The year 1864 was remarkable for the number of horrible deeds done by both Federals and Confederates, under the cover and with the excuse of military necessities. Early in the spring, the Confederate guerrilla organizations began to move in the western part of the state, and the “Red Legs,” or Kansas militia, together with the Federal Missouri militia, were especially active. What followed is sought to be forgotten by the good, sensible people of all parties. Men were murdered and scalped, and their bodies otherwise horribly mutilated; houses and barns were burned; women and children turned out into the elements; whole districts laid waste; whole counties devastated.

Bill Anderson, Quantrell, Todd Poole, and other guerilla leaders, took no prisoners in fight—took none elsewhere that they spared. They shot, stabbed, and cut the throats of their victims, without mercy, sparing none, from the stripling to the patriarch. The Federal militia were equally merciless toward the guerrillas and bushwhackers. Any man who had belonged to them, or who, under any circumstances, had been connected with them, or who had fed or harbored them, given them information, or had seen them and failed to report their presence to the nearest Federal garrison, if captured, was shot down with but little ceremony, or with none at all. Each party claimed to act in retaliation for the offenses committed by the other, and this was the excuse given then, and sometimes given now by their partisans, for these barbarities. Robbery and pillage were so common as to become matters of course, and but of small comparative consequence. And these enormities were perpetrated “in retaliation,” and by men claiming to be patriots! But these things must be, at least will be, in a war where brothers fight against a father, and fellow-citizens of one race, of one country, of one kinship, enlist to kill each other for a difference of political opinion. There is this great consolation left – there will never be another war in this country between its citizens.

The usual number of bushwhacking fights occurred, the usual number of capture and executions, during the year 1864. The leading events those concerning the entire county, were the burning of the court house and Gen. Price’s invasion, commonly called Price’s last raid.

Burning of the Saline County Courthouse

In August, 1864, the Federal garrison at Marshall was moved to Lexington. The forces had consisted of a detachment of the First M.S.M., under Maj. A. W. Mullins, and had been ordered into Lafayette county by Lieut.-Col. Lazear of that regiment, in command of the district of Lafayette and Saline. Col. W. S. Jackson, son of Gov. C. F. Jackson, had a Confederate command then operating in this, Cooper, and Howard counties. A portion of this force was in Howard county and another portion on this side of the river.

Assoon as the Federals had fairly abandoned Marshall, word was sent of the fact to Col. Jackson’s force. On the 10th of August, according to the best information obtainable, a dozen or so of Jackson’s men under Lieutenants Piper and Durrett, dashed into town yelling and hallooing and firing their revolvers. There was no one to oppose them and they held the place for some hours. The most of them were from this county and were acquainted with many of the citizens of the place.

The court-house had been used by the Federals from time to time, during their occupancy of the place, as barracks and sleeping quarters for the men. The county officers had had their offices in the upper portion of the building, but the offices were not then in the court-house, and the records had been removed to Lexington for safe keeping. No one was then occupying the building. The lower rooms were littered up with hay and straw which had been used by the soldiers for bedding.

Shortly after Jackson’s men arrived in the place, one of them went to the northeast corner of the court-house, on the outside of the building, picked up a wisp of hay, set it on fire with a lighted match, and tossed it through the window upon the hay and straw lying on the floor. Then he went his way. In a short time the building was completely on fire and destroyed. The walls fell in soon after. The building had stood for more than twenty years, and was in an excellent state of preservation The court-house had been put to military uses by the Federals, and was Federal property. It was therefore lawful for the Confederates to destroy it. It was not the only court-house burned in Missouri by either the Confederates or the Federals.

News of the burning of the court house at Marshall having reached Col. Lazear at Lexington, that officer immediately came down with a detachment of the 1st M.S.M., and proceeded to take severe measures to punish the people of the county for suffering and allowing something to be done which they could not help, or at least which they claimed they could not help. A number of persons, male and female, were arrested and carried to Marshall, where they were confined and kept in prison for different times, and only released upon taking the iron-clad oath and giving heavy bonds. Some of the men were not allowed even to do this. It was at this time that Mr. Gilliam was apprehended on a charge of having fed the guerrilla, Capt. Yager, and afterward released upon the statement of Miss Jennie Flannery that she was the guilty party, mention of which circumstance is made elsewhere.

