A History of Lawrence, by Rev. Richard Cordley.



     The old saying is, "If it is not one thing it is another." The drought had passed away and plenty had returned; the territorial struggle had ended in victory and Kansas was a free state. Now new troubles confronted the long disturbed community. The war of the rebellion broke out and the whole nation was in arms. One by one the southern states had seceded after the election of Mr. Lincoln as president, and the confederate states had set up a government of their own. So far no collision had occurred. But on April 12, 1861, the confederate troops opened fire on Fort Sumpter, in Charleston harbor, occupied by a small garrison of United States troops. It was a small affair in itself -- an unimportant fort in a southern harbor, occupied by a small garrison of United States troops, fired upon by confederate batteries and compelled to surrender. But it meant that the seceding states had cast off the federal authority, and intended to maintain their separation at any cost. The federal goverment must either abandon all claim over the seceding states or resent the attack. The whole country was ablaze in an instant. It was the overt act for which events had been waiting, and for which both sides had been holding their breath. Everybody had known it was coming in some form or other and were wondering when and where it would be. They knew the explosion could not be long delayed. The southern states had seceded, organized a government and equipped an army, and were everywhere contesting the authority of the United States. Such a condition of things could not continue long. When a collision came, it would not cease till the question was settled, "By what authority doest thou these things?" The clash of arms occurred in Charleston harbor, but the shock was felt to the remotest limits of the union. A bugle call in a military camp could hardly have brought an army to its feet more promptly than the firings on Sumpter brought the nation to its feet. Three days after, April 15th, President Lincoln issued his call for seventy-five thousand volunteers, and in three days more than seventy-five thousand volunteers were on the march. Of this great uprising at the north, James G. Bline says, in his "Twenty Years in the United States Senate," "The proclamation was responded to in the loyal states with an unparalleled burst of enthusiasm. On the day of its issue hundreds of public meetings were held from the eastern borders of Maine to the extreme western frontier. Work was suspended on farm and in factory, and the whole people was roused to patriotic ardor, and to a determination to subdue the rebellion." Soon after the call for seventy-five thousand troops, another call was issued for

"Three hundred thousand more."

The whole country, which for forty years had not heard the sound of war, was transformed as by magic into one great martial camp.

R. W. Ludington

P. D. Ridenour

Fred W. Read

Col. S. W. Eldridge


     The position of Kansas was peculiar and critical. She was a small community, isolated from her sympathizing sister states, so isolated indeed that in 1856 she had been almost entirely cut off from communication with her friends. And if this could be done in a time of peace, what might not be done in a time of war? The rich and powerful state of Missouri lay on her eastern border. Missouri was a doubtful state. She had a large slave population and the most violent pro-slavery sentiment anywhere to be found. Her governor was Claiborne F. Jackson who led the body of Missourians who invaded Lawrence at the election March 30, 1855, and 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 state convention was called to consider whether Missouri should remain in the union or go with the confederacy. Sterling Price was president of the convention, and he and Governor Jackson used all their influence in favor of secession. The convention, however, decided to remain in the union. In spite of the convention, 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 feeling was especially strong along the western border, or more properly in the western half of the state. It was from this section that the expeditions had been fitted up to invade Kansas during the border conflict. As war became iminent it was a general feeling that Missouri would be hostile ground, as far as Kansas was concerned at least. Kansas would be exposed to all the dangers of a hostile frontier. She would be subjected to all the horrors of a border warfare, unrestrained even by the pretense of law and order.

     But there was no flinching. The people of Kansas regarded the war as the inevitable sequence of the events which had preceded it. It was only a continuation and extension of the struggle which had been going on in Kansas for six years. It was simply bringing to a focus conditions which had long existed and which could have but one issue.

     Lawrence was in peculiar peril because peculiarly exposed. She was only forty miles from the Missouri border, and was the center of "border ruffian" hate. And the border ruffians lived "just across the border." Three times they had marched upon her with threats of destruction. Twice they had been thwarted by the superior diplomacy of the free-state leaders. And when they entered Lawrence and ransacked the town, May 21, 1856, the affair reacted to their discomfiture and shame worse than defeat. In that turbulent time there were many wrongs done on both sides, and many deep personal animosities created. The rancor of the early struggle had not lost any of its violence by being thwarted in its purpose. All knew that it only wanted an opportunity to accomplish what it had attempted so often, and had been so often repulsed. The people felt from the first that they were exposed not only to the fortunes of legitimate warfare, but to the irregular and barbarous inroads of the old foe.

