Monday, April 7, 2008

Quantrill's Raid and the Lawrence Massacre

William C. Quantrill’s 300 men are armed to the teeth, mostly with multiple, accurate, long-barreled revolvers, and can fire between 30 and 60 rounds each without reloading. They head west and north from near Warrensburg, Missouri toward Lawrence, Kansas on August 20th, 1863. Riding all night, they leave a trail of dead Kansans behind, kidnapping locals who guide them toward Lawrence. As their captives familiarity with the trail dwindles, they are murdered with a bullet to the brain and another settler is pressed into fatal service.

In Lawrence, their primary target is Senator Jim Lane, ardent free-stater and anti-Missouri US Senator; looting and murder is a given.

Despite riding through Kansas for nearly 12 hours, no alarm is given. Entering the town at dawn, on August 21st, Quantrill misses Lane, who escapes in his pajamas to a cornfield. His men than embark on a morning of mayhem and murder. Houses and stores are looted and burned, men are shot down in their yards and chased into their houses before being summarily executed. Bodies are dumped down wells and thrown onto the burning pyres of houses.

A bit after 9 a.m., the bushwhacker column leaves Lawrence with 1/4th of the town destroyed and at least 185 dead men scattered about. They withdraw in the same general direction from which they came. A scattered and generally ineffective pursuit, poorly organized by various US and militia forces, cannot intercept Quantrill but does force him to abandon some loot and they kill and capture a small number of stragglers.

In response to the massacre, General Thomas Ewing, commanding the Union District of the Border, issues the (in)famous General Orders No. 11. The Order, in effect, depopulates 3 ½ counties of western Missouri, in an attempt to destroy Confederate guerilla’s support base and prevent similar future raids.

The Lawrence massacre is unique in the annals of American history. Large-scale massacres are not unknown – in 1862 Dakota Sioux attacked and killed many settlers near St. Paul in Minnesota; a year later, Colorado militia will massacre Indians at Sand Creek in Colorado. These other massacres in American history are all inter-racial or on the edges of frontier and 'civilization'. Lawrence, however, was a model American town and the perpetrators are other white, protestant, Anglo-Saxon Americans.

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