One of the most vehement attacks on Order No. 11 was delivered by General Frank P. Blair in St. Louis. Blair was astonished that a commander could lay waste a large section of Missouri by means of devastation, rapine and murder simply because Ewing lacked the courage to follow Quantrill. “It is the subterfuge of an imbecile,” remarked Blair. Blair continued by pointing out that 20,000 citizens were being punished because Ewing lacked the power or ability to seek out the 400 or 500 outlaws and murderers. Ewing had instead found it necessary to punish helpless people and destroy one of the finest sections of Missouri.19
It is significant that the first Governor of Kansas, Charles Robinson, concurred that Order No. 11 cast much cruelty upon the people of Missouri. Robinson, a Kansan, was a strong defender of the conduct of Kansas troops but vigorously attacked the role played by the “Red-legs” in Missouri. Robinson’s criticism of fellow Kansans should not be taken lightly.20
One of Quantrill’s officers, William Gregg, said that Order No. 11, “issued by the monster of monsters, General Ewing,” caused the people of Jackson County to suffer great hardships, by being forced to leave their homes with no money or food.”21 It is reasonable to assume that when 20,000 people are forced to leave their homes with so little, considerable suffering will occur. The cruelty of the Jayhawkers did not go unnoticed by the Missouri government. Governor Hamilton Gamble, as reported in the Missouri Democrat of 30 September, authorized the arming of men in some of the western counties to protect them- selves from raiding parties. The real leader of opposition against Ewing was Missouri State Treasurer George Caleb Bingham. Governor Gamble or Jered Bingham to Kansas City to see what could be done following the Lawrence massacre. Bingham went to Ewing’s headquarters in Kansas City and demanded that Order No. 11 be rescinded. Upon Ewing’s refusal to retract the Order, Bingham is reported to have said, “If you persist in executing that order, I will make you infamous with pen and brush as far as I am able.”22
George Bingham made good his promise. His large painting entitled “Order Number Eleven” which shows Ewing astride his horse supervising his troops as they brutally expel Missourians from their homes presents an interpretation of Ewing’s actions which is today generally accepted. The painting depicts a “Kansas Jayhawker” who has just shot a young man and is about to shoot an older man disregarding the pleas of a young girl begging for the life of the elderly gentlemen. Colonel Jennison is pictured with a number of blankets on his horse; he plans apparently to re- turn to Kansas with this booty. In the background is a funeral-like procession of people leaving their homes; columns of smoke from their burning homes and fields rise around them. This painting, as Albert Castel has pointed out, “did more than anything else to create the popular conception of Order No. 11.”23
Richard C. Vaughan, in a letter to Edward Bates, Attorney General of the United States, 28 August 1863, wrote that hundreds of loyal Union men in Jackson and Cass counties were being insulted, robbed, and even murdered. The implementation policy, he said, has caused many good men to leave their homes and seek protection in the brush. Many, he added, joined the guerrillas to insure their own safety.
Even staunch supporters of Order No. 11 saw the severity of its enforcement. Lawrence newspaper editor John Speer wrote, “Neither Sherman in his march to the sea, nor Butler at New Orleans, exceeded it in severity, but it was a just severity, conscientiously administrated by a just man. It was the extreme of humanity com- pared with the fiendish slaughters concocted and carried out by the community which it punished.24
The reaction of the South to Order No. 11 was as could be expected. Order No. 11 was not only denounced but it led to demands that guerrilla activities be increased as reported in the Daily Dispatch of Richmond, Virginia on 1 September, 1863:
The savage and inhuman measures adopted by the Yankees to put down guerrilla warfare proves that this mode of defending a country other- wise unprotected is more annoying and more dreaded by them than any other. . . . Let the guerrilla system . . . be thoroughly carried out, and if the barbarous retaliate . . . let the guerrillas, without waiting for orders exact an eye for an eye and a life for a life.
The Lexington Union on 5 September, 1863, centered its attack both on the cruelty of the order and on the possibility that the number of counties to be depopulated would be increased. It was feared that Order No. 11 might be expanded to the next tier of counties and then the next. The Union, as did many Missourians, feared an in- crease in the control the military had over local and state governments.
Ewing cannot be excused for not knowing what was going on. The enforcement was taking place only a few miles from his headquarters in Kansas City. Ewing had ridden through the district with General Schofield on his way to speak at Independence, Missouri. Many of the dislocated people of the district were flocking to Kansas City to depart for new homes. The press, alone, with its criticism of the enforcement procedure should have made Ewing aware of what was taking place. Ewing, himself, had ordered his men to track and find the bush- whackers and to take no prisoners. Another example of the extreme measures Ewing took is evidenced by his request to General Schofield made 18 September, 1863. The steamer Marcella had been stopped by guerrillas, and three Union soldiers had been shot. Ewing reported, “I have guerrillas here, convicted and unconvicted. Shall I retaliate?” Schofield’s answer was that, in his opinion, it would be just, but unwise, as it was too easy for the guerrillas to find victims for revenge.
The Official Records indicated that Ewing did little to stop the plundering until General Orders, No. 16, issued 2 October, 1863. Four days later, Ewing wrote Colonel William Weer: “There is a good deal of feeling against me already amongst Missourians. Don’t let the troops take stock except from guerrillas.” He also told Weer to leave General E. B. Brown’s people alone and reminded Weer that the second tier of counties was now in his district.25
Perhaps Ewing should not take the blame alone. The dilemma in which he found himself placed was not of his making. The cruelty of any war and especially of a civil war is great. The duration of violence was longer on the Kansas-Missouri border than in any other section during the Civil War. The “total war” of the border had begun early and ended late, as many guerrillas continued their professions as bank and train robbers. The “no holds barred” attitude of the combatants, the lack of civil authority, the political struggles among leaders, both military and civil, all added to Ewing’s woes.

To judge the effectiveness of Order No. 11 a look at guerrilla activity after the order was issued is necessary. We find that it did curtail guerrilla activity in Ewing’s district, but it did not stop it. The guerrillas simply moved into central Missouri in 1864 following their return from wintering in the South. The order may have stopped any future raids into Kansas, but the borders were also better guarded and the people of Kansas better prepared after the raid on Lawrence in 1863, and this might have been the discouraging factor. The order did cause the guerrillas to move south a little earlier than usual. As to its effectiveness then we can only conclude that Order No. 11 cur- tailed guerrilla activity in western Missouri by moving it to central Missouri.
To justify Order No. l1 as necessary is a different matter. First, the people involved were citizens of the State of Missouri and the United States, not the Confederacy. Although regulations regarding martial law are not covered in our Constitution, there is no doubt that the citizens of Missouri lost a great many of their personal liberties. General Ewing undoubtedly believed the order was justified; even so, he could have enforced Order No. 11 with disciplined Iowa, Illinois, or Colorado troops rather than with the revenge-seeking Kansans. As indicated by this paper, the Order made many loyal Missourians turn to the guerrillas for protection and caused many others to leave the state. The drastic acts of cruelty could only have been committed by angry, revenge-seeking men on both sides.
The timing of the order was unfortunate and created much hardship. Most of these people were small farmers with crops in their fields, little money, no place to go, no means of transportation, and many of the men were away fighting for the Confederacy or for the Union. With winter approaching and the bushwhackers “Jayhawkers” and “Red-legs,” General Orders, No. 11 – is that it contributed little to the outcome of the war. Preparing to go south, Ewing could have waited for spring to demand depopulation. It is perhaps most obvious here that Ewing was influenced by the cries of the press. The press crying for action, the Kansans for revenge, and Lane for “blood and fire” apparently influenced him to take immediate action. The order cannot be justified when, with a little more time and a little less emotionalism, a more sympathetic and effective means might have been devised to separate and remove the disloyal people from these Missouri communities.

There were large numbers of Kansas troops in Ewing’s district in 1863. In fact, all the Kansas troops in Ewing’s district with the exception of one company were stationed in the four counties affected by Order No. 11; the great majority of Missouri troops in Ewing’s district were found in the counties not affected by Order No. 11. The order explicitly stated that the depopulation would be vigorously executed by officers commanding in the parts of the district affected by the orders. Thus, the argument that the enforcement was undertaken by Kansas troops is justified. In addition, the Kansas City Daily Journal of Commerce on 5 and 17 September reported other Kansas troops were sent into the district. The 19 Missouri companies in Ewing’s district could have been called upon to enforce the order, or Ewing could have asked for troops from Illinois, Colorado, or Iowa. But Ewing turned instead to Kansas troops to enforce his order. An answer to the question of why Ewing used Kansas troops might possibly solve the mystery of Lane’s satisfaction with Order No. 11. General Ewing set the stage for the brutal reprisals in his efforts to punish the guerrillas. In a report to Schofield, his commanding general, Ewing wrote, “No prisoners have been taken and none will be. All the houses in which Lawrence goods have been found have been destroyed, as well as all the houses of known guerrillas, wherever our troops have gone.” Thus Ewing, by ordering no prisoners taken and allowing the troops, most of whom were Kansans, to decide who was a guerrilla and what goods came from Lawrence, was giving a sense of legality to the revenge-seeking troopers.

Order No. 11 and its enforcement brought most of the press down on Ewing. According to the St. Louis Missouri Republican: “We do not know what reasons operated upon General Ewing to issue Order No. 11 … It is inhuman, unmanly, barbarous . . . It is a prelude as we take it, to a raid by Lane and Jennison, from Kansas, when everything that remains in those rich and populous counties is to be swept away and carried into Kansas.”9 The Lexington Union on 5 September wrote that a lieutenant returning from a scouting patrol in Jackson County said: “It would make a man’s heart melt though it were of stone to witness what I have seen.” He felt sorry for the “helpless women and children driven out by the cruel or- der.” The Union continued:

. . .we have seen these refugees passing through our streets, ill clad, often times barefooted, leaving their only shelter, and their only means of substance during the approaching winter-the crops now maturing-in numerous cases without money to buy food or pay rent going they know not whether. We have found ourselves asking: can it be possible, that this is the work of an officer wearing the uniform of our country?

On 22 September the New York Times in summing up the situation in Missouri reported:

. . .Missouri is today more dangerously disturbed if not more dangerously disloyal than Mississippi. More contempt for the army and the Government is daily poured forth there-more turbulence in talk and in action is indulged in-and human life is less safe than anywhere else within all the military lives of the United States.

