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Major Civil War battles took place in Kansas, many courtesy of William Quantrill

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, May 12, 2013, at 8:18 p.m.

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This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating the state’s history. The series’ name comes from the state motto, “Ad astra per aspera: To the stars through difficulties.”

Antietam, Gettysburg, Bull Run were all Civil War battles that took place elsewhere.

Of the hundreds of battles fought during the Civil War, four were fought on Kansas soil, and at least two dozen skirmishes were fought in Kansas.

But four stand out as major sites. Two are the sites of Confederate raids in Lawrence and Baxter Springs, and both have ties to Confederate guerrilla leader William Quantrill.

Those two raids would be used as fodder to inflame the anger of Union officers and soldiers who used the battles of Mine Creek and the Marais des Cygnes a year later as a chance for revenge.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence and Baxter Springs.

The Civil War took a hard toll on Kansans in 1863 and 1864, with ferocity and violence.

Quantrill’s most infamous raid occurred on Aug. 21, 1863, when he and his raiders sacked Lawrence. On his orders, they aimed to kill “every man big enough to carry a gun.” Raiders killed 150 abolitionists, all of them men.

But Quantrill wasn’t done.

He would make more raids into Kansas, one resulting in the Baxter Springs massacre of Oct. 6, 1863.

Gen. James Blunt and about 100 men, a wagon train and regimental band were en route from Fort Scott to Fort Smith, Ark. Blunt was preparing to stop at a Union encampment at Baxter Springs when Quantrill took him by surprise.

Because several hundred of the Confederates were wearing different shades of blue, Blunt mistook Quantrill’s approaching riders as Union soldiers.

Quantrill and his men began rapidly firing on the Union troops, overpowering them and killing 101 Union soldiers.

Kansas was ripe for Civil War battles.

Beginning in the late 1850s, tensions started building along the Kansas-Missouri border, earning the state the nickname “Bleeding Kansas.”

In 1859, Quantrill wrote a letter to his mother explaining his politics: “You have undoubtedly heard of the wrongs committed in this territory by the southern people, or proslavery party, but when one once knows the facts they can easily see that it has been the opposite party that have been the main movers in the troubles & by far the most lawless set of people in the country.”

Quantrill’s raids were seared into Kansans’ minds when, in the fall of 1864, Confederate Gen. Sterling Price led troops into Kansas.

His mission had been to recruit men and obtain supplies for rebel troops. He had already lost battles in St. Louis and the Westport area of Kansas City when he led his troops into hostile Kansas.

It was raining and his army of 12,000 soldiers, stretching 10 to 12 miles, were headed south. The Marais des Cygnes battle began in the midst of a rainstorm at night. The Confederate troops were camped along the Marais des Cygnes River. When Union troops began an artillery bombardment at 4 a.m. on Oct. 25, 1864, Price ordered his troops to cross the river. They tried, but Union soldiers captured about 100 prisoners and two cannons. The rebel line in Kansas began to unravel.

Later that morning, his troops engaged in another battle – at Mine Creek.

Just as the Confederate troops began to cross the steep banks of Mine Creek, Union soldiers attacked on horseback.

When it was over, 300 Confederate soldiers lay dead, 250 were wounded, and Union troops had seized 600 as prisoners of war.

Union records reported only 15 dead and 94 wounded.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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