The infamous Order Number 11-A Civil War Sesquicentennial

The wartime imposition of martial law in 1863 upon the civilian population of four Missouri counties continues to reverberate until today.

by Leigh Elmore

The summer and fall of 1863 were especially brutal for people living on both sides of the Missouri-Kansas border, even after experiencing years of violence beforehand over the issue of slavery being extended into the West.

Re-enactors gather to replicate the scene that is depicted in Bingham's painting.

On August 21, 1863 approximately 400 Missouri guerrillas under the command of William Quantrill rode to Lawrence, KS, where they killed nearly 200 people, primarily unarmed men and boys, and burned most of the city to the ground. Until Sept. 11, 2001 the Lawrence Massacre represented the greatest act of terror and violence perpetrated upon a civilian population in the United States. Its wounds have festered into present times.

Kansas "Redlegs" confront a Jackson County landowner and order him from his home.

While the smoke still swirled above the devastated town of Lawrence, the U.S. Army general who was in command of the border region, Thomas Ewing, stationed in Kansas City, realized that he had to make a military decision that he believed would put a stop to marauding caused by Missourians. In order to deprive border raiders of their base of support and supply, Ewing issued his General Order No. 11, which was designed to de-populate the region including most of the Missouri counties of Jackson, Cass, Bates and Vernon, which all shared the border with Kansas.

Monaco II, by 1863, "in Jackson County the violence had become so pronounced that no one regardless of his or her loyalty was safe." In his book Scattered to the Four Winds, General Order No. 11 and Martial Law in Jackson County in 1863, Monaco writes, "Along the border, there had been no great battle fought or contested; no grand armies paraded or marched. Engagements were fought in wooded areas, over fence-lines, along by-ways, on farm fields and front yards and in the streets of towns. Most fights were skirmishes between small-numbered bushwhackers and rebels against militias, volunteers and federal troops. Much of the bushwhacker success came from aid and support they received from citizens principally cultured in an agrarian southern mindset."
Monaco states that the federal government felt it needed to take drastic measures to respond to the Lawrence Massacre. "The retaliatory sanctions imposed would prove to touch the heart and soul of everyone ? loyal or disloyal. The supporters of Order No. 11 insisted it was issued out of military necessity while its antagonists considered it the greatest deprivation of civil rights ever witnessed in the United States," until the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II.

Issuing the order

There was immense anger sweeping Kansas following Quantrill's raid. For days after the Lawrence Massacre Union Gen. Ewing was buffeted by opinions of how to respond, none more vociferous than U.S. Sen. Jim Lane, who dominated the political stage in Kansas and wielded considerable power. Lane met personally with Ewing in which he as much dared the general to take dramatic action.
Monaco reports, "Lane personally assailed and accused Ewing of directly contributing to the blood bath in Lawrence by acts and omissions of malfeasance and nonfeasance. During Lane's face-to-face encounter with Ewing he emphatically told the general the stark consequences if he did not issue General Order No. 11: 'You are a dead dog if you fail to issue that order.'" Ewing issued the order on Aug. 25, 1863, four days after Quantrill's raid on Lawrence.

Mounted militia men prepares to enforce Order No. 11.

Nevertheless, convinced that Ewing was not retaliating sufficiently against Missourians, Senator Lane threatened to lead a Kansas force into Missouri, laying waste to the four counties named in Ewing's decree, and more. On Sept. 9, 1863, Lane gathered nearly a thousand Kansans at Paola and marched toward Westport, MO, with an eye toward destruction of that pro-slavery town. Ewing sent several companies of his old 11th Kansas Infantry (now mounted as cavalry) to stop Lane's advance?by force, if necessary. Faced with this superior Federal force, Lane ultimately backed down.

Soldiers march on hapless civilians.

Order No. 11 was partially intended to demonstrate that the Union forces intended to act forcefully against Quantrill and other bushwhackers, thus rendering vigilante actions such as the one contemplated by Lane unnecessary?and thereby preventing their occurrence, which Ewing was determined at all costs to do.
"By this measure, Ewing was no longer going to wage war against rebels or their sympathizers. He was going to inflict total war against an entire civilian population," Monaco writes.

The farm family packs their meager gear and is exiled.