Newspaper criticism of Ewing and Order No. 11 was not unanimous. The Journal of Commerce continuously backed both. It had supported Order No. 10 before the Lawrence raid and on 25 August, 1863, the day Order No. 11 was issued, it asked its readers to read the order as it was “unavoidable necessary.” On the following day, 26 August, 1863, the Journal of Commerce reported: “Our advice to every man who wishes to see peace ever restored to the border is to stand by General Ewing, and especially in the execution of Order, No. 11 . . .” On 4 September 1863, the Journal of Commerce attacked both the Lexington Union and the Missouri Republican which had found great fault in Order No. 11. Their criticism, the Commerce said, was due “to their ignorance of affairs on the Border,” and the Commerce writers pointed out that the St. Louis editors were complaining more than the Union people on the Border. Ewing and his order also gained support from the Union League of Kansas City and the Jackson County Union Association.10 Ewing was, therefore, criticized by many and praised by some. But his image would always be somewhat hazy-black to some, white to others. He would be judged then and later in regard to two questions: Did Order No. 11 stop guerrilla activity, and could the Order be justified as necessary in any sense of the word even if its purpose was accomplished?

Assuming Ewing’s objective was to stop the guerrillas by removing their families and friends, how well did the order accomplish its purpose?

Militarily, Ewing was backed by his commanding general. General Schofield drafted a similar order, also on 25 August, 1863, and wrote Ewing: “. . . I am pretty much convinced that the mode of carrying on the war on the border during the past two years has produced such a state of feeling that nothing short of total devastation of the districts which are made the haunts of guerrillas will be sufficient to put a stop to the evil . . .” Schofield understood that some loyal people would suffer. He sympathized, “The commanding general is aware that some innocent persons must suffer from these extreme measures, but such suffering is unavoidable, and will be made as light as possible.” On paper Schofield’s order was harsher than Ewing’s. Schofield’s order provided for the destruction of houses, barns, and personal property; Ewing’s included only hay and grain among those items to be destroyed. When Ewing’s order was enforced by Kansas troops, however, it evidenced all the harshness of Schofield’s and more. The important issue is that Schofield agreed that some type of order requiring the depopulation of the District of the Border was necessary.

The order was supported by Colonel Bazel F. Lazear, a member of Ewing’s force, in a letter to his wife, on 17 September. Although Ewing’s order was thought unjust and cruel by some, he thought it “one of the best orders that has been issued, and I think will have good effect.” He commented that the order would prove troublesome for only a few union people as most of them had already left the area.”11

The Journal of Commerce fully supported Order No. 11 when on 29 August, 1863, it editorialized that due to General Order No. 11 the families of the bushwhackers were leaving and that the bushwhackers themselves would soon follow. And on 1 September, 1863, the journal complimented the vigorous campaign carried on by Ewing’s troops and asked for the same energy to be applied in the future. Ewing’s order accomplished the military objectives, according to the Journal. Two months later on 7 November this same source observed that great changes had taken place on the border and that the farmers of southern Kansas now felt safe for the first time since the war began.

Major Wyllis C. Ransom, speaking at a farewell supper for the 10th Kansas stated that, “Upon our immediate Border, by the grace of God, with the assistance of General Ewing and General Orders No. 11 we have peace-peace which I trust may be permanent and lasting.”’12 Ransom believed, like many, that peace had come to the Border because of Order No. 11. Peace had come, in part, because of increased difficulty facing guerrilla operations. We must also take into consideration the fact that the guerrillas always went south in the winter, thus with or without the order they would have been relatively inactive at this time.

The effectiveness of the Order No. 11 can be seen in guerrilla leader William Gregg’s statement, “The country having been depopulated under General Ewing’s Order Number Eleven, the men were sorely tried for food, apples being the only edible thing found in Missouri after leaving Lafayette County, and the boys nearly starved. . .”13 Ewing’s hope that the guerrillas would not be able to live off the land is apparently confirmed by Gregg’s statement. Guerrilla scout John McCorkle reported that on re- turning to Missouri after the winter of 1864, the irregulars could not find food for man or horse in Cass County.14

There is little doubt that Order No. 11 was a severe blow to the guerrillas. It served, however, only to hinder their operations in the District of the Border. When they returned after the winter, they began their activities again in central rather than western Missouri. If Ewing’s intention was to stop the guerrillas from raiding Kansas and operating within his district, his order was effective.

President Abraham Lincoln could see the potential evils of such an order. He informed General Schofield:

. . with the matters of removing the inhabitants of certain counties en masse; and of removing certain individuals from time to time, who are supposed to be mischievous, I am not now interfering, but am leaving to your own discretion. . . But, in like manner, you will repress assumptions of unauthorized individuals to perform the same service; because under pretense of doing this, they become marauders and murderers themselves.15

President Lincoln perceived that the men performing such a service could be as destructive as the guerrillas; he believed the orders could be carried out by a military force. But the troops called upon to perform the service were the Kansans, who carried out their orders with hatred and a burning desire for revenge. Albert Castel wrote in 1963: “In fact, with the exception of the hysteria-motivated herding of Japanese-Americans into concentration camps during World War II, it stands as the harshest treatment ever imposed on United States citizens under the plea of military necessity in our nation’s history.16 Col. B. F. Lazear who supported Ewing’s action observed in a letter to his wife, 10 September, 1863, that: “It is heart sickening to see what I have seen since I have been back here. A desolated country of women and children, some of them almost naked. Some on foot and some in old wagons. Oh, God.”17 Many Missourians were not happy with the hardships placed on some of their population by Order No. 11. John McCorkle observed that the people were banished and robbed by the same order and that so much was stolen that they had little to move.

Continued in Part III

Were such an edict issued by the Czar of Russia, towards any part of Poland, it would stamp him with infamy before the civilized world. Such, we believe, will be the verdict of history in regard to this order. Lexington Weekly Union (Mo.), 5 September 1863.

AT approximately five o’clock the morning of 21 August 1863, guerrilla leader William Clarke Quantrill and 450 men attacked the sleeping town of Lawrence, Kansas. After gaining control of the town, the guerrillas began their grisly task of looting, murder, and arson. Quantrill had ordered his men to kill every man big enough to carry a gun, and his orders were obeyed. Within four hours the guerrillas had killed approximately 150 unarmed men and had left 80 widows and 250 orphans. Most of the stores and banks of Lawrence had been robbed; 185 buildings, including one-fourth of the town’s private residences, had been destroyed. This was guerrilla warfare at its ugliest.

Following the raid on Lawrence, Quantrill and his guerrillas fled to the supposed safety of the Missouri border counties. Here the guerrillas di vided into smaller groups and headed for hiding places hoping to make their detection unlikely. The raid on Lawrence placed great pressure on the commanding general of the district, General Thomas Ewing, Jr. Ewing found himself faced both with the problem of tracking down the bush whackers and protecting Kansas from future raids and with the far more serious and immediate problem of keeping vengeful Kansans out of Missouri.

Quantrill’s forces had crossed into Missouri near Morristown, Missouri; it was here that United States Senator (Kansas) James Lane and Thomas Ewing met the night of August 22, 1863 and drew up Order No. 11.

General Orders, No. 11 of 25 August 1863, has been considered one of the cruelest and most unusual orders issued by a general during the Civil War. This order banished from four Missouri counties most inhabitants regardless of their sympathies. The only exceptions were that people living within one mile of a military post could remain, and those persons who could establish their loyalty could move to any military post or into Kansas except for the counties on the eastern border of that state.1 The four counties – Jackson, Bates, Cass, and the upper section of Vernon – were located in western Missouri, a state that remained in the Union. In Bates County, which did not have a military post, the entire population had to leave. The homes of 20,000 people were looted and burned, and their crops were confiscated or destroyed. In the 15 days allowed before they would be forcibly removed, they had too little time, too little money, and too little transportation to save many of their belongings.

Many saw the order as an act of vengeance, to punish the guerrillas for the “Sack of Lawrence,” The Lexington Union of September 5, 1863 asked, “Is this order designed to avenge this atrocity? Does a just government take vengeance for crime upon the innocent and helpless?” On September 1, 1863 the Daily Dispatch of Richmond, Virginia stated, “Quantrill’s raid upon Lawrence, Kansas, seems to have provoked a war of extermination against the people of Northern Missouri.”

In reality Order No. 11 was not issued as a punitive measure for the sack of Lawrence. As the Kansas City, Missouri Journal of Commerce of September 3, 1863 stated: “The Lawrence massacre was its occasion, not its cause.” The evacuation policy was apparently already in Ewing’s mind. The Official Records provide evidence that Order No. 10, issued 18 August 1863, three days before the raid, was similar in policy to Order No. 11; according to Order No. 10 families of known Southern Sympathizers were to be removed. Ewing wrote Colonel C. W. Marsh on 3 August 1863 that he believed the only possible way to curtail guerrilla activity was to remove the guerrillas and their families. Ewing’s action was an expansion of Order No. 10 but much harsher.

This study seeks to answer two questions: Was Order No. 11 effective and was it necessary?

One explanation offered for the order suggests its purpose was to assure the people of Kansas that they would be protected against future raids. Another reason for the Order was to curtail any attempt by Kansas to launch a raid of vengeance on Missouri. There seemed to be no doubt in the minds of most Missourians that such a raid would be forthcoming. Missourians who read Jim Lane’s speech which appeared in Missouri newspapers had a right to be frightened. Lane threatened as reported in the Daily Missouri Democrat (St. Louis) of 1 September 1863:

I will tell you what I want to see. I want to see every foot of ground in Jackson, Cass, and Bates counties burned over everything laid waste. Then we shall have no further trouble. The bushwhackers cannot remain in the country, for they will have nobody to feed them nobody to harbor them nobody to provide them with transportation no place to sleep in, and will have thirty-five miles further to march before they reach Kansas.

Lane then offered the following resolution to the people of Leavenworth which was unanimously adopted: “Resolved. That so many of the loyal men of the border as can be spared from home protection, be requested to assemble at Paola on the 8th day of September, with such arms and ammunition as they can procure Lane also told General John M. Schofield that he was going to “lay waste to the border counties of Missouri and exterminate the disloyal people.”2

On 3 September the White Cloud Kansas Chief (Troy), as well as other Kansas papers, asked that all citizens of Kansas who wished to assist in clearing out the Missouri bush whackers meet at Paola on 8 September.