     The people of Lawrence had also a peculiar interest in the conflict from another point of view. Some one has said that "When a man fights a bear it is not simply a question which shall whip, but whether the man shall become bear or the bear shall become man; for whichever whips will eat the other." Kansas was much in the same position. She would almost necessarily go with the victors. If the confederacy won she would claim Missouri, and Kansas could hardly stand alone.

     The Kansas people, therefore, threw themselves into the conflict with a unanimity that was hardly possible anywhere else. The population of Kansas in 1860 was only 107,206. Out of this population 22,000 men enlisted in the Union army. This would be about equivalent to her entire voting population. Twenty-two regiments entered the service. Lawrence was not behind her sister towns in enthusiasm and enlistments. It is not easy to learn the number of men who went into the army from Lawrence. There were not many of the twenty-two regiments which did not contain Lawrence men. The largest number probably enlisted in the first regiment. In this regiment a number of her most noted men were found. They had been prominent in the early struggle, and were prompt to offer themselves for service in the larger conflict which had grown out of it. The colonel of the first regiment was George W. Deitzler, whose council and courage had so often availed before. In the very beginning of the border ruffian troubles, when it was necessary to secure arms from the East, he was sent on the secret and delicate mission. He was a member of the committee of safety, and in many relations proved himself a brave and reliable man. He was arrested for high treason, and, with other free-state men, lay for several months in the prison camp near Lecompton. When President Lincoln called for troops he offered himself at once and was placed in command of the first regiment of Kansas volunteers. He led his regiment with great valor at the battle of Wilsonís creek a few weeks after their enlistment, and was severely wounded in the fight. He was afterwards promoted to the rank of brigadier general, and served with credit until the close of the war. 0. E. Learnard was Lieutenant Colonel of the first regiment and served with distinction in Tennessee and Mississippi. He was much of the time in command of the regiment.

     Samuel Walker was also in this first regiment. In fact he raised the first company, and was appointed captain of it. Most of the men of this company were from Lawrence. He had been the most trusted of all the early military leaders in 1855 and 1856. He first organized his neighbors for defense, and soon became a general leader. He led at Fort Saunders and Fort Titus, and many other of the early conflicts. When the war broke out he very naturally entered the larger army for wider service. In the battle of Wilsonís creek he was in the thick of the fight, but though his hat and clothes were riddled with bullets, he came through without a scratch. He was promoted afterwards to major, then colonel, and continued in the service till the war closed. Frank B. Swift, who had been captain of the Stubbs, became also a captain in this first regiment. Caleb S. Pratt, the clerk of the city, of Lawrence, became a lieutenant, and was killed in the battle of Wilsonís creek. Lawrence, perhaps, was more closely concerned in this regiment than any other on account of the number of Lawrence men in the ranks.

     When the first regiment was called for almost enough men offered themselves for two regiments. As the first regiment was mustered in, a second regiment was filled up and organized and lay at Lawrence two weeks before they knew that they would be accepted. They were finally mustered in June 20th, 1861, and they marched at once to the front, and in a month or so were engaged in the desperate battle of Wilsonís creek. This regiment also contained a large number of Lawrence men. Edward D. Thompson, Shaler W. Eldridge were field officers, while Joseph Cracklin, Thomas J. Sternbergh, Warren Kimball were officers in companies.

     To attempt to name all the Lawrence men who entered the United States service from first to last would be almost the same as giving a directory of the city. Even those who served as officers would make a long list. Among the names that would come at once to mind are John. G. Haskell and his brother Dudley C. Haskell, Wm. A. Rankin and John K. Rankin, Charles W. Adams, Owen A. Bassett, James Christian, George F. Earl, A. D. Searle, Arthur Gunther, L. S. Shaw, Oliver Barber, Hugh Cameron, H. L. Moore, W. C. Barnes, John Pratt, Charles F. Garrett, and many others, who served as officers of different degrees. James H. Lane was commissioned as brigadier general early in the war, and led a brigade in Missouri at such intervals as he could be absent from his seat in the senate. At least four of the Lawrence pastors served as chaplains: Rev. Ephraim Nute, of the Unitarian Church, in the first regiment; Rev. R. C. Brant, of the Baptist Church, in the second; Rev. Charles Reynolds, of the Episcopal Church, in the second cavalry, and Rev. H. D. Fisher, of the Methodist Church, in the fifth regiment.

