The facts are this: In June of 1863, William Moseley was out working in his field in Wright County, Missouri, despite the blistering sun. Whether his wife heard the gunshot or if she merely went looking for him when he failed to come in for dinner has been lost to history, but William Moseley was found dead among his own crops. Who killed him? We have stories naming three different suspects.
The first story is that he was shot in cold-blood by Union soldiers who knew his older boys had joined the Confederate army. The second theory bandied about was that there were bushwhackers roving the woods. They shot him down for his horse or whatever goods they could rustle up. The third story was that local tough James McClanahan robbed and murdered William. Fact is, nothing was ever proven, no one was ever tried for his death. All we know for sure is that when it came to murderers, there was no lack of suspects in Southwestern Missouri.
In many ways, the war started for the people of Missouri and Kansas long before the firing on Fort Sumter. From 1854 on, bands of armed men crossed the border both ways to intimidate their opponents, whether pro- or anti-slavery. Some of these vigilantes might have had lofty political goals, but to the farm families in the Ozark Mountains they were deadly nuisances.
In the beginning, the anti-slavery Kansans who formed groups to protect against or perpetrate violence (still depending on which side of the border the story comes from) were called jayhawkers or red-legs. Those from Missouri who took up arms whether to attack or defend were called bushwhackers. Back and forth, these loosely organized gangs roved, meting out vigilante justice, revenge or merely looking for selfish gain. With the onset of the Civil War, Kansas sided with the Union. Former jayhawkers were given a uniform and put under the leadership of men who hadn’t forgotten the ongoing feud with their neighboring state. The State of Missouri remained neutral—loyal to the Union, but requesting that its men be allowed to remain within its borders to protect the state’s interest. That request was denied.
On August 31, 1861, martial law was declared in the state of Missouri. Now any activity against their old foes the jayhawkers was viewed as guerilla warfare. No prisoners of war, no trials. “Summary execution, forced deportations, and seizures of private property…all with no legal process other than the consent of a Federal officer.”1
This, in a state that was loyal to the Union.
And the more the government tried to intervene, the more resentment grew. Unable to stem the guerilla warfare in the rugged Ozark Mountains, the federal government resorted to more draconian measures. Their desperation peaked in 1863, the year of William Moseley’s murder, with General Order No. 11 which forced a complete evacuation of four Missouri counties. It’s estimated that over 20,000 people were displaced leaving with only what they could haul out at a moment’s notice. Although the Order was intended to weaken the bushwhackers and pro-South guerillas, it had the opposite effect, causing many slavery opponents from the newly named “Burnt District” to turn on the government that set their homes and farms aflame, even if they were able to prove loyalty to the Union.
How widespread was the carnage caused by the warring factions? Although Missouri never entered the Civil War, there were more casualties from Missouri than from Virginia…or any other Confederate state for that matter.
So the jayhawkers became Union soldiers while the bushwhackers joined the Confederate troops as they found opportunity, giving themselves the protection of a soldier’s rights if captured. But some men, bloodthirsty and undisciplined, preferred to continue under their own flag, without the restraining hand of a commanding officer. Thus, the term bushwhacker began to be used generically for anyone who hid in the bushes to “whack” an unsuspecting citizen, while the title Jayhawk was cleaned up and applied to anyone from Kansas.
But who killed William Moseley? Was it a renegade Federal soldier, a former jayhawker? Was it a bushwhacker involved in guerilla warfare, who didn’t care what side poor Mr. Moseley was on? Or was it a nasty neighbor, looking to settle an old score or make some profit? We’ll never know. All I know is that I’m glad William’s two year old daughter survived the brutal war, or she never would’ve become my great-great grandmother.
To celebrate the season of great gifts, we’ll give an autographed copy of my latest A Most Inconvenient Marriage to one lucky commenter.
A Most Inconvenient Marriage
Abigail Stuart married Jeremiah Calhoun on his deathbed…or so she thought.
With few options of her own, nurse Abigail Stuart agrees to marry her patient, a gravely wounded soldier calling himself Jeremiah Calhoun. They arrange a quick ceremony before he dies, giving Abigail the rights to his Ozark farm and giving Jeremiah the peace of knowing someone will care for his ailing sister after he’s gone–a practical solution for both of them.
After the war, Abigail fulfills her side of the bargain–until the real Jeremiah Calhoun shows up, injured but definitely alive, and wastes no time in challenging Abigail’s story. Abigail is flummoxed. After months of claiming to be his widow, how can she explain that she’s never seen this Jeremiah Calhoun before? How can she convince him that she isn’t trying to steal his farm? And will she find a way to stay, even though this practical arrangement has turned into a most inconvenient marriage?
Regina Jennings is homeschooling mother of four from Oklahoma. She enjoys watching musicals with her kids, traveling with her husband and reading by herself. When not plotting historical fiction, she plots how she could move Highclere Castle, stone by stone, into her pasture and how she could afford the staff to manage it.
Regina is the author of five historical romances. Her latest release is A Most Inconvenient Marriage. She loves to hear from readers at her website – www.reginajennings.com and on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.
- Gallman, J. Matthew, David Rubel, and Russell Shorto.The Civil War Chronicle: The Only Day-by-day Portrait of America’s Tragic Conflict as Told by Soldiers, Journalists, Politicians, Farmers, Nurses, Slaves, and Other Eyewitnesses. New York: Crown, 2000. Print.