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Lawrence Massacre

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By R. Cordley in 1865


About the Article: The Lawrence Massacre is based on a letter written by Reverend Richard Cordley, pastor of the Congregational Church and eye witness to Quantrill's Raid on Lawrence in 1863. The contents were then published by J.S. Broughton of Lawrence, Kansas in 1865. From the Kansas Collection of Kenneth Spencer Research Library and the Department of History of the University of Kansas. The electronic copy was prepared by Mr. Alec Miller. Lawrence, Kansas, 30 June 1994.




It is a fact not generally known that no complete account of this massacre has ever been published. The letter furnished by Reverend R. Cordley to the Congressional Record a few days after the event and before all the facts and incidents had become known, and which was republished in Boughton & McAllister's Directory of Lawrence 1865, is about all the literature we can find in regard to it.





Lawrence Raid

The Lawrence, Kansas Raid as illustrated in Harper's Weekly, September, 1863.



Mr. Cordley's letter is made the basis of this history, to which is added the personal experience and observations of a number of residents who providentially escaped the general slaughter and who now recall the terrible events of those few hours as though they occurred yesterday.


We would like to give the personal experience of every one of the survivors and especially record in detail the deeds of heroism enacted by the brave women of Lawrence who in that fearful hour saved many a precious life, and extinguished the flames in nearly a hundred burning dwellings. But volumes would be required for such an undertaking.



August 21, 1863


150 Men Killed Eighty Women Made Widows And 250 Children Made Orphans




The destruction of Lawrence had no doubt been long contemplated by the rebels of the border. Ever since the war had commenced rumors had been constantly circulating of the maturing of such a purpose. Each rumor called forth efforts for defense. The people had become so accustomed to alarms as to be almost unaffected by them. At several times the prospect had been absolutely threatening. This was especially the case after the battle of Springfield, and again after the capture of Lexington by the rebels. The people had never felt more secure than for a few months preceding the raid of August, 1863. The power of the rebellion was broken in Missouri, and the Federal force on the border, while it could prevent depravations by small gangs, seemed to be sufficiently vigilant to prevent the gathering of any large force. No rumors of danger had been received for several months.


Still, many of the citizens did not feel that the place was entirely safe. Mayor Collamore, early in the summer, prevailed upon the military authorities to station a squad of soldiers in Lawrence. These soldiers were under the command of Lieutenant Hadley, a very efficient officer. Lieutenant Hadley had a brother on General Ewing's staff. About the first of August this brother wrote him that his spies had been in Quantrill's camp, had mingled freely with his men, and had learned from Quantrill's clerk, that they proposed to make a raid on Lawrence about the full of the moon, which would be three weeks before the actual raid. He told his brother to do all he could for the defense of the town, to fight them to the last, and never be taken prisoner, for Quantrill killed all prisoners. Lieutenant Hadley showed the letter to Mayor Collamore, who, at once, set about the work of putting the town in a state of defense. The militia was called out, pickets detailed, the cannon got in readiness, and the country warned. 


William Clark Quantrill

William Clarke Quantrill


Had Quantrill's gang come according to promise, they would have been "welcomed with bloody hands and hospitable graves." Someone asked Quantrill, when in Lawrence, why he did not come before when he said he would. He replied "You were expecting me then but I have caught you napping now."


It may be asked, why the people of Lawrence relaxed their vigilance so soon after receiving such authentic evidence of Quantrill's intentions? The city and military authorities made the fatal mistake of keeping the ground of apprehension a profound secret. Nobody new the reason of the preparations. Rumors were afloat, but they could not be traced to any reliable source. Companies came in from the country, but could not ascertain why they were sent for, and went home to be laughed at by their neighbors. Unable to find any ground of alarm, people soon began to think that the rumors were like the other false alarms by which they had been periodically disturbed for the last two years. The course of the military authorities tended to strengthen this view.


Mayor Collamore sent to Fort Leavenworth for cannon and troops. They were at once sent over, but were met at Lawrence by a dispatch from Kansas City, ordering them back. A few days after, the squad of soldiers under Lieutenant Hadley was ordered away. It was evident, therefore, that the military authorities at Kansas City, who ought to know, did not consider the place in danger.


The usual sense of security soon returned. Citizens were assured that Quantrill could not penetrate the military line on the border without detection. They felt sure, too, that he could not travel fifty miles through a loyal county without their being informed of the approach of danger. The people never felt more secure, and were never less prepared, than the night before the raid.


