Progress in Kansas

The Civil War Began in Kansas
80 Years Ago

by Harold C. Place

     BLOODY and soul-stirring was the Kansas June of 1856 -- just over 80 years ago -- and an eventful month in the nation's history as well.

     It really marked the beginning of the Civil War which was to be confined within the borders of Kansas for the next five years until, by the very pressure of the conflict, it exploded to engulf the entire nation.

     Civil War it was in the truest sense of the word with both the North and South making Kansas the battleground; both pouring money, men and arms into the state to fight their cause; both seeking by force to swing Kansas into statehood on their side of the slavery question, which might decide the momentous issue.

     True, there had been sporadic raids, atrocities and skirmishes in the months preceding June, 1856, but in that month the two opposing forces settled down to a grim warfare which was not to cease for years to come. Before June passed into July all of Kansas Territory was on a war basis and the entire nation held reserved seats for the blood-spilling spectacle.

     TWO events occurring late in May touched off the spark which sent the pro-slavery and free-state factions at each other's throats in a fighting frenzy soon after the month of June opened. One was the first sacking of Lawrence on May 21; the other the Pottawatomie Massacre on May 24.

     The attack on Lawrence was consummated by a pro-slavery force 800 in number, according to the Lecompton Union, a pro-slavery newspaper. The mob sacked and burned the Free-State Hotel (today the modern Eldridge Hotel), built but two months before by the Massachussetts Emigrant Aid Society; totally destroyed the plants of the two free-state newspapers; burned the home of Charles Robinson (free-state leader and later first governor of the State of Kansas) to the ground; pillaged stores and residences; and, shelled the town with cannon planted on the hill where the State University now stands.

     Three days later John Brown led a party which took five men out of their beds from homes on the Pottawatomie river in Franklin county near where the town of Lane now stands and murdered them.

     THESE two happenings set the stage for the sanguinary events to follow in June and for many months to come. On June 2 occurred the Battle of Black Jack in what is now Palmyra township in Douglas county, near Baldwin. Intent on plundering free-state settlers an armed force of pro-slavery Missourians under H. Clay Pate was camped in a grove of black jack oaks,. Some historians aver that Pate's design was the capture of John Brown in retaliation for the Pottawatomie Massacre. In any event, Brown and his men attacked Pate's company and, after a brisk battle, Pate and his men surrendered.

     Two days later free-state forces attacked Franklin, pro-slavery base for operations against Lawrence. Two companies flanked the town at 2 o'clock in the morning, capturing a large supply of arms and ammunition and practically causing Franklin's evacuation.

     Governor Shannon immediately issued a proclamation demanding that all unauthorized military organizations disband and called upon Colonel Sumner, commanding Fort Leavenworth, for aid in restoring peace.

     The following day Sumner, with a detachment of federal troops, marched on John Brown, in camp in the southern part of Douglas county, where the free-state zealot was still holding Pate and his company as prisoners of war. Sumner succeeded in getting Brown's consent to disband and Pate with his followers were ordered to leave Kansas, altho their arms were restored to them.

     SHANNON'S proclamation amounted to but a "scrap of paper" and Sumner's march on Brown was but a gesture because by the end of the first week of this epochal June the rapid sequence of events had whipped the entire territory into two armed, warring camps. This was emphasized when Pate and his men, four companies strong, returned to their Missouri homes by the way of Osawatomie and there sacked and burned the town in revenge on John Brown.

     Meanwhile, the Missouri river had been practially closed to free-state emigrants bound for Kansas; all boats were searched by pro-slavery men and free-staters turned back with a warning to stay away from Kansas; the pro-slavery vigilante committee at Leavenworth ordered all free-state leaders to leave Kansas; and, money began pouring in increased volume into the territory from both the North and the South to finance the embattled forces.

     ON June 17 the first national convention of the Republican party was held in Philadelphia. Kansas, with its bloody conflict, was the keynote of the gathering. Significant it is that 80 years later Kansas, proud of its heritage and yet at peace and on neighborly terms with all the states both North and South, once again in June of 1936 provided the main attraction for the Republican convention in Cleveland.

     Before the month of June, 1856, was rounded out James F. Legate was added to the large number of free-state leaders held in the so-called "traitor" colony at Lecompton. The incarceration of their leaders only served to stimulate the anti-slavery forces to increased activity and the warfare progressed at an increased tempo. Before the following month had elapsed Governor Shannon had fled the territory and the blockade of the Missouri river had brought together a convention of Northern states in Pittsburg resulting a new route for free-state recruits into Kansas by the way of Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. Promptly, James H. Lane brought 300 new free-state settlers into Kansas over the new route which was known thereafter as "Jim Lane's Road."

     The Civil War had begun in Kansas in June, 1856, but it took the rest of the nation almost five years to realize it.

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