Deadly Payback The Events Leading Up to The Raid on Lawrence

"Bleeding Kansas," sometimes referred to as "Bloody Kansas," or the "Border War," was a sequence of violent events involving Kansas anti-slavery and Missouri pro-slavery forces, which began about 1854.

Long before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the violence had evolved into a full scaled guerrilla warfare. The war in the West was a deadly game of chess, both sides traded atrocities like yarns. Before the looting of Osceola there was the Pottawatomie Massacre, the genocide at Palmyra lead to sacking of Osawatomie.

Yet one event is remembered as the single extreme example of the vicious Kansas-Missouri border warfare, that event is of course known as the "Lawrence Massacre."

At daybreak on August 21, 1863, Colonel William Clarke Quantrill and approximately 450 confederates guerrillas descended upon Lawrence Kansas. Within three hours more than 150 men were dead among the smoldering ruins of 186 buildings. What at first glance appears as brutal slaughtering of non-combatants, was in reality a brilliantly planned and executed military strike, intended as retaliation for ten years worth of vile and inhuman treatment, first by Kansas Jayhawkers, who were later joined by the occupying federal army.

Most Missourians had witnessed at least one of these abominations, and virtually every family of the Guerrillas had been victimized. Despite nearly ten years of savage brutality, one single event was cited by numerous sources, as being the spark that ignited the flames of fury unleashed upon Lawrence.  And that spark was the August 14, 1863 collapse of a building housing 14 female relatives of the guerrillas, after the foundation had been deliberately weakened.

Five of the women were killed, two of the victims were the sisters of Riley Crawford. Bloody Bill's sister Josephine Anderson was among the fatalities. His other sister Martha Anderson survived but her legs were crushed. Another victim was John McCorkle's sister, Christine McCorkle Kerr. Nannie Harris McCorkle, sister of T.B. Harris and wife of Jabez McCorkle, also perished. Is there any wonder that Anderson, Crawford and McCorkle were known to be three of the most fearsome fighters among the band?

This abomination committed against their wives, sisters, and mothers; was too much for the Missouri Minute Men to bear. Seven days later they took their revenge upon the bane of their existence, Lawrence Kansas. The following except from Paul Petersen's publication; Paul R. Petersen,  "Quantril in Texas; The Forgotten Campaign,"  (Cumberland House  Publishing Nashville Tennessee, 2007), explores some of the immediate causes which lead to up to that fateful day. These  are two of more than forty images exhibited inside "Quantrill of Texas," many of which have never been published before.  Charity McCorckle Kerr murdered in the collaspe. Image © Cantey-Myers  collection.                                                                       

"During the summer of 1863, frustrations reached their peak. After failing to capture or kill Quantrill, and feeling themselves powerless against his attacks, Jayhawkers of the Ninth and Eleventh Kansas regiments stationed in Kansas City under General Thomas Ewing concocted a plan to torment the relatives of the guerrillas. Scores of women related to the guerrillas were subsequently arrested.

Fourteen of these women were related to men of Quantrill's command. They were separated from the rest and confined in a brick house at 1425 Grand in Kansas City that belonged to General George Caleb Bingham; he had been paroled earlier by Price at the battle of Lexington and now served as the provisional state treasurer in Jefferson City. Since his home was vacant, Ewing seized it to house the women prisoners. Guards were quartered next door. Over the course of the week, the soldiers undermined the structural integrity of the building, and the house collapsed on August 13, resulting in the deaths of five women.

Two of the victims were Riley Crawford's sisters; Federal soldiers had cruelly murdered their father six months prior to the sisters' apprehension. William Anderson's sister also died in the house collapse; Union troops had killed their father and uncle at the beginning of the war. Another victim was the sister of John McCorkle, her home had been plundered and destroyed by Federal soldiers a few months earlier. A fifth woman later died as a result of injuries sustains in the collapse of the house.

The atrocity against these women raised the level of guerrilla warfare to a fever pitch. The guerrillas added this incident to the barbarities perpetrated by the Jayhawkers since the beginning of the war. In 1861, Kansans under James H. Lane had burned the small town of Osceola to the ground. Out of three hundred building in town, only three were not torched.

