August 21

This Day in History

Civil War

Aug 21, 1863:

Guerillas massacre residents of Lawrence, Kansas

The vicious guerilla war in Missouri spills over into Kansas and precipitates one of the most appalling acts of violence during the war when 150 men in the abolitionist town of Lawrence are murdered in a raid by Southern partisans.

The Civil War took a very different form in Kansas and Missouri than it did throughout the rest of the nation. There were few regular armies operating there; instead, partisan bands attacked civilians and each other. The roots of conflict in the region dated back to 1854, when the Kansas-Missouri border became ground zero for tension over slavery. While residents of Kansas Territory were trying to decide the issue of slavery, bands from Missouri, a slave state, began attacking abolitionist settlements in the territory. Abolitionists reacted with equal vigor.

When the war began, the long heritage of hatred between partisans created unparalleled violence in the area. In August 1863, the Union commander along the border, General Thomas Ewing, arrested several wives and sisters of members of a notorious band led by William Quantrill. This gang of outlaws had scorched the region, terrorizing and murdering Union sympathizers. On August 14, the building in Kansas City, Missouri, where the women were being held collapsed, killing five.

Quantrill assembled 450 men to exact revenge. The army, which included such future western outlaws as the Younger brothers and Frank and Jesse James, headed for Lawrence, Kansas, long known as the center of abolitionism in Kansas. After kidnapping 10 farmers in order to guide them to Lawrence, the gang murdered each of them. Quantrill's men rode into Lawrence and dragged 182 men from their homes, many in front of their families, and killed them in cold blood. They burned 185 buildings in Lawrence, then rode back to Missouri with Union cavalry in hot pursuit.

This incident incited the North and led to even more killing by both sides along the Kansas-Missouri border.

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