150 Years Ago This Week: The Sacking of Lawrence, Kansas

August, 1863

Federal troops of the Army of the Cumberland under Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans started marching in Tennessee from Tullahoma toward the Tennessee River and Chattanooga on Sunday, Aug. 16. Responding to entreaties from Washington, Gen. Rosecrans said he had been delayed because of ripening crops to be harvested, railroad repairs had to be made and he needed support on both flanks of his army.

Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside and his command left Camp Nelson in Kentucky, and headed for east Tennessee on their way to the Tennessee River; the campaign which culminated in the Battle of Chickamauga had begun. Gen. Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, called for additional troops.

Richmond planned to supply him with whatever troops could be spared from elsewhere. Gen. Rosecrans planned to move his army across the Tennessee River south and west of Chattanooga, while creating a feint north of Chattanooga and trapping Gen. Bragg’s army between his army and Gen. Burnside’s troops.

In Charleston Harbor, Union guns on Morris Island continued firing on Ft. Sumter. Laborers there had been filling in damaged masonry with sand, strengthening the ramparts facing Morris Island, and removing many of the Confederate artillery, leaving only a .38 cannon manned by a garrison of some 500 Confederates.

President Lincoln wrote to Gov. Horatio Seymour of New York about the draft issues there: “My purpose is to be just and fair; and yet not lose time.” The first major bombardment of Ft. Sumter by Union artillery on Morris Island began early on the morning of Aug. 17. Aided by U.S. Naval vessels, some 938 shells were fired at Ft. Sumter that day, along with Battery Wagner and Battery Gregg. Ft. Sumter’s brick walls crumbled under the blows of the Federal Parrott guns and the huge 200-pound shells of the “Swamp Angel.” The ensuing rubble and sand formed a more impregnable bulwark against the Federal fire.

The second day of the Union bombardment of Ft. Sumter on Aug. 18 showed that the Federals were very tenacious in their fire; although severely damaged, the Confederate forts continued to withstand the pounding artillery.

The same day, President Lincoln went to the small park near the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington and tested the new Spencer repeating rifle. The president had a keen interest in the fruits of the latest technology.

Northern authorities on Aug. 19 resumed the draft in New York City, and things remained calm though Union troops protected the draft headquarters against a repetition of the disastrous riots of July. The Union bombardment of Confederate fortifications in Charleston Harbor relentlessly continued on Aug. 19 and 20. Brig. Gen. William Averill’s cavalry brigade destroyed a Confederate saltpeter works near Franklin, W. Va.; and a Confederate signal station at St. John’s Mill, Fla., was captured by Federal troops.

While the Union bombardment of Ft. Sumter and Ft. Wagner continued in Charleston Harbor on Aug. 20, in the Far West, Col. Christopher “Kit” Carson began a campaign against the Navajo Indians, starting from Pueblo, in the Colorado Territory He had been commanding Union cavalry in attacks against the Navajo, who had been committing outrages and depredations against settlers ever since the U.S. occupied the New Mexico Territory in 1846, after the Mexican War.

In Kansas on Friday, Aug. 21, about 150 men and boys were killed and more than $1.5 million worth of property was destroyed in the massacre at Lawrence. Storming into town at dawn, some 450 Confederate and Missouri guerrilla fighters and bushwhackers under William C. Quantrell (including Jesse and Frank James) sacked, burned and murdered. Only women and children were spared.

The raid resulted out of festering bitterness created by the so-called Kansas War; by the Federal raid on Osceola, Mo.; and by Quantrell’s personal grudge against Lawrence. Of the death and destruction of Lawrence, one eyewitness reported: “The town is a complete ruin. The whole of the business part, and all good private residences are burned down. Everything of value was taken by the fiends. There are the bodies of men and animals in every direction wherever the eye can see . . . I cannot describe the horrors here.”

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Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.