     Of all the battles of the war Lawrence was perhaps more interested in that at Wilsonís creek August 10, 1861. The second regiment had been mustered in only about a month when they were thrown into this terrific contest, which, considering the number engaged, was one of the most stubbornly contested battles of the whole war. It was also a pivotal event in the progress of the war in the West, and Lawrence, and Kansas, watched the result with very deep concern. It had long been known that a large force of rebels were marching northward to recover the ground they had lost in Missouri. The deposed governor of the state, Claibore F. Jackson, had been driven out of his capital by General Lyon, and was coming with a large army from Arkansas, hoping to recover his office. The fate of Missouri and Kansas might turn on the issue of that battle. There were no regular lines of communication, and it was several days before full particulars could be obtained in Lawrence, and they were days of anxiety, both for the fate of the men engaged, and the tremendous issues at stake. A letter written August 13th by a citizen of Lawrence to a friend in Massachusetts, shows something of the state of mind the people were in:

     "We have reports today of a battle near Springfield, Missouri, in which General Lyon is killed, but his army victorious. The rebel account, however, says his army is defeated. It is impossible to get reliable information. We await the result with great anxiety: for if the federal troops are driven from Missouri we shall very likely all be compelled to leave the country. Whether we can stay here or not may turn on the issue of this battle. If the confederacy gets control of Missouri it may carry Kansas with her. In that case the people that are here now will not be able to remain."

     The final reports showed that the battle had been so desperately contested that the rebel advance was checked, and Lyonís forces fell back to their base of supplies at Rolla.

     Lawrence felt the throb of the war in many ways. Bodies of troops were almost constantly passing through on their way to battle fields further down. They often stopped on their march and camped for several days. At one time two regiments, fresh from home, lay encamped for several weeks just above the town, waiting to be ordered to the front. They were a noble lot of men, and the citizens became very warmly attached to them, and followed them with deep interest when they went. Sometimes the flow was the other way. Once word was sent that a large number of sick and wounded soldiers from the battle fields of Arkansas and southwest Missouri were coming to us. All the vacant rooms that could be secured were put to use for hospital service, and ladies volunteered to assist in nursing the poor fellows. Everything possible was done to make them comfortable, and to restore them to health and their country. Quite frequently union refugees from the south came to Lawrence and remained till it was safe to return to their homes.

     The most unique movement caused by the war was the influx into Lawrence of negroes escaping from slavery. They began to come as soon as the war opened. At first it was only now and then one more energetic and enterprising than the rest. But they kept coming thicker and faster until they were coming by scores. The movement was doubtless accelerated by the measures taken by slaveholders to prevent it. Among other things they began selling their slaves down south where they would have no hope of escape. There was no horror in the negro mind more dreaded than being "sold down south" into the gulf states. It was hopeless bondage there. The news soon spread that the slaves were being sold down south. One man came to Lawrence whose wife had been sold down into Alabama. He was to be sold also and to be sent in another direction. He took a direction of his own without consulting his master.

     This same thing was occurring all along the border of the free states. Wherever union soldiers were stationed, slaves would escape from their masters and run into camp. They had the most implicit faith in "Massa Lincoln," and most thoroughly believed that the war was for their liberation. They knew, as everybody did, that it had grown out of slavery. But their coming into the union lines raised a difficult question, and some of the tender-footed generals were at a loss what to do. Slavery had not been abolished, and the fugitive slave law had not been repealed. The owners of these slaves came into camp, claimed to be union men, and demanded the return of their slaves. What must be done? The war had not changed the law. Yet these negroes were enthusiastic for the union and loved the flag. It seemed cruel and absurd to send such men back to the enemy to be beaten and put in chains, perhaps, because they loved their country and wanted to be free. General Ben Butler finally cut the knot. A large number of slaves came into his camp at Fortress Monroe. He put them to work on the intrenchments. The owners soon came with injured tone and look, and asked for the "return of their property" which had escaped into the union lines. Old Ben Butler refused to return them. When asked for the grounds of his refusal he replied that they were "contrabands of war." Whether his answer was sound in a legal point of view has never, been determined. But in the words of Shakespeare, "It was enough; it would serve." There were no more attempts to reclaim slaves that had fled to the union lines. For a long time these refugees went by the name of "contrabands."

