The Caning of Charles Sumner

This entry is part 14 of 18 in the series The Roots of the Civil War

The caning of Charles SumnerOn May 22, 1856, at the height of a heated debate over the impact of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, an event took place in the Senate Chamber that is nearly unique in American history. Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was assaulted at his Senate desk by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina.

Tempers had become so inflamed over the slavery issue that Brooks felt compelled to attack Sumner for a speech that he had made on the floor of the Senate two days beforehand. The story of those events illustrate the widening divide between the North and the South.

To understand the events surrounding the near-fatal beating of Senator Sumner, one must understand the events of the time and the two protagonists.

The debate over the Kansas-Nebraska had begun when the original bill was introduced in the Senate on January 4, 1854. Over the course of the next two bills the contents of the bill had been modified by its sponsor Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. By May the bill passed both chambers in its final form and was signed by President Franklin Pierce.

The main issue with the bill was its “popular sovereignty” clause. In the case of this act, it said that the residents of territories should be able to decide by voting whether or not slavery would be allowed in the territory.

It ignited a rush of pro-and anti-slavery settlers into Kansas in an attempt to vote their position. The period following the movement of forces Charles Sumner“Bleeding Kansas”.

On May on May 19 and May 20, 1856, Sumner attacked the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The long speech argued for the immediate admission of Kansas as a free state, and went on to denounce the “Slave Power“, the political arm of the slave owners. Their goal, he alleged, was to spread slavery through the free states that had made it illegal.

In his speech, Sumner, a Free Soil Democrat, attacked authors of the Act, Senators Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina.

The senator from South Carolina has read many books of chivalry, and believes himself a chivalrous knight with sentiments of honor and courage. Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight — I mean the harlot, slavery. For her his tongue is always profuse in words. Let her be impeached in character, or any proposition made to shut her out from the extension of her wantonness, and no extravagance of manner or hardihood of assertion is then too great for this senator.

The main outside event leading up to the assault on Senator Sumner took place on May 21, 1856. A group of pro-slavery Border Ruffians Preston Brooksentered the Free-State stronghold of Lawrence, where they burned the Free State Hotel, destroyed two newspaper offices and their printing presses, and ransacked homes and stores.

On May 22nd, Representative Brooks entered the Senate chamber accompanied by fellow South Carolina Representative Laurence M. Keitt. Brooks was armed with a thick gutta-percha cane with a gold head. His companion carried a pistol. Sumner was working at his desk in the almost empty Senate chamber.

Dueling was still legal in the nation’s capital but Keitt had advised Brooks that dueling was for gentlemen of equal social standing Both of the men considered  that Sumner was no better than a drunkard, due to the supposedly coarse language he had used during his speech. Brooks had decided to beat him with a cane.

Approaching his desk, Brooks identified himself as Senator Andrew Butler’s nephew. “Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.”

As Sumner began to stand up, Brooks began to beat him mercilessly with the cane, using the head to beat him about the head. Sumner attempted to hide under his desk but eventually he ripped the bolted desk from the floor.

Keitt quickly drew a pistol from his belt, jumped into the aisle and leveled it at the horror-struck Congressmen who were approaching to try to assist Sumner, loudly announcing “Let them be!”. He resigned in protest over his censure, but was overwhelmingly re-elected to his seat by his South Carolina constituency within a month.

Sumner staggered into the aisle, blinded by his own blood. He soon lapsed into unconsciousness but Brooks continued his assault. Brooks Lawrence Keittcontinued to beat the motionless Sumner until his cane broke, at which point he left the chamber.

The episode revealed the polarization in America, as Sumner became a martyr in the North and Brooks a hero in the South. Northerners were outraged. The Cincinnati Gazette said, “The South cannot tolerate free speech anywhere, and would stifle it in Washington with the bludgeon and the Bowie-knife, as they are now trying to stifle it in Kansas by massacre, rapine, and murder.”

In addition to the head trauma, Sumner suffered from nightmares, severe headaches, and what is now understood to be post-traumatic stress disorder or “psychic wounds”. He spent months convalescing while his political enemies ridiculed him and accused him of cowardice for not resuming his duties.

The Massachusetts General Court reelected him in November 1856, believing that his vacant chair in the Senate chamber served as a powerful symbol of free speech and resistance to slavery. He eventually returned to the Senate in 1859. He continued to serve in the Senate until his death in 1874.

There was an attempt to oust Preston Brooks from the House of Representatives but it failed. He was fined $300 for the assault and resigned his seat on July 15, 1856. He was re-elected by his constituents but died the following January before the new Congressional term began.

Lawrence Keitt resigned in protest over his censure by the House, but was overwhelmingly re-elected to his seat by his South Carolina constituency within a month. He was involved in a later incident in the House when he started a massive brawl in House on February 5, 1858.

Keitt insulted Pennsylvania Representative Galusha Grow calling him a “black Republican puppy”. Grow responded by telling Keitt that “No negro-driver shall crack his whip over me.” Keitt became enraged and went for Grow’s throat, shouting that he would “choke him for that”.

A massive brawl involving some 50 Representatives ensued. It ended when a missed punch from Rep. Cadwallader Washburn of Wisconsin upended the hairpiece of Rep. William Barksdale of Mississippi. The embarrassed Barksdale accidentally replaced the wig backwards, causing both sides to erupt in spontaneous laughter.

