Anderson, William [Bloody Bill] T. (ca. 1839–1864)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: August 7, 2020

William "Bloody Bill" Anderson, Confederate guerilla and outlaw, was born possibly about 1839 to William and Martha Anderson in Missouri and in 1861 was a resident of Council Grove, Kansas, where he and his father and brothers achieved a reputation as horse thieves and murderers. At the outbreak of the Civil War he was forced by his Unionist neighbors to flee to Clay County, Missouri, where he became a guerilla leader notorious for leading raids along the Kansas-Missouri border and infamous for scalping his victims. Especially heinous was his raid against the German settlers of Lafayette County, Missouri, in July 1863. When in August 1863 two of his sisters were killed and a third crippled for life in the collapse of a makeshift jail in which they were being held by Union authorities, the already ferocious Anderson redoubled his frenzy of killing. Prominent in his band were Archie Clement, Frank James, and later Jesse James. On August 21, 1863, Anderson and his gang of about thirty joined William C. Quantrill in the celebrated Lawrence, Kansas, raid, in which Anderson was reputed to have been the most bloodthirsty of all of the 450 raiders. "I am here for revenge," he declared, "and I have got it!"

In the winter of 1863 Quantrill led his band into Texas, where the men fell under the command of Gen. Henry E. McCulloch. In the reorganization that followed their muster into the Confederate Army, Anderson was elected first lieutenant, but he soon broke with Quantrill and deserted the army to rejoin his mistress, one Bush Smith, at Sherman. From there Quantrill chased Anderson to Bonham, where Anderson informed McCulloch that Quantrill was robbing civilians. Thereupon McCulloch ordered Quantrill to report to him at his headquarters and arrested him. When Quantrill made good his escape, McCulloch ordered his return, dead or alive, and Anderson and his gang joined in the pursuit. After some skirmishing between the two bands of bushwhackers, Quantrill escaped across the Red River.

In 1864 Anderson returned to raiding in Kansas and Missouri, and between July and October of that year was said to have made more raids, ridden more miles, and killed more men than any other bushwhacker of the war. On August 9, 1864, his band received a serious setback when it attempted unsuccessfully to sack Fayette, Missouri, but it continued to scourge the state. On August 27 Anderson and his men perpetrated the Centralia Massacre, which involved some of the most vicious atrocities of the Civil War. In conjunction with the Confederate invasion of Missouri by Gen. Sterling Price, Anderson's gang sacked Danville, Florence, and High Hill in October, but failed to do serious harm to the federal communications net in Missouri or to render Price any practical assistance.

On the morning of October 26, 1864, Anderson was brought to bay by a force of 150 Union militia near the Ray County community of Albany. In the pitched battle that resulted, Anderson rode through the Union line only to be shot twice in the back of the head. His men made a vigorous effort to recover his body but failed; at least one man and, according to one account, as many as ten, died in the attempt. The body was decapitated and dragged through the streets of Richmond, Missouri, by the victorious Unionists. The head was hoisted onto a spiked telegraph pole. Finally, Anderson's corpse was buried in an unmarked grave in the Richmond cemetery. According to unsubstantiated rumor, however, Anderson survived the Albany fight, and the mutilated body was that of another man. The real Anderson, according to the story, took advantage of his supposed death to move to Brown County, Texas, where he married and lived a settled and respectable life. The Brown County man, named William C. Anderson, died at his home on Salt Creek on November 2, 1927.

Carl W. Breihan, Quantrill and His Civil War Guerrillas (Denver: Sage, 1959). John P. Burch, Charles W. Quantrell (Vega, Texas, 1923). Albert Castel, William Clarke Quantrill: His Life and Times (New York: Fell, 1962). Albert E. Castel and Tom Goodrich, Bloody Bill Anderson: The Short, Savage Life of a Civil War Guerrilla (Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1998). William Elsey Connelley, Quantrill and the Border Wars (New York: Pageant, 1909; rpt. 1956). W. C. Stewart, "Bill Anderson, Guerrilla," Texas Monthly, April 1929.

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawless Activities and Outlawed Activity
  • Military
  • Confederate Military
  • Guerrillas and Irregulars
Time Periods:
  • Civil War
  • Antebellum Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Anderson, William [Bloody Bill] T.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 7, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: