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The Centralia Massacre
IN history, this is called a battle of massacre, but there never was a fight during the Civil War that was fought any more fairly than this battle was fought.
Along about September, 1864, at Paris, in Monroe County, there had been a Federal garrison three hundred strong, under the command of a Major Johnson. These soldiers, on the watch for Anderson, had been busy in scouting expeditions and had come down as near to Centralia as Sturgeon.
After Anderson had done all the devilment that he could lay his hands to in Centralia and had retired again to the Singleton camp, Major Johnson came into the pillaged town, swearing all kind of fearful and frightful things.
At the head of his column a black flag was carried. So also was there one at the head of Todd’s column. In Johnson’s ranks the Stars and Stripes for this day had been laid aside. In the ranks of the Guerrillas the Stars and Stripes flew fair and free, as if there had been the intention to add to the desperation of the sable banner the gracefulness and abandon of legitimate war.
The union citizens of Centralia, knowing Anderson only in his transactions, besought Johnson to beware of him. He was no match for Anderson. It was useless to sacrifice both himself and his men. Anderson had not176 retreated; he was in ambush somewhere about the prairie. He would swoop down like an eagle; he would smite and spare not. Johnson was as brave as the best of them, but he did not know what he was doing. He had never in his life fought Guerrillas—such Guerrillas as were now to meet him.
He listened patiently to the warnings that were well meant, and he put away firmly the hands that were lifted to stay his horse. He pointed gleefully to his black flag, and boasted that quarter should neither be given nor asked. He had come to carry back with him the body of Bill Anderson, and that body he would have, dead or alive.
Fate, however, had not yet entirely turned its face away from the Federal officer. As he rode out from the town at the head of his column a young union girl, described as very fair and beautiful, rushed up to Major Johnson and halted him. She spoke as one inspired. She declared that a presentiment had come to her, and that if he led his men that day against Bill Anderson, she felt and knew that but few of them would return alive. The girl almost knelt in the dust as she besought the leader, but to no avail.
Johnson’s blood was all on fire, and he would march and fight, no matter whether death waited for him one mile off, or one hundred miles off. He not only carried a black flag himself, and swore to give no quarter, but he declared on his return that he would devastate the177 country and leave of the habitations of the southern men not one stone upon another. He was greatly enraged towards the last. He cursed the people as “damned secesh,” and swore that they were in league with the murderers and robbers. Extermination, in fact, was what they all needed, and if fortune favored him in the fight, it was extermination that all should have. Fortune did not favor him.
Johnson rode east of south, probably three miles. The scouts who went to Singleton’s barn, where Anderson camped, came back to say that the Guerrillas had been there, had fed there, had rested there, and had gone down into the timber beyond to hide themselves. It was now about four o’clock in the afternoon.
Back from the barn, a long, high ridge lifted itself up from the undulating level of the more regular country and broke the vision southward. Beyond this ridge a wide, smooth prairie stretched itself out, and still beyond this prairie, and further to the south, was the timber in which the scouts said Bill Anderson was hiding.
As Johnson rode towards the ridge, still distant from it a mile or so, ten men anticipated him by coming up fair to view, and in skirmishing order. The leader of this little band, Captain John Thrailkill, had picked for the occasion David and John Poole, Frank and Jesse James, Tuck Hill, Peyton Long, Ben Morrow, James Younger, E. P. DeHart, Ed Greenwood and Harrison178 Trow. Next to Thrailkill rode Jesse James, and next to Jesse, Frank. Johnson had need to beware of what might be before him in the unknown when such giants as these began to show themselves.
The Guerrillas numbered, all told, exactly two hundred and sixty-two. In Anderson’s company there were sixty-one men, in George Todd’s forty-eight, in Poole’s forty-nine, in Thomas Todd’s fifty-four, and in Thrailkill’s fifty—two hundred and sixty-two against three hundred.
As Thrailkill went forward to skirmish with the advancing enemy, Todd came out of the timber where he had been hiding, and formed a line of battle in an old field in front of it. Still further to the front a sloping hill, half a mile away, arose between Johnson and the Guerillas. Todd rode to the crest of this, pushing Thrailkill well forward into the prairie beyond, and took his position there. When he lifted his hat and waved it the whole force was to move rapidly on. Anderson held the right, George Todd joined to Anderson, Poole to George Todd, Thomas Todd to Poole, and Thrailkill to Thomas Todd—and thus were the ranks arrayed.
The ten skirmishers quickly surmounted the hill and disappeared. Todd, as a carved statue, stood his horse upon its summit. Johnson moved right onward. Some shots at long range were fired and some bullets from the muskets of the Federals reached to and beyond the179 ridge where Todd watched, Peyton Long by his side. From a column of fours Johnson’s men galloped at once into line of battle, right in front, and marched so, pressing up well and calmly.
The advanced Guerillas opened fire briskly at last, and the skirmishing grew suddenly hot. Thrailkill, however, knew his business too well to tarry long at such work, and fell back towards the ridge.
As this movement was being executed, Johnson’s men raised a shout and dashed forward together and in a compact mass order formation, ranks all gone. This looked bad. Such sudden exultation over a skirmish wherein none were killed exhibited nervousness. Such a spontaneous giving way of the body, even beyond the will of their commander, should have manifested neither surprise nor delight and looked ominous for discipline.
Thrailkill formed again when he reached Todd’s line of battle, and Johnson rearranged his ranks and went towards the slope at a brisk walk. Some upon the right broke into a trot, but he halted them, cursed them, and bade them look better to their line.
Up the hill’s crest, however, a column of men suddenly rode into view, halted, dismounted and seemed to be busy or confused about something.
Inexperienced, Johnson is declared to have said to his adjutant: “They will fight on foot—what does that mean?” It meant that the men were tightening180 their saddle girths, putting fresh caps on their revolvers, looking well to bridle reins and bridle bits, and preparing for a charge that would have about it the fury of a whirlwind. By and by the Guerrillas were mounted again. From a column they transformed themselves into a li............
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