As Major Plumb was coming from the east, they struck off to the south so as to avoid him. It was fortunate they left as they did. The town was at their mercy, and they were burning as fast as they could kindle the fires. They left a number of fires burning, which the women at once extinguished. In half an hour more there would hardly have been a house standing in town.
As they moved leisurely southward, they kept up their burning along the line of their march, but did not kill many, as the men had warning and had time to get out of their way. The last man killed was old Mr. Rothrock, a Dunkard preacher, living some ten miles south of Lawrence. As they passed his house a gang of them went in and ordered Mrs. Rothrock to get them some breakfast. She cooked them a good breakfast, which they ate with evident relish. After rising from the table they inquired about the old gentleman, who was in the room. Some one told them he was a preacher. "We intend to kill all preachers," they said, and at once shot him, and left him for dead. He was quite an old gentleman and very highly esteemed by those who knew him.
As soon as the raiders were out of town, the men of Lawrence came from their hiding places, and all who could get guns and horses started in pursuit. It was the first time it had been possible for half a dozen of them to get together. There were probably a hundred or more, mounted and armed in all sorts of ways. They overtook the rebels about twelve miles from town. Lieutenant John G. Rankin was in command, by request of General Lane, who was with the pursuers. Rankin ordered a charge, and the company dashed forward. But the brave lieutenant soon found himself alone, as every horse had a gait of his own, and the company were scattered along the line of advance in a very unwarlike fashion.
The appearance of Major Plumb with a troop of mounted men just at this time, reveals another side of this story. When Quantrill crossed the state line at Aubrey the night before, word was sent to the military authorities at Kansas City. General Ewing, who was in command of the post, was at Leavenworth, but the telegraph operator could not be found, and no communication could be had with him. This consumed a good part of the evening. At last Major Plumb, the next in command, got together what horsemen he could, and started in pursuit. It was now about eleven o'clock, and Quantrill was six hours in advance. About nine o'clock the next morning Plumb's force was some eight miles from Lawrence, and their appearance was the signal for the raiders' leaving. They took the road south so as to avoid him coming from the east. Major Plumb soon learned of this movement, and struck across the prairie westward to intercept them. A short time after having been joined by some men from Lawrence, he came in sight of them. As soon as the rebels saw them they ceased their depredations and moved on rapidly. They rode in more compact order, prepared to repel an attack, but they committed no more offenses. When night came on they reached the Missouri border, and all scattered to their hiding-places. Plumb's men were newly mounted and no match for the desperate men they encountered. Had he attacked them there might have been another tragedy more startling than any that had occurred.
No description can give an idea of the scene in Lawrence after the raiders had left. The business section of the town was entirely destroyed, and a large portion of the dwelling-houses. Those homes which were not burned had most of them been ransacked and robbed, and their condition increased the sense of desolation rather than relieved it. The dead were lying everywhere, and the varied horrors of the massacre were on everybody's tongue. Massachusetts Street was one long line of blackened walls and cellars filled with ashes and embers. The dead lay= along the sidewalks, many of them so burned that they could not be recognized. Here and there among the embers could be seen the bones of those who had been consumed in the fire. Around one corner lay seventeen bodies. In another spot five bodies were piled in a heap. The undermost man of these was alive, and had lain under the dead for four hours, and so saved himself from a fatal shot. He was severely wounded, but recovered. Groups of women were seen here and there, going back and forth, bearing water to the wounded, or covering up the dead with sheets. Now and then you would see a woman wailing over her dead husband. But as a rule there was little wailing and few tears. It was beyond all that. So many had been killed that every man we met on the street seemed to come from the dead. The first salutation was: "Why, are you alive?" The embers were still red, the fires were still burning, as we began to gather the dead and wounded from among the ruins.
The work of gathering up and burying the dead soon began. From every quarter they were brought in, until the floor of the Methodist church, which was taken as a sort of morgue, was covered with the bodies. In almost every house could be heard the wail of the widow and orphan. The work of burial was long and wearying. Coffins could not be procured. Many carpenters were killed, and most of the living had lost their tools. But they rallied nobly, and worked night and day, making pine and walnut boxes, fastening them together with the burnt nails gathered from the ruins of the st-ores. It sounded harsh to the ears of friends to have the lid nailed over. the bodies of their loved ones ; but it was the best that could be done. Thus the work went on for three days, till one hundred and twenty-two were deposited in the cemetery, and many others in their own yards. Brief services were held whenever possible sometimes in a home, sometimes beside the grave, sometimes on the street. Sometimes a number of bodies were brought together, and a brief service held for all. In one case a trench was dug and fifty-two bodies laid side by side, and Rev. Louis Bodwell offered a prayer at the head of the trench. It was over a week before all the dead were buried - a week of almost uninterrupted funeral services.