Keitt served as a delegate from South Carolina to the Provisional Confederate Congress, 1861–62, and a colonel in the Confederate States Army during the Civil War, commanding the 20th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment and later Kershaw’s Brigade. Mortally wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864, Keitt died the next day near Richmond, Virginia.


The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

This entry is part 12 of 18 in the series The Roots of the Civil War

Bleeding Kansas-The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854The original intent of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was to open up the vast new territories of the West for farming. By creating a governmental infrastructure the Congress hoped that it would make a transcontinental railroad feasible. These two goals were laudable but in the writing of the bill the idea of popular sovereignty was written in the act.

What was popular sovereignty? It was the concept that allowed the voters of the moment to decide if Kansas and Nebraska would enter the Union as free states or slave states. It was to set up the conditions for a border war between supporters of slavery and Free Soilers.

Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois who wrote the bill hoped that the formula of “popular sovereignty” would ease national tensions over the issue of human bondage and that he would not have to take a side on the issue. Instead, it ignited a spark that eventually led to civil war.

Douglas was the Democratic party leader in the United States Senate, the chairman of the Committee on Territories, an avid promoter of railroads, an aspirant to the presidency, and, above all, a fervent believer in popular sovereignty.

Douglas was an early supporter of a transcontinental railroad, especially one that had its terminus in Chicago, Illinois. A bill to organize the Nebraska Territory passed the House and went to the Senate. It was taken up by the Senate’s Committee on Territories which was chaired by Douglas.

Missouri Sen. David Atchison announced that he would support the Nebraska proposal only if slaveholders were not banned from the new territory.  The Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery north of the Missouri state line. Other Southern senators were not as flexible as Atchison. By a vote of 23 to 17, the senate voted to kill the motion by tabling it with every senator from states south of Missouri voting for the tabling.

During the senate adjournment a group of senators, including Atchison,  formed the nucleus that would insist on slaveholder equality in Nebraska. Aware of their opinions and power, Douglas knew that he needed to address their concerns in order to move forward with the bill.

By the time that the bill was reported out of committee it had changed dramatically. In the new bill the territory of Nebraska was extended north all the way to the 49th parallel, and any decisions on slavery were to be made “when admitted as a state or states, the said territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission.”

But the bill still presented problems for the Southern senators. Without the explicit repeal of the Missouri Compromise, slaveholders would be reluctant to move to the new territory until slavery was actually approved by the settlers, settlers who would most likely hold free-soil views.

Kentucky Whig Archibald Dixon introduced an amendment that did just that, much to Douglas’ surprise. A similar amendment was offered in Map of the United States in 1854-The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854the House to match the Senate’s version.

On January 23 a revised bill was introduced in the Senate that repealed the Missouri Compromise and divided the territory into two territories, Kansas and Nebraska. The division was the result of concerns expressed by settlers already in Nebraska as well as the senators from Iowa who were concerned with the location of the territory’s seat of government if such a large territory was created.

The reformulated bill stirred up a hornet’s nest of debate in both Houses of Congress. The Democrats held large majorities in each house, and Stephen Douglas, “a ferocious fighter, the fiercest, most ruthless, and most unscrupulous that Congress had perhaps ever known” led a tightly disciplined party. The Free Soilers were at a distinct disadvantage.

The debate would continue for four months. Douglas remained the main advocate for the bill while Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, William Seward of New York and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts led the opposition. In the end the bill passed. The final vote in favor of passage was 37 to 14. Free state senators voted 14 to 12 in favor while slave state senators overwhelmingly supported the bill 23 to 2.

The debate then moved to the House. The opponents of the bill used a delaying tactic. The legislation was referred by a vote of 110 to 95 to the Committee of the Whole, where it was the last item on the calendar. Realizing from the vote to stall that the act faced an uphill struggle, the Pierce administration made it clear to all Democrats that passage of the bill was essential to the party and would dictate how federal patronage would be handled.

The debate raged through April and into May. In the end, it passed by a 113 to 100. Northern Democrats split in favor of the bill by a narrow 44 to 42 vote, while all 45 northern Whigs opposed it. In the South, Democrats voted in favor by 57 to 2 and Whigs by 12 to 7. President Pierce signed the bill into law on May 30.

The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act would set of a border war between the pro-slavery supporters, dubbed border ruffians by opponents, and the anti-slavery “Jayhawkers“. Both groups sent settlers into Kansas in order to vote for their particular beliefs. Violence was inevitable.


The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1820

This entry is part 6 of 9 in the series Slavery in America

As the country expanded westward, it became necessary to organize the new area into territories and eventually into states. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was the major Congressional action of the 1850s that attempted to do this all-important task.

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 had established a slave state-free state method of admitting states into the Union, thereby maintaining balance in the nation. In 1854, Democratic SenatorStephen A. Douglas of Illinois proposed a different method for the admission of the territories of Kansas and Nebraska into the Union. It was to have serious unintended consequences for Kansas and the country. The country was also to be introduced to one of the sparks that lit the flame of the Civil War, John Brown.

