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Brigadier General Thomas Ewing's Report on William Quantrill's raid on Lawrence Kansas

Numbers 2. Report of Brigadier General Thomas Ewing, Jr., U. S. Army,commanding District of the Border.

HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF THE BORDER, Kansas City, Mo., August 31, 1863.

SIR: Some commanders of detachments engaged in the pursuit of Quantrill are still out after his scattered forces. In advance of their return, I submit a report of the raid, which, in some respect, may be deficient, for want of official information from them.

Three or four times this summer the guerrillas have assembled, to the number of several hundred, within 20 or 30 miles of the Kansas border. They have threatened, alternately, Lexington, Independence, Warrensburg, and Harrisonville, and frequent reports have reached me from scouts and spies that they meant to sack and destroy Shawnee, Olathe, Paola, Mound City, and other towns in Kansas near the eastern border. I placed garrisons in all these Kansas towns, and issued arms and rations to volunteer militia companies there. From reliable sources I learned, toward the last of July, that they were threatening a raid on Lawrence, and soon after they commenced assembling on the Snibar, in the western part of La Fayette County. I at once ordered a company of infantry, which was then coming down from Fort Riley, to stop at Lawrence, which they did for more than a week, and until after the guerrilla force had been dispersed by a force I sent against them.

From this time, though constantly receiving information as to their movements and pans, I could learn nothing of a purpose to make a raid into Kansas. Their forces were again scattered in small predatory bands, and I had all available forces in like manner scattered throughout the Missouri portion of this district, and especially the border counties, besetting their haunts and paths.

Quantrill's whole force was about 300 men, composed of selected bands from this part of Missouri. About 250 were assembled on Blackwater, near the eastern border of this district, at least 50 miles from the Kansas line, on the 17th and 18th instant, and I am informed by Major [J. T.] Ross, Missouri State Militia, who has been scouting in the southwest part of Saline County, that the rendezvous was there.

Lieutenant-Colonel [B. F.] Lazear, commanding two companies of the First Missouri, at Warrensburg, heard, on the morning of the 20th, that this force had passe the day before 12 miles north of him, going west, and moved promptly after the, sending orders to major [A. W.] Mullins, commanding two companies of the same regiment, at Pleasant Hill, to move on them from that point.

On the night of the 19th, however, Quantrill passed through Chapel Hill to the head of the Middle Fork of Grand River, 8 miles northwest of Harrisonville, and 15 miles southeast of Aubrey, the nearest station in Kansas. There he was joined, on the morning of the 20th, by about 50 men from Grand River and the Osage, and at noon set out for Kansas, passing 5 miles south of Aubrey at 6 p. m., going west. Aubrey is 35 miles south of Kansas City, and about 45 miles southeast of Lawrence. Kansas City is somewhat farther from Lawrence.

Captain [J. A.] Pike, commanding two companies at Aubrey, received information of the presence of Quantrill on Grand River at 5.30 p. m. of the 20th. He promptly forwarded the information up and down the line and to my headquarters, and called in his scouting parties to march upon them. One hour and half later he received information that Quantrill had just passed into Kansas. Unhappily, however, instead of setting out at once in pursuit, he remained at the station, and merely sent information of Quantrill's movement to my headquarters, and to Captain Coleman, commanding two companies at Little Santa Fe, 12 miles north of the line. Captain [C. F.] Coleman, with near 100 men, marched at once to Aubrey, and the available force of the two stations, numbering about 200 men, set out at midnight in pursuit. But Quantrill's path was over the open prairie, and difficult to follow at night, so that our forces gained but little on him. By Captain Pike's error of judgment in failing to follow promptly and closely, the surest means of arresting the terrible blow was thrown away, for Quantrill would never have gone as far as Lawrence, or attacked it, with 100 men close on his rear.