So we laid our dead away, and turned our attention to the living. The Sabbath following, we held a service in the old stone Congregational church. There was a large congregation, consisting mostly of women and children. Most of them had only the clothes they had escaped with on the morning of the raid. The men were in their working clothes - some of them in their shirt-sleeves, not having saved a coat. The women came, some in sunbonnets, some in hoods, some with handkerchiefs or shawls over their heads. It deepened the impressiveness of the scene to know that a large portion of the women and children were newly made widows and orphans. Rev. Grovesnor C. Morse, of Emporia, was with us that morning, and assisted in the service. We had no sermon in fact no remarks were made by either of us. Neither of us felt that we could say anything, or that anything ought to be said. We had a brief devotional service, and dismissed the congregation, and they went away in silence. Of the service itself, I remember little beyond its profound solemnity. I remember, however, Mr. Morse's Scripture lesson. It was the Seventy-ninth Psalm, which seemed to have been written for the occasion. Everybody was startled at its fitness. It seemed as if Brother Morse was aa really inspired in selecting it, as the author had been in writing it. "O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance. The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth. Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem; and there was none to bury them." No one in the audience found any fault that morning with the imprecatory psalms.
In the midst of all this sorrow and desolation there was added the constant sense of exposure and peril. That three hundred men could pounce upon us without a whisper of warning was a revelation. We could not guess what might come next. Nightly alarms kept us continually on the quiver. The Sunday night after the raid occurred the wildest scene I ever witnessed. I was standing at the gate of a friend, not far from the river-bank. All at once a piercing shriek rose on the night air. A stream of men, women and children came flying past, without hats and with hair streaming, and crying, " Run for your life ! Run for your life ! They are on us again ! " It was so sudden and so wild that the panic seized me, and I ran with the crowd toward the river-bank, about two hundred yards away. My senses soon began to return, and the ludicrousness of the situation came over me. I was running away without knowing where I was going or what the danger was. I might be in its very track. I went back and walked over to the town. There a number of men had come together and they gave me a musket, and n#e remained a couple of hours, while some horsemen went to learn the occasion of the alarm. They found that a farmer two or three miles below the tow n had been burning some straw. Some one, seeing the flames, 'mounted his horse and galloped into town, screaming, " They are coming! They are coming again ! Run for your lives ! Run for your lives ! " And he that heard ran, and hallooed. Most of those who ran did not come back to learn the contradiction of the report. Some crossed the river, others hid themselves in the bushes by the river-bank, or in the corn-fields outside the town. A cold, drizzly rain set in during the night, and many of the fugitives stayed out till midnight, and some, women as well as men, remained out till morning, in the cold rain, fancying all the while that the town was being sacked again. The horror of that Sunday night was in some respects worse than the raid itself. During that there was no panic and no outcry. It was upon us without warning, and there was no escape. We could simply wait and accept whatever might come. Everybody was calm and quiet. But these alarms gave room for the imagination to play, and for fear and panic to do their perfect work. In many respects panic is worse than peril.
A few days after the raid, about ten o'clock one night, Mrs. Cordley and I were summoned in haste to go and see one of the wounded, a member of my church, who was dying. We hastened over and found him in great agony and remained quite a while to sustain his faith and lighten the dark passage. About midnight we started home. It was nearly a mile we had to go. Not a soul was stirring on the streets, and not a light was to be seen in lantern or window. All was still and dark. We had to go the whole length of Massachusetts Street, the main street, which had been all destroyed. The sidewalks were burned or blocked up with debris, and we took the middle of the road. The walls of the brick and stone buildings were still standing, black, gloomy and threatening. The smoke was rising from the ruins, and in the cavernous openings between the walls, and in the deep cellars, the fires were still glowing. The odor of burning flesh, with all its sickening suggestiveness, was heavy on the air. we passed the corner where the seventeen dead bodies lay a few days before, and other spots where I had seen the dead half consumed or piled one upon another. All the tragedies of that street came freshly to mind. I am not at all superstitious, and I have no fear of the night, but the oppressiveness of that midnight walk is as fresh in my mind to-day as it ever was. It seemed as if another mile would have been more than could be borne. I was glad to get home, and I did not care to take any more midnight walks among the ruins.