Map of the United States in 1854-Kansas-Nebraska ActAcross the Great American plains there were tens of millions of acres of excellent farmland that required territorial infrastructure in order to be settled. Railroad interests were clamoring for settlement so that the resulting farmers and businessmen could become their customers. Four previous attempts to pass legislation had been stymied by Southern interests because the territory was north of the arbitrary line that prohibited slavery as stipulated in the Missouri Compromise of 1820.

Douglas came up with a new idea that allowed the settlers in the new territories to determine for themselves whether to allow slavery or not. His plan called for the use of popular sovereignty. The Illinois Senator used the Compromise of 1850 as a benchmark for his new bill. In it the Utah and New Mexico Territories had been organized without any restrictions on slavery.

Douglas’ supporters pointed out that the 1850 bills had already repealed the portion of the Missouri Compromise that established the line of slavery. Opponents of the bill said that Utah and New Mexico did not come under the Missouri Compromise because that law only pertained to territories in the former Louisiana Purchase.

In his new bill the territory of Nebraska was extended north all the way to the 49th parallel, and any decisions on slavery were to be made “when admitted as a state or states, the said territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission.”

Pro-slavery Whig politicians, anxious to retain some influence in the South, put forward amendments to repeal the part of the Missouri Compromise that set the line above which slavery was not allowed.After meeting with President Franklin Pierce and receiving his grudging Senator Stephen A. Douglas-Kansas-Nebraska Actsupport, Douglas introduced a revised bill in the senate that repealed the Missouri Compromise and divided the territory into two territories, Kansas and Nebraska.

A filibuster led by Lewis D. Campbell, an Ohio free-soiler, nearly provoked the House into a war of more than words. Campbell, joined by other antislavery northerners, exchanged insults and invectives with southerners, neither side giving quarter. Weapons were brandished on the floor of the House. Finally, bumptiousness gave way to violence. Henry A. Edmundson, a Virginia Democrat, well oiled and well armed, had to be restrained from making a violent attack on Campbell. Only after the sergeant at arms arrested him, debate was cut off, and the House adjourned did the melee subside.

The debate in the senate concluded on March 4, 1854, when Stephen Douglas, beginning near midnight on March 3, made a five-and-a-half-hour speech. The final vote in favor of passage was 37 to 14. Free state senators voted 14 to 12 in favor while slave state senators overwhelmingly supported the bill 23 to 2.

The bill passed the House by a final vote in favor of the bill of 113 to 100. Northern Democrats split in favor of the bill by a narrow 44 to 42 vote, while all 45 northern Whigs opposed it. In the South, Democrats voted in favor by 57 to 2 and Whigs by a closer 12 to 7. President Pierce signed the bill into law on May 30.

No sooner was the bill signed than pro-slavery settlers and free soilers began to pour into Kansas. Pro-slavery settlers came to Kansas mainly from neighboring Missouri. Their influence in territorial elections was often bolstered by resident Missourians who crossed into Kansas solely for the purpose of voting in such ballots. They formed groups such as the Blue Lodges and were dubbed border ruffians, a term coined by opponent and abolitionist Horace Greeley.

Abolitionist settlers, known as “Jayhawkers” moved from the East with express purpose of making Kansas a free state. A clash between the opposing sides was inevitable.

Successive territorial governors, usually sympathetic to slavery, attempted unsuccessfully to maintain the peace. The territorial capital of Bleeding Kansas-Kansas-Nebraska ActLecompton, Kansas, the target of much agitation, became such a hostile environment for Free-Staters that they set up their own unofficial legislature at Topeka.

Click for larger image.

John Brown and his sons entered this powder keg of Bleeding Kansas in mid 1855. It soon became clear to Brown that pro-slavery forces would do anything to assure that the future of Kansas was pro-slavery.

Brown and his sons gained notoriety in the fight against slavery by murdering five pro-slavery farmers in the Pottawatomie Massacre with a broadsword. Brown also helped defend a few dozen Free-State supporters from several hundred angry pro-slavery supporters at the town of Osawatomie.

The violence in Kansas took on all of the aspects of a low-grade war. On May 21, 1856, a group of Border Ruffians entered the Free-State stronghold of Lawrence, where they burned the Free State Hotel, destroyed two newspaper offices and their printing presses, and ransacked homes and stores.

Eventually, enough free soil settlers settled in Kansas to swing the new state into the free state column. Eventually, a new anti-slavery state constitution was drawn up. On January 29, 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state. Nebraska was admitted to the Union as a (free) state after the Civil War in 1867. With this, the violence was reduced but never eliminated. During the Civil War it was reignited, particularly along the Kansas-Missouri, in guerrilla violence.





James Henry Lane and the Kansas Brigade

This entry is part 8 of 12 in the series The Partisan Rangers

James Henry LaneIf the Confederacy had a William Quantrill then the Union had a James Henry Lane. He was simultaneously a Union general and a United States Senator from Kansas during the American Civil War.

Jim Lane, as he was known, was born on June 22, 1814 in Lawrenceburg, Kansas. Starting in 1840, Lane practiced law in his hometown. Jim Lane served in the Indiana legislature, and as a Democrat he also served as lieutenant-governor of Indiana and as a member of Congress, during which time he caste a vote for the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

He moved to Kansas in 1855 and became one of the leading anti-slavery leaders in the territory. He became one of the leaders of the Jayhawkers, a militant Free Soil group. The Free Soilers succeeded in getting Kansas admitted to the Union in 1861 and Lane was elected as one of the new state’s U.S. Senators.