Quantrill's veterans were eyewitnesses to the heightened atrocities committed by the federals in Jackson County. Old men who had not taken part in any of the hostilities had been hanged or shot. Boys as young as ten were ripped from their mothers arms and executed for having relatives in either the regular Confederate army or among the guerrillas. Visions of their homes destroyed, their relatives slain, their sisters abused, and their slaves raped were too much for them too bear.

The center of Jayhawk activity and the headquarters of the abolition movement in area was at Lawrence Kansas. The city's newspapers fomented inflammatory unrest by supporting the armed incursions into Missouri motivated by revenge and the possibilities of plunder.

On August 21, 1863 after having gathered the guerrillas along the border, Quantrill marches on Lawrence and destroyed the homes and businesses of those most responsible for the destruction in Missouri. Quantrill's men carried death list bearing the names of jayhawkers, abolitionists, members of the New England Immigrant Aid Society and the Underground Railroad, free-state politicians, soldiers, and newspapermen who encouraged the assaults on Missourians.  Next is a rare war vintage image of Riley Crawford.                                                                                                      

The guerrillas also had lists of building to be destroyed. In all, eighty-six building were put to the torch and 150 men were killed. An account of Quantrill's success reached Richmond: "Major Quantrill, a Missouri guerrilla chief has dashed into Lawrence Kansas, and burnt the city, killing and wounding 180. He had General Lane, but he escaped." (1)

Guerrilla J. G. Cisco explained the motivation for the raid:"Quantrill's raid on Lawrence was consummated in retaliation for the inhuman treatment of Southerners in Missouri by Kansas Jayhawkers. No Confederate, whether of Quantrill's command or not, ever fell in the hands of Kansans in any of the border counties of Missouri and came out alive, and there was also the murdering of four Southern women in Kansas City by the undermining of a house were they were held as prisoners. (2)

Missourians understood all too well why the guerrillas attacked Lawrence. Local histories reported: "hordes of men, many of them claiming to be soldiers from Kansas overran this territory...killing men, robbing and burning houses, driving off horses, mules and cattle, loading wagons with household and kitchen furniture, leaving in their wake absolute desolation.

In retaliations for these acts the sons and relatives of those who had been murdered or plundered, whose house had been burned or property stolen, went to Lawrence, Kansas, and there committed what is know as the "Lawrence Massacre," committing murder and other atrocious crimes." (3)

Missouri partisan A.b. Barnes also justified the Lawrence raid: In the Lawrence (Kans.) raid one hundred and sixty-three men were killed by Quantrill's band. Of these, all were identified except three. It was not a massacre, as Northern people maintain, but an execution. Every man (except the three) was identified and pointed out as a murder, a robber, or a thief. In many instances they pointed out as: You murdered my father, you killed my brother, you burned my mother's home."

Barnes added: "The best evidence I have ever heard that many people in Kansas did not sympathize with the Lawrence gang was a statement made to me by the editor of a Republican paper, a friend of mine in Kansas. We were discussing the so-called Lawrence massacre, and I remarked that there was any innocent men killed at Lawrence I had failed to discover the evidence. He replied: "If you had fired a gatlin gun into that crowd for an hour, you could not have hit an innocent man. " (4)

Contrary to the currently accepted perception that the Raid on Lawrence was atrocity subjected upon innocent non-combatants, instead it was it was bold & daring, well planned & executed, extremely successful retaliatory military operation. Unfortunately for those involved was so successful it provided the vile Union General Thomas B Ewing and excuse to issue the infamous "Order #11," which soon transformed Cass and Bates counties and parts of Vernon and Jackson counties into "The Burnt District." Order #11 was a virtual "license to kill" for the Union army and they ravished these counties, burning everything in site and killing the men and young boys whom they suspected to be Southern Sympathizer affecting more than 20,000 non-combatants. This is another dirty-little secret which is conveniently left out of today's history books. What would you do if you Mother, wife and/or sisters were killed for no other crime besides being related to you?

References: (1). Jones, Rebel War Clerk's Diary, 2:25, (2). Confederate Veteran 18 (June 1910): 278-79. (3). Woodson, History of Clay County, 134. (4). Confederate Veteran, 18 (October 1910): 472-73.

Patrick R. Marquis© Quantrillsguerrillas.com. "Permission should be requested and agreed to before using this copyrighted essay."

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