A Civil War battlefield in central Missouri has a new monument honoring 123 Union soldiers who died in one of the war’s lesser-known but grisliest clashes.
The monument in Centralia will be unveiled Sunday, the 145th anniversary of the Centralia Massacre and ensuing Battle of Centralia.
The battle came late in the war, in the fall of 1864, when the Confederates sought to influence the 1864 presidential election by attempting to capture St. Louis and the Missouri capital at Jefferson City. Led by Gen. Sterling Price, the Confederates launched an invasion of northern Missouri.
As part of his strategy, Price encouraged guerrilla warfare, especially the disruption of the railroads. “Bloody Bill” Anderson and his guerrilla company, which included future outlaws Frank and Jesse James and Cole Younger, were among those who took part, according to information found on Wikipedia.
On Sept. 23, 1864, Anderson engaged in a skirmish in Boone County, Mo. His men managed to kill 11 Union soldiers and three black civilian teamsters. The Federals responded the next day by shooting six of Anderson’s men who were captured nearby.
That same day, Sept. 24, Anderson attacked the pro-Union town of Fayette, losing 13 killed and more than 30 wounded while Federal losses were just one killed and two wounded.
Three days later, Anderson led about 80 guerrillas, some dressed in stolen Union Army uniforms, into Centralia to cut the North Missouri Railroad. Anderson blocked the rail line, and the engineer of an approaching train failed to realize it until too late, since the men he saw were wearing Yankee uniforms.
The guerrillas swarmed over the train. The 125 passengers were divided between civilians and soldiers. A total of 23 Union soldiers were aboard, all on leave after the Battle of Atlanta and heading to their homes in northwest Missouri or southwest Iowa.
The Union soldiers were ordered at gunpoint to strip off their uniforms. Anderson called for an officer. Sgt. Thomas Goodman stepped forward, expecting to be shot and the rest spared. Instead, Anderson’s men ignored Goodman and began shooting the others. The bodies were then maimed and scalped.
The guerrillas then set fire to the train and sent it running down the tracks toward Sturgeon, Mo. They torched the depot and rode away from the town. Sgt. Goodman was taken prisoner and spent 10 days in the captivity before escaping.
At about 3 p.m. the same day, Union Major A.V.E. Johnston, with 155 men of the newly formed 39th Missouri Infantry Regiment, rode into Centralia. Despite warnings that Anderson had at least 80 well-armed men, Johnston pursued. The Union soldiers soon encountered the guerrillas and Johnston decided to fight them on foot.
The inexperienced Federal troops, with their single shot rifles, followed the traditional warfare practice of advancing on foot, leaving their horses tended by a few soldiers, according to a website devoted to the battle:
They marched into a three-sided formation of several hundred hidden guerrillas, each armed with several Colt revolvers, and within minutes, the Union troops were nearly annihilated. The few soldiers that were not killed on the first guerrilla volleys, ran back to their horses, but the guerrillas with their faster horses, overtook the fleeing troops and within the hour, over 120 soldiers were killed. Some nearly reached the sanctuary of Sturgeon some ten miles from the battleground, before the guerrillas completed the rout.
Of the 155 men in blue, 123 met their death. Three of the guerrillas were reported killed in the battle, the website added.
According to Frank James, his younger brother Jesse fired the shot that killed Major Johnston.
Confederate soldiers who died in the battle have been honored at the site since 2006.
The new monument is being unveiled by the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War.