of Black Jack
as free state advocates and pro-slavery supporters continued to clash over
whether Kansas would join the Union as a free or slave state, tensions were
Late that May, Captain H. C. Pate, in command of a company of Shannon's
Sharp-shooters, started for Osawatomie for the purpose of capturing
Brown was wanted for his participation in the execution of five proslavery men
in what became known as the
Pottawatomie Massacre, which was in retribution for the
Lawrence on May 21.
men found two of
Brown's sons -- John and Jason, the former a
member of the legislature -- working on their farms, arrested them and put them
in irons, but the elder
Brown was in hiding. A few other free-state men were
arrested and some cabins burned.
after this Captain Wood arrived with a company of dragoons and the prisoners
were turned over to him. Both companies then moved toward the
Santa Fe Trail, Wood heading toward Lecompton with the
prisoners. On the march the two Browns were treated with
great severity, and this, with the false stories of murder told on his father, caused
John's mind to give way, and at times he was violently insane.
Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads
company made camp near Hickory Point, on the
head of a small branch called Black Jack, five miles southeast of Palmyra, at
the head of a ravine on the edge of the prairie a little north of the
Santa Fe Trail. William Addison Phillips in his Conquest of Kansas
described it, "The bottom of the ravine
at Black Jack, besides the growing timber, had some deep water-drains or ruts,
round which was a thicket; there were several bogs on the spot where the camp
That night Pate's company occupied the town of Palmyra and took several
prisoners. In the morning they plundered the place, and in the afternoon six of
his men attempted the same thing at Prairie City. Being Sunday, most of the
people were at church, but, as they attended services armed, the men rushed out
when a watchman gave the alarm and two of the men were captured.
Meanwhile, as soon
as he heard of the capture of his sons,
was determined to rescue them and
watched for the enemy's camp with the design of attacking it and releasing the
prisoners. He hunted through the woods of the Marias des Cygnes and Ottawa
Creeks. On Saturday night, Captain Shore, a free-state man who commanded the
Prairie City Company, had been out assisting
Brown in reconnoitering for the
enemy. On Sunday night Shore and his men accompanied by Captain
the search for the camp, but were unsuccessful. They had returned to Prairie
City when two scouts brought the news of Pate's camp on the Black Jack, some
Brown had been accompanied from Osawatomie by about 12 men,
including three of his other sons. Immediately upon learning of the whereabouts of
Shore, with about 20 men, moved toward Black Jack
in the pre-dawn hours of June 2,
On arriving within a mile of the camp, they dismounted, left the horses in
charge of two men and dispatched two messengers for help -- one to Palmyra and
another to Captain Abbott's company some eight miles distant on the Wakarusa.
The remainder of the party divided, each captain commanding his own men
marched toward the enemy. There were about 50 men under Pate's command. They had
formed a kind of breastwork by placing four wagons in a line several rods out on
the prairie from the edge of the ravine, and had pitched a tent behind the
wagons. This was the condition of the camp at about 6 o'clock that morning, when the alarm
was given that the free-state men were coming.
Jack Battlefield, by J. Newby December 1888. Photo courtesy
Pate drew up his men behind the temporary
breastworks. His position was a strong one, as it afforded shelter for his
men, and except by coming up the ravine from the direction of Hickory
Point, had to be approached over an open prairie. When they ascertained
the enemy's position,
directed Shore to go the left and get into the
ravine below them, while
was to go into the upper part of the
ravine, the bottom of which was covered with long grass.
Owing to a bend
in the ravine, this division of the forces would bring the enemy in range
of both forces and under a cross-fire. Shore, however, approached the
enemy over the open prairie and poured a volley on the pro-slavery men
from the front, while
Brown, who had placed his men in the tall grass
within the outer banks of the ravine, opened fire upon their left flank.
After the firing had lasted about five minutes Pate retreated from the
wagon to the ravine, where he found shelter. This left Shore exposed to
the fire of the concealed enemy and he was forced to retreat up the slope
until out of range. Shore and a few of his men joined
in the ravine,
where they continued firing from the long grass. The firing had little
effect as the free-state party had only four guns of long range and there
were only three or four Sharpe's rifles in both companies.
The prisoners held by Pate had been stationed
in the tent with a guard and when the firing began they lay flat on the
ground so that the bullets whistled over their heads. After the battle had
waged some time one of the enemy rushed into the tent with the intention
of shooting them but one of the prisoners, Dr. Graham, at whom he aimed, sprang up, received
only a slight flesh wound and rushed off to the men on the hill.
firing lasted for about three hours, during which time two free-state and
three pro-slavery men were wounded. The latter knew that Shore and
would soon receive reinforcements and one by one they gradually slipped
down the ravine until out of range, secured horses and rode away. Pate's
ammunition running low, he finally sent a young man and a prisoner to
camp under a flag of truce, but as
would not talk with anyone but the commander of the force, Pate came out.
After some parleying, in which Pate claimed he was acting as an officer
under the United States marshal,
declared he would consider nothing but unconditional surrender. As most of
Pate's men had deserted him, he yielded and thus 21 men, besides the
prisoners, provisions, horses, mules and other camp equipage, as well as a
quantity of the plunder taken from Palmyra, were turned over to
Soon after the surrender, the free-state forces were augmented by Captain
Abbott and about 50 men from the Wakarusa and later in the day by others.
The wounded were taken to Prairie City and cared for and Captain
moved with his prisoners to the thick woods of Middle Ottawa Creek to the
back of Prairie City where he entrenched himself, holding Pate and the
rest as prisoners to exchange for the release of his two son's.
Jack Battlefield 2006, Kathy Weiser-Alexander
The Battle of Black Jack was the first armed
conflict between proslavery and antislavery forces in the United States, with
some even considering it as the first true battle of the
Civil War, even though the "official” event that
is cited as the beginning of the war is the attack on Fort Sumter in
South Carolina, by Confederate troops on April 12, 1861. It would bring
more division to a nation already divided over the slavery issue, and would
bring John Brown to the attention of the nation with his call for armed
insurrection to end slavery.
The battlefield was designated as a National
Historic Landmark in 2012, and is located near U.S. Highway 56, about three miles east of
Baldwin City, near the Robert Hall Pearson Memorial Park. A historical marker
designates the site and interpretive signs point out where the battle started and ended.
of America, updated June
2014 with additional edits/information by Dave Alexander.
Crusading Against Slavery
Kansas & the Missouri Border War
of Black Jack Historic Markers, October, 2006, Kathy Weiser.
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