Rural Missouri - August 2013 - (Page 28)
Lawrence Massacre ~ Aug. 21, 1863
Quantrill leads horriﬁc attack across the border
by Jim Denny
border region. He already had looted and burned the
Kansas towns of Aubry, Shawneetown and Olathe,
executing citizens as well as soldiers.
One of the worst Union setbacks occurred on
y August 1863, the Civil War effort was
June 16, 1863, near Westport. Here, 30 to 50 guergoing badly for the Confederacy in both the
rillas ambushed a 68-man Kansas cavalry unit and
eastern and western theaters. Lee was defeatfollowed with a furious charge against the panicked
ed at Gettysburg, while Grant was victorious
soldiers. Some 20 soldiers were killed and four
at Vicksburg. West of the Mississippi River, Confedwounded, with only three losses to the guerrilla side.
erate armies were trying desperately to hold on to
No small patrol or escort was safe from a surprise
Little Rock and the lower Arkansas River valley.
attack of guerrilla horsemen erupting from the bush,
The only victory of note for the Southern side
pistols blazing, no prisoners taken. Every militia purcame on Aug. 21, 1863, when a bold attack on Lawsuit of guerrillas ended with inferior
rence, Kan., left between 150 and 200
horses giving out, or the guerrilla quar“enemy” dead. Considerable military
ry scattering along countless trails into
ingenuity was required to pull off this
the brush country only to reassemble
attack 50 miles deep into hostile terrisomewhere else and strike again.
tory. A band of 450 men — the largest
An exasperated captain lamented,
force of its kind in the Civil War — had
“We do not believe that guerrillas can
to cross from Missouri into Kansas,
ever be taken by pursuit; we must take
escaping detection, slipping past a
them by strategy.” Unfortunately, they
defensive chain of border military
never really developed such a strategy;
posts. The commander of this expedithe guerrillas outgunned, out-maneution needed to understand and exploit
vered and out-killed their Union foes
the weaknesses of his enemy, who
almost every time.
greatly outnumbered him.
While failing to win the war against
The attack came off brilliantly; only
Quantrill’s guerrillas, the Union
one man was lost. Only trouble was
authorities stepped up their
that this victory was not won
war against the civilians who
against a Federal army. The slain
Jim Denny, a Co-Mo Electric member
sustained them. By the sumenemies were unarmed civilfrom Lupus, brings the state’s Civil War
mer of 1863, it was abundantly
ians — not soldiers — and the
history to life in Rural Missouri as we
clear that guerrillas could not be
attackers were William Quantcommemorate the sesquicentennial of
driven out without ﬁrst cutting
rill’s guerrillas, not Confederate
this time in our nation’s history. Order
soldiers come to redeem the
Jim’s book, “The Civil War’s First Blood,” off their source of supplies and
succor — the disloyal Southern
Missouri-Kansas border from its
online at www.ruralmissouri.coop.
inhabitants of the Missouri
endless war against itself.
counties along the border.
About the only places in the Union where the
By mid-summer, Gen. Thomas Ewing took charge
Civil War didn’t seem to be going well were in Misof the District of the Border and inaugurated a new
souri and eastern Kansas. Here, despite the absence
get-tough policy. Since some two-thirds of the popuof Confederate armies, the guerrillas seemed to be
lation of his district seemed actively disloyal, he
winning the war within a war that was going on far
determined to expel several hundred families of the
from the real theaters of action.
“worst guerrillas” from Missouri. His troops already
One of the most skilled slayers of Union men
had rounded up several wives and sisters of some of
was William Quantrill, leader of a fearsome band
the most deadly guerrillas.
of hardened guerrillas. By the summer of 1863, his
In one of the most fatal Union missteps, some of
name inspired dread in Union folk throughout the
these young women were housed in a structurally
unsound building in Kansas City, which collapsed
on Aug. 13, 1863. Five were killed.
This tragedy sent the guerrillas into a murderous
rage that would soon lead to deeds that would mortify the whole nation. Guerrilla chieftain Bill Anderson’s sister, Josephine, was killed and another sister,
Mary, was crippled. From that day forward, his rage
grew to maniacal proportions, and he commenced
his terrible career as “Bloody Bill,” one of Missouri’s
most pitiless mass killers.
What distinguished Quantrill from other skilled
and ruthless guerrilla leaders was his ability to think
big. It took all of his persuasive powers to convince
his fellow guerrillas that an attack on Lawrence
could be pulled off. They all knew that Gen. Ewing
had fortiﬁed the border and that a cordon of thousands of Union soldiers protected the frontier. But
Quantrill had a peculiar genius or luck, and he
somehow sensed that the time for the raid was now.
He was right. His foes cooperated perfectly and
dropped their guard at the precise moment Quantrill
decided to attack. His band had no trouble crossing
the border. They rode to Lawrence virtually undetected. The one outpost that noted their passing
did not bother sending word that a large group of
unknown horsemen was riding west into Kansas.
Three weeks earlier, military units had guarded
Lawrence, and sentries had been posted around the
clock. But after a false alarm, the units were sent
away and the sentries disbanded. The appearance
of Quantrill and his men at dawn on Aug. 21, 1863,
was a complete surprise.
After a four-hour orgy of looting, burning and the
slaughter of almost every male they encountered,
Quantrill’s band headed back to Missouri, leaving an
inconceivable scene of carnage in its wake.
Union forces picked up the trail and began a
pursuit, but a vigorous rear action by a company of
guerrillas kept them at a respectful distance. These
troops almost served as an escort, merely following
Quantrill’s band to the Missouri border where, as
usual, his guerrillas dissolved into the brush with
virtually no casualties.
After Lawrence, Quantrill’s star was almost as
bright as it ever got. His daring deed had certainly
riveted the attention — and horror — of the entire
nation. Quantrill had promised his Missouri boys
that at Lawrence, “We can get more revenge and
more money there than anywhere else in the state.”
Sweet revenge could be savored amongst the
Southern folk along the western border, but they
must have also felt a dread and foreboding. They
knew that despite the presence of Quantrill, enraged
Kansans and Missouri militia would shortly be heading to their neighborhoods to collect their own
revenge. The horror was far from over. The other
shoe was about to drop.
In his painting, “Blood Stained Dawn,” Ernst Ulmer captured the bedlam of Quantrill’s horriﬁc attack on Lawrence. Art courtesy of the Ernst Ulmer estate, www.ernstulmer.com.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - August 2013
Rural Missouri - August 2013
Table of Contents
Mining a lead-lined history
Out of the Way Eats
Hearth and Home
Rural Missouri - August 2013