Kansas Civil War History

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Kansas in the American Civil War

Kansas Civil War History


Kansas was admitted to the United States as a "free state" on January 29, 1861, making it the 34th state to enter the Union.

For hundreds of years, the land that is currently Kansas was inhabited by Native Americans. The first European to set foot in present-day Kansas was Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, who explored the area in 1541. In 1803, most of modern Kansas was secured by the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Southwest Kansas, however, was still a part of Spain, Mexico, and the Republic of Texas until the conclusion of the Mexican-American War in 1848. From 1812 to 1821, Kansas was part of the Missouri Territory. The Santa Fe Trail traversed Kansas from 1821 to 1880, transporting manufactured goods from Missouri and silver and furs from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Wagon ruts from the trail are still visible in the prairie today.

In 1827, Fort Leavenworth became the first permanent settlement of white Americans in the future state. The Kansas-Nebraska Act became law on May 30, 1854, establishing the U.S. territories of Nebraska and Kansas, and opening the area to broader settlement by whites. Kansas Territory stretched all the way to the Continental Divide and included the sites of present-day Denver, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo.

Missouri and Arkansas sent settlers into Kansas all along its eastern border. These settlers attempted to sway votes in favor of slavery. The secondary settlement of Americans in Kansas Territory were abolitionists from Massachusetts and other Free-Staters, who attempted to stop the spread of slavery from neighboring Missouri. Directly presaging the American Civil War (1861-1865), these forces collided, entering into skirmishes that earned the territory the name of Bleeding Kansas.

Kansas was admitted to the United States as a slave-free state on January 29, 1861, making it the 34th state to enter the Union. By that time the violence in Kansas had largely subsided. But, during the Civil War, on August 21, 1863, William Quantrill led several hundred men on a raid into Lawrence, destroying much of the city and killing nearly 200 people. He was roundly condemned by both the conventional Confederate military and the partisan rangers commissioned by the Missouri legislature. His application to that body for a commission was flatly rejected due to his pre-war criminal record.

Kansas Territory Map
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Kansas Civil War Map

Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 Map
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1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act Map


Despite the extensive plans that were made to settle Native Americans in Kansas, by 1850 Americans were illegally squatting on their land and clamoring for the entire area to be opened for settlement. Several U.S. Army forts, including Fort Riley, were soon established deep in Indian Territory to guard travelers on the various Western trails.

Although the Cheyennes and Arapahoes tribes were still negotiating with the United States for land in western Kansas (the current state of Colorado) – they signed a treaty on September 17, 1851 – momentum was already building to settle the land.

Congress began the process of creating Kansas Territory in 1852. That year, petitions were presented at the first session of the Thirty-second Congress for a territorial organization of the region lying west of Missouri and Iowa. No action was at that time taken. However, during the next session, on December 13, 1852, a Representative from Missouri submitted to the House a bill organizing the Territory of Platte: the entire tract lying west of Iowa and Missouri, and extending west to the Rocky Mountains. The bill was referred to the United States House Committee on Territories, and passed by the full U.S. House of Representatives on February 10, 1853. However, Southern Senators stalled the progression of the bill in the Senate, while the implications of the bill on slavery and the Missouri Compromise were debated. Heated debate over the bill and other competing proposals would continue for a year, before eventually resulting in the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which became law on May 30, 1854, establishing the Nebraska Territory and Kansas Territory. (See also Sectionalism.)

Kansas Territory

Upon the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act on May 30, 1854, the borders of Kansas Territory were set from the Missouri border to the summit of the Rocky Mountain range (now in central Colorado); the southern boundary was the 37th parallel north, the northern was the 40th parallel north. North of the 40th parallel was Nebraska Territory. When Congress set the southern border of the Kansas Territory as the 37th parallel, it was thought that the Osage southern border was also the 37th parallel. The Cherokees immediately complained, saying that it was not the true boundary and that the border of Kansas should be moved north to accommodate the actual border of the Cherokee land. This became known as the Cherokee Strip controversy.


The most controversial provision in the Kansas-Nebraska Act was the stipulation that settlers in Kansas Territory would vote on whether to allow slavery within its borders. (See Popular Sovereignty.) This provision repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had prohibited slavery in any new states created north of latitude 36°30'. Predictably, violence resulted between the Northerners and Southerners who rushed to settle there in order to control the vote.

Within a few days after the passage of the Act, hundreds of pro-slavery Missourians crossed into the adjacent territory, selected an area of land, and then united with other Missourians in a meeting or meetings, intending to establish a pro-slavery preemption upon the entire region. As early as June 10, 1854, the Missourians held a meeting at Salt Creek Valley, a trading post three miles west of Fort Leavenworth, at which a "Squatter's Claim Association" was organized. They said they were in favor of making Kansas a slave state, if it should require half the citizens of Missouri, musket in hand, to emigrate there, and even to sacrifice their lives in accomplishing this end.

