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The Civil War officially began on April 12, 1861 when the Confederate States fired upon Fort Sumter in Charleston  Harbor, South Carolina. For Kansans, the war was already already raging long before that day in 1861.

To them, the Civil war began in the state with the sacking of Lawrence Kansas on May 21, 1856, when pro-slavery activists attacked and ransacked the town, which had been founded by anti-slavery settlers. This began the period of violence in Kansas history known as "Bleeding Kansas". The term "Bleeding Kansas" was coined by newspaperman Horace Greeley  and is used to describe this period of violence that state went through during its settlement.

This all began when the United States Congress passed The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 which in effect overturned the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The Kansas-Nebraska Act, called for popular sovereignty. Simply meant, instead of outsiders making the decision over the issue of allowing or disallowing slavery in the state, the settlers of Kansas, shall make their own decision about this matter. "At the heart of the conflict was the question of whether Kansas would allow or outlaw slavery, and thus enter the Union as a slave state or a free state. Pro-slavery forces said every settler had the right to bring his own property, including slaves, into the territory. Anti-slavery "free soil" forces said the rich slaveholders would buy up all the good farmland and work them with black slaves, leaving little or no opportunity for non-slaveholders." (Source

This argument over the admittance of Kansas as either a free or slave state boiled over and led to the sacking of Lawrence as mentioned above. In reaction to the sacking of Lawrence, John Brown led a group of abolitionist settlers (some armed with Pottawatomie Rifles),to just north of Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin Countym Kansas and killed five settlers. Then on June 2, 1856 Brown and 29 others met Henry Pate and fought the battle of Black Jack (The town of Black Jack is an unincorporated town is located on the Santa Fe Trail in Douglas County). "This started after Brown's two sons were captured and held prisoner by Pate. The five-hour battle went in Brown's favor and Pate and 22 of his followers were captured and held for ransom. Brown agreed to release them as long as they released Brown's sons." (Source)

The Pottawatomie massacre and the Battle of Black Jack became a cause for retaliation from Border Ruffians led by John W. Reid on August 30, 1856 at the Battle of Battle of Osawatomie. The town of Battle of Osawatomie was attacked by Reid and 200 to 400 of his Border Ruffians. "Reid was intent on destroying the free state settlement and then moving on to Topeka and Lawrence to do more of the same. John Brown first learned of the raiders when they shot his son Frederick. With 40 or so men, Brown tried to defend the town against the pro-slavery partisans, causing heavy casualties before being forced to withdraw; the town of Osawatomie was then looted and burned." (Source

Then on May 18,1858, about 30 men,led by Georgian and pro slavery leader Charles Hamilton, crossed into Kansas territory from Missouri. They arrived at Trading Post(an unincorporated community in Linn County),Kansas in the morning they headed back to Missouri.  along the way they "captured 11 Free-Staters, none of whom was armed and, it is said, none of whom had participated in the ongoing violence. Most of the men knew Hamilton and apparently did not realize he meant them harm. These prisoners were led into a defile, where Hamilton ordered the men to shoot. He even shot and fired the first bullet himself. Five men were killed." (Source) This is known as the Marais des Cygnes massacre, the last significant battle of Bleeding Kansas.


Bleeding Kansas Resources:

  1. The Sack of Lawrence, Kansas, 1856 
  2. Bleeding Kansas at PBS 
  3. Fort Scott National Historic Site 
  4. Territorial Kansas Online 
  5. Kansas Memory Online Documents about Bleeding Kansas 
  6. KanColl Collection on Bleeding Kansas 
  7. The Civil War on the Western Border