     The slaves escaping from the Missouri border made their way to Lawrence as if by instinct. They had heard of Lawrence in her early struggles. They knew how their masters hated her; consequently they loved her. They all felt that they would be safe if they could only get to Lawrence. Lawrence became to them what the polar star had been to the fugitives of former years. Their "star of hope" had moved off several hundred miles. Whenever one had determined to escape, and was fairly out of the toils of his master, he headed, for Lawrence and plodded on by day and by night till he reached the goal.

George Leis

Thaddeus Prentice

Geo. W. Hutchinson

John H. Shimmons


     The people of Lawrence did not need the "contraband" subterfuge to keep these poor fellows from being sent back to their masters. They had met the question before and were fairly well settled in their minds. The "entertaining of strangers" was not altogether a new grace among them. But their "faith" was very severely tried by the numbers that came. They began to feel that virtue was not always its own reward. They almost regretted the reputation their history had given them. Most of those who came were entirely destitute and had no idea or plan beyond getting to Lawrence. Now and then one had "spoiled the Egyptians" and brought some little with him. But the great majority were kept from doing this either by conscience or a vigilant guard. They brought nothing with them but the clothes they had on, and these would have filled the Gibeonites with envy. They were old and torn, tied up with strings and pinned with thorns. The fear was very natural that these unfortunate men would be a serious burden to the people who had about all they could carry already. But in this they were happily disappointed. These people were strong and healthy and ready to work at anything that was offered. They were so glad to be free that they would accept any shelter they could find, and were satisfied with the simplest food. By a little systematic planning work was found for them as fast as they came, and this unique community of freedmen was selfsustaining almost from the start.

     These people showed a great eagerness to learn. Very few of them could either read or write. They had not been allowed to learn in their condition as slaves. Teaching a slave was a crime punished with severe penalties. As soon as they were free, therefore, they were very eager to learn. To accommodate them a night school was established in Lawrence to which anybody could come who wished. It was taught by volunteer teachers who offered their services freely, some of the most cultivated ladies of the place giving five evenings every week to this work. For greater efficiency it was conducted in the form of a Sabbath school, each teacher having but four or five scholars to care for. A writer in the Lawrence State Journal describes a visit to the school in December, 1861. He says there were eighty-three scholars present and twenty-seven teachers. They were of all ages; a class of restless little girls on one bench, and a class of grown men on another. They all began with the alphabet. In five nights some of them were spelling words of two sylables. Some who began when the school opened, were able to read fluently and were ready to commence in figures. After the lesson they sang. One of their songs seemed very appropriate and they sang as if they meant it:

"Where, oh, where is the Captain Moses,
Who led Israel out of Egypt?
Safe now in the promised land."

     Most of the early fugitives were among the most energetic and enterprising of the slaves. Most of them remained in Lawrence, and they and their families are among the most prosperous and well to do of our colored population. If the spirit of common sympathy and helpfullness which was so marked at first, could have been kept up it would have been vastly better for both races and for all concerned.

     Lawrence was more prosperous during the first three years of the war than she had been the three yearís preceding. The war gave employment to many people. Those in the army sent their money back to their families, and farm produce found a ready market at good prices. The country about Lawrence was very rich and many excellent farms were being developed. There was no special growth in the town, and very little building was done, but there were some improvements and a general air of thrift. Business was fairly good, and the frequent passing of troops and travelers made things lively and fresh. People became accustomed to the condition of war and adjusted themselves to it. The frequent alarms which at first disturbed people had come to be regarded as a part of the situation. The progress of the war was watched with closest interest on account of the great issues involved, and also from the fact that Kansas troops were everywhere, and hardly a battle could be fought that did not bring sorrow to some Kansas home. Not only were Kansas troops engaged in the campaigns of the southwest, in Missouri and Arkansas, but also with the army of the Cumberland and the campaigns along the gulf; with Grant at Vicksburg, and with Sherman as he was "marching through Georgia." A battle could hardly occur in which Kansas was not concerned and Lawrence with the rest. While her men were more numerous in the first and second regiments, they were found in nearly all the regiments, and her people, scanned the death roll after nearly every battle looking for names that were familiar and dear. No matter where it might be in the great field of the war, the lines reached into Lawrence, and the names of the dead was a matter of personal solicitude.

rich brown textured divider line

Go to previous chapter     Go to next chapter     Return to KanColl