Some have asked what the people could do, stripped of homes and business and everything, as they were? Each did as he could, and all helped each other, and neighboring towns were very prompt in their kindness. Those who had homes shared them with friends who had none, and every house that remained did its utmost to meet the pressing want. I suppose our own experience would fairly represent that of others, except possibly that we fared better than many. we were fortunate in being able to secure two of the four rooms in a small stone house, another family occupying the corresponding rooms. One room was down-stairs and was about twelve feet square; the other room was a very low, half-story chamber with one very small window looking to the north. These two rooms easily held what little furniture we were able to get. I cannot say that the associations were cheerful. I had conducted three funerals in this same house but a few days before. Just back of us were the ashes of Mr. Fitch's house where he had been shot and burned in his own doorway. Nine persons had been killed along the same block with varying degrees of brutality and horror. It was around this same house that Mrs. Riggs had been dragged as she hung to the bridle of the murderer's horse as he was seeking to kill her husband. A superstitious person might have repeated Tam O'Shanter's sensations as he rode toward old Alloway's kirk. But the house gave shelter, and we slept "the sleep of the just."
We managed to make a comfortable home in those two rooms. The second day after the raid, friends in Leavenworth sent us over a cook stove, three hickory bottomed chairs, and half a dozen iron knives and forks. These, with a few odd dishes saved from the fire, served for furniture. The day after we were settled in our rooms, we were surprised by a visit from my classmate, Parker, whose house we had left but a few days before. He had a big satchel full of things the Wyandotte friends had sent for our comfort. As soon as he had heard of our disaster, he took the stage and hastened over to see how we were faring. He spent a day or two with us and cheered us very much. September 4 Mr. Bodwell made us another visit, and some time after wrote an account of the situation. I take the liberty to insert a paragraph from his article:
"September 4th I rode over to Lawrence. I found Brother Cordley and his family in a small house, to which a kind neighbor had invited them for shelter. He was in his study, a little half-story, or attic room, with one small window. From this window could be seen the still smoking site of his ruined home, where lay all that remained of his library, sermons, clothing, mementoes of dead friends - in short, all his perishable goods. He was preparing his first sermon for his stricken and mourning church. His study table was a dry-goods box from which 'relief stores' had recently been taken, and his study chair was a shoe box which in size and height matched the table very well. His library was small, select, and borrowed, and consisted of a pocket Bible, and a small Bible concordance, both worth, I should think, one dollar and sixty cents. But if all else - home, furniture, and books - were borrowed, his text was given him. 'The Morning Cometh' was his watchword written on the first page. In its light be saw the ruins; across its sunshine drifted the smoke; on its breeze whirled the ashes; but God, who had been there in the darkness, had not left at the dawn. This was God's promise to every heart, the sure coming of that day of the Lord, the morning light of God's unchangeable promise."
This sketch would not be complete without a mention of the universal sympathy which was everywhere awakened and which did so much to lighten the blow. All the provision stores in Lawrence were destroyed, and probably not two days' supplies remained in the whole town. Large numbers had nothing left whatever. Those who had a little for themselves, had none to spare for neighbors. But as soon as the raiders were out of town, the kind-hearted farmers round about hastened in with wagon-loads of vegetables, and such things as they had, and dealt them out to all who came and called for them. The second day after, great loads of provisions and clothing came over from Leavenworth, and as soon as it was possible, other towns sent in their aid. The city of St.Louis contributed some ten thousand dollars to aid those who were trying to rebuild. The merchants found ready and abundant credit to any extent they desired in restocking their stores. From all over the land there were words of sympathy and encouragement, and with the words came abundant and substantial help. But for this aid it would not have been possible to rebuild the town, and a large portion of the people would have been compelled to leave. The number killed was never exactly known. About one hundred and forty-three were found and buried. A few of the wounded afterward died. Several were missing, and as they never returned, it was supposed that they had perished and had been consumed in the burning buildings where they fell. There may have been others killed and consumed who were strangers. The whole number could not vary much from one hundred and fifty. More likely it was over than under that number. The population of Lawrence was less than two thousand. A large number of the men were in the army. It is evident that the proportion of the men killed was greater than in the bloodiest battles of the war. It was estimated that there were left at least eighty widows, and two hundred and fifty orphans. The destruction of property was very great. All of the buildings, about seventy-five, and their contents, in the business section of the town, were entirely destroyed with but one exception. Nearly one-half of the residences were also burned - almost all those in the central portion of the town. Along the banks of the river, and around the outskirts, most of the houses were left. A good portion of those which remained were robbed of everything valuable and many of them partially burned. Besides this the women, as well as the men who survived, were nearly all robbed of their money, watches and jewelry. A very conservative estimate placed the entire loss at $1,500,000.