The first dispatch of Captain Pike reached here at 11.30 p. m.; the second a hour later. Before 1 o'clock Major [P. B.] Plumb, my chief of staff, at the head of about 50 men (which was all that could be got here and at Westport), started southward, and at daylight heard at Olathe, 25 miles from here, that the enemy had passed at midnight through Gardner, 18 miles from Lawrence, going toward that town. Pushing on, Major Plumb overtook Captains Coleman and Pike, 6 miles southeast of Lawrence, at 10.30 o'clock Friday, the 21st instant, and by the light of the blazing farm houses saw that the enemy had got 6 miles south of Lawrence, on their way out of the State. The enemy were overtaken near Palmyra by Major Plumb's command, to which were there added from 50 to 100 citizens, who had been hastily assembled and led in pursuit by General Lane. By this time the horses of our detachments were almost exhausted. nearly all were young horses, just issued to the companies, and had marched more than 65 miles without rest, and without food from the morning of the 20th. Quantrill had his men mounted on the best horses of the border, and had collected fresh ones going to and at Lawrence, almost enough to remount his command. He skillfully kept over 100 of his best mounted and best trained men in the rear, and often formed line of battle, to delay pursuit and give time and rest to the most wearied of his forces. By the time our scattered soldiers and citizens could get up and form line, the guerrillas' rear guard would, after a volley, break into column, and move off at a speed that defied pursuit. Thus the chase dragged through the afternoon, over the prairie, generally following no roads of paths, until night, when Quantrill's rear guard formed line of battle 3 miles north of Paola and 20 miles from where they entered the State. A skirmish ensued, the guerrillas breaking and scattering, so that our forces, in the darkness, lost the trail, and went into Paola for food and rest, while search was being made for it. Lieutenant-Colonel [C. S.] C;ark, Ninth Kansas Volunteers, with headquarters at Coldwater Grove, was in command of the troops on the border of Little Santa Fe, including the stations at Aubrey, Coldwater Grove (13 miles south at Aubrey), Rockville (13 miles south of Coldwater Grove), Choteau's Trading Post (15 miles south of Rockville), and Harrisonville. There were two companies at each station, but the force out patrolling rarely left 50 men in camp at each post. He received Captain Pike's message as to the gathering of Quantrill's forces on Grand River on the night of the 20th, and at once sent for the spare troops at Rockville and Trading Post to march up to Coldwater Grove. At 3 o'clock on the morning of the 21st, he received a dispatch from Captain Coleman, at Aubrey, saying that Quantrill had crossed into Kansas, and he set out with 30 men, following Quantrill's trail nearly to Gardner, and thence going south to Paola, reaching there at 5 p. m. With this command, and a force of perhaps 50 citizens, and a part of Captain [N. L.] Benter's company of the Twelfth Kansas Infantry, which had been garrisoning Paola, he prepared to attack Quantrill at the ford of Bull Creek, 3 miles south of Paola, toward which he was then retreating. But Quantrill, on coming within 4 or 5 miles of that crossing, soon after dark, formed line of battle, as I stated above, broke trail, turned sharp to the north, and dodged and bewildered the force in waiting for him as well as that in pursuit.

These troops at the ford returned to Paola about the time the command which had followed Quantrill reached there. One of the parties in search of the trail found it 5 miles north of Paola, and reported the fact to Lieutenant-Colonel Clark, who was the ranking officer there, at between 1 and 2 o'clock. He was slow in ordering pursuit, which was not renewed until daybreak. He, at that time, sent Captain Coleman forward, with 30 men of the Ninth Kansas, which he himself had brought to Paola, and 40 of the same regiment, which had got there from the Trading Post at about 2 o'clock that morning, and about 70 militia, chiefly of Linn County. He marched soon after himself with the troops which had followed Quantrill the day before.

