Quantrill’s raid left Lawrence in ruins, killed 143 men

An outgrowth of the partisanship of the pre-Civil War days was the Quantrill raid of Aug. 21, 1863. William Quantrill and a band of 200 or 300 men had been meeting in the hills southeast of Kansas City and making forays into Kansas. Quantrill attacked Olathe one night and stole considerable property. One person was killed. Most of the raids were for plunder, but the raid on Lawrence, according to the Rev. Richard Cordley, was deliberately for slaughter. Lawrence in the ’50s was the center of free-state activity, and in the ’60s it typified opposition to the slavery idea.

Quantrill crossed into Kansas near Westport, in sight of a federal troop encampment, but was not harmed. For some reason none of the communities through which the band passed that night was able to warn Lawrence, and when Quantrill entered at daybreak, he had the element of surprise.

They first encountered a camp of 22 recruits for the Fourteenth Kansas. As they were arising from their beds, 17 of the men were shot. The band pressed on to the Eldridge Hotel, and upon surrender by Capt. A.R. Banks, provost marshal of the state, the guests were allowed to go to the city hall and were protected there.

Other men of the city were not so fortunate.

The invaders divided into parties of six or eight and seemed to infest the whole town. Men, wherever found, were shot down and their homes set afire. Women and children were not harmed, but women’s pleas were disregarded.

Resisters more fortunate

Men who resisted were more fortunate, for the raiders would not risk harm until they were sure the places were undefended. Stone and heavy brick buildings were a measure of protection, and houses set in trees or shrubbery were likewise little molested, because there might be defenders lurking. Those who escaped into the ravine that ran through the center of town, or into a cornfield at the western edge, were not pursued far.

The exact number killed is not known, because some people were trapped in burning homes, but it is set at 143 killed and 30 seriously wounded. None of the invaders are known to be killed because little resistance was offered.

All but two stores on the main street were burned, numbering about 75 business houses. In addition, nearly 100 residences were destroyed, bringing the property damage to about $2 million.

The four-hour raid resulted in 80 widows and 250 orphans. Federal troops, for the defense of Lawrence, were within six miles of the town when the raiders withdrew, but Quantrill, according to the history, escaped unscathed back into Missouri.

— Reprinted from the Official Souvenir Program of the 75th Anniversary, printed by the Journal-World in 1929.