The first feeling after it was all over was one of despondency. A great many felt that there could be no security for life or property after this, and it was madness to attempt to rebuild. The prophets of evil were present, as usual, and predicted that Lawrence had received her deathblow and would never recover. But more courageous counsels prevailed, and when the first stunning effect of the blow was over, the common feeling was that Lawrence must be rebuilt at all hazards, and rebuilt at once. They insisted that every house must be replaced, and every business block restored. In an incredibly brief time this purpose began to materialize. The most marked instance of faith and pluck was that displayed by the firm of Ridenour & Baker. They had just received a stock of groceries, the largest they had ever brought on. The building and goods were all destroyed. Mr. Ridenour's house was burned, and Mr. Baker was so seriously shot that his life was despaired of for several days. Yet, before a week passed work was commenced toward a new building, and business had been resumed, in a small way, in a little shanty back of the store, which had escaped the fire. Many times as I passed the place I stood and looked at the workmen clearing away the ruins. The fire was not yet out, and as they came up the incline of the cellar their barrows would be blazing from the live coals they were wheeling. In the line of unconquerable pluck, it surpassed anything I ever saw. It is not a strange thing that this firm prospered largely, and is now one of the leading grocery firms in the whole west. Simpson Brothers were bankers. Their building and all in it were destroyed, and also their home. The safe, however, could not be opened, and its contents were unharmed. They at once put up a cheap temporary wooden building inside the foundation walls. In a very few days the building was ready for use, and they resumed business. Then they began at once ta erect a large brick building around their temporary shelter, and when the brick building was completed they took out the wooden frame. In a month work was going on all along the business street, and several residences had been commenced. Before winter came, Lawrence had assumed the appearance of a live town again. Many buildings were completed, and a number more were well under way. With rare exceptions the people stood by the town. A few broken families were compelled to leave, but the rest made it a matter of conscience to " stay by the stuff" till the town was restored. All the while they were working to rebuild the town, they were compelled to defend it. Every man took his turn in guarding, and those not on guard stood ready to rally at a moment's notice. As did the Jews under Nehemiah, so did these men. "Every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other held a weapon. And so builded." The men were organized into five military companies, and the city built five block-houses in different parts. Each company had its block-house, and a portion of each company slept in it every night. This was kept up till winter removed the danger, and it was resumed in the spring. The heaviest part of the strain, however,was relieved after a few weeks. About October, 1863, the military authorities sent two companies of regulars for the protection of Lawrence, and they remained until the close of the war. They threw up earthworks on the hill overlooking the town, and placed there several pieces of artillery. These troops were under command of Major E. G. Ross, afterward United States senator, and later governor of New Mexico. No child was ever more delighted to "see the soldiers" than were the people of Lawrence when these troops came in. Major Ross, who was a very genial gentleman, was soon the most popular man in the place.
The second Sabbath after the raid, August 30, we resumed our regular church services, and I tried to preach. As usual, the text was the best part of the sermon. It was a portion of God's comforting message to his afflicted people, sent through the prophet Isaiah: "For a small moment have I forsaken thee ; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment ; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee." It is found in the fifty-fourth chapter of Isaiah.
In writing this account of the raid I looked up the old manuscript of that first sermon. I had not looked it over since I preached it more than forty years ago. When I prepared it the fires were still burning in many of the buildings; the dead were not yet all buried; not a blow had yet been struck toward rebuilding the town. I wrote the sermon on a dry-goods box, for I had no table; I sat on a shoe bog, for I had no chair. I read my text from a borrowed Bible, for I had no Bible of my own. I was in a little half-story hired chamber, for I had no home of my own. The one little window of my room looked directly out upon the ashes of what had been my home a few days before. Most of my people were in the same condition as myself. As I looked over the sermon, after the lapse of forty years, it brought back to my mind not only the condition of things, but the state of mind in which we were. The conclusion of the sermon expressed the faith and purpose which were in the hearts of all. The final paragraph of the sermon shall conclude this sketch:
"Having stood for nine years as the outpost of freedom, shall Lawrence be deserted now ? Shall we leave these broken walls to the owls. and the bats, and leave the new-made graves of these martyrs to be torn up by the wild beasts of the field ? Shall history say that freedom here sought a home, and was driven out by the minions of slavery? No! my friends. Lawrence may seem dead, but she will rise again in a more glorious resurrection. Our ranks have been thinned by death, but let us 'close up,' and hold the ground. The light of liberty which shall shine from her rising walls will yet penetrate the mists of our neighboring state, and we shall 'see eye to eye.' The day is coming, when they who needlessly desert us now, will be ashamed to tell the date of their departure.
" The conflict may not be ended, but the victory must be ours. We may perish, but the principles for which we contend will live.
"For freedom's battle, once begun, Bequeathed by bleeding sire to son, Though baffled oft, is ever won."