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Archive for Monday, August 28, 2006

Historians to tour Bleeding Kansas-era sites

August 28, 2006

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Historical re-enactors, from left, John Nichols, Tim Rues and Edward Hoover took part in the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Battle of Black Jack at the site near Baldwin earlier this year. This week, historians from across the nation will tour Bleeding Kansas-era sites including Black Jack Battlefield.

Historical re-enactors, from left, John Nichols, Tim Rues and Edward Hoover took part in the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Battle of Black Jack at the site near Baldwin earlier this year. This week, historians from across the nation will tour Bleeding Kansas-era sites including Black Jack Battlefield.

It's been nearly 10 years since Len Riedel traveled along the Kansas-Missouri border following the route a Confederate general and his men took while fighting the Civil War.

The survey Riedel was conducting for the National Park Service was one of the factors that led to creation of the Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site park near Pleasanton.

It also drove home to Riedel the importance of the area's pre-Civil War, "Bleeding Kansas" history.

"The struggle over Kansas, I think, is probably the most misunderstood aspect of the coming of the Civil War because it really forced a lot of raw emotions out into the open," Riedel said. "It led to the war in the east and the firing on Fort Sumter."

That is why early this week, Riedel and 25 members of the Blue and Gray Education Society will be in the Lawrence area visiting museums and examining Bleeding Kansas-era sites. Included will be Black Jack Battlefield near Baldwin and Lecompton's Constitution Hall and Territorial Capital Museum.

The tour is an example of how more historians are taking a closer look at this area's history, Douglas County historian Paul Bahnmaier said.

Like a true old-fashioned gentleman, Wes Jackson, left, Salina, offers Elaine Caldwell, Santa Barbara, Ca., his arm as Caldwell exits the historic home of Robert Hall Pearson at the Black Jack Battle site near Baldwin.  Jackson, a decendent of Pearson's, and Caldwell, the great-great grandaughter of abolitionist John Brown, attended a meeting on Thursday at the Black Jack Battleground.  The site, which some historians argue to be where the first fight of the Civil War occured, is currently undergoing changes that would turn the 40 acre farm into a park.  If the organizers secure adequate funding, the Pearson home will be restored into it's original state as it appeared in 1885.

Like a true old-fashioned gentleman, Wes Jackson, left, Salina, offers Elaine Caldwell, Santa Barbara, Ca., his arm as Caldwell exits the historic home of Robert Hall Pearson at the Black Jack Battle site near Baldwin. Jackson, a decendent of Pearson's, and Caldwell, the great-great grandaughter of abolitionist John Brown, attended a meeting on Thursday at the Black Jack Battleground. The site, which some historians argue to be where the first fight of the Civil War occured, is currently undergoing changes that would turn the 40 acre farm into a park. If the organizers secure adequate funding, the Pearson home will be restored into it's original state as it appeared in 1885.

"For us, it is really significant," Bahnmaier said. "It's a chance to get more national recognition for an area that is often overlooked."

The group will stay at the Eldridge Hotel while touring the sites today and Tuesday.

Organized in 1994, the Blue and Gray Society has about 1,500 national and international members and is based in Danville, Va. Among them are former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jim McPherson and historian-author John Jakes. Though those luminaries won't be on the Kansas tour, those who are coming have varied backgrounds, said Riedel, the organization's executive director.

The society, a nonprofit organization, has toured more than 230 Civil War battlefields in its 12-year existence.

"No other group in the country has that kind of coverage," Riedel said.

Last year, while hurricanes lashed the Gulf of Mexico, society members searched and found the actual "cut" that Union forces made in an old levee to flood the area around Vicksburg, Miss.

"We know nobody had seen it. You had to know what to look for to find it," Riedel said. "When we go out, we start looking under rocks and weeds."

The Blue and Gray Society considers its Bleeding Kansas tour the start of its Civil War sesquicentennial commemoration, which on a national level doesn't begin until 2011.

"That completely overlooks all of the impact of what happened in Kansas from 1854 on," Riedel said. "We think the first battle of the Civil War is the Battle of Black Jack."

In addition to the Lawrence area, the group will visit the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka, Fort Leavenworth and Osawatomie before moving on to other sites later in the week at Fort Scott and Baxter Springs.

Bahnmaier said he hopes this tour group is the first of many more like it to come through the area. Once the area receives the national heritage designation it will raise the level of recognition, he said.

"This region is different from other heritage areas," Bahnmaier said. "Many are one-sided. We have the struggle between Missouri and Kansas in a theme that joins both sides. The others don't have those dynamics."

The heritage designation, called the Freedom's Frontier Heritage Area, is pending in the U.S. Senate. If enacted, the legislation would establish a national heritage area in eastern Kansas and western Missouri.

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