A guerilla band led by William “Bloody Bill” Anderson sacks the town of Centralia, Missouri, killing 22 unarmed Union soldiers before slaughtering more than 100 pursuing Yankee troops.
The Civil War in Missouri and Kansas was rarely fought between regular armies in the field. It was carried out primarily by partisan bands of guerilla fighters, and the atrocities were nearly unmatched. In 1863, Confederate marauders sacked Lawrence, Kansas, and killed 250 residents.
In 1864, partisan activity increased in anticipation of Confederate General Sterling Price’s invasion of the state. On the evening of September 26, a band of 200 Confederate marauders gathered near the town of Centralia, Missouri. The next morning, Anderson led 30 guerillas into Centralia and began looting the tiny community and terrorizing the residents. Unionist congressmen William Rollins escaped execution only by giving a false name and hiding in a nearby hotel.
Meanwhile, a train from St. Louis was just pulling into the station. The engineer, who spotted Anderson’s men destroying the town, tried to apply steam to keep the train moving. However, the brakeman, unaware of the raid, applied the brakes and brought the train to a halt. The guerillas took 150 prisoners from the train, which included 23 Union soldiers, and then set it on fire and opened its throttle; the flaming train sped away from the town. The soldiers were stripped and Anderson’s men began firing on them, killing all but one within a few minutes. The surviving Yankee soldier was spared in exchange for a member of Anderson’s company who had recently been captured.
That afternoon, a Union detachment commanded by Major A. V. E. Johnston arrived in Centralia to find the bushwhackers had already vacated the town. Johnston left some troops to hold the tiny burgh, and then headed in the direction of Anderson’s band. Little did he know he was riding right into a perfect trap: Johnston’s men followed Rebel pickets into an open field, and the Southern partisans attacked from three sides. Johnston and his entire command were quickly annihilated. Anderson’s men scalped and mutilated many of the bodies before moving back into Centralia and killing the remaining Federal soldiers. In all, the bushwhackers killed some 140 Yankee troops.
A month later, Anderson was killed attempting a similar attack near Albany, Missouri.