Half an hour before Major Plumb started from Kansas City on the night of the 21st, Captain Palmer, Eleventh Kansas, was sent by him from Westport with 50 men of his company down the line to near Aubrey, where he met a messenger from Captain Coleman, directing re-enforcements to Spring Hill, at which point he struck Quantrill's trail, and followed it to within 7 miles of Lawrence. Thence, learning that Quantrill had gone south, he turned southeast; and at Lanesfield (Union-town) was joined by a force about 80 strong, under Major Phillips, composed of detachments of Captain Smith's company, Enrolled Missouri Militia, Captain [T. P.] Killen's Ninth Kansas, and a squad of the Fifth Kansas. This latter force had been collected by Major [L. K.] Thacher, at Westport, and dispatched from there at noon on Friday, the 21st, via Lexington, Kans. The command of Major Phillips, thus increased to 130, pushed southeast from Lanesfield, and struck Quantrill's trail about sunrise, 5 miles north of Paola, and but a little behind the commands of Coleman and Clark.

Major Thacher, commanding at Westport when news arrived that Quantrill was returning by way of the Osage Valley, took the rest of the mounted troops on the upper border (Company A, Ninth, and Company E, Eleventh Kansas, numbering 120 men) and moved down the line. He struck Quantrill's trail below Aubrey, immediately in the rear of Lieutenant-Colonel Clark's command.

Quantrill, when, after dark, he had baffled his pursuers, stopped to rest 5 miles northeast of Paola, and there, after midnight, a squad of Linn County militia, under Captain Pardee, in search of the trail, alarmed the camp. He at once moved on, and between that point and the Kansas line his column came within gunshot of the advance of about 150 of the Fourth Missouri State militia, under Lieutenant-Colonel [W.] King, which had been ordered from the country of the Little Blue, in Jackson County, down the line, to intercept him. The advance apprised Lieutenant-Colonel King of the approach of another force. Skirmishers were thrown out, but Quantrill, aided by the darkness and broken character of the prairie, eluded the force, and passed on. Lieutenant-Colonel King was unable to find his trail that night.

The pursuit forces thus thrown behind, Quantrill passed out of Kansas and got to the timber of the Middle Fork of Grand River in Missouri, near his last rendezvous before starting, about noon of the 22nd, and hour in advance of the head of the pursuit column. There his force scattered, many dismounted, or, worn out through fatigue or wounds, sought concealment and safety in the fastness of that region. About 100 moved down Grand River, while the chief part of the force passed northeast toward Chapel Hill. Our forces divided in like manner at that point, Major Plumb and Major Thacher following the main body.

On the 20th of August, I went to Leavenworth on official business. The dispatches of Captain Pike were not sent to Leavenworth until 8 a. m. on the morning of the 21st, because the telegraph offices at Leavenworth City and Fort Leavenworth close at 11 p. m. for want of relief of operators. I received those dispatches, and the one announcing that Quantrill had passed throughout Gardner going toward Lawrence, not until 10.45 a. m. on the 21st. There was no cavalry stationed at Fort Leavenworth, though five companies of the Eleventh Ohio were there outfitting for Fort Laramie, but without arms. There was one company at Leavenworth City, just receiving horses equipments. Arms and horse equipments were issued at once, and at 1 p. m. I started from Fort Leavenworth with near 300 men of these companies. News reaching me at Leavenworth City of the burning of Lawrence, and of the avowed purpose of the rebels to go thence to Topeka, I thought it best to go to De Soto, and thence, after an unavoidable delay of five hours in crossing the Kansas River, to Lanesfield. Finding there, at daybreak, that Quantrill had passed east, I left the command to follow as rapidly as possible, and pushed on, reaching, soon after dark, the point on Grand River where Quantrill's force had scattered.