The Approach


Lane's Fort atop Mount Oread, Lawrence, KansasQuantrill assembled his gang about noon the day before the raid, and started towards Kansas about two o'clock. They crossed the border between five and six o'clock, and struck directly across the prairie toward Lawrence. He passed through Gardner, on the old Santa Fe wagon road, about 11 o'clock at night. Here, they burned a few houses and killed one or two citizens. The passed through Hesper, ten miles southeast of Lawrence, between two and three o'clock. The moon was now down and the night was very dark and the road doubtful. They took a little boy from a house on Captain's Creek, near by, and compelled him to guide them into Lawrence. They kept the boy during their work in Lawrence, and then Quantrill dressed him in a new suit of clothes, gave him a horse and sent him home. They entered Franklin about the first glimmer of day. They passed quietly through, lying upon their horses, so as to attract as little attention as possible. The command, however, was distinctly heard, "Rush on, boys, it will be daylight before we are there! We ought to have been their an hour ago." From here it began to grow light, and they traveled faster. When they first came in sight of the town they stopped. Many were inclined to waver. They said: "They would be cut to pieces and it was madness to go on." Quantrill finally declared that he was going in, and they might follow who would. Two horsemen were sent ahead to see that all was quiet in town. Those horsemen rode through the town and back without attracting attention. They were seen going through Main street, but their appearance there at that hour was nothing unusual. At the house of the Rev. S. S. Snyder a gang turned aside from the main body, entered his yard and shot him. Mr. Snyder was a prominent minister among the United Brethren. He held a commission as lieutenant in the Second Colored Regiment, which probably accounts for their malignity.


Their progress from here was quite rapid but cautious. Every now and then they checked up their horses as if fearful to proceed. They were seen approaching by several persons in the outskirts of the town, but in the dimness of the morning and the distance, they were supposed to be Union troops. They passed on in a body till they came to the high ground facing Main street, when the command was given, "Rush on to the town!" Instantly they rushed forward with the yell of demons. The attack was perfectly planned. Every man knew his place. Detachments scattered to every section of the town, and it was done with such promptness and speed that before people could gather the meaning of their first yell, every part of the town was full of them. They flowed into every street. Eleven rushed up to Mount Oread, from which all the roads leading into town could be seen for several miles out. These were to keep watch of the country round about, least the people should gather and come in on them unawares.


Another and larger squad, struck for the west part of the town, while the main body, by two or three converging streets, made for the hotel. They first came upon a group of recruits for the Kansas Fourteenth. On these they fired as they passed killing seventeen out of twenty-two. This attack did not in the least check the speed of the general advance. A few turned aside to run down and shoot fugitive soldiers, but the company rushed on at the command, "To the hotel!" which could be heard all over the town. In all the bloody scenes which followed, nothing equaled, in wildness and terror, that which now presented itself. The horsemanship of the guerrillas was perfect. They rode with that ease and abandon which are acquired only by a life spent in the saddle amid desperate scenes. Their horses scarcely seemed to touch the ground, and the riders, sat with bodies and arms perfectly free, with revolvers on full cock, shooting at every house and man they passed, and yelling like demons at every bound. On each side of this stream of fire, as it poured toward the street, were men falling dead and wounded, and women and children half dressed, running and screaming, some trying to escape from danger and some rushing to the side of their murdered friends.


The Capture Of The Hotel


They dashed along the main street, shooting at every straggler on the sidewalk, and into almost every window. They halted in front of the Eldridge House. The firing had ceased and all was quiet for a few minutes. They evidently expected resistance here, and sat gazing at the windows above them, apparently in fearful suspense. In a few moments, Captain Banks, Provost Marshal of the State, opened a window and displayed a white flag, and called for Quantrill. Quantrill rode forward, and Banks, as Provost Marshal, surrendered the house, stipulating the safety of its inmates.


At this moment the big gong in the hotel began to sound through the house to arouse the sleepers. At this the whole column fell back, evidently thinking this the signal for an attack from the hotel. In a few moments, meeting with no resistance, they pressed forward again, and commenced the work of plunder and destruction. They ransacked the hotel, robbing the rooms and their inmates. These inmates they gathered together at the head of the stairs, and when the plundering was done, marched them across the street on to Winthrop street under a guard. When they had proceeded a little distance, a ruffian rode up, and ordered a young man out of the ranks, and fired two shots at him, but with no effect.