In substance General Order No. 11 affected all residents of the targeted counties regardless of allegiance. Except for a few exceptions, all residents of Jackson, Cass, Bates and Vernon Counties north of the Little Osage River were ordered to evacuate their property within 15 days and report to the nearest U.S. military post. Those who established their loyalty to the satisfaction of military officials were permitted to reside on the post or move to an interior county of Kansas, but not on one on the border. All others would be required to move beyond the boundaries of U.S. military districts. In short all residents had to leave their properties behind. In addition, all grain and hay within the military district was to be seized for use by the army. Crops not removed in time would be destroyed, although the intent was to reimburse "guiltless" citizens at a later date.

Monaco states that Ewing's actions were based on the belief that most of the citizens of Jackson County were disloyal to the Union. He blamed them for aiding and abetting "robbers, brogues and murderers. He reasoned that Order No. 11 would bring a halt to bushwhacking, as the perpetrators would no longer be able to seek comfort and hiding places, from which they would be able to launch future attacks.
"Ewing was fully mindful that the scope of Order No. 11 would impact blameless people," Monaco writes. However, he rationalized that most loyal citizens had already abandoned the area and that the remaining loyalists were already being terrorized by their neighbors. Ewing had precedent on his side, Monaco notes, as President Abraham Lincoln and Congress had imposed drastic military doctrines to quash the rebellion in other parts of the country. "For Ewing, Order No. 11 was consistent with these previously enacted war policies, all of which had been implemented to curb, destroy and end the rebellion to save the Union," Monaco states.

The effect on the four Missouri counties was stark. In all there were about 40,000 residents in the affected area. "Within 15 days, the population of Cass County decreased from about 7,000 to 800," Monaco reports, the remainder living at military posts at Harrisonville and Pleasant Hill. Bates and Vernon Counties were virtually de-populated of their 10,000 residents as there were no military posts in those counties.
"Jackson County with a population of 23,000 suffered the most," Monaco states, with about 14,000 residents being evicted. Ewing ordered his troops not to engage in looting or other depredations, but he was ultimately unable to control them. Most were Kansas volunteers, who regarded all Missourians as "rebels" to be punished, even though many residents of the four counties named in Ewing's orders were pro-Union or neutralist in sentiment.

Hundreds of houses, barns and fields were put to the torch over the course of the weeks following the edict. For years afterwards the area took on the moniker of "the burnt district" resulting from the charred remains. While not all of Jackson County's antebellum houses were destroyed during this period, it is illustrative to note that in the town of Lexington, which was located outside the area affected by Order No. 11 and today has a population of 5,500, there are about 120 pre-Civil War structures remaining. In Jackson County today, there are only seven antebellum residences still standing.

The reaction

Ewing eased his order in November, issuing General Order No. 20, which permitted the return of those who could prove their loyalty to the Union. In January 1864, command over the border counties passed to General Egbert Brown, who disapproved of Order No. 11. He almost immediately replaced it with a new directive, one that allowed anyone who would take an oath of allegiance to the Union to return and rebuild their homes.

Ewing's controversial order had greatly disrupted the lives of thousands of civilians, most of whom were entirely innocent of any guerrilla collaboration. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Order No. 11 ever seriously hindered Confederate military operations. No raids into Kansas took place after its issuance, but historian Albert Castel credits this not to Order No. 11, but rather to strengthened border defenses and a better organized Home Guard plus a guerrilla focus on operations in northern and central Missouri in preparation for General Sterling Price's 1864 invasion.
The infamous destruction and hatred inspired by Ewing's Order No. 11 would persist throughout western Missouri for many decades as the affected counties slowly tried to recover.


George Caleb Bingham's War

No one was more appalled at the effects of Thomas Ewing's General Order No. 11 than George Caleb Bingham, who was a staunch defender of the Union. Bingham had already become famous for his paintings that depicted life on the Missouri frontier in the 1840s and '50s. He was secure in his second career as a politician and was serving as Missouri State Treasurer when the Civil War erupted. Ralph Monaco writes in his book, Scattered to the Four Winds, a history of Order No. 11, that Bingham was always known for his fighting demeanor. "Order No. 11 would become his most climactic propagandist fight ? becoming a lifelong assault on personal vendetta against the character of its author, General Ewing."

The farm family packs their meager gear and is exiled.