To counter this action, the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company (and other smaller organizations) quickly arranged to send anti-slavery settlers, known as "Free-Staters," into Kansas in 1854 and 1855. The principal towns founded by the New Englanders were Topeka, Manhattan, and Lawrence. Several Free-State men also came to Kansas Territory from Ohio, Iowa, Illinois and other Midwestern states.

Despite the proximity and opposite aims of the settlers, the lid was largely kept on the violence until the election of the Kansas Territorial legislature on March 30, 1855. On this date, Missourians, called "Border Ruffians," would stream across the border and stuff the ballot boxes in favor of pro-slavery candidates. As a result, pro-slavery candidates prevailed at every polling district except one (the future Riley County), and the first official legislature was overwhelmingly composed of pro-slavery delegates.

From 1855 to 1858, Kansas Territory experienced extensive violence and some open battles. This period, known as "Bleeding Kansas" or "Border War," directly presaged the American Civil War. The major incidents of Bleeding Kansas include the Wakarusa War, the Sacking of Lawrence, the Pottawatomie Massacre, the Battle of Black Jack, the Battle of Osawatomie, and the Marais des Cygnes massacre.

On December 1, 1855, a small army of Missourians, acting under the command of Douglas County, Kansas Sheriff Samuel J. Jones laid siege to the Free-State stronghold of Lawrence in what would later become known as "The Wakarusa War." A treaty of peace negotiation was announced amid much disorder and cries for the reading of the treaty shortly afterwards. It quelled the disorder and its provisions were generally accepted.

On May 21, 1856, pro-slavery forces led by Sheriff Jones attacked Lawrence, killing two men, burning the Free-State Hotel to the ground, destroying two printing presses, and robbing homes.

The Pottawatomie Massacre occurred during the night of May 24 to the morning of May 25, 1856. In what appears to be a reaction to the Sacking of Lawrence, John Brown and a band of abolitionists (some of them members of the Pottawatomie Rifles) killed five settlers, thought to be pro-slavery, north of Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin County, Kansas. Brown later said that he had not participated in the killings during the Pottawatomie Massacre, but that he did approve of them. He went into hiding after the killings, and two of his sons, John Jr. and Jason, were arrested. During their confinement, they were allegedly mistreated, which left John Jr. mentally scarred. On June 2, Brown led a successful attack on a band of Missourians led by Captain Henry Pate in the Battle of Black Jack. Pate and his men had entered Kansas to capture Brown and others. That autumn, Brown went back into hiding and engaged in other guerrilla warfare activities.

Kansas Civil War Map of Battlefields
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Kansas Civil War Map of Battles

Civil War

According to the 1860 U.S. census, Kansas had a free population of 107,204 and an additional slave population of 2.

After years of small-scale civil war, Kansas was admitted into the Union as a free state under the "Wyandotte Constitution" on January 29, 1861. Most people gave strong support for the Union cause. However, guerrilla warfare and raids from pro-slavery forces, many spilling over from Missouri, occurred during the Civil War. See also Kansas Civil War History and Missouri Civil War History.

The Union Army, vol. 4, states, "The Federal census of 1860 gave Kansas a population of 143,643 inhabitants, including Indians, but this total was much diminished by reason of the drought of 1860, from which the state had barely emerged when the war began. Consequently her population in 1861 numbered only a few over 107,000. The total number of men called for by the president of the United States from Kansas during the war was 16,654; the state not only supplied her full quota under all calls, but furnished a surplus of 3,443 men, or 20,097 in in all. The report of the provost-marshal-general is authority for the statement that Kansas lost 61.01 men killed in action and died from wounds out of each 1,000, which is in excess of the proportion furnished to the item of mortality by any of the other loyal states; Vermont ranking second with a loss per 1,000 of 58.22. It is also worthy of note that that no bounty was ever offered by the state, nor did any city or county offer a bounty to secure recruits. The state's quotas were always promptly filled up to the end of the war." See also Kansas in the American Civil War (1861-1865).

The soldiers of Kansas were, for the most part, of hardy physique and inured to outdoor life. A large proportion of them were excellent horsemen and it was therefore only natural that, of the 19 regiments furnished by the state, 9 belonged to the cavalry. Kansans in the Union Army served in 10 regiments and 5 companies of infantry, 9 cavalry regiments, and 3 artillery batteries. Many Kansans also served in independent, unattached, state and militia units.

At the start of the war in April 1861, the Kansas government had no well-organized militia, no arms, accoutrements or supplies, nothing with which to meet the demands, except the united will of officials and citizens. During the years 1859 to 1860, the military organizations had fallen into disuse or been entirely broken up. The first Kansas regiment was called on June 3, 1861, and the seventeenth, the last raised during the Civil War, July 28, 1864. The entire quota assigned to the Kansas was 16,654, and the number raised was 20,097. Statistics indicate that losses of Kansas regiments in killed in battle and from disease are greater per thousand than those of any other State. Of the Kansas regiments, the 1st infantry sustained the heaviest loss in killed and died of wounds, losing 11 officers and 120 enlisted men. The 1st Colored infantry met with the heaviest loss killed in action — 4 officers and 166 men.

