Guest Author - Vance Rowe
It was just before daybreak on August 21, 1863. William Quantrill arrived at the thriving town of Lawrence Kansas along with about five hundred men. Some of those men included Frank James, Cole and James Younger. Three men who would later make up the infamous James-Younger Gang. Some reports say that Jesse was with Quantrill during the raid but other reports say he wasn’t. Jesse did ride with Quantrill at one point, but it is not clear whether he was in the gang during the raid or not.
Kansas was what was known as a “free-state” that wanted slavery abolished and were Union Army sympathizers. William Quantrill was a murderer of Union soldiers and Union sympathizers so Lawrence Kansas should be no different. It is said in some accounts that Quantrill and his band of guerillas burned houses and killed people on the way to Lawrence and even kidnapped a boy so he could show them how to get there. It is also said that he let the boy go after the raid was over along with a new set of clothes and a horse. They waited at the outskirts of town as two riders rode in from Quantrill and checked it out. They made it back to Quantrill without alarming anyone so Quantrill told everyone to go in and burn everything to the ground. A bunch of the guerillas surrounded the town on the outside so no one could escape.
The first person killed was a black minister who was out in his backyard at the time. From then on, the rest of the attack was absolutely flawless. Every man knew what he was assigned to do and soon groups broke off and headed for their assignments. The townspeople began pouring out into the streets, scared out of their minds. The raiders just kept pouring into the town as well and shot people as they came. They fired at people on the streets, in their houses and on the sidewalks. Every window was shot into as was every open doorway as the riders roared through the town with reckless abandon.
Quantrill and his men finally captured the Eldridge House hotel and the people and employees surrendered to Quantrill, their lives were spared. Other hotels were not as lucky. Quantrill then ordered his men to “burn every building” and “kill every man”. The Raiders went through the town robbing places, setting fire to buildings and killing any stragglers that may be alive yet. Husbands were killed in front of their wives, men were shot down when ordered to surrender from their houses and then their houses burned.
The after math saw Quantrill’s Raiders also known as the Border Ruffians, leave the town when a detachment of soldiers were spotted headed for the town. One hundred forty three people were buried but there more that perished in the fires and the count of dead is somewhere between one hundred fifty and two hundred people. Men, women and children. This was probably one of the bloodiest and most costly campaigns ever performed by guerilla soldiers during the Civil War and there were a lot of them but this one was planned and executed perfectly. The damage to the town is said to be about two million dollars worth which is quite a bit of money now and even more so back in 1863.
It is another unfortunate incident in history that helped shape this country. Another unfortunate tragedy in another unfortunate war.