General Schofield informed General Henry W. Halleck that Lane would not be permitted to enter Missouri. The Daily Missouri Republican on 6 September declared: “If Jim Lane attempts it, as he has threatened to do, Federal bayonets will protect the integrity of our soil.” But Missourians were frightened. The Neve Anzeiger des Westens (St. Louis), as reported in the Lexington Daily Union (Missouri) on 5 September described the people of Missouri as filled with terror and predicted that if Kansans, led by Lane, invaded Missouri, the Missourians could expect murder, plunder, robbery, slaughter, and “burning butchery.” To add to the Missourians’ fears the notorious Col. Charles Jennison, the most vicious and feared of the Kansas Jayhawkers, was given authority to recruit men into Union service.

Many border cities, hoping to escape retaliation from the Kansans, collected money for Lawrence 3. The Daily Missouri Democrat on 27 August reported that in Platte County 50 men gave from one to 10 dollars each in hopes of escaping the anticipated raid. Weston, Missouri gave 200 dollars to Lawrence. The Kansas City Journal of Commerce, which strongly supported the order, told its readers on 26 August that the order might satisfy the people of Kansas and save Missouri from a raid by Kansans. Ewing believed, or perhaps simply hoped, that this order, if enforced, might satisfy the Kansans. He was not going to allow a mass march on Missouri by Kansans as indicated by his correspondence with Schofield, 26 August, and 27 August, 1863.

Historian Albert Castel has pointed to a fourth Ewing motive which was both personal and political. The massacre took place in Ewing’s home state and among his friends. Thus a great deal of the blame for the raid was placed on his shoulders by his political enemies.4 The White Cloud Chief on 27 August announced: “If for every curse that has been be- stowed upon Ewing in Kansas, since Friday last, were [sic] a dollar there would be sufficient to rebuild Lawrence more substantially than ever, and to make every man in the state rich.” Kansas Governor Thomas Carney informed Schofield that many influential citizens of Kansas were against Ewing.5 General Frank Preston Blair, a Missourian, in a fiery speech in St. Louis called the desolation of Western Missouri a game between Ewing and Lane for the Senate seat of Kansas.6

Still another factor in the issuance of the order, it appears, was the pressure which Lane had brought to bear on Ewing. Ewing as a politician realized that Lane was the political leader in Kansas and that his own future could be brightened by acceding to Lane’s wishes. When the two men met at Morristown on 22 August 1863, William Mowdry, a Union officer who was present, reported that Lane told Ewing he would have him removed as soon as he could get to Washington. Ewing then begged Lane’s forgiveness, and Lane agreed to save Ewing if he would issue the order. After writing the order, Mowdry allegedly heard Lane say to Ewing, “You are a dead dog if you fail to issue that order as agreed between us.”7

Accepting the fact that the two men, met, an unanswered question remains. Why would Jim Lane, whose home and possessions were destroyed in the “Sack of Lawrence,” a man who screamed for blood and fire, be satisfied by a purely military order of orderly depopulation of a section of Missouri. Historian Richard Brownlee wrote, “Is it possible then, that Jim Lane would ever have accepted the order as a remedy unless there was an additional unwritten provision to it which he demanded and to which Ewing agreed?” Brownlee thought there was a bargain that the order would be “enforced by federalized Kansas troops. …”8 It should be pointed out that it was after the Lane- Ewing meeting that Lane stated that he wished to see the district burned and destroyed and the disloyal people exterminated.

Continued in Part II

This is the conclusion of part 1 & 2 and provides reports given by Major General Samuel Curtis’ subordinates Col. W.F. Cloud, Major Weed and Major S.S. Curtis during the events at Mine Creek. It gives accounts of Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Benteen’s brigade, who would later gain fame with George A. Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Colonel W. F. Cloud’s Report

Colonel W. F. Cloud, acting on my staff, with a small detachment of his own regiment (Second Kansas), reports these battles as follows:

Accompanied by a small detachment of Kansas Cavalry (the Second), commanded by Sergeant Peck, I moved forward in the space between our extreme right and the left, giving such orders and encouragement to our forces as seemed necessary. In this order we came to a rebel battery, the men of which had ceased to fight from fear, at which a rebel colonel (Jeffers) surrendered to me, claiming protection for himself and men. Giving such directions as seemed proper for guarding the prisoners, I moved to another part of the field, assisting in arresting prisoners and securing several pieces of artillery abandoned by the rebels in their retreat through the brush and creek.

Seeing General Pleasanton upon the field near to a section of artillery, I moved forward and reported facts as directed, and then observing that he was directing the fire of our artillery upon a detachment of our own troops I so informed him, but was rebuked. Still persisting in my statements, I had them confirmed by an officer from the detachment under fire, whose assurances were united with my own and prevailed upon the general to give the order to cease firing, saying at the same time, “You should carry your colors upon the battle-field.”

At the order of General Sanborn the Second Kansas Cavalry was moved forward as skirmishers, come mounted, some dismounted, and drove the enemy out of the woods and across the river. Here the enemy had another line formed, and our troops were ordered forward, the Second Kansas remaining in its position on the right, and in this order, pressing forward, we reached from right to left in the form of a crescent, which placed us in the advance of the center. When the rebels retreated from our steadily advancing army, my command had the advance from the advantageous formation of the ground, and leading in this manner pursued the enemy for the distance of three miles in a continuous charge until compelled to halt from sheer exhaustion of the horses, many of them falling under their riders.

Colonel Cloud was very active during the campaign, and his immediate connection with the capture of Colonel Jeffers and the battery of rebel guns at Mine Creek and leading the skirmishers at the Osage, are distinguished achievements which ought to secure his promotion.

Major Weed’s Report and LTC Benteen

Major Weed, of my staff, additional aide-de-camp and commissary of musters of my department, also participated in this day’s fight, and reports his detached services as follows:

I remained with the major-general commanding until Philips’ brigade had crossed the stream at Trading Post, when I was ordered over with a message to General Pleasanton, and after delivering it proceeded to the front with Colonel Blair and Major R. H. Hunt. Three miles south of Trading Post, with Mine Creek in their rear, we found the entire fighting force of the enemy (Shelby’s division excepted) drawn up in line of battle. As only one brigade of our own troops had come up, I rode a short distance back on a road running parallel with and to the left of the one on which Philips’ brigade had marched, and very soon met Lieutenant-Colonel Benteen at the head of his brigade, and informed him of the position of the enemy. He pushed rapidly forward, and on coming in sight of the rebel line at once formed his brigade for a charge. I then started to return to the troops already on the field, to urge upon the commanding officer a charge at the same moment with that of Benteen.

Before reaching the command, however, I was accosted by an officer who pointed to the right center regiment of Philips’ brigade, and asked me to take that regiment into action, and to tell the men their colonel would soon be with them. He then rode off at a rapid pace in a northwesterly direction, probably on some urgent mission. I at once rode to the head of the regiment indicated, gave the message to all the officers, and to lessen as much as possible the depressing effect of the commanding officer’s absence upon the men, charged with and in advance of them. As they came near enough to the enemy’s line to open fire I crossed their front and took position in the line on the right, where, in conjunction with Major R. H. Hunt, I did what I could to encourage and urge it forward. After the enemy’s line had been broken and his whole force put to flight, I rode to the left of our line and assisted in gathering together and sending to the rear a large number of prisoners who had been captured with the artillery taken by Benteen’s brigade. While engaged in this duty I heard of the capture of General Marmaduke, and some twenty minutes later, meeting General Pleasanton, who was just coming to the field, I informed him of the fact, also telling him that Marmaduke had already been sent to the rear. I then, at his request, took several squads of our men who had been separated from their commands during the charge and proceeded to pick up prisoners, who were scattered over every part of the battle-ground, some under guard and many making their way to the rear without guards and no guides except their own fears.

After having performed this duty, I reported to the commanding general (who had already crossed Mine Creek) and was directed to proceed to the rear and urge forward the division of Major-General Blunt and the brigade of General McNeil with all possible speed. These troops had been delayed by the breaking down of some transportation wagons at the most difficult point of crossing, and some time elapsed before the road could be opened. I returned to the front with General McNeil and Major Charlot, and on arriving there reported to and remained with the commanding general until nearly sundown.

Major S. S. Curtis’ Report

Major S. S. Curtis, Second Colorado, and an aide-de-camp on staff, after the close of the fight at the Marais des Cygnes, went forward with General Pleasanton, and reports as follows concerning matters at the battle of Osage:

I overtook General Pleasanton and rode with him for some distance. When about three miles from Marais des Cygnes we commenced to hear firing at the front, and General Pleasanton sent orders back for McNeil and Sanborn to hurry forward with all practicable dispatch, while we pushed forward at a trot and canter. When we first heard the firing Benteen’s brigade was on a parallel road to the one we were on and to our right. He immediately put his command on the gallop and well fell to the rear of his column, as the roads soon came together.

Benteen’s brigade broke into regimental columns as they approached the battle-field, and as they came up on the left of Philips’ brigade went forward into line and right on into the charge. The enemy was cannonading Philips’ brigade when we came into sight, but the musketry firing had nearly ceased. General Pleasanton requested me to take his escort company and support a section of a battery which just then came up. General Pleasanton went forward, and I directed the lieutenant to post his guns on a small elevation and shell the enemy’s right where the artillery was posted. But two shots were fired when I heard the yells raised by Benteen’s brigade and saw the enemy’s line breaking. I immediately ordered the guns forward to a better position, and had just got them in position when General Sanborn rode up and directed the lieutenant to fire upon some troops on the south side of Mine Creek, and on our extreme left. I felt doubtful as to whether they were rebels or our own troops, but a second thought made me conclude they were rebels. Four shots were fired at them when I saw by their falling back to our lines that they must be our own men. I rode forward to the guns to stop their firing, when Generals Sanborn and Pleasanton both rode up and ordered them to cease.

At this time the enemy’s cannonading on our right had not yet ceased. The enemy by this time being in full retreat, with the exception of their extreme left, which could scarcely be reached with artillery from where we were without danger to our command, and directly in front of us, our troops were immediately on the heels of the retreating rebels. I told the lieutenant in charge of two guns to follow as fast as he could, while I, with the escort company, pushed forward to rejoin General Pleasanton. A short distance before reaching the creek I found Major Weed, who told me of the capture of General Marmaduke. I pushed on and told General Pleasanton, and just as I did so General Cabell was brought up a prisoner. At this time we could see a second rebel line forming on top of the hill ahead of us, and our troops being scattered in pursuit General Pleasanton sent orders for them to halt and reform. I assisted in reforming the line and sending prisoners to the rear until General Pleasanton again ordered an advance, when I advanced with him. I waited on the hill until General Curtis came up and rode with him to the banks of the next stream, when I rode up to the summit of the hill to the right of the road to obtain, if possible, a view of the charge being made by McNeill’s brigade, which had taken the advance through the timber on Little Osage.

