“The Grim Chieftain” James H. Lane and the Kansas Brigade

After the destruction of Osceola, Mo., on Sept. 24, 1861, the Kansas Brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. James Henry Lane was ordered to Kansas City to assist in the defense of that metropolis.

Eventually, the “brigade” was to join a large combined Union force commanded by Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont to attack and destroy the Confederate forces that had recently won the “Battle of the Hemp Bales” at Lexington, Mo., and who now and occupied it. This never happened.

However, the following description of Gen. Lane, whose nickname was the “Grim Chieftain,” and the Kansas Brigade was published in the Oct. 2, 1861, edition of the Leavenworth Daily Times Newspaper while the brigade was in Kansas City.

“At an early hour Col. Anthony (Note: brother of Susan B. Anthony) took his men out to meet Brig. Gen. Lane’s large force that was met about one mile out of town and as fresh and jubilant as if it had just entered the field.

They have been marching almost every day since Gen. Lane took command. They have traveled some 300 miles, often met the foe and have never been defeated. Gen. Lane has nearly recovered from his recent illness. Disease cannot wither nor ague beat his restless activity. Lane still wears a straw hat, plain coat and a grey woolen shirt and is the most marked and unmilitary man in the brigade!

The camp is on the upland west of McGee’s Addition. The tents cover several acres of ground and present a scene picturesque. Cols. Montgomery, Ritchie and Weer are here and eager for a march on Lexington.

Their account of the recent engagements in Missouri differs somewhat from the published statements and will be sent to you hereafter.

At Osceola, not less than a million dollars worth of property was taken or destroyed. The impression is general that secession is dried up in Southwest Missouri.

A force has been left at Westpoint, (Mo.), Barnesville and Fort Lincoln, (Kan.) to attend to possible emergencies. The junction of (Gens.) Lane and Sturgis disposes of many fears hitherto entertained. We hope it has not been too late.

The great object attraction here is Lane’s Brigade and the eccentric commandant of that institution is the “rage” all about here. Hundreds — and a chronicler of ordinarily brilliant imagination and less regard for strict numerical accuracy than myself would say thousands — of curious people are constantly thronging his quarters to get a glimpse of the great leader or to shove a letter from some influential individual under his nose.

However, the ubiquitous gentleman rather beat them yesterday; and he accomplished the skillful maneuver in this way:

When he arrived here on Monday, he was habilitated (dressed) in an old straw hat, cowhide boots, blue blouse which had been thrown away by a private in Montgomery’s regiment, some sort of apology for pantaloons and a butternut brown woolen shirt with beard, hair and face to correspond, and thus decorated, everyone, by instinct, could detect the hero of Black Jack and Hickory Point.

Yesterday morning, at 9 o’clock, I visited his tent and found an immense crowd wandering about the neighborhood, each inquiring of the other if he had seen or knew the whereabouts of “Ginerl Lane.”

Upon approaching his tent, I found therein a solitary gentleman seated upon an old split bottommed chair, one leg thrown across the other, intently engaged in caressing, with thumb and finger of his right hand, a beard, if not remarkably luxurious, yet splendidly variegated in color.

Upon a careful reconnaissance, I discovered this figure to be the very specimen of mortality which the adjacent crowd were so anxious to see. He had donned the new rig made especially for him in Boston — blue coat and pants, buff vest, black chapeau and feather as long as a war-leader in the “times” and such boots as would make Gen. Losee, or any other fast horseman, stick his eyes out far enough for Sam Stinson’s Thanksgiving turkey (which he is going to buy and not eat alone) to roost upon.

In this make-up, he sat as quiet and undisturbed as if he were in a wilderness, seemingly enjoying the discomfiture of the multitude about him, when a man with long whiskers, who looked as if he traveled once with a show, approached and asked if Gen. Lane were in?

“No” was the laconic reply of the hero, with the least bit of a twinkle in the northeast corner of his left eye — (I sat northeast of him) — and the victim evaporated. “Such” is war.

I see a great many Leavenworth gentlemen here, each on his own errand. For example, Col. Delahay is offering Gen. Lane a contract to lay out quarters and fractions of the city of Lexington.

R. Crozier, Esq., is trying to persuade Lane that if he will resign his seat in the senate (Lane was one of the two original U.S. senators from Kansas) and revive the old Territorial Legislature, he –Crozier — can, by a skillfully worded provision in a special act, repeal the war and revive the trade and prosperity of the country. Lane, being a little incredulous, naturally, is not quite convinced and, hence, does not resign.

Capts. Insly and Wilder are head and ears in the business of getting things ready for the contemplated march (to Lexington). Besides these gentlemen, there may be seen sitting around on stumps and old boxes and hanging on pegs and limbs of trees all that crew of familiars (people) you may see lounging about the lobby and committee rooms of the legislature aforesaid, asking for an appropriation to build a territorial road or urging the passage of an act incorporating a ferry across three mile creek where the road to the region — commonly called Pike’s Peak — crosses the same.”

The attack on Lexington, Mo., never materialized because the Confederate forces evacuated the city and marched to southwest Missouri.

In October of 1861, Gen. Lane and the Kansas Brigade eventually marched south through Missouri to Springfield and, of course, the war went on!

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