to fight for my country, not to steal from it. I have chosen guerrilla warfare to revenge myself for wrongs that could not [be] honorably avenged otherwise. I lived in Kansas when the war commenced. Because I would not fight the people of Missouri, my native state, the Yankees sought my life, but failed to get me. Revenged themselves by murdering my father, destroying all my property, and have since that time murdered one of my sisters and kept the other two in jail [for] twelve months."

On September 27, 1864, Anderson led fellow bushwhackers in the Centralia Massacre looting and terrifying the local populace. During the attack they barricaded the tracks of the Northern Missouri Railroad and forced a train to stop. The group robbed the civilian passengers and killed 22 Union soldiers who were returning home on furlough. Anderson left one Union sergeant alive for a possible prisoner exchange the rest he had stripped, shot, scalped or otherwise mutilated.

The same day, Union Major A.V.E. Johnston of the newly raised 39th Missouri Infantry Regiment (Mounted) set off with his men to pursue Anderson's band. Anderson, in conjunction with other guerrilla leaders such as George Todd, sent out a detachment that lured Johnston into a trap. After discharging their single-shot rifles and causing light guerrilla casualties, the Union soldiers were overrun by the pistol-wielding bushwhackers. Many fled in a panic as the guerrillas cut them down. Those who tried to surrender were slaughtered. Around 120 mounted infantrymen were killed in the ambush and pursuit. Bodies of the soldiers were decapitated and mutilated by some of the guerrillas.

Anderson's Death

At the time of the Battle of Centralia, the Union command was busy opposing a raid by General Sterling Price, at the head of 12,000 Confederate cavalrymen. Price feinted towards St. Louis, made an attack on the federal garrison at Pilot Knob, then turned west, drawing the Union forces south of the Missouri River. Anderson met briefly with Price, but chose to return to the north side of the river, where he faced only local militia.

Union headquarters assigned militia Colonel Samuel P. Cox the task of eliminating the guerrilla leader. On October 26, 1864, Cox managed to locate Anderson near the hamlet of Albany, which is now part of Orrick, in Ray County, Missouri. Ironically, he used one of Anderson's favorite tactics against him. Cox sent a mounted detachment to lure the guerrillas into an ambush.

Cox gave this account of the battle:

"I had only about 300 men under my command and gave the word to stand their ground - this fight must be victory or death - and not a man faltered. We dismounted at the wooden bridge leaving our horses in charge of the men with the commissary wagons. Crossing the bridge I stationed my men in the timber and gave explicit instructions not to begin shooting until I gave the command. Lt. Baker was sent ahead to reconnoiter and bring on the fight with instructions to retreat through our line. Cas. Morton, now a retired brigadier general, of Washington, D.C., was sent to Baker with the word to start the fight. Baker dashed up to where Anderson and his men were having meal ground and getting provisions, and opened fire. Instantly Anderson and his men were in their saddles and gave chase to Baker, who retreated under instructions and came dashing through our line. Anderson and some 20 of his men came in their historic manner, with their bridle reins in their teeth and revolver in each hand. When my men opened fire, many of Anderson's command went down. Others turned and fled, but the grim old chieftain and two of his men went right through the line, shooting and yelling, and it was as Anderson and one of his men turned and came back that both of them were killed. The celebrated (Capt.) Archie Clement, who had gone through our line with Anderson, kept right on across the bridge and stampeded my wagon train and its guards boy [sic] yelling to them to fly as the command was cut to pieces, and thinking it was one of their men, they ran and kept it up until I was a day or two getting them together again. In the hubbub, Clemens escaped. Clell Miller, afterwards a noted bank robber and a desperate character, was wounded in this fight and taken prisoner. It was with difficulty I restrained my men and the citizens from lynching him."

Anderson led his men in a charge straight into the waiting militiamen who opened fire upon them. "Bloody Bill"" fell from his horse after being shot twice through the side of the head and his surviving men then retreated while being pursued. It has been alleged that a silken cord with fifty-three knots was found on Anderson to mark the number of men he had killed. Human scalps were also found attached to his horses bridle. In his pocket a photograph of Anderson and his wife was found as well as lock of hair from their infant child. Also found on Anderson's body were private papers and orders from General Sterling Price combined these items were used to confirm Anderson's identity.

Anderson's remains were taken to Richmond, Missouri put on public display and photographed. He was then decapitated, his head stuck on a telegraph pole and his body was dragged through the streets before being buried in an unmarked grave in Richmond's Pioneer Cemetery. In 1908 the ex-guerrilla and outlaw Frank James arranged for a funeral service at Anderson's grave site. A veteran's tombstone was placed over his grave in 1967 and it should be noted that the birth year is incorrectly stated as 1840.

Death Controversy

As with many notorious characters in American history, various people appeared after his death claiming to be Bloody Bill Anderson. It should be noted that during a bank robbery in Gallatin, Missouri on December 7, 1869 Jesse James shot the cashier, mistaking him for Samuel P. Cox, the man James said killed Bloody Bill Anderson.

In 1924, a Brown County, Texas settler named William Columbus Anderson was interviewed by Henry C. Fuller, a staff writer for the "Brownwood Banner-Bulletin." Anderson claimed he was the real Bloody Bill Anderson, with the same name and middle initial as Anderson's father. He said that another guerrilla's body had been mistaken for his own. W. C. Anderson lived in a farmhouse at Salt Creek, near Brownwood, dying in 1927 at age eighty-seven. As with so many cases of purported survivors (including the many claimants to being Jesse James), independent scholars have given no credence to this or other claims.