General Pleasanton, as commander of the advance division, acted with great coolness and propriety throughout this battle of the Osage, and if our battery fired on a portion of Colonel Benteen’s troops after they crossed the creek my son, Major Curtis, clearly exonerates General Pleasanton from directing the matter, which was one of those incidents of battle which often occur. Colonel Benteen and his brigade evidently took the lead in the movement which captured the prisoners and guns at Mine Creek and deserves the greatest applause for personal gallantry.

Brigadier-General McNeil concluded the matter on the height beyond the Osage with great success and courage. Nearly all these troops being of General Pleasanton’s division and under his general supervision, he also deserves the gratitude of the country. General Blunt’s division, crowding forward and augmenting the power and force which overcame the enemy, is equally deserving of the honor of the day. We were everywhere successful, and the following officers of my staff, although some of them have been already named, deserve special commendation for their unceasing toil and extraordinary gallantry at this battle of the Osage: Honorable J. H. Lane, Colonel C. W. Blair, Colonel W. F. Cloud, Colonel S. J. Crawford, Major T. I. McKenny, Major C. S. Charlot, Major R. H. Hunt, and Major S. S. Curtis. Captain Hinton, and others of General Blunt’s staff, also took an active part. The reports of Major McKenny and Major Hunt are especially interesting, but the extracts here made seem to cover the entire field and facts, and I refer to theirs and others here submitted as well deserving of general perpetuity.

 

The following is a multi-part and first-hand account of the Battle of Mine Creek also known as the Battle of the Osage. This account is presented from the Official Records and provides multiple accounts from various officers under the command of Union Major General Samuel R. Curtis

Mine Creek, a branch of the Osage, and the Osage at this point, are small streams several miles apart, both skirted with timber and surrounded by open prairie country. After the affair of Trading Post, considerable delay and consequent separation of troops had occurred at the crossing of the Marais des Cygnes. While General Sanborn halted to breakfast his brigade General Pleasanton led the advance, consisting mainly of colonels Benteen’s and Philips’ brigades, in rapid farther pursuit of the enemy. About three miles from Trading Post the enemy formed on the north side of Mine Creek and made stubborn resistance. The brigade of Colonel Philips, composed of Missouri troops, came into line of battle and commenced firing at long range, his men displaying good discipline and great gallantry. Colonel Benteen, whose brigade comprised Iowa, Indiana, and other troops, came up on the left of this line. Meantime the heavy roar of cannon induced me to hurry forward my own escort, with two little howitzers and other artillery, at the utmost speed.

Colonel Benteen met some of my staff officers on his arrival at the left, who suggested an immediate cavalry charge. The colonel had already resolved on this movement, and only waited for the same order to be communicated to Colonel Philips. Major Weed conveyed the order to Colonel Philips. Colonel Benteen’s brigade came into line in a moment and dashed against the enemy’s right, outflanking and surrounding it, gaining position on and beyond the creek. Colonel Philips also, with his brigade, moved quickly upon the enemy, so as to surround or overpower a large detachment of them, who immediately surrendered as prisoners of war (among them were two rebel generals, Marmaduke and Cabell), killing another (General Graham), and many colonels and other officers, and taking altogether 500 or 600 men. General Pleasanton, being in command of the advance, had directed the general movement and took an active part in the field. General Lane, Colonel Blair, Colonel Crawford, Colonel Roberts, Major Weed, Major McKenny, Major Hunt, and Major Curtis, of my volunteer and regular staff, and Captain Hinton and others of General Blunt’s staff, were also very active in the field on this occasion, which occupied perhaps thirty minutes.

I directed Colonel Blair, who presented General Marmaduke to me as a prisoner of war, to turn him over to Lieutenant-Colonel Sears, Eighteenth U. S. Colored Troops, whom I directed to act as provost-marshal and take charge of the prisoners. I also detailed a regiment of Missouri troops to take charge of them, soon after informing General Sanborn and General Pleasanton of the detail. All this transpired as we moved forward, crossing Mine Creek, and while the advance was still skirmishing with the enemy. The rear brigades were also coming up at full speed and the enemy again forming on a hill about a mile in front. This point he soon abandoned, and we halted to form and close up our extended lines.

After our rear brigades came near the whole force advanced with caution in two lines, our skirmishers pressing the enemy beyond the ridge which divides Mine Creek and Osage. He now formed on the Osage, and the rear of our troops still being far behind, although I had repeatedly sent orders to hurry them up, I mentioned the matter to General Pleasanton as somewhat remarkable. He told me General McNeil seemed insubordinate or neglectful of his orders and did not come forward as directed. His brigade being in front of General Blunt’s division any delay by General McNeil also delayed all the Kansas troops. i then sent my adjutant, Major Charlot, with a special order, which brought forward the brigade of General McNeil at the utmost speed of his horses. On reporting to me the general said his delay was no fault of his, and it was evident General Pleasanton’s orders had never reached him, which caused some misunderstanding. And he further assured me that I would find him ready to obey all orders as promptly as possible. I directed him to deploy as quick as possible and take the advance, which he did with great success. I also told him to continue to report to General Pleasanton, who commanded the division. Before this occurred, the skirmish line reporting to me as broken down from fatigue, General Sanborn, at my instance, had changed them by placing Colonel Cloud, of my staff, with some of the Second Kansas Volunteers, on this duty. Entering fields and forests Colonel Cloud continued the skirmishing to the valley of the Osage and beyond the stream.

Meantime General McNeil, with his brigade, soon broke the lines of the rebels that had extended for miles on the heights beyond the Osage, and after about an hour’s fighting in corn-fields and timber, where our troops manifested great gallantry in repeated charges, the enemy again broke in great disorder, scattering arms, utensils, wagons, and all kinds of equipments over the field. General Blunt’s division came up rapidly about the close of this battle of the Osage and began to deploy, but the flight’ of the enemy was so rapid I could not get all the troops in line before it was necessary to resume the march in column. all this conflict between Mine Creek and Osage, and including the fighting at both streams, occupied some two hours or more, and as the accompanying map* will show you, extended over several miles of onward march.

Being mostly a prairie country the troops of both armies were in full view and the rapid onward movement of the whole force presented the most extensive, beautiful, and animated view of hostile armies I have ever witnessed. Spread over vast prairies, some moving at full speed in column, some in double lines, and others as skirmishers, groups striving in utmost efforts, and shifting as occasion required, while the great clouds of living masses moved steadily southward, presented a picture of prairie scenery such as neither man nor pencil can delineate.

Part 2 continues HERE

The following is a report given by Union Major General Samuel R. Curtis that details the events of the Battle of Marais Des Cygnes, which was a portion of the Battle of Mine Creek in Kansas.

OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, vol. 41, Part 1 – Pgs. 493-495

GRAND RIVER, October 25, 1864-2 p. m.

Major-General CURTIS, Commanding

The enemy had gone into camp in the timber skirting the Marais des Cygnes near the town of Trading Post, making fires and other extensive arrangements for rest and refreshments. My day and night’s march brought my advance close upon them about 12 m. of the 25th, and at 3 o’clock Major Hunt led three companies of the Second Colorado to attack and take a mound which commands the valley of the stream. This was gallantly executed. I had sent a special order to General Sanborn, who commanded the advance brigade, by Major Weed, to push forward artillery and open at long range. This was retarded by the darkness, but the artillery fire commenced about 4 a. m.

As daylight approached our troops deployed, moving in line against the enemy, who still occupied one of the gills and the timber skirting the stream. As our lines rose steadily on the side hill the enemy’s force on the summit melted away, till finally our forces had secured all the commanding positions with very little loss. Skirmishers moved into the timber, when the rebel camp was deserted in great confusion. A stand was made at river crossing, where the enemy was felling trees and firing cannon, but our advance was so close upon them they left their guns and the ford, retreating in disorder. Cattle, camp equipment, negroes, provisions partly cooked, and stolen goods were scattered over miles of the forest camp, and along the lines of the retreat. Few were killed on either side as the night and early morn attack created a general fright in the rebel lines and only random shots on either side. General Sanborn’s brigade, being in advance, and the Colorado squadrons, assisted by my escort, which came up early in the skirmish, did most of the work. After following in hot pursuit for a mile General Sanborn halted his brigade for breakfast, while General Pleasonton led the advance with the remainder of his division.

This battle of Marais des Cygnes was a gallant affair, commenced in a dark rainy night and consummated at early dawn after a day and night march, to the surprise and horror of Price’s forces. They burned a public store-house formerly used by our pickets and fired many haystacks in the vicinity, but their loss of two guns, many cattle, sheep, and thousands of little necessaries for sleeping and carrying supplies, were serious losses to the enemy. General Sanborn being afterward separated with General Pleasonton from my command reported to General Rosecrans, so that I cannot give his version of this and other events of this day’s transactions.

Major Weed, additional aide-de-camp, of my staff, reports concerning his detached duties as follows. After reporting the matter of a proposed movement to the left by General Pleasonton, which I rejected as likely to separate us on the march of the 24th, he says:

The pursuit was continued regularly until 8 p. m., at which hour we reached. West Point, when the division of General Pleasonton was placed in the advance for a night march, and at midnight reached the vicinity of Trading Post, a small settlement at the crossing of Marais des Cygnes, and halted. I immediately proceeded to the front, in company with Major McKenny, to ascertain the cause of the halt, and learned from Brigadier-General Sanborn that his advance had struck the enemy’s column on a high mound half a mile north of the town, and that owing to the darkness of the night and want of knowledge of the country he could not and would not assume the responsibility of moving any farther until daylight.

On making these facts known to the commanding general, he ordered the artillery of General Sanborn’s brigade forward to open at once on the enemy’s line.

At 4 a. m. on the 25th, no firing having been heard, I was directed to go to the front and ascertain why the artillery had not been opened as directed some hours previous. On arriving there I found the battery just going into position about half a mile from the position occupied by the enemy during the night, and four guns were very soon opened on the crest of this mound. After a few shots had been fired Major R. H. Hunt rode up from our skirmish line and begged them to cease firing from that point, as their shells were falling in the midst of our own men, who had already driven the enemy from their position. I then learned from Major Hunt that three companies of the Second Colorado Cavalry, who had been in advance during the day and night previous, had, in the darkness and rain, pushed forward without support and gained possession of this commanding point.