During the Bleeding Kansas period, Lane was one of the leaders of the anti-slavery movement that battled the pro-slavery Border Ruffians from Missouri who crossed the border into Kansas in an attempt to force the acceptance of slavery there. Ultimately, the Missourians failed and Kansas entered the Union as a free state.

According to a 20th century biographer, Lane was known as the ‘Grim Chieftain’ was the quintessential opportunist. Another wrote:

He had no equal as a ‘stump orator’ in Kansas. His thrilling appeals in behalf of freedom, his withering sarcasm, his bitter denunciation of the slavery propaganda, his bold defiance of the slave power, his magnetic influence in organizing forces, were among the greatest influences in driving back the tide of slavery. . . . His name became a terror to pro-slavery men throughout the pioneer settlements of Kansas, as well as among the slavery propaganda of Missouri.

His detractors, then and now, paint him more the “unbalanced,” pugnacious Jayhawker, whose “men committed depredations fully as atrocious as those of the ‘border ruffians,’” than the free-state crusader who helped wrest Kansas from the infamous slave power.

But Lane was a dynamic speaker whose charismatic leadership abilities won him a substantial group of loyal supporters, and he remained a political force to reckon with. He was instrumental in strengthening the position of the antislavery cause by encouraging more free-state supporters to settle in Kansas and assisting with the defense of Lawrence against “Border Ruffians” and proslavery sympathizers from Missouri.

Lane served as president of the Topeka and Leavenworth constitutional conventions and was elected one of the state’s first U.S. senators in 1861. He raised the “Frontier Guard,” recruited and commanded “Lane’s Brigade” (actually, the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Kansas Volunteers), and was responsible for forming the First Kansas Colored Volunteers, the first regiment of African American troops to see action on the side of the Union during the Civil War.

Lane led a 600-man battalion of the Kansas Brigade against  Confederate General Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guard at the Battle of Dry Wood Creek but was defeated. When Price’s force moved on to Lexington, Missouri, Lane’s force attacked Confederate pockets behind them.

His raids culminated in the Sacking of Osceola, in which Lane’s forces killed at least nine men, then pillaged, looted, and then burned the town. Lane was severely criticized for his actions in Osceola, especially by General Henry Halleck, then Commander of the Department of Missouri. Of their actions, Halleck would state: “The course pursued by those under Lane and Jennison has turned against us many thousands who were formerly Union men. A few more such raids will make this State unanimous against us.” Thus, Lane’s Brigade was ended.

Lane was commissioned a brigadier general of volunteers on December 18, 1861 but it was cancelled on March 21, 1862 because he had been elected as Kansas’ U.S. Senator. However on April 11, 1862, he was reinstated as brigadier general of volunteers with the confirmation of the U.S. Senate. During 1862–1863, he served as recruiting commissioner for the State of Kansas.

On October 27–29, 1862, U.S. Senator Jim Lane recruited the 1st Regiment Kansas Volunteer Infantry (Colored) who debuted at the Skirmish at Island Mound. They are the first African-American troops to fight in the war, a year before the 54th Massachusetts. In their first action, 30 of their members defeated 130 mounted Confederate guerrillas.

Lane was the target of the event that became the Lawrence Massacre (or Quantrill’s Raid) on August 21, 1863. Confederate guerillas could be heard shouting, “Remember Osceola!” Though Lane was in residence in Lawrence at the time, he was able to escape the attack by racing through a cornfield in his nightshirt.

In 1864 when Sterling Price invaded Missouri, Lane served as a volunteer aide-de-camp to Samuel R. Curtis, commander of the Army of the Border. Lane was with the victorious Union forces at the battle of Westport.

Jim Lane’s consequential life came to an end on July 1, 1866 when he shot himself in the head as he jumped from his carriage in Leavenworth, Kansas. He was allegedly deranged, depressed, had been charged with abandoning his fellow Radical Republicans and had been accused of financial irregularities. He died ten days later near Leavenworth, Kansas, a result of the self-inflicted gunshot.


Quantrill’s Raiders

This entry is part 6 of 12 in the series The Partisan Rangers

William Clarke QuantrillThe Missouri partisan unit known as Quantrill’s Raiders had its beginnings in the Missouri-Kansas border wars of the 1850’s known as Bleeding Kansas. Missouri pro-slavery ‘bushwackers’ battled Kansas Free Soil “Jayhawkers in battles that attempted to decide whether Kansas would enter the Union as a slave state or free.

The Missouri-Kansas border area was fertile ground for the outbreak of guerrilla warfare when the Civil War erupted in 1861. Historian Albert Castel wrote:

For over six years, ever since Kansas was opened up as a territory by Stephen A. Douglas‘ Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854, its prairies had been the stage for an almost incessant series of political conventions, raids, massacres, pitched battles, and atrocities, all part of a fierce conflict between the Free State and proslavery forces that had come to Kansas to settle and to battle.

