1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 44 Part 1

CHAPTER XLIV

THE LAWRENCE MASSACRE

W. C. Quantrill

W. C. QUANTRILL

[From Photograph Owned by William E. Connelley]

The flood, in the tide of the Confederacy came in July, 1863, and the recession which followed in the same month indicated that the secession movement would end in failure. When Vicksburg fell and Lee was defeated at Gettysburg the Southern cause was lost. And along the border the guerrillas reached their greatest strength in the summer of 1863. In the waning of the Confederacy much of its Western force abandoned the field and returned home. Great accession to the guerrilla ranks resulted. In July, Quantrill saw that by combining the forces, of the border captains enough men could be assembled, for a master stroke. They were called together and a plan proposed, but nothing was done beyond calling another meeting. In the meantime the military prison for women had collapsed. In August when the guerrilla chiefs gathered at the rendezvous, use of that unfortunate occurrence, succeeded in enlisting them in his design to destroy Lawrence.

Lawrence had been the chief locality of resistance to the plan of the South to make Kansas a slave State. Kansas had won her freedom, which had, in effect, destroyed slavery. This was the prime cause for the hatred of Kansas, and made it the refuge for many of the loyal citizens exiled by Missouri. Lawrence had been the principal point of attack in the old wars waged by the Missourians, many of whom were in the bushwhacker bands in 1863. The former bitterness remained, and it could be more easily fanned to a flame than could the general animosity against the State or against any other town.

In his designs against Lawrence Quantrill was but playing a part. His implacability was a personal matter. In 1860 he had lived at Lawrence under the assumed name of "Charley Hart," where ere he led a double life and was guilty of many crimes. He was both Border-Ruffian and abolitionist. Pretending to be engaged in securing passengers for the Underground Railroad, he was a kidnapper of free negroes whom he sold into bondage in Missouri. Entrusted with the care of escaped slaves, he returned them to their masters for rewards. Being high in the councils of a band of thieves, he invaded Missouri for the purpose of robbery. Taking advantage of conditions, he despoiled Pro-Slavery residents in Kansas of their horses and cattle. Such a course can run only for a limited time, and in due season Quantrill found himself under indictment at Lawrence for robbery and arson. It became necessary for him to seek other fields, in doing which he conceived and executed a plot to betray and murder some of his associates. Under pretext of obtaining thirty slaves to be sent over the Underground Railroad from Kansas to Canada, he induced some young anti-slavery enthusiasts of Atchison County to accompany him in a foray against Morgan Walker, a planter and slaveholder in Jackson County, Mo. There he betrayed his companions to death, at least one of whom he murdered with his own hands. He remained with the Missourians and rose to be chief of the border-guerrillas. In this capacity he had sacked Aubry and Shawnee and had plundered Olathe and other Kansas towns.1

That the border might feel some sense of security and the Federal troops relax somewhat the severity of their patrol of the State-line, Quantrill contented himself by spreading disquieting rumors and doing little in that region for some weeks. The last invasion of the country in Kansas adjacent to that through which he proposed to pass was made by Bill Anderson on the 31st of July. On the high land south of Argentine, Wyandotte County, at a cross-roads known as "the Junction," lived one Saviers, whose son, Al. Saviers, was a notorious Red Leg and Jayhawker.2 Anderson attacked the Saviers house, but was beaten off by the old gentleman and his daughters. The guerrillas then went west a quarter of a mile to house of Wright Bookout and killed him. Two miles northwest of the Junction they murdered Stephen J. Payne and plundered his premises. They went then to the house of Stephen Perkins, a prominent and loyal man, to kill him, but he escaped. After burning the Perkins house the guerrillas burned two other dwellings, both on the lands of Shawnee Indians; after which they went up the Kansas River to the house where Anderson's sisters had lived and where he had previously been hiding. Taking the family at this house with them, the bushwhackers escaped to Missouri before pursuit could be made.3

This was a daring raid. The murders were committed within four miles of General Ewing's headquarters and inside his lines.

The general rendezvous of the guerrillas was on the Blackwater, Johnson County, Missouri, at the farm of Captain Pardee. On the night of the 18th of August, every captain arrived there with his command. On the 19th the march on Lawrence began. Great caution was observed. Extensive scouting was done to detect the presence of any Federal force. After riding ten miles toward Kansas, camp was made early in the afternoon. Here Quantrill addressed his men and told them where they were going. Before it was dark the guerrillas were again moving. South of the Little Blue they came upon Colonel John D. Holt, who had one hundred and four men, and he joined the expedition. At seven o'clock on the morning of the 20th the guerrilla column was on the head of the Grand River four miles from the Kansas line. There the last addition to the guerilla force was made, a company of fifty men joining it from points to the south. The guerrillas numbered four hundred and forty-eight men as follows:

The original force 294
Holt's command 104
The last reinforcement 50
     Total 448

At three o'clock in the afternoon of the 20th Quantrill moved toward the State-line from a dense wood he had been concealed. He crossed the line at the southeast corner of Johnson County, near Aubry, one of Ewing's posts commanded by Captain J.A. Pike, with about one hundred men. Here began that strange list of untoward circumstances which so much aided the guerrillas in their daring raid. General Ewing, in his official report, said:

Unhappily, however, instead of setting out at once in pursuit, he remained at the station, and merely sent information of Quantrill's movement to my headquarters, and to Captain Coleman, commanding two companies at Little Santa Fe, 12 miles north of the line. Captain Coleman, with near 100 men, marched at once to Aubry, and the available force of the two stations, numbering about 200 men, set out at midnight in pursuit. But Quantrill's path was over the open prairie, and difficult to follow at night, so that our forces gained but little on him. By Captain Pike's error of judgment in failing to follow promptly and closely, the surest means of arresting the terrible blow was thrown away, for Quantrill would never have gone as far as Lawrence, or attacked it, with 100 men close on his rear.

