150 years ago, William Clarke Quantrill, leader of a band of border ruffians, known as Quantrill’s Raiders, attacked the town of Lawrence, Kansas.
In 1858, Quantrill was a young man when he first entered the state of Kansas. It was two years later that he gained notoriety when he engineered a plan, along with four free-state men seeking to liberate the slaves of a Missouri farmer, but in the end Quantrill betrayed those men by alerting the farmer prior to the raid. Three of the Kansas men were killed during the ambush.
The start of the Civil War brought chaos to the Southwest and Quantrill took advantage. By 1864, he’d gained followers who, though they embraced the Confederate cause, were not enlisted soldiers. This guerilla army terrorized the Kansas countryside for their own profit. As part of these raids, they robbed citizens and looted towns.
The attack on Lawrence in August of 1863, was an act of revenge on the Raiders’ part.
Before the attack, pro-slavery farmers of Missouri were antagnonized by Jim Lane and “Doc” Jennison’s Jayhawkers. Because their headquarters were in Kansas, citizens of Lawrence feared reprisal when an attack was launched in Missouri.
On the 21st of August, the town’s citizens were awaked by Quantrill’s men invading the town. The Raiders launched a swift and bloody assault. They then proceeded in looting and burning as many houses as they could. The banks were cleaned out, as well as whiskey from the taverns. They killed no women or children, but shot every man they saw. The death toll numbered 150. When Quantrill’s men rode from the town, burned and mangled corpses littered the streets of Lawrence. All this carnage occurred in just a few hours.
The August 1863 raid was a crushing blow to the Free State community in Kansas, but Quantrill failed to execute prominent Lawrence residents such as Charles Robinson and Jim Lane. The Raiders destroyed a great deal of property, but didn’t take much back to Missouri. Demonstrating their incompetence, Federal troops in the area allowed Quantrill to take over 400 men into the heart of Kansas. The troops did not pursue after the raid.
One of the men who narrowly escaped the murderous attack, Reverend H.D. Fisher, wrote an account of the slaughter in Gun and the Gospel. He reflected on his justifiable outrage as a witness and survivor. Quantrill’s raid stands out in history as one of the more gruesome events of the Civil War. The raid was also the climax of the border conflict between Missouri and Kansas.
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