On returning to report to the commanding general I met Brigadier-General Sanborn, who had just left his quarters, and informed him of the facts above stated. I remained with the major-general commanding until Philips’ brigade had crossed the stream at Trading Post, when I was ordered over with a message to General Pleasonton, and after delivering it proceeded to the front with Colonel Blair and Major R. H. Hunt.

Major Hunt, my chief of artillery, who commenced this contest at the Trading Post or Marais des Cygnes, says, after speaking of our march on the 24th:

The commanding general insisted on the troops keeping on the shortest line. Marched all day and night; distance, probably fifty miles. Before daylight on the morning of the 25th I directed Captain Kingsbury, who commanded three squadrons of the Colorado troops, to take the hill on the left of the road, which he did in connection with Colonel Gravely, who commanded this picket-line, driving the enemy across the Marais des Cygnes, where they had felled trees to obstruct our passage. Quite a spirited engagement occurred during the passage of the creek. Our forces crossed and resumed the pursuit on a run. The enemy opened with a number of guns, one of which was captured.

Major T. I. McKenny, aide-de-camp and my inspector-general, thus reports concerning the night and morning operations of the 24th and 25th:

The command was halted by order of the major-general commanding about nightfall to cook some beef at a small place called West point. At 8 p. m. and order came from the major-general commanding directing General Blunt to remain in present position, that General Pleasonton would take the advance, proceeded until 3 o’clock at night, it being exceedingly dark and raining. When the column halted I was ordered forward to ascertain the cause. Found General McNeil, who said he had his instructions from General Sanborn, in advance, to halt and build fires to dry. At this time an order came from the front to extinguish fires. I reported these facts, when I was again ordered to the front to ascertain from General Sanborn the cause of the halt. Found general Sanborn in bed some two miles in advance, and about three miles from Trading post. He told me he had ascertained to his satisfaction that the enemy was in full force, perhaps 10,000 strong, immediately on the high hills in his front, and that he thought it unsafe to proceed farther. These facts being communicated we bivouacked for the night.

October 25, General Pleasonton in the advance skirmished with the enemy across the Marais des Cygnes.

During that night Generals Pleasonton, Lane, and myself traveled most of the time between the divisions, but at early dawn we went forward and saw most of the conflict, especially the advance of our troops on the plain and the taking of the mounds. We also joined the advance movement in the timber, while our troops were skirmishing with the foe and driving him from the crossing.

Brigadier-General Sanborn and the troops of his brigade, Major Weed, Major Hunt, and Major McKenny, of my staff, deserve special commendation for their efforts in this battle of the Marais des Cygnes.

John Armstrong was the closest free-stater living north of Albert Stokes on the northwest quarter of Section 28, also located on Washington Creek. John was born at Oxford, Canada West, on June 8, 1824, the son of Thomas and Sarah Dodge Armstrong. He was an avid abolitionist and always acted with the Abolition party before he came to Kansas. He voted for Martin Van Buren when the latter was the anti-slavery candidate for President. He well remembered the excitement in New York State and New England when the Kansas-Nebraska Bill passed, and he resolved that he would come to Kansas and help make it a free state. Leaving western New York on November 1, 1854, he arrived at Kansas City on approximately the 17th or 18th of November.

We found at Kansas City on the levee, one Hotel, one barn and six warerooms, and where now the market square is located was a horse mill. We went to Westport where there was quite a village and from there traveled west into Kansas.

At Kansas City, John met the notorious Sam Wood, and after ascertaining the latter’s anti-slavery sentiments made arrangements with him to carry his baggage and trunks. There were five in this party which arrived in Lawrence on the night of November 20. Armstrong established his claim on Washington Creek and immediately became involved in the Underground Railroad.

A proslavery family named Bowen lived on an adjoining claim, which was traversed by a trail from McGee’s Crossing (the main trail crossing the Wakarusa). This family had brought with them from Kentucky a family of slaves, including a father, mother and eight children, the eldest a boy about twenty. According to John’s reminiscences, his sister, Sarah, taught these children their letters. They came to the Armstrong house on Sunday for this purpose, unbeknownst to their master. There were other slaves in the neighborhood (a few grown ones), but this was the largest slave family.

There were a few slaves who lived up on the head of Washington creek, in the proslavery settlement, where about sixty proslavery men lived. The Negroes told us that Bowen was afraid of our Sharps rifles. He though they would shoot a mile.

Bowen’s colored people built his log house and did general farm work. He brought them there in the spring of 1855, as early as April. He brought his own family at that time too. There might have been 3 or 4 in his family. His son-in-law was a part of the family. The negroes built a little cabin out about ten rods from the house. All of the buildings were of logs. The house was what is called a double-log house, two rooms and an open space between.

John states that the proslavery people would get drunk and come and threaten him. He told the Lawrence boys about it, and one night Capt. Randlet and a party of free-state men in Lawrence came out to his place on Washington Creek. From there they went over to Bowen’s, cleaned out his whiskey and gave him three days to leave.

The Armstrong and Bowen cabins were only a quarter of a mile apart. The eldest colored boy came to John’s house that night with the rest of the children and cried, “Master Armstrong! Some men have

come to Master Bowen’s, and I am afraid they are going to kill us.” John let them all in – the whole colored family – and asked them who was in the crowd, but the children did not know if the men they were free-state or proslavery men; they just wanted John to run them off. Armstrong had previously talked to them about leaving their master. But a Lawrence Journal World article states that ” . . . the slave family wanted Miss Armstrong’s brother (John) to start them on the way to Canada, but the risk was too great and he did not do so.” They (the Bowens) took the slaves with them to Westport, Mo.

John Armstrong credited himself with persuading Jim Lane to come to Kansas. He had met Lane in the spring of 1855 on a boat on the Missouri River the morning after leaving St. Louis. John had been in Kansas since 1854 and had explored with Governor Robinson as far up as the Blue River. He recounted his meeting with Lane at an Old Settlers’ Meeting in 1879

Lane was on his way to Kansas, and when he found out that I had been in the Territory, he wanted to learn all about the country . . . I gave them a general description of the country from the mouth of the Kaw River up to where Manhattan now stands, and of all the country. The location of Lawrence and the Kansas bottom pleased my eyes better than any where else, and I gave them a glowing description of it, and told them that I believed that Lawrence was the place where we should eventually build up a great city. I know I did prevail upon Lane to come to Lawrence, for three days after I got here he came up here with his family. *emphasis author’s”

Later, in an 1896 interview when he was seventy-two, Armstrong further elaborated on his this meeting:

If Jim Lane was the greatest man Kansas ever produced – and a good many people think he was – then John Armstrong deserves the credit of discovering the greatest man and starting him in the proper channel. Mr. Armstrong says he came to Kansas to make it a free state, and he didn’t content himself with settling down in the Topeka town site, but he joined Stubbs’ company at Lawrence, received his Sharps’ rifle and marched and practiced with the boys. His meeting with Jim Lane is thus recounted by him: ” I had shipped a large nursery stock to Kansas which I started in 1851 and I expected it to arrive in Kansas City as soon as I returned from up the country, but it only reached St. Louis that fall. I had to go to St. Louis to look after it and in the early spring of 1855 I shipped it to Kansas. The morning I left St. Louis the clerk of the boat came to me and said, ‘Colonel Lane from Indiana and Thomas Shoemaker want to see you and have a talk about Kansas.’ I went down to the ladies’ cabin and was introduced to Colonel Lane and to Mr. Shoemaker, who had been appointed land receiver of the Kickapoo district. I had a pleasant talk with them, and from that time until we arrived in Kansas City we had frequent talks about Kansas. I became satisfied in my own mind that Lane’s object was to organize a Democratic party in Kansas and be its leader. He wanted to settle in the biggest place in the territory and asked me particularly about what I thought would be the best place to go. I gave him the best information I could, and a couple of days after I arrived in Lawrence, Colonel Lane came there with his family. “I introduced him to the boys and we vied with one another in doing what we could for him in running out lines and building a cabin. The willingness of the free-state people to help him, and the willingness of the proslavery party to carry out the Douglas squatter sovereignty bill to the territory, the driving away of true settlers from the polls and the frequent raids of the border ruffians, was what, I think, made such men as James H. Lane and hundreds of others as radical as any of us.”

Lane soon began to come over to the free-state side and became one of the great leaders for the cause; John became one of his lieutenants.

I also started an Underground Railroad in 1857 from Topeka to Civil Bend, Iowa. I hired a closed carriage and span of mules. I lived in Topeka then. I took up a subscription to start the thing, and amongst the number that gave me money was Dr. Charles Robinson, who was at Topeka at the time. He gave me ten dollars. I think Sam Wood gave five dollars and Maj. J. B. Abbott five. They were attending the Legislature. I don’t remember all that helped start the first train on the Underground Railroad and I helped establish the depots from Topeka to Civil Bend, Iowa.

In Reminiscences of Slave Days in Kansas, John tells how he encountered his first “passenger” on the “Topeka line” of the Underground Railroad.

The first slave I took out of Kansas was a woman. She got away from her masters, and came up to Howard’s, who lived about 2 miles s.e. of Topeka, staied [sic] there about five or six weeks, when some proslavery men from Deer Creek found that she was there and took her back to Lecompton for the reward. One or two of Edward’s boys was with the party that returned her. They lived on the Shunganunga near Frank Dawson’s … Howard had no chance to get the woman onto the Underground Railway. Her name was Ann Clarke. [. . . ] When they got her back to Lecompton it was about evening. They sent out in the country for Clarke to come in and pay the reward. Ann went out in the kitchen to clean herself up. By this time it was pretty dark, and she was studying how to get away. They had given her some cakes to eat, and she put some of these in her budget (a small bag or pouch). The men were in a frolic, had been drinking some. The women only were watching her, but she kept on the watch herself for a chance to escape and finally seizing an opportunity when they were off guard, ran out of the kitchen and up a ravine which was situated near where the foundations of the Territorial Capital State House is in Lecompton.

