The Civil War – Lawrence, Kansas Massacre

Submitted by C.J. Johnson


Fighting in the Kansas-Missouri country started well before the Civil War. Its start can be tied to the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, by the 33rd U. S. Congress. Officially called “An Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas,” this legislation repealed the “Missouri Compromise” of 1820, which outlawed slavery in what would become Kansas and Missouri, and allowed them to vote on the slavery issue in their respective areas. The 1854 act stated, in part, “…when admitted as a State or States, the said Territory or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission…”

This action pulled the scab off the wound – the arguments over slavery in the areas west of the Mississippi River.

Both pro-slavery supporters and abolitionists rushed into the Kansas – Missouri areas, in an attempt to elect representatives with their positions. Strong beliefs turned into fighting. The Library of Congress Researcher Web Guide states, “After the bill passed on May 30, 1854, violence erupted in Kansas between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers, a prelude to the Civil War.” The situation would only worsen, as partisan and guerrilla fighting continued.

According to the website, part of the acceleration occurred when “Union Brig. Gen. Thomas Ewing, Gen. William T. Sherman’s brother-in-law, was assigned to command the District of the Border, where he was faced with the seemingly impossible task of trying to stop Confederate raiders—primarily the guerrilla band led by the notorious William C. Quantrill.

In 1863, Ewing began arresting women suspected of aiding Quantrill’s men. Many were mothers, sisters, and wives of the guerillas. Ewing jailed some in a dilapidated three story building in Kansas City. On August 14, the building collapsed, killing four of the women and seriously injuring others. Four days later, Ewing ordered that the wives and children of known guerillas were ‘to remove out of this district and out of the State of Missouri forthwith.’

Seeking revenge, Quantrill and 450 men set out on August 19 for the abolitionist stronghold of Lawrence, Kansas. They stormed into the town with blazing guns at daybreak on August 21. For three hours they committed an orgy of burning, pillaging, and massacring its citizens. The victims were shot down in front of their families or burned up in their houses. At 9:00 A.M. the raiders departed, leaving 80 new widows, 250 fatherless children, and a smoldering ruin of a town. Fewer than 20 of Quantrill’s 150 victims were soldiers. No women were physically harmed.

Quantrill had lived in Lawrence for a short time before the war and had a vengeance list of persons to be disposed of. He got them all except for the one on the top of the list, Sen. Jim Lane, the leader of a band of Union guerrillas that had been making raids into Missouri. On the morning of Quantrill’s raid, Lane had heard the horses coming and hid in a cornfield in his nightshirt until the raiders left.”