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The Un-Civil War In Missouri - Lawrence In Perspective

Part 4 of a Series
Mike Scruggs

Following their fearsome charge through the main streets of Lawrence, Quantrill’s Partisan Rangers quickly captured the armory and the major Jayhawker and Redleg hotels. The remaining Federal resistance collapsed and scattered. Squads of Missouri Partisans with maps and long death lists continued through the town door by door seeking the Jayhawkers and Redlegs who had wantonly murdered their kin, scorched their farms, and pillaged and burned their homes. They were also looking for the leading abolitionist politicians and editors who had spewed out so many venomous lies and so much burning hatred to justify the crimes and depredations visited on Missouri. In addition, their lists included the leaders of the New England Emigrant Aid Society, an organization responsible not only for bringing thousands of radical abolitionists to Kansas but also for supplying them with thousands of guns, swords, and other weapons. The Manson-style murderer and radical, John Brown, had been one of their key agents and catalysts for violence against Southern sympathizers in Kansas and Missouri.

Quantrill’s last major objective was the home of Jayhawker Brigadier General and Republican U.S. Senator Jim Lane. Lane was not only the principal leader of Jayhawker cavalry but also a founding organizer of the despicable Redlegs. He had led several raids on Missouri and had commanded the 1500 man force that destroyed the beautiful little town of Osceola in September 1861. Lane, a former Indiana Congressman, was near penniless when he had come to Kansas in 1855, but his charismatic speaking style and disregard for principle quickly gained him wealth and power. Political influence, graft, and plundering Missouri farms enabled him to own the largest, finest, and most lavishly furnished home in Lawrence.

Accompanied by scout John McCorkle and several other men, Quantrill rode to Lane’s house on the west side of town. On arriving, he dismounted and boldly strode up to the front door and knocked. When Lane’s wife came to the door, Quantrill politely addressed her:

“Give your husband my compliments, Madam, and tell him I should be most happy to meet him.”

Mrs. Lane replied that he was not at home. But just a few minutes before, on seeing the approach of Partisan cavalry, the senator had leaped out a window in his nightshirt and hid in a cornfield. According to some sources, Quantrill planned not to kill Lane but to take him captive and hold him hostage. The Partisan leader made no search for him but ordered the house burned. Before it was torched, John McCorkle—whose sister Charity had been killed in the collapse of the Thomas building in Kansas City—looked inside and recognized three expensive pianos that had been stolen from Southern families in Jackson County, Missouri. Senator Lane escaped.

Another man Quantrill hoped to find in Lawrence was former Kansas Governor Charles Robinson, the abolitionist leader who was responsible for bringing the New England Emigrant Aid Society to Lawrence. The Robinson house, however, could not be approached because of gunfire from the Jayhawker regiments isolated on the other side of the Kansas River. Ironically, Robinson was a bitter political enemy of Lane and had published statements in the local papers complaining that Lane’s method of warfare was

“pouncing upon little unprotected towns and villages and portraying their capture as splendid victories.”

Like Lane and Robinson, many of the highest ranking abolitionist leaders and Jayhawker and Redleg cavalry officers escaped. But the Mayor of Lawrence, General George Washington Collamore, along with a friend, suffocated from the smoke of his burning home, when they tried to hide in his well. Another man fell into the well and was killed trying to rescue them.

The Partisans found about 40 flimsy shacks near a ravine across from Massachusetts Street, which were filled to capacity with stolen goods from Missouri. Included were expensive rugs, mahogany furniture, and several pianos valued at over $1,000 each—a small fortune in those days. The Partisans reluctantly put them to the torch.

About 9 A.M., after four hours of killing and burning, Quantrill’s men gathered near the south end of town. Behind them much of downtown Lawrence was in flames, and stocks of gunpowder that had been stored for its defense began to explode. Quantrill formed his men to get an accounting of all those present or missing. He knew that any man left behind would be summarily executed. As it turned out, only one man was lost.

Summary execution of all captured Partisans had been Union policy in Missouri since late 1861 and was reemphasized by Major General Henry Halleck’s General Order Number 2, the so-called “No Quarter Order” on March 13, 1862. This General Order also allowed Union commanders to take whatever action was necessary against Partisan guerillas or civilians to restore the authority of the U.S. Government.