It was a very brushy ravine. She hid in a thick place in the brush, and hid there until most morning. They came out and hunted for her, coming very near her. When it became light enough she followed the ravine up s.e. and came up out onto the top of the hill on the edge of the prairie. Being now daybreak, she could see all about and took her bearings. She finally saw a man coming along the road s.w. of Lecompton and running east towards Lawrence. He had a book under his arm. She thot [sic] a man with a book must be free-state, and went out to talk to him. It was Dr. Barker, the father of Senator Barker of Douglas County. She asked him who lived in the different houses. Finally she found that he was Dr. Barker, a neighbor of G. W. Clarke who owned her (jointly with Col. Titus). He lived east of Lecompton and was credited with the murder of Thomas Barber in 1855. He was a former Indian agent and a prominent border ruffian. He had been out to see a sick woman, and was returning home. She [the slave woman, Ann] asked him to take her to his house and help her get free. He told her to go farther south, to walk down the ravine and come up back of his house. He kept her at his house a day or two, hitched up his team, put in several comforts, covered her over and took her down towards Lawrence, to the house of the father-in-law of George Earle, who brot [sic] her up to me at Topeka, to the residence of Mrs. Scales . . . Mrs. Scales kept her hid for a week before Mr. Scales found it out. Capt. Henry came in on her one morning when she was helping Mrs. Scales wash dishes. He was a strong proslavery man, and was boarding at the house. Mrs. Scales said, “You can keep a secret?” He did and never gave us away . . . We kept her there for about six weeks at our house, while I made arrangements to take her to Iowa.

Much has been written about this house – the residence of Mrs. Scales – at 429 Quincy Street in Topeka. There is some discrepancy as to who actually built it. Armstrong, in his Reminiscences, states that

Mrs. Scales, when he built the house placed a sugar hogshead, (a cask capable of containing large amounts of liquid), which he had shipped things from the east in, down in the cellar. When Ann came, we put some straw, clothes, and blankets into the hogshead, and had her stay in it. Mrs. Scales kept boarders, and during the day, while they were out, Ann used to come up in the kitchen and do a great deal of housework.

A newspaper article from 1913 also states that “*t+he stone house at 429 Quincy Street was erected by a Mrs. Scales, who emigrated from New York.” But the Topeka Mail & Kansas Breeze article from 1896 states that at the time of that interview, John Armstrong was still living in “the little stone house at 429 Quincy in Topeka, where he had lived ever since coming there in the early 1850’s,” and a 1910 newspaper article states that the house was built by John Armstrong himself. A 1929 newspaper article corroborates this, stating that “. . . it was constructed in 1856 by John Armstrong, a pioneer in Topeka, when the town had scarcely two dozen houses to break the nakedness of the plains.”

Whether built by him or not, the house eventually came into John Armstrong’s stewardship – if not ownership – when, after the sudden death of their younger daughter, “the Scales family moved from the house and returned east, leaving Armstrong in possession of the place.” And there can be no doubt as to its usage in Armstrong’s hands. “From this time on the place was the center of a very flood of anti-slavery sentiment. And at this time came the hogshead from New Orleans, and the disappearances of many slaves from the homes of their masters.”

“I suppose I have kept three hundred slaves in the house at 429 Quincy St., all told,” Armstrong is quoted as saying in the 1910 newspaper article, “and every one of them was taken north and eventually reached Canada.”

Many newspaper articles over the years have recounted the legend of the little stone house in Topeka. From the Topeka Daily Capital of April 21, 1929:

[I]n the basement was placed an immense hogshead, big enough to hold a score of persons comfortably. The hogshead originally had contained sugar, and was shipped up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, up the Missouri to Westport Landing, thence up the Kaw to Topeka. Emptied, it was put in the basement before the joists for the building were laid. At the time Armstrong obtained it, he thought that it would make an admirable hiding place for fleeing slaves . . . Armstrong was the first Topekan to have a station on the Underground Railroad. He received the blacks at night, placed them in the cellar and held them until it was safe for them to continue their journey.

Southern soldiers, in pursuit of the escaping Negroes, often halted in Topeka. Pitched battles, in which deaths sometimes occurred, took place in this vicinity. The Old Topeka House, situated where the post office now stands, was thought to be the hiding place of the slaves. This frequently was searched, but the fugitives never were found.

No suspicion was attached to the little stone building, just back of the Topeka House. It was so small and innocent appearing, and there seemed no places in it where anyone could be concealed. But had the pursuing soldiers only known it, on many occasions there were a dozen or more slaves concealed in the hogshead at the time they were futilely searching the Topeka House.

From the Topeka Daily Capital of Tuesday, July 5, 1938:

“Old ‘ Undergound Railway’ Cabin in Topeka on Block”

Slaves were hidden in the basement, which was entered by a long passage that originally reached to the Shunganunga Creek draw near what is now Fifteenth Street. The entrance to this passage still remains in the basement of the house.

The house contains three rooms, one large room on the main floor and two smaller rooms in the basement.

Cottonwood was used in the frame of the structure, but it is the walnut siding that gives the house its principal claim to architectural distinction.

The little stone house and the activities that took place there are perhaps best described in an earlier Topeka Daily Capital article, which states:

Slaves were hidden in the cellar . . . there were oftimes as many as a dozen runaway slaves taken care of by Mr. Armstrong and other anti-slavery people . . . The old stone house, which was the refuge of so many runaway slaves, has never been remodeled except for a new roof some years ago and is now the home of a colored family who probably do not know the same roof which shelters them, sheltered people of their own race over fifty years ago who were trying to escape the bonds of slavery.

For the runaway slaves, the stay at the Scales/Armstrong house at 429 Quincy St. in Topeka was only the beginning of what could turn into a harrowing Slaves were hidden in the cellar . . . there were oftimes as many as a dozen runaway slaves taken care of by Mr. Armstrong and other anti-slavery people . . . The old stone house, which was the refuge of so many runaway slaves, has never journey to freedom. In the 1910 Topeka Daily Capital article, Armstrong related that

. . . [w]e used to ford the Kaw River about where the bridge now stands always traveling by night and lying under cover during the day. Holton was the first station north and from there we went to Nebraska City and crossed the Missouri River at that point. After reaching Silver Bend, Iowa, we turned the slaves over to the Quakers and from that point it was an easy matter to place them on Canadian soil . . . I sometimes rode a pony on my trips, but unless I had some women in the party I usually walked and slept on the ground.

I took up one other woman. I don’t remember how she came to me. A Mr. Mills, a Topeka man, went with me all the way thru and returned with me . . . The road was about this way: We went first to Rochester, to Bowker’s in the night. The next stopping place would be Holton, at Smith’s or at Reynold’s, who lived a mile west of Holton, on the Creek. Another place was five miles north of Holton, where Brown was caught at the Battle of the Spurs. In crossing that creek, I got stuck, and had to get the woman out of the buggy. This was on the Jim Lane road. On my way up that first time I followed the track of Kagi [John Brown’s right-hand man who later died in the raid on Harper’s Ferry], who had started out three weeks before me to visit his father . . . We afterwards sent several women up. Some came from Missouri, some from Kansas.

Armstrong and Mills took the slaves from Topeka north over the Lane Trail. They were covered in a wagon, which was closed. The wagon had a false bottom to be used in cases of emergency; over this false bottom were spread hay and straw. The first stopping place north of Topeka was the farm of William Bowker. William Owens lived next door to Bowker, and sometimes his house also was used as a station on the Underground Railroad.

On his first trip with the slave Ann Clarke, Armstrong recounts, “We started in the very last days of February 1857, and I was gone three weeks. We went to Civil Bend, Iowa, to Dr. Blanchard. From there we sent her on the Chicago. The trip was without incident as far as Nebraska City. Approaching there, Armstrong concealed the Negroes beneath the false bottom in the wagon bed. Border ruffians halted him and looked in his wagon for slaves, but did not find them. That night Armstrong drove to Civil Bend, several miles up the Missouri. Kagi had been sent ahead of this first consignment over the underground, and was waiting for Armstrong at Nebraska City. He conducted the cargo of slaves to the ferry at Civil Bend, where he aided Armstrong to cross the Missouri River. The crossing was a dangerous matter, as ice was running in large pieces. The ferryman had to be persuaded with a Colt’s navy (revolver) before he would undertake the passage. The boat was carried down the river half a mile by the ice but finally made the east shore safely. The slaves were delivered to Dr. Ira D. Blanchard, who lived near Civil Bend on the Lane Trail, and a few miles from Tabor, Iowa. Kagi’s father lived at the time in Nebraska City and he also aided Armstrong to escape from the town with the slaves. The Underground Railroad over the Lane Trail was in operation as long as it was necessary for slaves to leave Kansas for Canada.

John Brown himself left Kansas forever over the Lane Trail in late January 1859. On his last exit from Kansas, while delivering slaves, he ran into trouble north of Holton, Kansas. He sent a farmer named Wasson, whose anti-slavery sentiments were well-known, back to Topeka to tell Colonel John Richie that John Brown was surrounded in a cabin (Fuller’s) on Straight Creek. It was Sunday morning when Wasson reached Topeka, and Richie and his family were part of a congregation gathered at a schoolhouse which stood at Fifth and Harrison and served as the meeting place for Congregationalists. A commotion was heard at the rear of the building causing people to turn toward the door. John Armstrong walked immediately to Richie’s seat and whispered in his ear. They both left the church and after hastily collecting a few men, hurried to the aid of the “Old Puritan”. They helped disperse the enemy at the crossing on Straight Creek near the Fuller cabin, in the Battle of the Spurs.

This battle, which occurred on January 31, 1859, received its name from Richard J. Hinton, an eastern correspondent who had come to Kansas. “As spurs were the most effective weapon used, the title is not altogether inappropriate. Not a shot was fired on either side.

A different explanation for the battle’s odd name was written by G. M. Seaman:

Some (of the men) had gotten their horses and some were afoot, but as they got out of the woods those that were afoot grabbed hold of the tails of the horses of those who were mounted and away they went sailing over the prairie, hence it was dubbed the “Battle of the Spurs.”

John Armstrong went on to live a long life. As stated above, he was still living in the stone house in 1896. The 1910 Topeka Capital article states that Armstrong, then 86, was living at Keith’s Hospital. He died less than a year later, on Dec. 19, 1911. His obituary appeared in the Topeka State Journal for December 20, 1911:

Anti Slavery Fighter Dies

John Armstrong, 87 years old, and the last survivor of the handful of pioneers which selected the location for a city where a town site company a fortnight later founded Topeka in December 1854, died last evening at St. Patrick’s Hospital and will be buried in Rochester Cemetery, where he already has had his monument erected and inscribed with the exception of the date of his death* . . . He was active in making Kansas a free state and established an underground railroad north from Topeka. He was with both Lane and Brown in their border warfare. He never married, remaining true to Eunice Scales, a young woman he met shortly after coming to Topeka, but who died of smallpox before their wedding could be arranged.