William Clarke Quantrill was born in Canal Dover, Ohio in 1837. He was highly educated and became a school teacher at the age of 16. After his father’s death in 1854, he left home and moved to Mendota, Illinois where he worked in a lumberyard. After he shot a man to death, which he claimed was self-defense, the authorities urged him to move on. He moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana but only stayed there for a short time, returning to his Ohio home.

In February of 1857 Quantrill and two friends journeyed to Kansas but his prospects soon soured. The two friends had agreed to trade Quantrill land for work but he didn’t fulfill his part of their bargain. After he lost a law suit to them he worked for the U.S. Army as a teamster on an expedition to Utah.

Returning he fell in with a gang of ruffians in Missouri who were employed to protect Missouri farmers from Kansas Jayhawkers. Quantrill traveled back to Utah and then to Colorado but returned in less than a year to Lawrence, Kansas, in 1859. It was at this time that his political views started to take shape, and his attitude towards the slavery issue began to form.

Before 1860 Quantrill appears to have held anti-slavery views but it was at this time that his political views started to take shape, and his attitude towards the slavery issue began to form.

He took up with brigands and turned to cattle rustling and anything else that could earn him a dollar. He also learned the profitability of capturing runaway slaves and devised treacherous plans to use free black men as bait for runaway slaves, whom he captured and returned to their masters in exchange for reward money.

His new lifestyle may have been the reason for his change of political views. In February 1860, Quantrill wrote a letter to his mother expressing his views on the anti-slavery supporters. He told her that the pro-slavery movement was right and that he detested Kansas anti-slavery leader Jim Lane. He said that the hanging of John Brown had been too good for him and that, “the devil has got unlimited sway over this territory, and will hold it until we have a better set of man and society generally.”

At the outbreak of the war Quantrill journeyed to Texas with a slaveholder named Marcus Gill. There he met Joel B. Mayes was a Confederate sympathizer and a war chief of the Cherokee Nations in Texas. Mayes was half Scots-Irish, half Cherokee Indian and had moved from Georgia to the old Indian Territory in 1838.

It was Mayes who taught Quantrill guerrilla warfare tactics. He would learn the ambush fighting tactics used by the Native Americans as well as sneak attacks and camouflage. Quantrill, in the company of Mayes and the Cherokee Nations, joined with General Sterling Price and fought at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and Lexington in August and September 1861.

Quantrill deserted from the Confederate Army and began to form his own “Army” in December 1862 starting with ten men who were to follow him loyally. Later in 1862, the Younger brothers as well as William T. “Bloody Bill” Anderson and the James brothers would join Quantrill’s army.

Quantrill was not the only Confederate guerrilla operating in Missouri, but he rapidly gained the greatest notoriety. He and his men ambushed Union patrols and supply convoys, seized the mail, and occasionally struck towns on either side of the Kansas-Missouri border. Reflecting the internecine nature of the guerrilla conflict in Missouri, Quantrill’s soldiers fought Jayhawkers, Kansas Border ruffians, local German (pro-Union) militias, federal occupation forces and pro-Union civilians, attempting to drive them from the territory where he operated.

Under his direction, Confederate guerrillas perfected military tactics such as disguises, coordinated and synchronized attacks, planned dispersal after an attack using pre-planned routes and relays of horses, and technical methods, including the use of multiple .36 caliber Colt revolvers, for increased firepower and their improved accuracy over the .44 caliber.

On 15 August 1862, Quantrill and his men were officially mustered into the Confederate army under the Confederate Partisan Ranger Act. Quantrill was designated as a captain and other officers were elected by the men. Quantrill often referred to himself as a Colonel. Despite the legal responsibility assumed by the Confederate government, Quantrill often acted on his own with little concern for his government’s policy or orders.

Quantrill’s Raiders were most notorious for their famous raid on Lawrence, Kansas on August 21, 1863. The town had been the center of the anti-slavery movement in Kansas for some years and Quantrill was determined to strike a blow against this base of pro-Union operations.

Quantrill organized a unified partisan raid. Coordinating across vast distances, small bands of partisans rode across 50 miles of open prairie to rendezvous on Mount Oread in the early morning hours before the raid. 

Over four hours, the raiders pillaged and set fire to the town and killed most of its male population. Quantrill’s men burned to the ground a The Burning of Lawrencequarter of the buildings in Lawrence, including all but two businesses. They looted most of the banks and stores and killed between 185 and 200 men and boys. According to an 1897 account, among the dead were 18 of 23 unmustered army recruits. By 9 a.m., the raiders were on their way out of town, evading the few units that came in pursuit, and splitting up so as to avoid Union pursuit of a unified column.

Union response to the massacre was swift and severe. On August 25, in retaliation for the raid, General Ewing authorized General Order No. 11. The edict ordered the depopulation of three-and-a-half Missouri counties along the Kansas border (with the exception of a few designated towns), forcing tens of thousands of civilians to abandon their homes.

Union troops marched through behind them, burning buildings, torching planted fields and shooting down livestock to deprive the guerrillas of food, fodder, and support. The area was so thoroughly devastated that it became known thereafter as the “Burnt District”. Quantrill and his men rode south to Texas, where they passed the winter with the Confederate forces.

