The winter of 1863-4 was a very severe one. The people of Lawrence were as ill prepared to meet its severity as were the first settlers in 1855. The work of rebuiding had been pushed with all possible energy, but the people were very far from being prepared for a hard winter. The supply of clothing and bedding was very scant, and people accustomed to spacious and comfortable homes were compelled to live in very contracted quarters. They were glad to find shelter in single rooms, in garrets and basements, or unfinished houses - wherever they could find cover. It had been a trying year, such as very few people pass through. We then regarded ourselves fortunate to secure two small rooms, one of them a low, half-story chamber, with a little window in the gable. Even these we could not retain. About New Year the owner needed them and we had to move. The best we could do was to secure one room, in the north wing of a house, exposed to all the storms of that severe winter. The day we moved the thermometer stood at eight degrees below zero. Fortunately we had not much to move, and the job was soon done. A man with a wheelbarrow moved all our effects in about two hours. This single room had to serve us for parlor, kitchen, bedroom and study. It was exposed on three sides to the storm, and we could keep comfortable only by making a little enclosure round the stove with quilts. It was a long, dreary winter, and the circumstances did not promote any large degree of cheerfulness among the people. It might be called "the winter of our discontent." But all the people stayed by because they had pledged themselves to restore Lawrence to its old place.
But spring came at last, and things began to assume a more cheerful aspect. Building was resumed in all parts of the town, and Lawrence began to look somewhat like her former self. But with the return of spring came also a renewal of the perils and alarms of the former season. With the coming back of the leaves, the bushwhackers returned to Missouri, and resumed their work of terrorizing the country. Rumors of threatened raids were frequent, and it was no uncommon thing for the men to be called out at midnight by some alarming report. All these reports proved false, but so had those of former years, except one. We had learned that the thing could be done. We had found out that it was possible for a body of horsemen from Missouri to reach Lawrence without obstruction, and pounce upon the people without warning. Rumors therefore meant more than they formerly did, and w# were not disposed to treat lightly even the most unlikely reports. The slightest alarm would bring all the people to their feet. The firing of a gun at night, or the galloping of a horseman through the streets, would bring all the men from their houses to their places of defense. Any unusual noise at night would startle the town. For example, one night about one o'clock the whistle in one of the mills began to blow, and it continued blowing for an unaccountably long time. After it had blown beyond the usual time, I felt sure that something was wrong. Hastily dressing, I seized my Spencer rifle and ran toward the sound. I could hear men running down different streets from all directions. The whistle proved to be in the mill across the river, and when we came together near the bank, we learned the cause of the trouble. The machinery had become deranged, and the whistle could not be stopped. We parted with a good laugh, and were laughed at next day by the sleepyheads who had not been awakened. But we were just as ready to rally the next time at the slightest call. The company to which I belonged was a rifle company, and comprised a large portion of the business and professional men of the place. Instead of accepting the muskets furnished by the state, we had armed ourselves with the most improved repeating rifles, mostly Spencer rifles. Our block-house was the most exposed of the five, being on the track of Quantrill's former entrance. Any force coming from Missouri would naturally pass us.
It was in this state of mind, and in this condition of things that the rumors of Price's threatened coming began to reach us. They meant more to us than they would to people in ordinary circumstances. We had had an object lesson as to what a rebel invasion involved. There was no thought of abandoning the ground, but we all felt that the situation was very serious. If Price should sweep over Kansas, Lawrence, just being rebuilt by such desperate efforts, would be laid waste again. It was these reasons which gave Price's invasion such significance to us. We read the future in the light of the past.
The invasion of Missouri by Price was no sudden freak of the Confederate general. It was a long contemplated movement on his part: All summer long rumors were afloat pointing in this direction. Intercepted letters, reports from refugees from rebel lines, all told the same story. General Price was coming to Missouri, to recover the state and hold it for the Confederacy.
The latter part of September, Price began to move northward, but deflected toward the east. He captured Pilot Knob, and then moved up near St. Louis. After threatening St. Louis for a while, he turned westward and invested Jefferson City, the capital of the state. Without any serious attempt to capture the place, however, he raised the siege on the eighth day of October, and marched westward with his whole force. Whatever his intentions had been thus far, it was very plain what he was aiming at now. He was coming to Kansas to chastise her for the part she had taken in the struggle. Lawrence was in his direct line of march, and must be included in his plan. It was said that Price had fifteen thousand trained troops, and nineteen cannon. Besides these there were some five thousand guerillas. To oppose this strong force General Curtis had about three thousand men, and eighteen cannon at Kansas City. This was a small force to withstand an army of fifteen thousand disciplined troops. The only hope was that he could hold them in check until other forces from below could come up to their assistance.
