Pioneer Days In Kansas

Chapter 9

Kansas in the Civil War

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When the war of the Rebellion broke out in 1861, Kansas was in a very peculiar and critical position. She was a small community, isolated from her sympathizing sister states. The rich and powerful state of Missouri lay on her eastern border. Missouri was a doubtful state. It had a large slave population, and a very strong proslavery sentiment. Her governor was Claiborne F. Jackson, who had led the mob of Missourians which invaded Lawrence at the election on March 30, 1855, took possession of the polls and elected the bogus Legislature. The commander of her militia was Sterling Price, who became one of the ablest and most noted of the Confederate generals. February 28, 1861, a convention met to consider the question whether Missouri should join the Confederacy or remain in the Union. Sterling Price was president of the convention, and he and Governor Jackson used all their influence in


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favor of secession. The convention voted to remain with the Union. In spite of this vote, Governor Jackson and General Price did all in their power to carry the state over to the Confederacy, and they would have succeeded but for the prompt action of General Lyon at St. Louis and Jefferson City. The disloyal sentiment was particularly strong on the Kansas border, where the largest slave population was found.

Kansas, therefore, had everything at stake. The success of the rebellion meant the destruction of Kansas. It was exposed to all the perils of a hostile frontier. It responded, therefore, to the nation's call for troops with an alacrity seldom witnessed. Her sons pressed into the service until her prairies were desolate, and her homes almost deserted. Rev. Louis Bodwell, Superintendent of Missions, undertook to ascertain how large a proportion of the able-bodied men in our missionary churches had entered the service of the nation. The proportion would no doubt hold good among all the people. In all the churches reporting he found one-half of those liable to military duty had entered the service. One little missionary church, with only eleven able-bodied men, had sent ten of these


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into the army. Another church with twenty men capable of bearing arms had fifteen in the army. Whole neighborhoods were found without a single able-bodied man left. The homes and the herds and the fields were cared for by the women who stayed by the stuff. When ten regiments had responded, we thought it a good proportion. It was one in ten of the entire population. But it did not end here. The enlistments went on until twenty-two regiments had gone forth. They answered to every call and were found on every field.

"They left the plowshare in the mold,  
The flocks and herds without the fold,  
The cattle in the unshorn grain, 
The corn half garnered on the plain,  
They mustered in their simple dress,  
For wrongs to seek a stern redress;  
To right those wrongs, come weal or woe,  
To perish or o'ercome the foe!" 
I remember well the first enlistments. Only one regiment from Kansas was called for at first, but enough responded to make two. The first regiment went to the front, and the second waited till it was wanted. A company of this second regiment was encamped just back of my house in Lawrence for several weeks and many


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a meal some of their number took with us in our house. They had not yet been armed or uniformed or furnished. They were waiting to learn if they would be received. So far their request to be permitted to serve their country had been refused. But they were determined to enter, and were going to wait until they could. They were an intelligent body of men, and their bearing was that of gentlemen. They had not yet been mustered in and had received no supplies. They were maintaining themselves at their own charges. They were not under military orders. They had nothing to do and had no idea how long they must wait. But though their camp was just back of our house, we never had better neighbors than those hundred men. We became strongly attached to them, and quite intimate with many of them. Nearly every evening we had some of them come in and take tea with us. Sergeant Sherman Bodwell was a brother of Rev. Louis Bodwell of Topeka. He was a genius in his way, a delightful companion, and a kind-hearted friend. It was like a streak of sunshine whenever he came into the house, which was nearly every day. One morning he came bounding in,


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more light and happy than usual, and cried: "The agony is over! We are going! Goodbye!" And off they marched, singing as they went. They were armed and equipped at Leavenworth a few days later, and then they marched south to join General Lyon at Springfield, Missouri. It was only a few days after this that we heard of the battle of Wilson's Creek, one of the most desperately fought battles of the war. Of the thirty-seven hundred men engaged, fourteen hundred were either killed or wounded. The First Kansas lost four hundred of its men, and every commissioned officer but one was either killed or wounded. The Second Kansas to which our friends belonged, was held in reserve and suffered less; but their losses were quite heavy. That battle of Wilson's Creek saved Missouri to the Union, and probably saved Kansas from devastation. It is true that Lyon was killed and his little army defeated, but the desperateness of their onset checked the rebel advance, and gave time to organize for the defense.

We in Lawrence came into very close touch with the soldiers of the Union. We saw a great deal of them during the four years. Squads and


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detachments, regiments and brigades, were constantly passing through the state, often remaining for days and weeks in camp among us. When they did this, our relations with them were intimate and very delightful. Most of the time we were just on the border of military operations, and sometimes we seemed to feel the pulse of the Army of the Southwest. We were so nearly concerned in their success that our interest in all their movements was sometimes strained to almost a painful tension. The pulsations of that army passed through us and we felt every throb. Union soldiers were constantly going back and forth; Union refugees came to us continually by scores and by hundreds; ex-slaves came by thousands; while " the poor white trash " of the South came in colonies. And after some of the battles of the southwest the wounded were sent to us at Lawrence to be cared for, and our city was almost converted into a hospital.