One of the guards at once interposed, and threatened to kill the ruffian if one of the prisoners was molested. Quantrill then rode up and told them the City Hotel, on the river bank, would be protected, because he had boarded there some years ago and had been well treated. He ordered the prisoners to go there, and stay in, and they would be safe. The prisoners were as obedient to orders as any of Quantrill's own men and lost no time in gaining the house of refuge. This treatment of the prisoners of the Eldridge House shows that they expected resistance from that point, and were relieved by the offer of surrender. They not only promised protection, but were as good as their word. Other hotels received no such favors, and had no such experience of rebel honor.


Eldridge House Hotel, 1867, Lawrence, kansas

The Eldridge House was rebuilt, pictured here in 1867. It continues to stand today.


At the Johnson House they shot at all that showed themselves, and the prisoners that were finally taken and marched off, were shot a few rods of the house, some of them among the fires of the burning buildings. Such was the common fate of those who surrendered themselves as prisoners, Mr. R. C. Dix was one of these. His house was the nest door to the Johnson House, and being fired at in his own house, he escaped to the Johnson House. All the men were ordered to surrender. "all we want," said a rebel, "is for the men to give themselves up, and we will spare them and burn the house." Mr. Dix and other gave themselves up. They marched them towards town, and when they had gone about two hundred feet, the guards shot them all, one after another. Mr. Hampson, one of the number, fell wounded, and lay as if dead till he could escape unseen. A brother of Mr. Dix remained in the shop, and was shot four times through the window, and fell almost helpless. The building was burning over his head, and he was compelled to drag himself out into the next building, which fortunately was not burned. The air was so still that one building did not catch from another.



The Carnage - "Hell Let Loose"


After the Eldridge House surrendered, and all fears of resistance were removed, the ruffians scattered in small gangs to all parts of the town in search of plunder and blood. The order was "to burn every house, and kill every man." Almost every house was visited and robbed, and the men found in them killed or left, according to the character or whim of the captors. Some of these seemed completely brutalized, while others showed some signs of remaining humanity. One lady said that as gang after gang came to her house, she always met them herself, and tried to get them talking. If she only got them to talking, she could get at what little humanity was left in them. those ladies who faced them boldly, fared the best.


It is doubtful whether the world has ever witnessed such a scene of horror -- certainly not outside the annals of savage warfare. History gives no parallel, where an equal number of such desperate men, so heavily armed, were let perfectly loose in an unsuspecting community. The carnage was much worse from the fact that the citizens could not believe that men could be such fiends. No one expected an indiscriminate slaughter. When it was known that the town was in their possession, everybody expected they would rob and burn the tow, kill all military men they could find, and a few marked characters. But few expected a wholesale murder. Many who could have escaped, therefore, remained and were slain. For this reason the colored people fared better than the whites. They new the men which slavery had made, and they ran to the bush at the first alarm.


A gentleman who was concealed where he could see the whole , said the scene presented was the most perfect realization of the slang phrase, "Hell let loose," that ever could be imagined. Most of the men had the look of wild beasts, they dressed roughly and swore terribly. They were mostly armed with a carbine and with from two to six revolvers strapped around them.


Ruins of Lawrence, Kansas, 1863

Ruins of Lawrence, Harpers Weekly, September, 1863

The surprise was so complete that no organized resistance was possible. Before people could fully comprehend the real state of the case, every part of the town was full of the rebels, and there was no possibility of rallying. Even the recruits in camp were so taken by surprise that they were not in their places. The attack could scarcely have been made at a worse hour. The soldiers had just taken in their camp guard, and people were just waking from sleep. By some fatal mistake, the authorities had kept the arms of the city in the public armory, instead of in each man's house. There could be no general resistance, therefore, from the houses. When the rebels gained possession of the main street, the armory was inaccessible to the citizens, and the judicious disposition of squads of rebels in other parts of the town, prevented even a partial rally at any point.


