Everyday items found in archaeological dig give clues to Civil War's devastation

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A foot below the grasses of rural Bates County, Ann Raab’s trowel has uncovered scars of a countryside torched by the Union Army.

Burnt wood embedded in rock. Melted glass, scorched ceramics and discolored soil where a flaming wall fell.

As a Ph.D. candidate in archaeology at the University of Kansas, Raab is less interested in the signs of destruction than in the ordinary remnants of lives ravaged. Buttons, for example, offer clues to the kinds of coveralls western Missourians left behind when forced off their properties in 1863.

“This one says ‘Bull Dog,’ ” Raab noted of the brand name etched on a dime-size fastener in a zippered bag in her laboratory. “That gives me something to work with.”

Growing up in Clay County, she heard about the War on the Border. An ancestor supposedly galloped into Kansas with Confederate guerrilla William Quantrill, who led the bloody looting of Lawrence.

But what Raab, 42, never heard in history class was how the Union retaliated with General Order No. 11 — reducing to ash the homes and livelihoods of thousands across four Missouri counties.

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