Missouri, Kansas and the Civil War
During the American Civil War, the people of the states of Kansas and Missouri were quite divided about the question of slavery. You could say that this region was a hotbed of partisan divisions. In 1861, the state of Missouri voted down a motion to secede from the Union 89 to 1. As a result, there were many skirmishes, some more bloody than others. Obviously, the Civil War was fought from Gettysburg in the north to Louisiana in the south. It was fought as far west as Arizona. What happened in the Kansas and Missouri areas however was nothing short of a terror campaign and what occurred in Lawrence, Kansas was almost unbelievable in it's violence.
William Clarke Quantrill
Some people would describe Quantrill as a southern patriot. Many others would accuse him of being nothing short of a butcher. The fighting taking place there was guerrilla warfare. Quantrill fought against both the Pro-Union "Jayhawkers" as well as regular Union troops sent to Missouri and Kansas. William Quantrill's mind set changed during the war when the Union commanders labeled him a murderer and robber as opposed to being an enemy combatant. At that point the Quantrill band, later referred to as 'Quantrill's Raiders", acted as marauders with no consideration for any established rules of warfare.
The Burning and Killing in Lawrence Kansas
Quantrill reportedly invaded the town with some 450 men, killing, looting and burning. Numerous buildings were burned to the ground. At least 150 Lawrence males were killed, most offering no resistance. Some of those killed were simply farmers not really involved in the North/South struggle. As a response to this deadly raid, the U.S. Government ordered the depopulation of three and one-half counties in Missouri that bordered Kansas.
Historians have long debated the true motives behind the Lawrence Massacre as it was referred to by the North. The Quantrill gang looted Lawrence which is in conflict with truly Confederate patriotic intentions. In fact, some of Quantrill's guerrilla troops were known to be simple outlaws prior to the Lawrence attack. I suppose outlaws can be partisan as well.
For sure there were a tremendous amount of fatalities on both sides of the Civil war conflict, but what stands out the most about the Lawrence attack was the large scale killings of unarmed noncombatants. The patriotic argument is that the Union forces and Pro-Union irregulars also destroyed southern communities. As you can see, the perspective taken was strictly along partisan lines. The argument persists to this very day.
To emphasize the difference of opinions concerning the Lawrence, Kansas episode, the picture at left is of a Quantrill reunion held in 1875, some twelve years after the massacre. Obviously, the participants were not prosecuted as war criminals after the war.
Just so you don't think that conspiracy theories are only a modern day creation, rumors sprang up that Quantrill was spotted in various parts of the country as well as Canada.
As reported in a 1907 newspaper story, a member of the Michigan cavalry during the Civil War claimed he ran into Quantrill on Vancouver Island while working in the timber industry. The man who stated he was Quantrill went by the name of John Sharp. During the encounter the man reportedly went on to describe Quantrill raids in Missouri and Kansas in great detail. Sharp claimed that he survived the Kentucky battle and became a cattleman in Texas before moving to Oregon and then on to Canada. Strangely enough, shortly after the news story appeared, Sharp was found beaten and died shortly thereafter. He gave no information about his attackers before his death. Fact or fiction? You be the judge.
If your road trip takes you near the Lawrence, Kansas area there are several interesting historic sites and tours regarding the Quantrill Raid. Travel information, travel guides and specific points of interest can be found in the websites listed below.
See the additional Western Trips articles on the links below...
Jesse James and the Blue Cut Train Robbery
U.S. Cavalry Museum at Fort Riley Kansas
(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images in the public domain)