The Civil War in Kansas

The Civil War in Kansas

During "Bleeding Kansas", murder, mayhem, destruction and psychological warfare became a code of conduct in Eastern Kansas and Western Missouri. More devastating than any battle between regular troops were the raids and pillaging of guerilla bands. Well-known examples of this violence include the massacre in May 1856 at Pottawatomie Creek where John Brown and his sons killed five pro-slavery advocates.

In April 1861, as the war began to escalate with Ft. Sumter occurring on April 12th, there were rumors that President Abraham Lincoln was to be kidnapped or assassinated. James H. Lane, a senator from Kansas, recruited 120 Kansas men who were in Washington and organized them into the "Frontier Guard." For nearly three weeks they were billeted in the White House to protect the President.

Governor Charles Robinson at once began recruiting troops for the Union armies, and Senator Lane returned from Washington to do the same. Before the war ended the federal government issued several calls for troops, asking Kansas for a total of 16,654. More than 20,000 "Jayhawkers" enlisted, however, and the state contributed 19 regiments and four batteries to the Union forces. Although many of these volunteer soldiers hailed from states other than Kansas, this was a remarkable showing for an infant state with only 30,000 men of military age. Kansas soldiers suffered nearly 8,500 casualties.

Several skirmishes with Confederate units took place along the Missouri border in 1861, but the first real action for Kansas troops came at the Battle of Wilson's Creek, near Springfield, Missouri, on August 10, 1861. Both the First and Second Kansas Volunteer Infantry regiments were engaged, but the First saw the most action and suffered heavy losses. During 1862 several Kansas units served in campaigns in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. In Arkansas a brigade commanded by James G. Blunt, the first Kansan to become a major-general, fought in Rhea's Mills, Cane Hill, and Prairie Grove. Kansas regiments, both white and black, were used in the Indian territory in 1862 and 1863. In 1863 Kansans also served under General U.S. Grant in the Vicksburg campaign, under General Rosencrans at Chickamauga, and against Morgan's Raiders in Indiana.

William Clarke Quantrill was a Confederate guerrilla leader during the war. He quickly became known to his opponents as a feared Rebel raider, and to his supporters as a dashing, free-spirited hero. When the Union Army ordered all captured guerrillas to be shot, William Clarke Quantrill ceased taking prisoners and started doing the same. The most significant event in Quantrill's guerrilla career took place on August 21, 1863. Lawrence had been seen for years as the stronghold of the anti-slavery forces in Kansas and as a base of operation for incursions into Missouri by Jayhawkers and pro-Union forces. It was also the home of James H. Lane, a Senator infamous in Missouri for his staunch anti-slavery views and also a leader of the Jayhawkers. Moreover, during the weeks immediately preceding the raid, Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr., had ordered the detention of any civilians giving aid to Quantrill's Raiders. Several female relatives of the guerrillas were imprisoned in a makeshift jail in Kansas City, Missouri. On August 14, the building collapsed, killing four young women and seriously injuring others. Among the casualties was Josephine Anderson, sister of one of Quantrill's key guerrilla allies, William T. "Bloody Bill" Anderson. Another of Anderson's sisters, Mary, was permanently crippled in the collapse. Quantrill's men believed the collapse was deliberate, and the event fanned them into a fury. Many historians, however, believe that Quantrill had actually planned to raid Lawrence in advance of the building's collapse, in retaliation for earlier Jayhawker attacks as well as the burning of Osceola, Missouri.

Early on the morning of August 21, Quantrill descended from Mount Oread and attacked Lawrence at the head of a combined force of as many as 450 guerrillas. Senator Lane, a prime target of the raid, managed to escape through a cornfield in his nightshirt, but the bushwhackers, on Quantrill's orders, killed 183 men and boys "old enough to carry a rifle", dragging many from their homes to execute them before their families. The ages of those killed ranged from as young as 14 all the way up to 90. When Quantrill's men rode out at 9 a.m., most of Lawrence's buildings were burning, including all but two businesses. His raiders looted indiscriminately and robbed the town's bank. Before they left much of the town had been destroyed and nearly 200 men and boys lay dead.

On August 25, in retaliation for the raid, General Ewing authorized General Order No. 11. The edict ordered the depopulation of three and a half Missouri counties along the Kansas border (with the exception of a few designated towns), forcing tens of thousands of civilians to abandon their homes. Union troops marched through behind them, burning buildings, torching planted fields and shooting down livestock to deprive the guerrillas of food, fodder, and support. The area was so thoroughly devastated that it became known thereafter as the "Burnt District". However, Quantrill and his men rode south to Texas, where they passed the winter with the Confederate forces.

In 1864 several Kansas units were stationed in Arkansas. There had been no organized warfare in Kansas other than occasional raids. That fall, however, Confederate forces under General Sterling Price moved north into Missouri. Their initial objective was St. Louis; they also were ordered to seize supplies and rally Missourians to the Southern cause. Price failed to reach St. Louis as Union troops forced him to swing west toward Kansas City. Actions were fought at Lexington, the Big and Little Blue Rivers, and at Westport on October 23, Price was defeated and forced to retreat south along the Kansas-Missouri border. He decided to try to seize Fort Scott, a Union supply center, but was defeated again at the Battle of Mine Creek in Linn County, Kansas, by Federal troops under Generals Samuel Curtis, Alfred Pleasonton, and Blunt. Approximately 25,000 men were involved in the pursuit and series of regard actions on October 25; nearly 10,000 were engaged at Mine Creek alone, the largest battle fought on Kansas soil. The Union victory ended any threat of a Southern invasion of the state.