As Quantrill’s Partisan Rangers left Lawrence, their lookouts on nearby Mount Oread observed a distant blue line approaching from the east. It was General Ewing and 300 Union cavalry from Kansas City. But Quantrill and his men successfully evaded any Union opposition in withdrawing to Missouri.

In Lawrence, 148 Union men had been killed and 87 of approximately 300 buildings destroyed. No women or children were killed. Some of the men were as young as fourteen, but they had been in uniform. Several of Quantrill’s raiders were also that young, and one was only twelve at the time. Despite his order to kill all men in Federal uniform, Quantrill spared nearly a score that could have been killed. Cole Younger saved at least a dozen lives. John Jarrette saved five prisoners because they were Masons. George Shepherd rescued a wounded man and two children from a burning house because one of the children had given him a rose. Andrew Blunt spared a man because his daughter offered him a cup of coffee. One Union solder was spared because he had a Southern accent. The Partisans were on a hunt primarily for political radicals and war criminals, but they killed many soldiers and local militiamen in the process, some of them ruthlessly.

Most of the people of Lawrence refused to admit that there was any quilt attached to profiting from Jayhawker and Redleg looting, burning, and killing in Missouri. Their attitude seemed to be that anyone who owned a slave or sympathized with the South deserved such rough treatment. This sort of arrogant self-righteousness was typical of many abolitionists. A notable exception was former Governor Robinson who admitted that the plundering of Western Missouri by Jim Lane had triggered an awful retribution.

Most Lawrence residents and the Eastern newspapers did everything possible to sensationalize and exaggerate Quantrill’s “massacre” of Lawrence. Eastern newspapers featured front page drawings of Quantrill’s men brutally killing women and children, although none were killed. Some claimed that the whole town had been burned and almost every inhabitant killed. Many claimed Quantrill’s men were in a drunken frenzy; yet Quantrill always insisted that his men be keen in body and mind. According to several of his captains and journalist John Edward Newman, he had a horror of unnecessary violence. But he could be remorseless with armed or dangerous enemies and those he considered to have violated the rules of honorable warfare—especially those who abused civilians, the elderly, women, or children.

In my opinion, sensationalism was particularly prevalent in abolitionist newspapers before, during, and after the war. I would even say that irresponsible journalism was a major cause of the war.

The Lawrence Raid retains a prominent but degraded place in U.S. history, while the deeds of Unionists like Senator Jim Lane have been buried to protect the myth of a righteous Union cause. But by comparison, Lane and his lieutenants inflicted far more destruction of lives and property in Missouri than did Quantrill at Lawrence.

Osceola, Missouri was a picturesque town of 3,000 before Lane’s Jayhawker cavalry sacked and burned it on September 23, 1861. All but three of 800 buildings were left in ashes. Nine civilian men were rounded up, taken to the town square, and executed. Most of the rest of the men were away in Confederate service or riding with various Missouri Partisan units. Lane’s men left with 150 wagons of loot, forming a caravan more than a mile long. The plunder included 350 horses, 400 head of cattle, and 200 kidnapped slaves. The slaves were sent to work on Kansas farms for whatever food they could scrounge during their labor. Osceola’s women and children were left to fend for themselves. At the end of the war only 183 people lived in Osceola.

In January 1862, the Seventh Jayhawker Cavalry under the command of Charles Jennison and his deputy, Daniel Anthony, looted and burned all 47 houses in the village of Dayton, Missouri. In the next few weeks they pillaged and burned the villages of Columbus, Pleasant Hill, West Point, Morristown, and Rose Hill. At Chapel Hill they burned 150 homes and left the women and children, many of whom were sick, standing in the snow. At Kingsville they burned 160 homes and executed nine male hostages. Prior to the Lawrence raid, hundreds of older men and young boys had been indiscriminately murdered during Jayhawker and Redleg raids on Missouri farms and villages.

The depredation of Western Missouri by Kansas Jayhawkers and Redlegs was the inspiration for the 1976 movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales, starring Clint Eastwood.

Four days after Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, on August 25, 1863, Union General James Ewing signed the infamous General Order Number 11—the most repressive action ever taken against civilians by the American Government.

To be continued.