There was no time nor opportunity for consultation or concert of action, and every man had to do the best he could for himself. A large number, however, did actually start with what arms they had towards the street. Most saw at once that the street could not be reached, and turned back. Some went forward and perished. Mr. Levi Gates lived about a mile in the country, in the opposite from that by which the rebels had entered. As soon as he heard the firing in the town, he started with his rifle, supposing that a stand would be made by the citizens. When he got to town, he saw at once that the rebels had possession. He was an excellent marksman, and could not leave without trying his rifle. The first shot he made the rebel jumped in the saddle, but did not kill him; and when he was dead brutally beat his head in pieces.


Mr. G. W. Bell, County Clerk, lived on the side hill overlooking the town. He saw the rebels before they made their charge. He seized his musket and cartridge box with the hope of reaching the main street before them. His family endeavored to dissuade him, telling him he would certainly be killed. "They may kill me, but they cannot kill the principals I fight for. If they take Lawrence, they must do it over my dead body." With a prayer for courage and help he started. But he was too late. The street was occupied before he could reach it. He endeavored then to get round by the back way, and come to the ravine west of the street. Here he met other citizens. He asked, "Where shall we meet?" They assured him it was to late to meet anywhere, and urged him to save himself. He turned back, apparently intending to get home again. The rebels were no scattered in all directions, and he was in the midst of them. A friend urged him to through his musket away, which he did. Finding escape impossible, he went into an unfinished brick house, and got up on the joists above, together with another man. A rebel came in and began shooting at them. He interceded for his friend, and soon found that the rebel was an old acquaintance who had often eaten at his table. He appealed to him in such a way that he promised to spare both their lives, for old acquaintance sake, if they would come down. They came down, and the rebel took them out to about twenty of his companions outside. "Shoot him! Shoot him!" was the cry at once. He asked for a moment to pray, which they granted, and then shot him with four balls. His companion was wounded and lay for dead, but afterwards recovered. The treacherous rebel who deceived and murdered him afterwards went to his house, and said to his wife, who was ignorant of her husbands fate: "We have killed your husband and now we come to burn his house." They fired it, but the family saved it. Mr. Bell was a man of excellent character, and left a wife and six children to miss and mourn him.


What little resistance was offered to the rebels, developed their cowardice, as much as their general license given them developed their brutality. On the opposite bank of the river twelve soldiers were stationed. when the rebels first came into town, they filled Massachusetts street. They even attempted to cut the rope to the ferry. But these brave boys on the opposite side made free use of their rifles, firing at every butternut that came in sight. Their minnie balls went screaming up the street, and it was not many minutes before that section of the town was pretty much deserted; and if one of the ruffians by chance passed along that way, he was careful not to expose himself to the bullets from across the river. The result was, all that section of the town which stretched along the river bank was saved. In this section stood Governor Robinson's house, which was inquired for. Here was the armory, which they took possession of early, but left it with the most of its guns unharmed.


Rebels in Lawrence, Kansas

Another evidence of their cowardice was shown in the fact, that very few stone houses were molested. They shunned almost all houses which were closed tightly, so that they could not see in, when the inmates did not show themselves. There is a deep ravine, wooded but narrow, which runs almost through the center of town. In this many citizens escaped. They often chased men into this ravine, shooting at them all the way. But they never followed one into the ravine itself, and seldom followed up to the brink. Whenever they came near to it, they would shy off as if expecting a stray shot. The corn field west of the town was full of refugees. The rebels rode up to the edge often, as if longing to go in and butcher those who had escaped them, but a wholesome fear that it might be a double game, restrained them. A Mrs. Hindman lived on the edge of this corn field. They came repeatedly to her house for water. The gang insisted on knowing what "was in the corn field?" She brave woman, replied, "Go in and see. You will find it the hottest place you have been in today." Having been to carry drink to the refugees, she could testify to the heat. The rebels took her word and left. So every little ravine and thicket around the outskirts of the town were shunned as if a viper had been in it. Thus scores of lives were saved that would otherwise have been destroyed.


In almost every case where a determined resistance was offered, the rebels withdrew. Mr. A. K. Allen lives in a large brick house. A gang came to his door and ordered him out. "No!" replied the old gentleman, "if you want anything of me, come where I am. I am good for five of you." They took his word for it, and he and his house were thenceforth unmolested. The two Messrs. Rankin were out in the street trying to gain a certain house, when they were overtaken by six of the ruffians. They at once faced their foes, drew their revolvers, and began to fire, when the whole six broke and fled. The cowards evidently did not come to fight, but to murder and steal.



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