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The Lawrence Massacre, also known as Quantrill's Raid, was a rebel guerrilla attack during the U.S. Civil War by Quantrill's Raiders, led by William Clarke Quantrill, on the pro-Union town of Lawrence, Kansasmarker.

The attack on August 21, 1863, targeted Lawrence due to the town's long support of abolition and its reputation as a center for Redlegs and Jayhawkers, which were free-state militia and vigilante groups known for attacking and destroying farms and plantations in Missourimarker's pro-slavery western counties.


By 1863, Kansasmarker had long been the center of strife and warfare over the admission of slave versus free states. In the summer of 1856, the first sacking of Lawrence sparked a guerrilla war in Kansas that lasted for months. John Brown might be the best known participant, but numerous groups fought for each side in Bleeding Kansas.

By the beginning of the American Civil War, Lawrence, Kansas, was already a target for pro-slavery ire, having been seen as the anti-slavery stronghold in the state and more importantly, a staging area for Union and Jayhawker incursions into Missouri.

Events leading up to the attack

In a bid to put down the Missouri guerrilla raiders operating in Kansas, General Thomas Ewing, Jr. issued General Order No. 10, which ordered the arrest of anyone giving aid or comfort to Quantrill's raiders. This meant chiefly women and children. Ewing confined those arrested in a make-shift prison in Kansas Citymarker. On August 13, 1863, this building collapsed, killing five women, including 14 year old Josephine Anderson, sister of William T. "Bloody Bill" Anderson. A third story had been added to the structure by George Caleb Bingham prior to conversion of the building into a jail. Some (later including Bingham who held a personal grudge against Ewing) claimed that the structure was undermined by the guards to cause its collapse while others maintained that it was structurally unsound before it was occupied.

Animus for the attack on Lawrence may have also stemmed from lingering fury over the Union's attack on Osceola, Missouri in September 1861, led by Senator James H. Lane. In this raid, nine Osceola men were executed after a farcical trial and the town was looted and burned.


The attack was a masterstroke of guerrilla planning. Quantrill had been able to gain the confidence of many of the leaders of independent Bushwhacker groups, and chose the day and time of the attack well in advance. The different groups of Missouri riders approached Lawrence from the east in several independent columns, and converged with well-timed precision in the final miles before Lawrence during the pre-dawn hours of the chosen day. Many of the men had been riding for over 24 hours to make the rendezvous and had lashed themselves to their saddles to keep riding if they fell asleep. They were almost all armed with multiple, long-barreled, cap-and-ball revolvers, shoved crossways into their double-breasted shirt-fronts so they would not have to reload in the heat of a fight, pistoleering tactics also used after the war by western gunfighters.

Arriving at the summit of Mount Oreadmarker and leading between three and four hundred riders, Quantrill descended on Lawrence in a fury. A four-hour session of pillaging, systematic killing of most of the male population, arson, and other mayhem ensued. By the time Quantrill's men rode out of town, one in four buildings in Lawrence had been burnt to the ground, including all but two businesses. Most of the banks and stores had been looted as well. Left behind were between 185 and 200 dead men and boys. Among those listed as slain according to an 1897 account, were 18 out of 23 unmustered army recruits. By 9 a.m., they were on their way out of town, evading the few units that came in pursuit, and splitting up so as to avoid Union pursuit of a unified column.

The real target of the raid, Jayhawking Senator James H. Lane, who had been responsible for the raid in Osceola, Missourimarker, two years earlier, managed to escape death by racing through a cornfield in his nightshirt. Three years later he commited suicide.


The Lawrence Massacre was one of the bloodiest events in the whole history of Kansas. A day after the attack, the surviving citizens of Lawrence lynched a member of Quantrill's Raiders caught in the town. On August 25, General Ewing authorized General Order No. 11 (not to be confused with Grant's famous General Order of the same name) evicting thousands of Missourians in four counties from their homes near the Kansas border. Virtually everything in these counties was then systematically burned to the ground. The action was carried out by the infamous Jayhawker, Charles "Doc" Jennison. Jennison's vicious raids into Missouri were thorough and indiscriminate, and left five counties in western Missouri wasted, save for the standing brick chimneys of the two-storey period houses, which are still called "Jennison Monuments" in thoseparts.

The city seal of Lawrence commemorates Quantrill's attack with its depiction of a Phoenix rising from the ashes of the burnt city.

For his part, Quantrill led his men south to Texas for the winter. By the next year, the raiders had disintegrated as a unified force, so were unable to achieve similar successes. He died of wounds received in Kentucky in 1865, with only a few staunch supporters left. Among these appear to have been Frank James and his younger brother, Jesse James.

In popular media

In the USA Network dramedy Psych, the fictional "Battle of Piper's Cove" reenacted in the 2006 episode "Weekend Warriors" seems to be based on the Lawrence Massacre.

The battle is also depicted in the Steven Spielberg-produced 2005 miniseries Into the West and in Ang Lee's 1999 film Ride with the Devil.

The 1940 film Dark Command, based on a novel of the same name, is a fictionalized account of the events in much more of a classic B-movie western style. The film starred John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, and Walter Pidgeon, but bore no resemblance to the events of history.

The Stranger Wore a Gun (1953), with Randolph Scott as a Rebel spy, is based on the Lawrence raid.

See also


  • National Park Service battle description
  • Paul I. Wellman (1961). A Dynasty of Western Outlaws. (On the formative background of the Kansas-Missouri border wars on the post-war western outlaws, notably the James-Younger gang.)

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