Apart from small formal battles, there were 29 Confederate raids into Kansas during the war. The most serious episode came when Lawrence, Kansas came under attack on August 21, 1863, by guerrillas, known as Quantrill's Raidersled by William Clarke Quantrill. It was in part retaliation for "Jayhawker" raids against pro-Confederate settlements in Missouri.

On August 21, 1863, William Quantrill led Quantrill's Raid into Lawrence destroying much of the city and murdering over 150 unarmed men and boys. The Confederate partisans in Missouri rode to Lawrence (a town long hated by Quantrill and many Southerners) in response to the deaths of women and children. Quantrill also rationalized that an attack on this citadel of abolition would bring revenge for any wrongs, real or imagined that the Southerners had suffered. By the time the raid was over, Quantrill and his men had killed approximately 150-200 men, both young and old.

Kansas Civil War Map
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Kansas and Slavery Map

The Battle of Baxter Springs, also known as the Baxter Springs Massacre, was a minor battle in the War, fought on October 6, 1863, near the modern-day town of Baxter Springs, Kansas. The Battle of Mine Creek, also known as the Battle of the Osage was a cavalry battle that occurred in Kansas during the war.

On October 25, 1864, a series of three battles occurred, the first two in Linn County, Kansas, with the final in Vernon County, Missouri. The first was the Battle of Marais des Cygnes (also called the "Battle of Trading Post"), the second was the Battle of Mine Creek, and the third was the Battle of Marmiton River (over the border in Missouri). They were between Major General Sterling Price, leading the Missouri expedition, against Union forces under Major General Alfred Pleasonton. Price, after going south from Kansas City, was initially met by Pleasonton at Marais des Cygnes. At the end of the day, the Confederates were forced to withdraw after attacks and assaults by Union forces. See also Kansas Civil War History and Kansas in the American Civil War (1861-1865).

"In an elaborate statement of casualties embodied in this, report, it is shown that the 20,097 men furnished by the state sustained losses as follows: Officers killed, 34; died of wounds, 12; died of disease, 26; deserted, 2; honorably discharged, 88; discharged for disability, 8; dishonorably discharged, 1; cashiered, 4; resigned, 281. Enlisted men killed, 762; died of wounds, 192; died of disease, 2,080; deserted, 1,988; discharged for disability, 1,849; honorably discharged, 999; dishonorably discharged, 94; missing in action, 35. Aggregate casualties, 8,498." The Union Army, vol. 4.

Kansas Civil War Map of Battles and Battlefields
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High Resolution Map of Kansas


The population of Kansas grew dramatically as settlers pushed west, creating a mostly agrarian economy based on small family farms. After the Civil War, Kansas became a cattle distribution center, as Texas herds were driven to Dodge City, Abilene, and other cowtowns en route to Kansas City, Chicago, and the East coast.

After the Civil War, many veterans constructed homesteads in Kansas. Many African Americans also looked to Kansas as the land of "John Brown" and, led by freedmen like Benjamin "Pap" Singleton, began establishing black colonies in the state. Leaving Southern states in the late 1870s because of increasing discrimination, they became known as Exodusters.

At the same time, the Chisholm Trail was opened and the Wild West-era commenced in Kansas. Wild Bill Hickok was a deputy marshal at Fort Riley and a marshal at Hays and Abilene. Dodge City was another wild cowboy town, and both Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp worked as lawmen in the town. In one year alone, 8 million head of cattle from Texas boarded trains in Dodge City bound for the East, earning Dodge the nickname "Queen of the Cowtowns." In part as a response to the violence perpetrated by cowboys, on February 19, 1881, Kansas became the first U.S. state to adopt a Constitutional amendment prohibiting all alcoholic beverages.

Sources: Library of Congress; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; National Archives; National Park Service; The Union Army (1908); Fox, William F. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War (1889); Phisterer, Frederick. Statistical record of the armies of the United States (1883); Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (1908); Hardesty, Jesse. Killed and died of wounds in the Union army during the Civil War (1915) Wright-Eley Co.; David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (1976); Gary L. Cheatham, "'Slavery All the Time or Not At All’: The Wyandotte Constitution Debate, 1859–1861," Kansas History 21 (Autumn 1998); Gary L. Cheatham, "'Desperate Characters': The Development and Impact of the Confederate Guerrillas In Kansas," Kansas History, Sept 1991, Vol. 14 Issue 3; Albert Castel, "The Jayhawkers and Copperheads of Kansas" Civil War History, Sept 1959, Vol. 5 Issue 3; Donald Gilmore, "Revenge in Kansas, 1863," History Today, March 1993, Vol. 43 Issue 3; Daniel E. Sutherland, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (2009); Robert R. Dykstra, The Cattle Towns (1983); Nell Irvin Painter, Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction (1992); Robert Smith Bader, Prohibition in Kansas: A History (1986); Alan F. Bearman and Jennifer L. Mills 2009. "Adapting Christianity to the Challenges of the American West", Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains.


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