The above sad account may hold a key to the fervor with which John Armstrong approached his Underground Railroad activities.

The peculiar recklessness and energy for excitement that possessed John Armstrong might be hinged on a pathetic romance that filled his life during the first two years in Kansas. Mrs. Scales brought with her two daughters when she came to Kansas and old-timers who know the facts state beyond a doubt that the Scales home was a popular place in the eyes of the young men of Topeka. But above all suitors for the younger of the two daughters stood John Armstrong. He had followed the family from New York to Kansas and in this Far Western State stopped with them and continued the avowal of his loyalty.

All went well with the pioneer lovers and the affair was settled in the minds of Topekans. Then Miss Scales died with a contagious disease after a sickness of but a few days. After the funeral John Armstrong walked the streets for many days, seemingly without energy.

Was it John Armstrong’s abolitionist fervor that brought him to Kansas, or did he follow his heart here and turn to anti-slavery zeal only after his heart was broken? One thing is for certain; it has been 145 years since John Armstrong set foot on Kansas soil, but his footprints left an indelible imprint on the struggle to make Kansas free.

 

When you think of names of Civil War generals who had a profound influence before, during and after the Civil War, the name Major General Thomas Ewing Jr. usually does not pop-up. However, his role during the war had a huge impact on how some of the events unfolded. His life after the war was noteworthy.

Born 7 August 1829 in Lancaster, Ohio, Thomas Ewing Jr. was the third son of influential Ohio Senator Thomas Ewing Sr. and brother-in-law to General William Tecumseh Sherman. He studied law in Cincinnati and moved to Leavenworth, Kansas to practice law and became highly involved in the free-soil movement. When Kansas was admitted to the Union, Ewing became the state’s first chief justice.

When the Civil War began, Ewing raised the 11th Kansas Regiment to fight for the Union and was elected Colonel of the regiment and served with the regiment at the battles of Cain Hill and Prairie grove. His real distinction begins when, as a Brigadier General, he is placed in command of the highly volatile Border District.

Since the days of Bleeding Kansas in the 1850s, tensions between pro-slavery Missouri and the now free-state of Kansas ran high. Missouri bushwhackers and Kansas Jayhawkers and Red Legs were constantly at each other’s throats, and when William Quantrill and his band of guerrillas arrived in Lawrence, Kansas at five o’clock in the morning on 21 August 1863 and completely ravaged the town, killing 150 men and boys, and robbing, looting and burning the town, Thomas Ewing had to do something about the guerrilla hostilities.

His answer (with some prodding from fire-brand Senator and Jayhawker James H. Lane) was to draw up the infamous “Order No. 11.” With its harsh treatment of the civilian population, it was what Ewing believed the only solution to curtail guerrilla activity in the region. However, the methods used to enact the order (mainly, his use of Kansas troops that were mostly made up of Red Legs) and the resulted slaughter and desolation of four Missouri counties left a permanent stain on Ewing’s resume.

General Ewing and Order No. 11

Order No. 11 had indeed put a quiet over Kansas and in March, 1864, Ewing was ordered to St. Louis as a member of the staff of Union Major General William Rosecrans. It was during this period that Ewing would pull off one of the most incredible stands of the Civil War that has sometimes even been called the “Thermopylae of the West.”

Confederate Major General Sterling Price had begun his march into Missouri to attempt to seize St. Louis and its supplies, rally the citizens to the Confederacy, and put in place Thomas Reynolds as governor. On September 26th, 1864, Ewing was dispatched with the veteran 14th Iowa Infantry to ascertain the forces operating in southeast Missouri, and to hold Fort Davidson in Pilot Knob against what was considered a detachment of Price’s army. Prices army numbered well over 12,000 soldiers against a little over 1,000 men. However, lack of reliable information and the strong spirit of the Union defenders, would see Price’s army cut down as they attempted to take the tiny Fort. Ewing, aware of his reputation in regards to Order No. 11 was demanded to surrender, in which he replied, “They shall play no Fort Pillow game on me” and resolved to hold the fort. The ensuing and repeated attacks on the fort by the superior numbered Confederates and the tenacity and will of the Union defenders to not give it up is its reference to the famed battle at Thermopylae. The Union defenders lost about 29 men with 44 wounded, the Confederates however, saw over 1,500 of their troops killed or wounded by this small detachment of soldiers.

As night fell however, it was apparent that come morning, Price would once again press a full frontal assault on the fort, complete with artillery, and there would be no saving themselves or the fort. Ewing chose to evacuate the fort under cover of darkness, blow up the powder magazine and attempt to retreat to the safety of Rolla, Missouri. The Union soldiers made it to Leasburg, just outside of Rolla, and held defense there against the pursuit of Confederate Generals John S. Marmaduke and J.O. Shelby, who by the morning of October 1st, had rode off to join Price in Jefferson City, believing the attack on this new position would be too costly.

The time wasted on this futile pursuit, the huge loss of life at Pilot Knob now altered the original plans of Price’s raid, and the conflict and stand by Ewing and his troops at Pilot Knob, in effect, ended the raid as it begun. Price would attempt to cross Missouri and by the end of October, his army was defeated and shut down at Westport and then at Mine Creek in KS. Price’s infamous raid of 1864 was over and it had been by the brave and wise action of General Ewing.

In February 1865, Ewing resigned his commission in the Army to his good friend the President, Abraham Lincoln, and went back to public life. A month later, Lincoln was dead. Ironically, Ewing agreed to represent three of the conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination, Dr. Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold and Edmund Spangler. His efforts, in effect, kept those three men from meeting the same fate as the other conspirators and they were sentenced to prison at Fort Jefferson in Florida. Ewing also successfully obtained a pardon for Dr. Mudd at the end of President Johnson’s term of office.

Last years of life

Ewing practiced law in Washington D.C. from 1865 until 1870 when he moved back to his home in Lancaster, Ohio to practice law and became a Congressman for his state. In 1880 he ran for Governor of Ohio and narrowly lost the election. IN 1881 he moved to New York to again practice law and ended his career in public office. Thomas Ewing Jr. died after he was struck by a New York City omnibus in 1896 and is buried in Yonkers, NY.

One might think that the title of this column is a contradiction of words, but it is not. During the Civil War there was a certain civility in the correspondence that described the “barbarous warfare” that was conducted by both the Union and Confederate forces. This and the command of the English language were especially evident in the letters between the Union and Confederate “generals.”

The following letter from “Union” Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck to Confederate Gen. Sterling Price, although very civil in nature, clearly states exactly what Gen. Halleck will do and why he is doing it.

The letter is located in Series I, Volume 8 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion on pages 514 and 515.

“St. Louis, Mo., Jan. 22, 1862.

Gen. Sterling Price, Commanding:

General: Your letter, dated Springfield, Jan. 12, is received. The troops of which you complain on the Kansas frontier and at Fort Leavenworth are not under my command. In regard to them, I respectfully refer you to Maj. Gen. David Hunter, commanding the Department of Kansas, headquarters at Fort Leavenworth.

You also complain that “individuals and parties of men specially appointed and instructed by you to destroy railroads, culverts and bridges, by tearing them up and burning, and have been arrested and subjected to a general court-martial for alleged crimes.”

This statement is, in the main, correct. When “individuals and parties of men” violate the “laws of war,” they will be tried, and if found guilty, will certainly be punished, whether acting under your “special appointment and instructions” or not. You must be aware, general, that no orders of yours can save you from punishment spies, marauders, robbers, incendiaries, guerrilla bands and those who violate the “laws of war.”

You cannot give immunity to crime. But let us fully understand each other on this point.

If you send armed forces, wearing the garb (uniforms) of soldiers and duly organized and enrolled as legitimate belligerents to destroy railroads and bridges as a military act, we shall kill them, if possible, in open warefare, or if we capture them, we shall treat them as prisoners of war.

But it is well understood that you have sent numbers of your adherents, in the garb (clothes) of peaceful citizens and under false pretenses, through our lines into northern Missouri to rob and destroy the property of “Union” men and to burn and destroy railroad bridges, thus endangering the lives of thousands and this, too, without any military necessity or possible military advantage.

Moreover, peaceful citizens of Missouri, quietly working on their farms, have been instigated by your emissaries to take up arms as insurgents and to rob and plunder and to commit arson and murder. They do not even act under the garb of soldiers but under false pretenses and in the guise of peaceful citizens.

You certainly will not pretend that men guilty of such crimes, although “specially appointed and instructed by you,” are entitled to the rights and immunities of ordinary prisoners of war. If you do, will you refer me to a single authority on the laws of war which recognizes such a claim?

You may rest assured, general, that all prisoners of war not guilty of a crime will be treated with proper consideration and kindness. With the exception of being properly confined, they will be lodged and fed and, where necessary, clothed, the same as our own troops.

I am sorry to say that our prisoners who have come from your camps do not report such treatment on your part. They say that you gave them no rations, no clothing, no blankets, but left them to perish with want and cold. Moreover, it is believed that you subsist your troops by robbing and plundering the non-combatant “Union” inhabitants of the southwestern counties of this state. Thousands of poor families have fled to us for protection and support. They say that your troops robbed them of their provisions and clothing, carrying away their shoes and bedding and even cutting cloth from their looms, and that you have driven women and children from their homes to starve and perish in the cold.

I have not retaliated with such conduct upon your adherents here, as I have no intention of waging such a “barbarous warfare;” but I shall, whenever I can, punish such crimes, by whomsoever they may be committed.

I am daily expecting instructions respecting an exchange of prisoners of war. I will communicate with you on that subject as soon as they are received.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

H.W. Halleck

Maj. Gen., Commanding the Department of the Missouri.

Now then, did Gen. Price ever respond to Gen. Halleck’s letter? If he did, it did not survive the passage of time or has not been discovered to date. Did this letter change the “barbarous warfare” that was conducted in Missouri and eastern Kansas for the duration of the war to a more civilized way of waging war? Of course, it did not; and, of course, the war went on!