Lieutenant-Colonel Lazear, with the detachments of the First Missouri, from Warrensburg and Pleasant Hill, numbering about 200 men, after failing to find Quantrill on Blackwater on the 20th, encountered him at noon of the 21st on Big Creek, broke up his force, and has since had five very successful engagements with different parties of his band. The pursuit of Quantrill, after our forces had caught up with him at Brooklyn, was so close that he was unable to commit any further damage to property on his route, but was compelled to abandon almost all his horse and much of the plunder from the Lawrence stores; and since he reached Missouri a large part of his men have abandoned their horses and taken to the brush afoot. The number of equipments so far captured exceeds one hundred, and the number of participants in the massacre already killed is fully as great. The most unremitting efforts unwilling to live at home, have joined the bands of guerrillas infesting the border. Companies which before this summer mustered but 20 or 30 have now grown to 50 or 100. All the people of the country, through fear or favor, feed them, and rarely any give information as to their movements. Having all the inhabitants, by good will or compulsion, thus practically their friends, and being familiar with the fastness of a country wonderfully adapted by nature to guerrilla warfare, they have been generally able to elude the most energetic pursuit. When assemble in a body of several hundred, they scatter before an inferior force; and when our troops scatter in pursuit, they reassemble to fall on an exposed squad, or a weakened post, or a defenseless strip of the border. I have had seven stations on the line from which patrols have each night and each day traversed every foot of the border for 90 miles. The troops you have been able to spare me out of the small forces withheld by your from the armies of Generals Grant, Steele, and Blunt, numbering less than 3,000 officers and men for duty, and having over twenty-five separate stations or fields of operations throughout the district, have worked hard and (until this raid) successfully in hunting down the guerrillas and protecting the stations and the border. They have killed more than 100 of them in petty skirmish and engagements between the 18th of June and the 20th instant.

On the 25th instant I issued an order* requiring all residents of the counties of Jackson, Cass, Bates, and that part of Vernon included in this district, expect those within 1 mile of the limits of the military stations and the garrisoned towns, and those north of Brush Creek and west of Big Blue, to remove from their present places of residence within fifteen days from that date; those who prove their loyalty to be allowed to move out of the district or to any military in it, or to any part of Kansas west of the border counties; all others to move out of the district. When the war broke out, the district to which this order applies was peopled by a community three-fours of whom were intensely disloyal. The avowed loyalists have been driven from their farms long since, and their houses and improvements generally destroyed. They are living in Kansas, and at military stations in Missouri, unable to return to their homes. None remain on their farms but rebels and neutral families; and practically the condition of their tenure is that they shall feed, clothe, and shelter the guerrillas, furnish them information, and deceive or withhold information from us. The exceptions are few, perhaps twenty families in those parts of the counties to which the order applies. Two-thirds of those who left their families on the order and went to the rebel armies have returned. The dare not stay at home, and no matter what terms of amnesty may be granted, they can never live in the country expect as brigands; and so long as their families and associates remain, they will stay until the last man is killed, to ravage every neighborhood of the border. With your approval, I was about adopting, before this rad, measures for the removal of the families of the guerrillas and of known rebels, under which two-thirds of the families affected by this order would have been compelled to go. That order would have been most difficult of execution, and not half so effectual as this. Though this measure may seem too severe, I believe it will prove not inhuman, but merciful, to the non-combatants affected by it. Those who prove their loyalty will find houses enough at the stations, and will not be allowed to suffer for want of food. Among them there are but few dissatisfied with the order, notwithstanding the present hardship it imposes. Among the Union refugees it is regarded as the best assurance they have ever had of a return to their homes and permanent peace there. To obtain the full military advantageous of this removal of the people, I have ordered the destruction of all grain and hay, in shed or in the field, not near enough to military stations for removal there. I have also ordered from the towns occupied as military stations a large number of persons, either openly or secretly disloyal, to prevent the guerrillas getting information of the townspeople, which they will no longer be able to get of the farmers. The execution of these orders will possibly lead to a still fiercer and more active struggle, requiring the best use of the additional troops the general commanding has sent me, but will soon result, though with much unmerited loss and suffering, in putting an end to this savage border war.

I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,



Colonel C. W. MARSH,

Asst. Adjt. General, of the Missouri, Saint Louis, Mo.


LAWRENCE, August 21, 1863 - 5 p. m.

GENERAL: I have, with regret, to report that Quantrill, alias Charley Hart [?], reached this town at about 4.30 o'clock this morning; burned the town; slaughtered in cold blood about 60 citizens; then left by Blanton Bridge, and by way of the town of Brooklyn. A near as I can estimate, he had about 200 men, armed principally with revolvers. It is said that Lane, with a few men, held him at bay in Brooklyn, and has sent back for help. Quantrill left about 10 o'clock.