The situation in Kansas, therefore, was very serious, and the alarm very general. For Price to march through the state meant desolation and destruction. The day Price left Jefferson City, the governor issued a proclamation calling out the militia of the state, and putting the state under martial law. The proclamation was sent everywhere by special messengers, and in four days sixteen thousand men had responded, and ten thousand militia were on the border, ready to meet Price. The proclamation made no exceptions. "Every man from sixteen to sixty " was the order, and it was very generally obeyed. It was not a matter of state pride, or of patriotism merely; every man had a personal interest in the issue. Price must be beaten or Kansas would be desolated. The ranks of the militia companies were full, and everybody rallied, and rallied promptly. There were merchants and ministers, lawyers and doctors, laboring men and men of leisure, all shouldering their muskets, and taking their places in the ranks. No one asked to be excused no matter what his emergency might be. The public emergency towered above all private considerations. One gentleman, a banker, had his wedding day set for the second day after the general rally. But not even the old Jewish exemption availed, and he marched away with his company, leaving his expectant bride to wait
"Till this cruel war was o'er."
Price, however, kindly delayed his coming, and on Wednesday this gentleman secured a furlough and came home, and was married at the appointed time. He then returned to the camp, and took his place with his comrades. There was no distinction of class or condition. Solon O. Thacher of Lawrence had been judge of the district court, and was at this time a candidate for governor of the state, to be voted on in a few days. But he went with his company to the front, and took his place in the ranks. So general was the response, that a gentleman traveling through the country a few days later and coming a distance of seventy-five miles, saw only two men in the whole distance, and they were too old for service. A few detachments were left at exposed points for home defense, but at other places the old men and boys organized for a home guard, and were kept on duty every day.
The news of the governor's proclamation was received at Lawrence Sunday noon, October 9. It met the people at the close of the morning service in the churches. All further services for that day were suspended, and little was thought of but the common danger, and the common defense. The military companies were ordered to assemble Monday morning on the plateau west of the town with their arms and ammunition, and whatever else might be necessary for the march and the camp. The men responded promptly, and were sworn into the service of the United States. They were then ordered to march, and all supposed they were going to Kansas City, and had bidden their families good-bye. But as they were marching down Massachusetts Street, our rifle company and one other company were cut off from the column, and marched to their block-houses. We then learned that these two companies were to remain for the defense of the town. The other three companies went on to Kansas City where they remained in camp till the end of the campaign. The Lawrence Brass Band, which dated back to the earliest settlement, went with the Kansas City contingent, and enlivened the camp with their music. The companies which stayed in Lawrence were under strict military discipline, remained under arms continually, and were supplied with government rations. We left our homes and camped in our block-houses, and did guard duty like any other soldiers. We were ordered to sleep on our arms every night, ready for emergencies and surprises. This continued for two weeks or more while we were waiting for Price to appear.
Meanwhile nothing could be learned of Price or his army. He left Jefferson City October 8, and since then he had given no sound or sign. His army lay somewhere in the great bend of the Missouri River, near Booneville, but just where he was, or what he was doing, no one seemed to know. For nearly two weeks his movements were involved in mystery, and all enquiry was ba#ed. Some few began to think the whole thing was a gigantic hoax practiced on them for some political purpose. But a more common feeling was that Price and his army were quietly slipping away, and that nothing would come of the Price invasion. It was a common remark that we should hear no more of Price. The militia at Kansas City became restless, and "wanted to go home and attend to their fall plowing." Most of them, however, took it all good-naturedly, and got what they could out of their experience. It was giving them a taste of real military life, and some little experience in military drill.
Lawrence was forty miles from what we called the seat of war, but felt just as intensely as if she were in the focus of it. All business was suspended, and all work was laid aside, and just one thing occupied every one's thought. The companies remaining in Lawrence were required to be in camp just as much as if they were at the front, only their block-houses served them for camps. They drew rations like regular soldiers, and became familiar with government bacon and split peas. Old Government Java was kept boiling in the camp kettle, and if it was not always clear, it was always strong and hot. Guard duty was exacted as regularly as of veterans, and every belated traveler coming into town was compelled to "Dismount advance three paces and give the countersign." In default of this he was presented to the "officer of the guard." They had frequent drills, and were put through all the ordinary military evolutions, - and were acquiring something of a soldierly step. Frequent target shooting developed their proficiency as marksmen. To most of them the handling of guns was no new experience. They were somewhat of an awkward squad, but when it came to shooting they were at home. "An October freeze" added to the variety of their life, if not to the comfort of it. One night two or three inches of snow fell, and these "pro tem " soldiers found themselves covered with an extra blanket of snow in the morning,not provided for in the regulations. The block-houses were built to keep out bullets, but were not proof against snowflakes. The "cold snap" continued two or three days, and part of the time was quite severe. But this only added spice to their monotonous life while they were "waiting for Price." October 20 Price was found. He was only two days from Kansas City, coming rapidly westward with his whole force. The next day he attacked the outposts of the Union army below Kansas City, and the third day, Saturday, engaged the whole line. He forced the Union troops back at every point, and in the afternoon was practically master of the field. The Union forces were driven in upon Kansas City, and it seemed as if they could do little more than defend that post. It seemed as if nothing could hinder Price's army from sweeping over Kansas. About five o'clock, however, there came a turn in affairs which meant as much to Kansas as the coming of Blucher meant to the English at Waterloo. That was the coming of General Pleasanton with five thousand fresh troops from below, and their attacking Price's army in the rear. This turned the rebel victory into a defeat, and changed the entire situation in an hour. Judge Solon O. Thacher, who was with the Kansas troops at Kansas City, once described this scene with great vividness."About five o'clock Saturday afternoon, October 22d, 1864, I was standing with some officers of the Union army on a high knoll near Kansas City, looking over the field. Our boys were everywhere fighting bravely, but along the whole line they were being slowly pressed back by Price's men. We would soon be in position to detach a body of his troops to overrun Kansas. We all knew what that meant. Home and all we held dear would soon be at the mercy of this conquering army. Looking eastward at this moment we saw a great cloud of dust rising a few miles below Kansas City. We could only see it was moving our way, and we were sure it was a body of troops. Who could it be? Was it reinforcements for Price to complete his victory, or was it Pleasanton's cavalry coming to our relief? We watched the cloud of dust anxiously as it moved rapidly up the river. After a little they came up to the rear of the rebel army. Then we saw them charge upon the rebel lines. We now knew it was Pleasanton, with his five thousand veteran cavalry, and the fortunes of battle were changed." He had been following Price ever since he left Jefferson City. His men soon broke through the rebel lines, and joined the Union forces in front. Before night the rebel advance was checked. The next morning the Union forces renewed the battle at the earliest dawn, and Price and his army were driven toward Arkansas.