Passing Aubry, the guerrillas dismounted and allowed their horses to graze an hour. Resuming their march at dusk they passed through Spring Hill and turned northwest toward Gardner, which they reached at eleven o'clock. Three miles west they left the Santa Fe Trail and marched north several miles. It was necessary to have guides, for which service the farmers were impressed, and when they no longer knew the roads they were shot, ten guides having been killed in one stretch of eight miles. A mile west of the Quaker settlement of Hesper the guerrillas found at home an old man named Stone. He was recognized by George Todd, who brained him with an antiquated musket. Here they found a young German whom they mounted behind one of their number and forced to guide them into Lawrence. The Wakarusa was forded at the Blue Jacket Crossing, and the old Pro-Slavery town of Franklin was reached at dawn on the 21st of August. There they were marching in columns of four, many of them asleep strapped to their saddles, and were counted by a resident physician, who found them to number four hundred and fifty. In coming up to the summit of the ridge beyond Franklin, the guerrillas straggled, but once at the top the formation was perfected, the column of fours resumed, and the descent upon Lawrence, now in plain view, arranged.

Gregg was sent forward with five men to enter the doomed town and see if it was safe for the army to follow him in. But here some of the bushwhackers lost heart and said the venture was too great. They counseled retreat, or at least a drawing off until conditions were better known. Quantrill said he would enter the town if he had to go in alone, and when he advanced he was followed by the whole command.

Ruins of Lawrence, 1863

RUINS OF LAWRENCE, 1863

(Photograph of a Wood Engraving in Harper's Weekly, September, 1863. - Donated by Sydney Prentice)

[Copy by Willard of Picture in Library of Kansas State Historical Society]

Lawrence was unprotected and helpless. Two camps of recruits were her only troops; these numbered less than thirty and were unarmed. The arms provided for the defense of the town had been taken from the citizens and locked up. Quantrill had been expected often, but had failed to come, and it had become the settled conviction that he would never appear at the gates of Lawrence. But there he was. Gregg found the camp of white recruits as Quantrill came up with him, and it was instantly ridden down and most of the recruits killed. The colored recruits fled at sight of the guerrillas and nearly all escaped. The citizens were aroused by horsemen galloping madly through the streets, and the rising roar of firearms. The Eldridge House was surrendered on promise of protection for the guests, and this promise was kept. Men appeared in the streets only to be shot down. The torch was applied to dwelling and store. Terror seized the men when the situation was realized. They were shot as they ran to cover. Or if they were concealed by their wives their homes were burned over them while raving bushmen stood by to murder them if they should try to escape. Stores and liquor shops were looted and burning dwellings ransacked for plunder to carry back to Missouri. Women and children were stripped of jewelry, ornaments, and keepsakes by guerrillas, now drunk and reckless. Husbands were torn from the arms of shrieking wives and murdered. Wounded men were cast into seething flames to die by the fire. There was no mercy. While the loot of the town was being packed on horses to be carried into Missouri those appointed to the work of destruction rode headlong, firing with deadly aim and yelling like fiends. When burning buildings fell in on trapped men the air was rent with shouts of exultation. Above the tumult rose triumphant cries for Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy. When the town was destroyed, the loot secured, and not another man in sight to be murdered, Quantrill prepared to leave. Nearly two hundred citizens and non-combatants were dead in the ruins. The vengeance of the guerrilla was satisfied. As he was calling in his bloody band his guards came down from Mount Oread and reported pursuing columns approaching. Leaving a detail under Gregg to round up the drunken and unruly, Quantrill hurried south. He left a city in ashes, innocent dead in every street, and hundreds of widows and orphans crying wildly through the gloom or standing hopelessly about their smoldering homes. And on the flag under which he fought he left a blood-stain which only the charity of the sufferers can ever efface.


1 For an extended account of the life and operations of Quantrill, see Quantrill and the Border Wars, by this author.

2 The "Red Legs" were Federal scouts on the border during the Civil War. The name came from the red leggins which they wore. As a scourge of the border they were little inferior to Quantrill's guerrillas.

The term "Jayhawker" was applied along the border at the beginning of the war to irregular troops and pillaging bands on both sides. It was accepted by some of the Kansas soldiers, and soon came to be the name by which all of them were known. It now includes all Kansas people. The origin of the name is unknown, that given by Wilder and Ingalls being erroneous. The name was in use in Texas and the West many years before Kansas was a Territory.

3 Major Plumb sent his brother, George Plumb, in pursuit of Anderson on the morning of August 1st. The guerrillas could not be overtaken. Thomas J. Payne, son of Stephen J. Payne, lives yet at Argentine and has furnished an account of this raid into Wyandotte County.

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A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 2000.

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