While in Texas, Quantrill and his 400 men quarreled. His once-large band broke up into several smaller guerrilla companies. One was led by his lieutenant, “Bloody Bill” Anderson, whose men came to be known for tying the scalps of slain unionists to the saddles and bridles of their horses. Quantrill joined them briefly in the fall of 1863 during fighting north of the Missouri River.

In the spring of 1865, now leading only a few dozen men, Quantrill staged a series of raids in western Kentucky.  On May 10, Quantrill rode into a Union ambush at Wakefield Farm and received a gunshot wound to the chest. He was brought by wagon to Louisville, Kentucky and taken to the military prison hospital. He died from his wounds on June 6, 1865, at the age of 27.



The Rest of the Story: Bleeding Kansas, Dred Scott and John Brown

This entry is part 17 of 18 in the series The Roots of the Civil War

Bleeding KansasThe Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 would precipitate actions that led to the Civil War. Simultaneously, the Supreme Court would finally decide finally decide Dred Scott v Sandford. Finally, John Brown would journey east from the battleground of Kansas and lead a small band of militant abolitionists to a date with destiny at Harpers Ferry in Virginia.

We have covered all of these events previously and rather than do so again, we’ll link to each of them.

First, let’s take a look at Missouri and Kansas before the Civil War. The border state of Missouri was an important state for both the North and the South before, during and after the Civil War. The territory and later the state of Kansas is intertwined with Missouri before and during the war. READ MORE

Bleeding Kansas gave abolitionist John Brown the opportunity to move from non-violent abolitionism to a more militant type of abolitionism. By 1855 several of John Brown’s sons were living with their families in the Kansas Territory. He received letters from them in which they detailed the situation in the territory. Kansas had become a battleground of pro-and ant-slavery forces. The aim of the pro-slavery forces was to bring the Kansas Territory into the Union as a slave state. READ MORE

In the middle of all of this turmoil the United States Supreme Court handed down its momentous decision in the case of Dred Scott v Sandford on March 6, 1857. The Dred Scott Decision, also known as Dred Scott v Sanford, was one of the most impactful decisions in the history of the United States. It ignited passions across the North and was fiercely debated on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. Stopping the expansion of Dred Scottslavery became one of the planks of Republican Party’s 1860 campaign. READ MORE

Events continued to spiral out of control. John Brown’s Raid on the United States Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry took place on October 16-18, 1859. It was to have a far-ranging impact on American history out of all proportion to its size. It was in reality the spark that lit the flame of the American Civil War. READ MORE

After Brown’s execution the nation moved into the fateful year of 1860. 1860 was the year that Americans North and South decided on the direction of this country. As the year went on it became apparent to Americans that the problems that besieged the country could not be resolved short of the division of the country or all-out war. READ MORE

1860 was the year of decision for the United States. Events that took place during this pivotal year were to shape American history for the next four years and all of the years until now. The year of 1860 was to see increasing tensions between the North and South. It was to see the most unusual election in American history with four candidates vying for the position of Chief Executive. Finally, it was to see the beginning of secession and the fragmentation of the Union. READ MORE

John Brown's HangingAfter the election of Abraham Lincoln the country was plunged into a deep crisis. On December 20, 1860 the South Carolina Convention voted 169-0 to secede from the Union. The causes that the South Carolina convention were a list of grievances that they cited went back to events that took place in 1765. READ MORE

One hundred and fifty two years after the start of the American Civil War many Americans are uneducated about the facts surrounding the war. In most people’s minds the war between the North and South was just that a war between two monolithic opponents. Today, many Americans are unaware of the anti-war sentiments that were circulating throughout both regions of the United States. They also do not understand that the Union government was hoping for conciliation before blood was spilled. READ MORE

Was the American Civil War inevitable? Could the sides have compromised about the differences and avoided the massive bloodletting that ensued after the attack on Fort Sumter? This will be the subject of our next post.


The Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Lincoln and DouglasIn the modern era Presidential debates are highly structured affairs in which both parties vie for every advantage. The history of Presidential debates is rather short with the first known debate to be between Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy during the 1960 Presidential campaign.

Debates were rather more common during 19th century American political contests. Without mass media to advertise their message, candidates often went on the road to debate in front of large crowds of appreciative voters who flocked to listen to their arguments.

Perhaps, the pinnacle of political debates in the United States took place during the 1858 campaign for the Senate seat from Illinois between the Republican challenger Abraham Lincoln and the incumbent Democrat Senator Stephen A. Douglas. The debates were a series of seven contests that took place between August 21st and October 15th.

A word of explanation is required for readers to understand the complete circumstances surrounding the contest for the Senate seat. Prior to the 17th Amendment, adopted on May 31, 1913, United States Senators were elected by their state legislatures. Lincoln and Douglas were running not against each other, strictly speaking, but to elect their party to control of the Illinois legislature.

Abraham Lincoln represented the new Republican Party had been founded in the Northern states in 1854 by anti-slavery activists, modernizers, ex-Whigs and ex-Free Soilers. The Republican Party quickly became the principal opposition to the dominant Southern Democratic Party and the briefly popular Know Nothing Party. Early Republican ideology was reflected in the 1856 slogan “free labor, free land, free men”, used during their first foray into national politics with John C. Fremont as their Presidential candidate.