 

To persons living east of the Mississippi River during the Civil War, Kansas was “that new state out west,” where land cost little and men’s lives even less. For one intrepid young settler from Illinois, his new home became the source of inspiration for a revealing collection of diaries and artwork that comprise a treasure trove for Civil War historians.

Samuel J. Reader, of Indianola, Kan., was born in Illinois in 1836. He trekked to the new territory with his aunt and her husband in 1855, and kept a running chronicle of the events in “Bleeding Kansas” in a series of annual diaries. Along with written comments about that turbulent time, Reader also included some paintings. In one of his diaries, he painted himself staking his own Kansas claim. During the Civil War, Reader carried his diary while serving as a member of the local militia. His words and art, discovered after his death in 1914, became a unique record of the war.

Shortly after his arrival at Indianola, Reader wrote that the town would never amount to much. In 1862, he complained to his family back in Illinois that “instead of laying it out on the prairie the Mo. [Missouri] proprietors laid it out mostly in timber and bushes.”

The Kansas town–named after Indianola, Texas, by its Southern-sympathizing founders–was the subject of many Reader paintings. He depicted all the usual frontier establishments–a sawmill, a blacksmith, two or three stores, two hotels and a couple of billiard saloons or “whiskey dens.” At the height of the town’s prosperity, lots sold for $250 or $300, with one going as high as $500. Reader commented that “intemperance is the special vice of this neighborhood” and dubbed Indianola “Whiskeytown.” He also associated the town’s saloons with the secessionist movement, all of them being owned by pro-slavery sympathizers.

Young Sam’s opinion of supporters of slavery developed after he settled in Kansas Territory. He wrote: “Rich cheap farm land was the principal incentive that lured me on from my Illinois home. I had heard and read much concerning the political troubles in the territory; but the question of a free or a slave state was a secondary consideration with me at the time. In fact, I had given little thought to the subject; viewing the ‘Peculiar Institution’ as a great wrong, but leaving its adjustment to older and wiser heads.”

The largely Southern population of Indianola inevitably brought the town into conflict with its Free State neighbors. Recalling a raid by Topeka pioneers, Reader wrote: “Our neighborhood was badly stirred up. … A party of Free-State men … took from the most rabid pro-slavery citizens, their arms and military stores; together with Sundry articles, claimed to be contraband of war. The whiskey was emptied in the street. I had no hand in it; and whether the act was justifiable or not, is not for me to say. It was called a reprisal; but two wrongs do not always make one right! … But it was reported that our ruthless enemies [Missouri border ruffians] did far worse. Besides plundering, they added, ‘fire and sword’ and numberless outrages, on Free-State men!”  

Reader, Free-Staters and the Grim Chieftan

When Reader learned that Southern-sympathizing border ruffians were about to attack the town of Grasshopper Falls–present-day Valley Falls–in the next county to the east, he joined other Free Staters under Colonel James H. Lane as they rushed to confront the raiders at a place called Hickory Point. Lane’s ragtag militia crossed the Kansas River by ferry on Friday morning, September 12, 1856. The date was recorded forever in a watercolor depiction of the momentous crossing in Reader’s diary.

After an early morning skirmish that Sunday, Reader dashed off some lines in his diary, noting that the Free Staters had arrived at Hickory Point, a short distance east of Grasshopper Falls, at about 11 in the morning. “Fired some,” and then “retreated to O[zawkie],” he noted in his diary. Reader also claimed that his side had only lost three horses and one man wounded, compared to “Several B.Rs. [border ruffians] killed.” Actually, only one Southern sympathizer died in the skirmish. With that brief triumph behind them, young Reader and his companions in the Free State company ate some watermelons and in the evening started home, “sleepy and tired but full of glory.”

But there was little glory to be found in Kansas in 1856. This was the period of “Bleeding Kansas,” which featured the fanaticism of John Brown and the death and destruction sowed by contending bands of pro-slave and Free State partisans. During that one year in Reader’s Kansas county, three houses were ruined, 46 horses were stolen, and 67 head of cattle were rustled. But the federal government, from whom the people sought relief, never compensated the victims of either side, Reader recorded, and the claims passed into history and myth.

A number of Lane’s Free State militiamen involved in the raids were arrested that fall and imprisoned in the territorial capital, Lecompton, and the small neighboring town of Tecumseh–both Southern strongholds. Most were acquitted. At one time the jail in Tecumseh housed some 47 prisoners. About 10 o’clock on the night of November 21, 1856, about 30 of them escaped “by pegging a hole in the wall and crawling out like rats,” recounted the proSouth publication Lecompton Union on December 11. Officers caught one fellow halfway out and towed him back in. His excuse, “I am following the rest.”

Shortly after Kansas Territory became a state, its citizens experienced the myriad trials of civil war. The war, which broke out at Fort Sumter, S.C., three months after Kansas entered the Union, took a heavy toll on Union-loving volunteers. Reader wrote that “a great many farms are not cultivated in this section for want of working men.” Such a severe shortage of manpower existed in the entire state by the middle of the war that Governor Thomas Carney felt it necessary to caution recruiting officers to go more slowly in their efforts.  

Reader himself did not immediately enlist in one of the Kansas volunteer regiments. Instead, he served in the Union militia, which had formed during the territorial period, and subsequently took part in the bloodless “Battle of Indianola” and another confrontation at Hickory Point.

On the home front, Reader became an astute social observer in his letters and diaries. For example, in a letter dated January 19, 1862, he wrote to his brother that he had recently been in Topeka, where he “saw quite a number of negroes employed by its citizens. They looked intelligent and happy. I believe they have 15 or 20 there but none have come over on this side of the [Kansas] river, yet, that is.”

His social observations were sometimes tinged with martial language: One day, when a prostitute quarreled with the more respectable ladies of Indianola, the outraged reaction provided Reader with the opportunity to exercise his wit in his diary. The “fancy lady, to use no harsher term … established her headquarters in Billy P[russeit]’s shoemaker shop,” he observed. Five of the town’s womenfolk, “after holding a council of war determined on a vigorous policy, and forth-with set out for little Bill’s house. … The attacking force filed through the gate and by a skillful maneuver gained possession of the backdoor without the loss of a man (or woman rather).”

Immediately following the sack of Lawrence by William Clarke Quantrill, the citizens of many Kansas towns understandably feared a similar fate, and they organized Union militia companies to protect themselves. Elizabeth Reader, a resident of Indianola and relative of Samuel, wrote that the militia members continued to meet and drill until the fall of 1864. In that “Secesh” town, even some of the former pro-slavery men joined with the Unionist militiamen to make up Company D of the Shawnee County regiment.

The Shawnee County unit was designated the 2nd Regiment, Kansas State Militia, with Colonel George W. Veale commanding. The 2nd Kansas was brigaded later with the Lawrence unit, men who had suffered at the hands of Rebel guerrillas. A log stockade was erected in the center of Topeka as a refuge to which Shawnee County residents might flee if guerrillas appeared. And since Topeka had become the state capital, the city’s residents were sure it was a prime bushwhacker target.

Sterling Price’s Great Raid of 1864

Confederate Maj. Gen. Sterling Price invaded Missouri in September 1864. As he led three divisions of cavalry across the state where he had once been governor, Kansans watched anxiously to see if he would turn east toward St. Louis and the Mississippi River or west to capture Fort Leavenworth and plunder Kansas.  

Reader continued making entries into his diary that month as Governor Carney called out the militia. A lieutenant and quartermaster of the regiment, Reader reported on equipping the 2nd Kansas. Reader’s unit was ordered to assemble at Olathe on the Kansas-Missouri border, along with 10 other militia regiments. Each outfit had to provide its own transportation and rations. Members of each regiment were supplied with “two blankets, a tin cup, knife and fork, and a haversack,” Reader noted. In addition, Reader participated in the distribution of new Enfield rifles in place of the old and nearly worthless carbines that had been issued directly following the Lawrence raid.

Two days after the militia was called out, martial law was declared and every man between the ages of 18 and 60 was ordered to arms. On the morning of October 12, the 2nd Kansas moved out for Missouri. Reader took his diary along on the march, illustrating much of the campaign with charcoal and pencils–sketches he would later flesh out with watercolors. One such painting was called 2nd K.S.M. Invading Missouri. Many of the untrained, inexperienced militiamen refused to cross the state border to meet the Confederate invasion. The Shawnee County regiment was one of the exceptions, and the men from Topeka and vicinity proved their worth during the ensuing Battle of Westport.

Another painting, Night Before Battle, depicts the campsite of Kansans on October 21, 1864, the evening before the second day of fighting at Westport. The next day, the 2nd Kansas saw combat. The regiment waited at a shallow crossing of the Big Blue River through most of the day. Late in the afternoon, Brig. Gen. Jo Shelby’s “Iron Brigade” of Missouri cavalry broke through Union lines while attempting a flanking movement. Shelby’s Missourians ran headlong into the 2nd Kansas. The regiment held its ground without aid against vastly superior numbers for nearly an hour in what became known as the Battle of the Blue.

Reader fought among the embattled Kansans and later would commemorate in words and pictures the brave stand that repulsed the Confederate advance into Kansas. The 2nd Kansas counted 24 killed, 20 wounded and 88 taken prisoner.

Further confrontations along the border sent Price scurrying back toward the safety of Arkansas with a cache of captured arms and prisoners. Reader was one of the captured Federals. After a three-day forced march through southern Missouri, which he illustrated with a drawing he called Double-Quick, You Yankee, the 28-year-old Reader managed to escape and found shelter with a Kansas farmer. He eventually turned himself over to a company of Federal cavalry, using his diary to prove his identity. He was one of the fortunate ones–many of his fellow prisoners died of exposure and pneumonia. Years later, Reader spent time honing his artistic talent. Although he is best known as a diarist, he was also a natural artist whose work illustrated his words. In addition to the diaries he kept faithfully from age 13 until his death, he also wrote and illustrated his autobiography. The watercolors in the latter work are now considered a valuable record of the Civil War in Kansas and Missouri.

Reader used pigment ground in gum and applied with brush and water to produce some of the best Kansas art depicting the war. Most of his work was primitive, but his action scenes of the Battle of the Blue at Westport, now held by the Kansas State Historical Society, are the equal of any combat painting of the Civil War.

Reader’s reminiscences, eternized with both pen and brush, have only been partially tapped. His story of the border warfare in the state, in both pictures and words, is an invaluable glimpse into Kansas’ Civil War heritage.