Archive for Sunday, June 1, 2008

Civil War’s beginnings relived at Black Jack

Kerry Altenbernd, right, guides a tour Saturday  through the Black Jack Battlefield and Nature Park during the battle's 152nd anniversary. The anniversary commemorates the Battle of Black Jack, which occurred June 2, 1856.

Kerry Altenbernd, right, guides a tour Saturday through the Black Jack Battlefield and Nature Park during the battle's 152nd anniversary. The anniversary commemorates the Battle of Black Jack, which occurred June 2, 1856.

June 1, 2008

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In period clothes and character, Kerry Altenbernd relays the story of the Black Jack Battle at the Black Jack Battlefield and Nature Park on Saturday, May 31, 2008 during the battle's anniversary.

In period clothes and character, Kerry Altenbernd relays the story of the Black Jack Battle at the Black Jack Battlefield and Nature Park on Saturday, May 31, 2008 during the battle's anniversary.

Tour-goers meander through a meadow Saturday, May 31, 2008 during the Black Jack Battlefield tour east of Baldwin City.

Tour-goers meander through a meadow Saturday, May 31, 2008 during the Black Jack Battlefield tour east of Baldwin City.

On what Kerry Altenbernd calls sacred ground, the beginnings of the U.S. Civil War can be relived.

Just southeast of Baldwin City, tucked in what has become a groomed meadow, Altenbernd led a group of about 20 people through the historic site of the 1856 Battle of Black Jack, a fight between free-state and pro-slavery forces.

"This was the place where the Civil War began; the fight, the actual war against slavery began right here," Altenbernd, a Black Jack Battlefield Trustee member, said. "And that's an extremely important thing."

The tour, put on by the trust, was held to mark the 152nd anniversary of the battle.

Along the Santa Fe Trail on the dawn of June 2, 1856, abolitionist John Brown led his small group of men into an attack on the camp of Henry Clay Pate's militia.

After three hours of fighting, Pate's men were forced to surrender. According to some historians and Brown's own accounts, the battle was the territory's first armed conflict and the nation's first fight against slavery.

"The Civil War and all of its aftermath was a seminal event in the United States," Altenbernd said. "That's when people stopped talking about themselves as citizens of Virginia, or Maine, and after the war they were citizens of America."

Altenbernd, a third-generation Douglas Countian, has always appreciated local and national history, especially Civil War history.

"It's just in my blood, I guess," he said.

Preserving the battlefield is just as important to Altenbernd and the other 20 or so members of the trust. To them, the site serves as a reminder of the country's past and shouldn't be forgotten.

"If you lose the places that things happen, you lose the history," he said. "People can read it in a book and they might remember it, but if they are on the site, they feel it and they smell it; it becomes part of them and they never forget it."

In 2003, Friends of the Black Jack Battlefield and the Lawrence Preservation Alliance prevented the land from becoming a residential development. The next year, the Friends group became the trust, gaining full ownership of the property, and continued to improve the land.

The trust recruited help from the Westar Energy Green Team, which helped build a bridge and signs at the site.

Pete Crabtree, of Topeka, was involved in the bridge building. Before that he didn't know about the site or the battle, so he decided to return for the tour, he said.

"I think it's really neat that they are just trying to keep this piece of history going," he said. "Our history, to me, is eventually going to lead our future, and if we forget what our history was, what it took to get here, we are going to be taken advantage of. The next generations won't realize what the people did for them; we need that."

Black Jack Battlefield tour

Kerry Altenbernd leads a tour Saturday at the historic Black Jack Battlefield. The site southeast of Baldwin City has been preserved by Altenbernd and other members of the Black Jack Battlefield Trust, to teach people about the beginning of the Civil War. The 152nd anniversary of the battle between free state and pro-slavery men is June 2.

Dawn at Black Jack

On the anniversary of the battle, Monday, people can visit the Black Jack Battlefield at the time the fight began. Bring a flashlight and arrive between 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. for "Dawn at Black Jack."

The site is just east of Baldwin City and south of U.S. Highway 56 near the intersection of E. 2000 Road and North 175, adjacent to the Robert Hall Pearson Park.

The event is free.

Comments

igby 7 years, 2 months ago

May 21st 1856, Lawrence, was raided by Sheriff Jones, with 500 men of the territorial government's posse. They burned the territorial Gov., Charles Robinson's house at 12th and Ohio, at 8:30 A.M. and set up several cannons on the hill, aimed at Mass street, closing off the downtown, so 300 of these raiders went to the Free state hotel and sacked and burned it as well. Charles Robinson, at the time was being held in jail in Topeka, for the four months following the raid.BlackJack may have been the first battle, but Lawrence, was the first act of was by this raid.

mom_of_three 7 years, 2 months ago

Lawrence was had been theatened a couple of times before the sacking of May 1856. Since Lawrence was considered by many to be the headquarters of the Free State movement, there was always lots of attention paid to it.

Godot 7 years, 2 months ago

Altenbernd has done a really thorough job of researching Brown and that battle. I learned a lot from his tour.

mom_of_three 7 years, 2 months ago

Sounds like it would have been a good tour. I have done a coupe of history papers on Brown, but not focused on the Battle of Black Jack. David Reynolds' biography says if Brown would have used the strategy on Harper's Ferry that he used in the Battle of Black Jack, that Harper's Ferry might have turned out differently. (I don't agree with much else in that book, so I don't know if Reynolds' comments are true).

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