Lincoln was a 49-year old lawyer from Springfield, Illinois at the time of the debates. He worked on both civil and criminal cases with his most famous civil client being the Illinois Central Railroad. Twice a year for 16 years, 10 weeks at a time, he appeared in county seats in the midstate region when the county courts were in session. Thus, he was widely known across the state.

Douglas was a 45-year old lawyer who had served in a number of appointed and elected positions starting in 1834. At age 27, he was appointed as an associate justice of the Illinois Supreme Court in 1841. The following year he was elected as a U.S. Representative and was reelected in 1844. In 1846, he was elected as the U.S. Senator from Illinois.

Douglas was soon looked upon as one of the Democrat Party’s national leaders and was considered for the Presidency in 1852. During the Kansas-Debate mapNebraska Act debates of 1854, Douglas was the chief proponent of “popular sovereignty“, the doctrine that the people of a community were rightfully entitled to decide such issues for themselves.

The act would allow the citizens to vote for a free state or a slave state. The act was passed but it later led to violent conflict, most notably in “Bleeding Kansas”, where each side sought to gain the advantage by filling the territory with their supporters. If John Brown was the spark that lit the flame of Civil War, “Bleeding Kansas” was the tinder for the Brown.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates The debates previewed the issues that Lincoln would face in the aftermath of his victory in the 1860 presidential election. The main issue discussed in all seven debates was slavery.

Why seven debates. At the time Illinois had nine Congressional districts  The two candidates agreed to hold one debate in each of the Congressional districts. Since both had recently spoken in Springfield and Chicago separately, these two locations were excluded. The debates were held in seven towns in the state: Ottawa on August 21, Freeport on August 27, Jonesboro on September 15,Charleston on September 18, Galesburg on October 7, Quincy on October 13, and Alton on October 15.

The format for each debate was: one candidate spoke for 60 minutes, then the other candidate spoke for 90 minutes, and then the first candidate was allowed a 30-minute “rejoinder.” The candidates alternated speaking first. As the incumbent, Douglas spoke first in four of the debates.

The two contenders were physically as different as two men could be. Douglas was known as the “Little Giant” for his short stature, large head, & broad shoulders. Lincoln, on the other hand was 6’4″ and gangly.

The debates centered on the question of the day, slavery and its expansion into new territories of the United States. Lincoln was unalterably opposed to the further expansion of the institution while Douglas was in favor of popular sovereignty. Lincoln claimed that popular sovereignty would continue the expansion of slavery.

Lincoln-Douglas DebatesEach man marshalled their arguments using various laws and compromises that had been passed by Congress. Lincoln said that the national policy was to limit the spread of slavery, and mentioned the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which banned slavery from a large part of the modern-day Midwest, as an example of this policy.

The Compromise of 1850 allowed the territories of Utah and New Mexico to decide for or against slavery, but it also allowed the admission of California as a free state, reduced the size of the slave state of Texas by adjusting the boundary, and ended the slave trade (but not slavery itself) in the District of Columbia.

In return, the South got a stronger fugitive slave law than the version mentioned in the Constitution. Whereas Douglas said that the Compromise of 1850 replaced the Missouri Compromise ban on slavery in the Louisiana Purchase territory north and west of the state of Missouri, Lincoln said that this was false, and that Popular Sovereignty and the Dred Scott decision were a departure from the policies of the past that would nationalize slavery.

On election day, the Democrats won a narrow majority of seats in the Illinois General Assembly, despite getting slightly less than half the votes. The legislature then re-elected Douglas. However, the widespread media coverage of the debates greatly raised Lincoln’s national profile, making him a viable candidate for nomination as the Republican candidate in the upcoming 1860 presidential election. He would go on to secure both the nomination and the presidency, besting Douglas (as the Northern Democratic candidate), among others, in the process.


John Brown and Bleeding Kansas

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Prologue to War

John Brown and

Bleeding Kansas

By 1855 several of John Brown’s sons were living with their families in the Kansas Territory. He received letters from them in which they detailed the situation in the territory. Kansas had become a battleground of pro-and ant-slavery forces. The aim of the pro-slavery forces was to bring the Kansas Territory into the Union as a slave state.

John_Brown_daguerreotype_c1856Brown determined to journey to Kansas and begin the militant phase of his abolitionist career. Along the way he stopped in Albany, New York at an anti-slavery convention in June 1855. Brown found financial supporters at the convention despite his call for violent means to abolish slavery. He found additional financial support in his former home in Ohio, the Western Reserve.

In late 1855-early 1856 it became apparent to Brown that the pro-slavery forces in the Kansas Territory were willing to use any means legal or illegal to achieve their aim of Kansas becoming a slave state. The pro-slavery forces were known as “Border Ruffians” who had crossed the border from Missouri.

Most “Border Ruffians” were too poor to own slaves. Their main motivations were their hatred of “Yankees” and abolitionists. They were violently opposed to having free blacks living in a free-state of Kansas.

They were driven by the fiery rhetoric of men like David Rice Atchison, a Missouri state senator, who called free-staters “negro thieves” and “anti-slavery tyrants”. He called for the pro-slavery forces to defend the institution “with the bayonet and with blood” and, if necessary, “to kill every God-damned abolitionist in the district.”

