August 21, 1863
The bloody guerrilla fighting along the Kansas-Missouri border that beganwith the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 only got bloodier with the coming of the Civil War. Union Brig. Gen. Thomas Ewing, Gen. William T. Sherman’s brother-in-law, was assigned to command the District of the Border, where he was faced with the seemingly impossible task of trying to stop Confederate raiders–primarily the guerrilla band led by the notorious William C. Quantrill.
In 1863, Ewing began arresting women suspected of aiding Quantrill’s men. Many were mothers, sisters, and wives of the guerillas. Ewing jailed some in a dilapidated three story building in Kansas City. On August 14, the building collapsed, killing four of the women and seriously injuring others. Four days later, Ewing ordered that the wives and children of known guerillas were “to remove out of this district and out of the State of Missouri forthwith.”
Seeking revenge, Quantrill and 450 men set out on August 19 for the abolitionist stronghold of Lawrence, Kans. They stormed into the town with blazing guns at daybreak on August 21. For three hours they committed an orgy of burning, pillaging, and massacring its citizens. The victims were shot down in front of their families or burned up in their houses. At 9:00 A.M. the raiders departed, leaving 80 new widows, 250 fatherless children, and a smoldering ruin of a town. Fewer than 20 of Quantrill’s 150 victims were soldiers. No women were physically harmed.
Quantrill had lived in Lawrence for a short time before the war and had a vengeance list of persons to be disposed of. He got them all except for the one on the top of the list, Sen. Jim Lane, the leader of a band of Union guerrillas that had been making raids into Missouri. On the morning of Quantrill’s raid, Lane had heard the horses coming and hid in a cornfield in his nightshirt until the raiders left.
Fascinating Fact: Four of Quantrill’s raiders at Lawrence were Cole, James, John, and Robert Younger. Known as the Younger Brothers after the war, they teamed up with Frank and Jesse James to rob banks, trains, and stagecoaches.