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Financial Fraud and Guerrilla Violence in Missouri’s Civil War, 1861-1865
(Yale University Press, 2010)

Winner of the 2011 Tom Watson Brown Book Prize in Civil War History

This book explores a previously unknown financial conspiracy that occurred at the start of the American Civil War. In 1861, a small group of pro-secession politicians, bankers, and wealthy men in Missouri conspired to divert money from the state’s banks to equip rebel military forces. The scheme backfired and created mass indebtedness among Missouri’s pro-southern population, especially the wealthy slaveholders. Court judgments eventually forced the sale of three hundred fifty thousand acres of farmland, creating a revolution in landownership that decapitated the state’s southern society. Present-day Missouri has a subaltern southern culture but few remnants of a traditional southern aristocracy, unlike other former border slave states like Kentucky and Maryland. Many of the newly landless families emigrated. Most went west and south, but some scattered as far as Brazil and Mexico.

As a further turn in this story, the indebtedness intensified the guerrilla war that raged in Missouri from mid-1862 on. This was the worst period of terrorist violence ever to occur on American soil, representing an aberration in American history that has never been fully explained. A disproportionate number of the young men from the dispossessed families joined the guerrillas, making common cause with desperate and violent men from the bottom of society. Many guerrillas, most famously the gang led by Jesse James, later turned to banditry. The violence so disrupted civil society that conditions did not settle down for nearly two decades after the war. In the 1870s eastern newspapers called Missouri “the robber state.”

Looking beyond this melodramatic story, the records of the failed conspiracy show an archaic form of military mobilization used throughout the U.S. in 1861 that historians have not previously studied. In 1861, governments North and South lacked the money, the legal authority, and the administrative capacity necessary for military mobilization. Had it not been privately financed, the shooting war would have been delayed for months. The U.S. had relied on private financing for all its earlier military mobilizations, and the system was of ancient pedigree in Europe. This was the last time the country mobilized for war in this way, marking a turning point in the centralization of federal power and the formation of a modern administrative state.


“Follow the Money.” The Journal of the Civil War Era 2, no. 2 (June 2012): 298-303.

“Indebtedness and the Origins of Guerrilla Violence in Civil War Missouri.” Journal of Southern History 75, no. 1 (February 2009): 49–82.

“Missouri’s Hidden Civil War: Financial Conspiracy and the End of the Planter Elite, 1861–65.” Journal of Economic History 68, no. 2 (June 2008): 579–84.

“Sectional Loyalties and Institutional Transformation in Missouri’s Banks, 1861–70.” Business and Economic History On-Line 3 (December 2005).

Review, Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community 1861-1865, by Barton A. Myers. American Nineteenth Century History 12, no. 2 (June 2011): 364-66.

Review, Jayhawkers: The Civil War Brigade of James Henry Lane, by Bryce Benedict. The Journal of the Civil War Era 1, no. 1 (March 2011): 110-12.

Review, Key Command: Ulysses S. Grant’s District of Cairo, by T. K. Kionka. Journal of Southern History 73, no. 4 (November 2007): 916-17.


Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Missouri, 2006. “Missouri’s hidden Civil War: Financial Conspiracy and the Decline of the Planter Elite, 1861—1865.”

M.A. Thesis, University of Missouri, 2000. “Missouri Banks and the Civil War: The End of a Prosouthern Entrepreneurial Elite.”