Some of the ladies who were arrested by Col. Lazear were Miss Sue Bryant, of Marshall; Misses Bennie Elliot, Jennie Flannery and Sallie Pearson, of Arrow Rock; Misses Amanda and Missouri Jackson, of Saline City, sisters. The charges against these ladies were generally for harboring, feeding, and furnishing information to the bushwhackers, Miss Bryant, the daughter of Hon. J. W. Bryant, of Marshall, was charged, says Col. Lazear in a letter to the historian of this chapter, “ with encouraging bushwhackers by waving something in imitation of a rebel flag while they were burning the court house.” The “imitation” referred to was the skirt of a dress used in calisthenic exercises in the Booneville ladies’ seminary, of which Miss Bryant was a member. It was made of alternate red and white strips of muslin. Miss Bryant, now Mrs. John Cason, denies to this day that she ever did the act attributed to her. A letter addressed to a lady in Boone county was found in Miss B.’s trunk, containing the express, “God bless the bushwhackers.” This strengthened the case against her. She was taken to Booneville from thence to Warrensburg, and from thence to the female prison at St. Louis, where she was kept for some months, and at last released on taking the oath and filing a $3,000 bond. She was then but seventeen years of age. Miss Bryant, Miss Elliot, and Miss Flannery were the only ladies taken out of the county. The Misses Jackson and Miss Pearson were released at Marshall on taking the oath. Miss Flannery took the oath at Warrensburg, and was set free. Miss Elliott proved contumacious, and it is said was eventually confined in the penitentiary at Jefferson City. The men arrested were released upon taking the oath and filing a bond as security for their good behavior.

A few days after the burning of the court house, some of the members of Jackson’s command were in attendance at church, in Blackwater township. A company of militia rode up and tried to capture them. Their approach had been noted by a watchful picket, who sounded the alarm. All of them escaped but Lieut. Durrett, who was shot through the ankle, and fell, fainting, from his horse. The militia soon made him prisoner, and took him to Arrow Rock, tried him by drumhead court-martial, and sentenced him to be shot. The sentence was executed in a very brief time. The lieutenant, unable to stand by reason of his broken limb, was propped up against a fence, and riddled with musket balls. His offense, as alleged by the militia, was that he had assisted in burning the court house, and was guilty of being a bushwhacker generally. His comrades gave as a reason why they did not try to carry off the wounded man, that they were pressed from time, and besides they thought him dead. Durrett died “game.” His last message to his friends was: “Tell the boys to keep on fighting.”

At Arrow Rock, a detachment of Lazear’s troops arrested Mr. Marshall Piper, tried him by some sort of court-martial, and shot him within an hour. He was universally regarded as a harmles and very excellent man, and one who had taken no part in the war whatever. He was always peaceable and inoffensive, and his execution was not only a regret but a surprise to all who knew him. Col. Lazear says: “Piper was shot for harboring and feeding bushwhackers, and refusing to give information concerning the same; and you will please allow me here to say that it had more good effect in giving the Union people of Saline peace and protection than any one act I had done during the war.” Mr. Piper’s relatives deny yet that he was guilty, as charged, and his friends and neighbors, both Union and Confederate, all pronounce his execution simply an atrocity. Piper, with sixteen or eighteen of his neighbors, was first arrested, released on parole, and ordered to report regularly at Arrow Rock, every morning. The next morning he left his home and went to town, in compliance with the terms of his parole. Esquire Davidson, who was county assessor at the time, and a firm Union man, was with him. Mr. Davidson says that a number of the citizens were gathered together by Lazear’s order, and addressed by him in a speech, full of reproach for their past conduct, and of threat and warning for the future. Closing, he pointed to Piper, saying, “As for that fellow, he will be shot to-day, at two o’clock.” This was the first intimation that Mr. Piper had that he was not to be allowed to return home, as he had been promised. Mr. Davidson remonstrated, expostulated, and entreated Col. Lazear to spare the poor man, and so did others; but he was inexorable, would listen to no explanations, would give no time for the procurement of testimony establishing the innocence and harmless character of the condemn—would have nothing but his blood. Promptly at two o’clock, Piper was led out. He did not shrink from the ordeal. He said he was not afraid to die, but especially for the sake of his family, did not wish to. A detail of ten men carried out Lazear’s order, and, strange to say, eleven bullet wounds were found in the body. Piper’s hands were bound with his own handkerchief. He stood up and received the fatal fire without a tremor, protesting his innocence of intentional wrong to the last.

Esq. Davidson composed the remains and started home with them, meeting the family of the dead man, who had heard of the sentence, and were coming to see their respected and honored head before it should be carried out, but had arrived too late. He lay a mangled corpse, the victim of a horrible, revolting, outrageous murder, inexcusable, uncalled for, unextenuated, productive of no good, but exasperating and harrowing, and bringing only retaliation upon innocent men for its commission.

Soon thereafter the county was visited by Gen. Price, with several thousand men, on his famous and disastrous raid into Missouri in quest of supplies and recruits. It was intended, so says Gen. Marmaduke, to capture not only the smaller Federal depots in Missouri, but the great military post of Ft. Leavenworth as well. If the expedition had been entirely successful communication would have been opened with Arkansas, and then Price’s, from an army of invasion, would have become an army of occupation.

History of Saline County, Missouri 1881, pp. 304-308

Submitted by Vicki Piper