An Interview with Professor Donald Elder: Other Interesting People of the Civil War

Apr 2, 2012 by

William “Wild Bill “ Hickock

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

  1. Professor Elder, we both seem to be reading the same excellent book byTobin Buhk. I have a few follow up questions to our earlier interview about some interesting names that I have encountered in the book. First of all, Frank James, and Thomas Coleman Younger (aka Cole Younger). They both were at the massacre in Lawrence, Kansas. Did this event start their criminal career?

It all depends on your definition of “criminal.” I would define the killing on unarmed civilians at Lawrence as a criminal act, and would therefore say that it’s easy to connect the dots between the attack and their post-war activities. Some, however, would say that there is a distinction to be drawn between actions done in war time and peace time. And then there are others who would point out that many of the people who participated in the raid did not go on to criminal lives after the war, and for that reason say that you can’t draw a connection between Younger/James and their post-war activities.

  1. Robert Crockett- son of Davy Crockett-King of the Wild Frontier, seems to have also been involved in various ways in the Civil War. What do we know about this individual?

Actually, the Robert Crockett you are referring to was Robert H. Crockett, who was the grandson of Davy Crockett. He was a colonel in the Confederate Army, and in the early stages of the Civil War he commanded the 18th Arkansas Infantry. By the summer of 1863, he had become the aide of Brigadier General Lucius Walker. In that capacity, he relayed messages to Confederate Brigadier General John Marmaduke regarding Walker’s sense that Marmaduke questioned Walker’s courage. This led to a duel between Marmaduke and Walker, one that saw Walker fatally wounded. Crockett would see further service, but didn’t really do anything noteworthy for the rest of the war.

  1. Now, please clarify for me and our readers, this term “Bushwackers”. I see that these individuals were a major force to be reckoned with during the war.

“Bushwhacker” is a term that came into popular usage during the Civil War. It referred in general to anyone who fought in the war as an irregular, or as we would say today as a guerilla. Usually the term implied a person who fought for the Confederacy, since there was more contested ground under Union control where guerillas would operate. Historians are divided on how much these individuals aided the respective war efforts. Some suggest that Bushwhackers forced both the Union and Confederate governments to allocate valuable resources to combat them, while others argue that these irregulars would have had much more impact if they had served in regular army units.

  1. “Bloody Bill Anderson “- what was his “ claim to fame “ or how did this sobriquet come about ?

William Anderson was living in Kansas when the Civil War started. He began stealing horses to sell to the Union Army, and local authorities began to look into his activities. Trying to shield his son, Anderson’s father got into an altercation and was killed. William Anderson then became a bushwhacker, and soon became involved with a band led by William Quantrill. In 1864, Anderson set off on his own, and began to terrorize loyal Missourians. He killed numerous soldiers and civilians, and frequently scalped his victims. Many historians regard him as a sociopath.

  1. John Brown apparently was also wrecking havoc before the Harper’s Ferry incident. Can you give us one story of some of his early shenanigans?

John Brown was an Ohioan who was a fervent abolitionist. When the Kansas Territory was organized in the 1850s, Brown moved there to help the area become anti-slavery in its orientation. In 1856, pro-slavery forces attacked Lawrence, Kansas (regarded as the community most identified with the abolitionist cause) and ransacked it. When Brown heard of this, he and some supporters rounded up five pro-slavery individuals and killed them in cold blood. He would leave Kansas in the fall of 1856.

  1. William “Wild Bill “ Hickock was apparently part of a group called the “ Red Legs”. What was this all about?

The Red Legs were Kansans during the Civil War who attacked pro-slavery interests in Kansas and Missouri. They were distinctive in that they wore red leggings over their boots. Quite often, they acted apart from military discipline, and may have been motivated more by settling old scores than preserving the Union. Regarding James Butler (Wild Bill) Hickok, he may or may not have been involved in the Red Legs. We know that at the beginning of the war he was on US Army rosters as a teamster, but was discharged in 1862. At that point he may have become a Red Leg, but we’re not sure.

  1. Apparently, some individuals, instead of fighting the opposing force, decided to duel one another- but we have to be very specific here—Jefferson C. Davis –apparently murdered Gen “Bull” Nelson. What was going on?

In September of 1862, Union Brigadier Jefferson Columbus Davis was serving in Kentucky under Major General William Nelson. Nelson had insulted Davis on a number of occasions, and in a hotel in Louisville Nelson slapped his face. Davis drew a gun and killed Nelson. Technically, it wasn’t a duel, but Union authorities decided it wasn’t technically murder either. Davis probably avoided prosecution because there was a Confederate army moving on Louisville, and all experienced generals would be needed.

  1. On the Southern side, there was the Walker- Marmaduke Duel, perhaps one of the most famous after the Aaron Burr Alexander Hamilton duel. What brought these two to odds?

Walker and Marmaduke were part of a Confederate force that attempted to capture Helena, Arkansas on July 4th, 1863. The Confederates were repulsed, and Marmaduke’s command suffered heavy losses. He felt that the force commanded by Walker should have supported him, and began to doubt Walker. Later that summer, the two were engaged in trying to defend Little Rock against an advancing Union army. At Reed’s Bridge, Marmaduke managed to hold off Union forces temporarily, but was forced to retreat when Walker failed to support him. Marmaduke’s doubts increased, and news of that filtered to Walker. Walker sent a note asking for an explanation, and what Marmaduke sent back didn’t satisfy Walker’s honor. He then challenged Marmaduke to a duel. They both shot once and missed. Marmaduke then reloaded and fired again, mortally wounding Walker. Just as with Davis, Marmaduke was never tried for murder.

  1. As we approach the month of April, and the anniversary of the slaying of Lincoln, I hope that you will consent to still another about the assassination of Lincoln, and the skullduggery that was involved in that incident. Who have we missed that stands out in your mind as a less than auspicious individual in the Civil War?

Although not involved in action against Confederates, one of the worst atrocities in US history happened during (and as a result of) the Civil War. When US soldiers began leaving the frontier in 1861-62 for deployment against Confederates, some Native Americans saw that as an opportunity to take back land they considered theirs. One area affected was present day Colorado. A detachment of Colorado volunteers went into southeast Colorado to deal with hostile Indians, and came upon a camp located on Sand Creek. Even though the Native Americans were not hostile, the commander ordered his men to attack the camp and kill everyone there, including women and children. The resulting Sand Creek massacre ranks along with My Lai as one of the worst crimes ever in our history. I would therefore add the commander, a man by the name of John Chivington, to that list.

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