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was the main motivator for each side. The act left the question of Kansas Territory’s status as a slave state or a free state up to the voters of the territory. The pro-slavery “Border Ruffians” poured across the borders of the territory posing as settlers and swayed the outcomes of several key elections.

The pro-slavery party was instrumental in electing a pro-slavery territorial representative to Congress on November 29, 1854. On March 30, 1855,Kansas Territory a pro-slavery territorial legislature was elected with their assistance. They were also involved in the vote for the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution that allowed slavery in the territory. The constitutional convention that wrote the constitution was elected by somewhat dubious means and met in September 1857. The Free State supporters boycotted the convention.

By 1855 Kansas Territory had begun the “Bleeding Kansas” period of its history. The initial violence took place in the Wakarusa Valley near Lawrence, Kansas. On November 21, 1855 a Free State settler named Charles Dow was shot and killed by a pro-slavery supporter. This murder led to a series of reprisals known as the Wakarusa War.

Samuel J. JonesFinally, on December 1, 1855, a small army of Missourians led by Douglas County, Kansas Sheriff Samuel J. Jones laid siege to Lawrence. The invaders number about 1,500 and were armed with a wide range of weaponry, some of which they had stolen from the United States Arsenal in Liberty, Missouri.

Opposing them was a force led by John Brown and James Lane. They had barricaded the entry streets into Lawrence. The pro-slavery force never attacked and a treaty of peace was negotiated. One Free State settler was killed.

Lawrence, Kansas had been founded in 1854 and it was a center of anti-slavery settlement in Kansas. Many of the settlers were helped by the New England Immigrant Aid Company. This organization had a goal of helping 20,000 settlers per year to move to Kansas. Although they never achieved this level of emigrants they did create a reaction from the pro-slavery forces in Missouri and Kansas.

On April 23, 1856 Sheriff Samuel Jones was shot while attempting to arrest some anti-slavery settlers in Lawrence. The settlers then drove him out of Lawrence. Federal Marshal J.B. Donaldson declared that the settlers had interfered with the serving of warrants against the extra-legal Free State legislature.

A grand jury also reached a finding that the Free State Hotel was actually built as a fort. Sheriff Jones organized a force of some 750 pro-slavery southerners. His intention was to enter Lawrence, disarm its citizens, and destroy the hotel and the anti-slavery printing presses.

On May 21st the small army which by now at grown to 800 surrounded the town and blocked all of the routes out of Lawrence. They were accompanied by an artillery gun which was stationed on high ground just outside of town. Two printing offices were attacked and the presses wereRuins of the Free State Hotel in Lawrence destroyed.

They attempted to destroy the Free State Hotel with cannon fire but this didn’t work satisfactorily. After some 50 shots the building remained standing. An attempt to blow it up with kegs of gunpowder was also unsuccessful. Finally, the hotel was set on fire and that did the job. The raiders also burned the home of Charles Robinson, the first Governor of Kansas. Sporadic fighting and looting continued through the night. The raiders departed the following day having suffered one fatality from falling masonry.

Meanwhile, the anti-slavery forces who were known as Jayhawkers, Redlegs and Redleggers responded with their own forms of violence against their pro-slavery opponents. On May 24-25, 1856 John Brown and a force of Jayhawkers in response to the Sacking of Lawrence descended on the home of James P. Doyle near Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin County, Kansas.

Doyle was a pro-slavery settler who had once been a slave catcher. Two of his adult sons also slave catchers lived with the family. All three were removed from the house and hacked to death with broadswords by Owen Brown and one of his brothers. John Brown Sr. shot the mortally wounded James Doyle in the head to complete the killings.

Henry PateThey then proceeded to the home of Allen Wilkinson where he was ordered out of his home and slashed to death. Crossing the creek they did the same to William Sherman who was visiting the home of James Harris. Collectively, this became known as the Pottawatomie Massacre.

A force of Missourians led by Captain Henry Pate (also known as “Dutch” Henry) captured John Brown Jr. and his brother Jason and burned the Brown family homestead. On June 2nd Brown and about 29 others successfully defended the Free State settlement of Palmyra against Pate and his followers (known as the Battle of Black Jack). Pate and 22 of his men were taken prisoner and were forced to sign a treaty exchanging his group for Brown’s sons. Brown released Pate into the custody of U.S. Army Col. Edwin Sumner but his sons were not released until September.

In August a force of some 300 Missourians led by Maj. Gen. John W. Reid crossed into Kansas with the goal of attacking the Jayhawker settlements in the area of Osawatomie. They then planned on a march to Topeka and Lawrence to spread further destruction. On the morning of August 30, 1856 they shot and killed Brown’s son Frederick and a neighbor.

Brown with a small group of 38 followers attempted to hold the raiders off by using the area’s natural defenses. During the battle they killed 20 and wounded 40 but the raiders scattered them. Brown’s force suffered one killed and four captured. While they hid in the woods the Missouri raiders plundered and burned the settlement. Despite his defeat Brown’s defense of Osawatomie became famous throughout the country and he became known as “Osawatomie” Brown.

In September the new territorial governor John Geary negotiated a truce between the warring factions. John Brown and left Kansas with three of his sons to raise money, collect weapons and plan for further anti-slavery activities. He was never to return to Kansas.