At Lawrence of course we were in a state of suspense all this time. We had our two companies of home guards holding the block houses, and besides these there were two companies of regulars with two or three pieces of artillery, entrenched on the hill overlooking the road the enemy would come. This was enough to repel any guerilla attack, but would not count for much against such a force as Price would send.
There was no serious alarm until Saturday, when we learned that the rebels had turned the right of the Union army, and were pressing them back upon Kansas City. We knew there was nothing to prevent their coming to us. In a few hours the enemy might be upon us. There was no telegraph line, and we depended for information on messengers and stragglers. We knew nothing of Pleasanton's coming until the next day. People who had just rebuilt their homes had to face the probability of losing them again. In order not to be stripped of everything, as they were before, the people sent boxes of goods into the country to be out of reach. The farmers about who were in town kindly took charge of these goods, and carried them out where they would be safe. Many buried their valuables in their gardens. About three o'clock in the afternoon a train of empty government wagons passed through the town. The merchants obtained permission of the authorities to load these wagons with goods from their stores, that they might be tak#n out of the reach of danger. Nearly all the dry goods and clothing in town were loaded in these wagons, and were sent across the river toward the northwest, with the simple order,"Keep out of the way of Price's army." The men were mostly released from military duty during the afternoon, that they might secure what they could in their homes, and in their places of business. The women were busy all day packing goods, and hiding things where they might be found if the town should be burned, as it had been a year before. Mrs. Cordley, I remember, sent out two boxes of household goods and clothing into the country, besides hiding what she could in the yard. As night drew near all the men came together and took their places. It was ordered that the lights and fires be all put out, and that every man should lie on his arms. We had heard nothing of the change in the aspect of things at Kansas City through the coming of Pleasanton. The chances seemed that the rebels would be upon us before morning. All through the night stragglers kept coming up from the battle-field, and very naturally they all gave a gloomy account, as stragglers always do. At three o'clock in the morning we were all ordered out. A report had come that the rebels were within three hours' march of us. As no confirmation came, after an hour or two we were permitted to lie down again. It was a night to be remembered, a night of fears and gloomy reports. It was the more gloomy for the fact that no definite information whatever could be obtained. Rumors were thick, but they could neither be confirmed nor denied. The croakers found abundant employment in exaggerating every rumor, and expatiating on every fear. The utter uncertainty of the situation added to the gloom. If we were to be attacked, we could form no idea whether it was to be by five hundred men or five thousand. Everybody, however, kept his place, and there was a general determination to stand by and do the best we could.
In the morning the prospect brightened. We had learned nothing more, but it was daylight, and the gloomy predictions of the night had not been fulfilled. Price had not appeared, and we began to think he would not come. Soon after we learned of Pleasanton's arrival, and the change in affairs at Kansas City. The reports were very meager, but they were enough to relieve the tension of the last twenty-four hours. As the day went on, fuller reports came. We knew that Price was defeated and we were safe. The Sabbath that began in fears ended in peace and rejoicing. The next morning we learned that the victory was complete, and that our comrades were coming home from Kansas City. We went to the river-bank to meet them. Returning heroes never were welcomed with more genuine rejoicing than were these our comrades as they marched up the street. The old Lawrence band was at the head of the column, playing:
"When Johnny comes marching home"
They were dusty and bronzed, and had evidently had a rougher time than those that had been left behind. As they came up Massachusetts Street, all the people shouted, and the whole town was one scene of gladness. The returning companies soon broke ranks, and hastened to their homes. In a few days the order came, and the militia were mustered out, and resumed their voluntary service as before.