He also had a personal vendetta stemming from the confiscation of Bingham's late father-in-law's building in Kansas City for use as a "women's prison." The prison collapsed in August 1863 killing five women and injuring many others. This is one of the reasons attributed for Quantrill to conduct his raid on Lawrence. Bingham placed the blame squarely on Ewing. Finally, with issuance of Order No. 11, Bingham's anger reached a boiling point and exploded, Monaco maintains.
Bingham is reported to have met with Ewing at his headquarters at the Pacific House in Kansas City, where he demanded the immediate rescission of the order. "Ewing promptly refused Bingham's demand and summarily ordered the State Treasurer out of his office. Bingham retorted, 'I will make you infamous with my pen and brush as far as I am able.' Order No. 11 marked the beginning of Bingham's 'war' against Ewing. Bingham desired retribution and it would be waged against Ewing the rest of his life and beyond ? literally," Monaco states.

In 1865, Bingham moved his family to Independence from Jefferson City and purchased a stately home five blocks away from the courthouse square. From his new home he led the fight against the most radical of reconstruction efforts and was embroiled in more than a few controversies. "Of all the post-war controversies faced by Bingham, the most sensational was his aggressive assault and personal war against Ewing," Monaco writes. Bingham soon made the decision to fulfill the threat he had made to Ewing in 1863 and it became his lifetime cause "to illustrate Ewing and his Kansas radicals in a manner that would elicit disdain for the deeds they had inflicted on 'the innocent people' of Jackson County."

Bingham's painting "Martial Law" is the result. The large canvas today is on display at the State Historical Society of Missouri in Columbia. It depicts a farm house in Eastern Jackson County being pillaged and ransacked by Red Legs. Bingham affirmed that the family being evicted were loyal Union supporters. The 'band of scoundrels' in the picture Bingham insisted were "no more the people of Kansas than were the Border Ruffians" representative of Missouri citizens, according to Monaco.

George Caleb Bingham's painting "Martial Law," which depicts the imposition of Order No. 11

Ewing is prominently displayed perched upon his horse "possessing a cavalier, unconcerned, dispassionate demeanor, passively and purposely ignorant of the scene of death, bloodshed and waste. Standing to Ewing's left is a Red Leg in the act of either pulling or returning his revolver to his holster. The son of the family patriarch lies dead on the ground in the clutched arms of his weeping widow. The backdrop of the painting consists of smoke rising into the sky as caravans of refuges are shown aimlessly marching from their burned out homes to uncertain destinations.

Bingham created two versions of his legendary art piece, Monaco asserts. "The first version he sent to the famous engraver, John Sartain in Philadelphia," whom he had hired to create prints of the painting for sale. "The other painting he created on a tablecloth in 1869," Monaco writes. This version accompanied Bingham on his many speaking tours in which he journeyed far and wide to denounce Ewing and to accept subscriptions orders for prints. Ewing had returned to his native Ohio after the war and slowly crept back into politics. Bingham urged Sartain to finish the engravings, so he could use them as political propaganda against Ewing, who was finally elected to Congress in 1876 and re-elected two years later, further enraging the artist.

Running for governor of Ohio in 1880, Ewing sought and received support from his Civil War commander, Gen. John M. Schofield, who wrote a letter defending Ewing's war record.
Nevertheless, "Ewing never found solace or safety from the insults, castigation and ridicule of the Missouri artist," Monaco states, "and Bingham's propagandist painting and personal crusade against Ewing followed well into his grave." Bingham died before Ewing's gubernatorial campaign was over. Bingham's son James Rollins picked up his father's cause and traveled to Ohio to campaign against Ewing by displaying the Sartain prints of his late father's painting.
Ewing failed in his bid to be Ohio governor and later failed in his attempt to become U.S. Senator. Whether or not Bingham's painting, "Martial Law" played a role in Ewing's political failures can be endlessly argued. Although we can reasonably assume that the artist would take full credit for Ewing's defeats.


About the re-enactments

The re-enactment pictured in these pages was part of "Blood and Ashes," a series of commemorative events observing the 150th anniversary of General Order No. 11. It was produced by the Jackson County Historical Society in cooperation with the Wornall/Majors House Museums, Wide Awake Films, The Rice-Tremonti Home, and Wine Walk on Delaware.

A man and his cabin.

The activities attracted living historians from around the Midwest, all of whom volunteered their time, talents and in some cases, their horses.

The photographs of Civil War re-enactors for this article were taken Saturday, Sept. 14 at the Rice-Tremonti Home in Raytown. This pioneer residence of the Archibald Rice family was built in 1844 and somehow survived Order No. 11 and its aftermath. The Rice family had evacuated to Texas in 1861. They returned to Jackson County in 1866 and reclaimed their property.

Leigh Elmore can be contacted at