During this first summer two regiments from Wisconsin camped in the woods above Lawrence, and remained several weeks. They were a fine lot of men, and we came to regard them as neighbors. It seemed as if they were all picked men. They were men of education and high character,


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men of means and good position. Some of them had occupied positions of honor in their state, and had been trusted with large responsibilities. Yet these men had enlisted as private soldiers to serve their country for three years. Their camp was as orderly as the quietest village, and the soldiers everywhere conducted themselves like gentlemen. They commanded the respect of everybody while the regiments were with us. Hon. E. D. Holton, of Milwaukee, visited them. He was sent by the state to look after the Wisconsin troops and to see that they were well cared for, and to furnish them whatever might be needful for their comfort at the expense of the state. He was a noble Christian gentleman, full of sympathy and good sense. While with them he did all in his power to interest the citizens of the town in the soldiers, and there sprang up quite a friendship between the two communities. The Wisconsin Thirteenth had a very able chaplain, Rev. Dr. Hilton. He had been pastor of leading Methodist churches in the cities of Wisconsin, and had left a large parish to go with the soldiers. He was very much beloved by the men and exerted a powerful influence for good. He usually held services in camp Sunday morning,


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and then many of the men came to the churches in town in the evening. One Sunday evening they seemed to have all agreed on our church, and I was surprised to find the church full of soldiers. I had not been expecting anything of the kind, but I had somehow been led to choose for my text the words, "He that ruleth his own spirit is better than he that taketh a city." I remember only two sentences: "Alexander conquered the world, but was himself conquered by his passions. Had he been able to rule his own spirit, he would have saved himself and his empire." A few days after this they were ordered away, and this was the last I saw of many of them. We followed them with interest, however, and as one might expect, they acquitted themselves like men in many a close encounter. Their fate was doubtless like that of many brave regiments, not half of which ever returned.

The next spring another body of soldiers was stationed among us for several weeks, waiting for orders. We were just then holding nine o'clock prayer-meeting each morning, it being a time of special religious interest. A few of the soldiers dropped in, and more and more each day. The officer in charge was present each morning.


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After about two weeks we proposed to close the meetings. This officer came to me and begged that we continue the meetings. He said, "I am anxious for my men. Many of them are interested, and I want the impressions fostered. We shall be ordered to the front in a few days, and no man can tell how many of us will come back." At his request we continued the meetings and they filled the room day by day. Many of them expressed the determination to lead a new life, and to go forth thereafter in the name of the Lord. One morning they were missing from the place of prayer. They had been ordered to the front and had gone at day break. They met with us no more and prayed with us no more, but it was a long time before we forgot to pray for them.

At one time the military authorities sent us word that they desired to quarter a lot of sick and wounded soldiers with us. Rooms were therefore cleared over some of the stores, and preparations made. The rooms were filled with cots, and soon the cots were filled with sick and wounded soldiers from the battle-fields and hospitals of Arkansas and southwest Missouri. Then we were all planning what we could do to


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relieve the poor fellows and soften their lot. One day the officer in charge came to me and said that a sick soldier wanted to see a minister. I hastened over to the hospital, and was taken into a room full of cots, on which the sick and wounded lay. I was shown the cot of the man who had sent for me. He seemed to be about thirty-five years of age. His face was thin and worn, and his frame was wasted. Almost as soon as I had sat down he began to tell me his story. "I have been a bad boy. My father and mother were Christians. Often and often I have knelt by my mother's knee, and she has taught me to pray. But I grew up wild and reckless. I ran away from home and enlisted in the regular army. For years and years we were wandering from place to place. We have been on the Pacific coast, among the Western mountains, and almost everywhere." So he went on, bemoaning his life and despairing of hope. After a while I got before him the idea of divine mercy in Jesus Christ. He caught at the idea as if it were a new revelation to him. The despairing look began to pass away, and the doleful tones grew more hopeful. His face brightened and his eye glistened as if he had


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seen a new light. Before I left he had offered a prayer, and as I turned to leave I saw the poor fellows all over the room wiping the tears from their eyes. The next day when I came to the foot of the stairs I heard singing, and as I went up I found the whole room singing a familiar hymn in which my friend was leading. I found him calm and peaceful as if the Lord had spoken to him, as I believe he had. Day by day he grew more clear, and spent most of his time in reading the Bible and singing of Him who had saved him. Often the whole room would join with him as he sang. After a few weeks they were all removed and I saw my friend no more. I heard, however, that he died, shortly after, a peaceful death. A few months later I received a letter from a minister in Maine thanking me for my attentions to his poor wandering boy, and wanting me to write them all about his last days. The poor fellow had never told me his father was a minister, nor did I learn enough from him to identify him. I now found his father was an old friend who had spent several years in Kansas.

I have given these touches at random, depicting a very few of the scenes in which I came


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myself in contact with the soldier life of the republic. I came in touch with it almost continuously, and in great variety. I think I am able to form a very fair judgment of what that life was. A great deal has been said about the roughness of the army, its demoralizing influences, its coarse and vile elements. But my observation would lead me to judge that the soldier life of the nation was a very high grade of life. The best blood of the land gave itself for the country. The principle that was under the war appealed to the best that was in men. It was an idea taking to itself a body, and marshaling its forces for victory. It was not mainly the restoration of the national authority which stirred men so. It was not mainly the preservation of the Union which so wrought on the popular heart. It was not mainly the grand old flag which appealed so irresistibly to the heroic and the noble all over the land. But under all this and back of all this was a moral idea which lifted the whole conflict into the realm of the sublime. This grand moral idea appealed to principle as well as to patriotism; it appealed to religious enthusiasm as well as to national pride. It appealed to conscience and


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sympathy and the love of justice and right. There was in it the lifting of the lowly, the freeing of the oppressed, the breaking of shackles and the righting of wrongs.

This was not the avowed object, but everybody knew that this was what the conflict involved, and everybody had a presentiment that this must be its end. This was the way destiny pointed. It appealed to the hatred of oppression; it appealed to the awakened conscience of the nation, it took hold of the moral energies of the people.