The Retreat from Lawrence August 21-22, 1863.

While many accounts exist on the sacking of Lawrence on August 21, 1863, few appear on the skillful retreat from Lawrence by Quantrill and his guerrillas on August 21-22. At midnight on August 20, Major Preston Plumb left Kansas City in pursuit of Quantrill and arrived at Olathe at dawn. Smoke rose in the sky in the direction of Lawrence, twenty-five miles away. Five and one-half hours later, at 10:30 A.M., Plumb joined up with Coleman’s force some six miles southeast of Lawrence, who were also pursuing the guerrillas.      

Plumb, now the ranking officer, took command of their combined forces. By this time, both officers saw clouds of dust and smoke rising into the sky south of Lawrence. Quantrill, six miles south of the town, was burning houses along his path. Plumb believed that Quantrill intended to strike the Santa Fé Trail on his way back to Missouri, so he turned his men in a southwesterly direction across the open prairie to intercept him. Our first image is of Col P B. Plumb.                                                                                   

Meanwhile, James Lane’s thirty-five ragtag farmers and a handful of soldiers followed in Quantrill’s wake. The “Grim Chieftain” had placed the men under the command of Lieutenant John K. Rankin, but Lane was Rankin’s real boss. Lane’s men had made contact with Quantrill as he burned the village of Brooklyn south of Lawrence and now fired sporadically on his rear guard. Lane’s Kansans were poorly mounted and armed, but the senator’s purpose was to maintain contact and harass the guerrillas until he was reinforced. Quantrill ignored Lane's force, having little time to dally and pushed eastward to avoid the Yankees chasing him.                                                                                                                                                                               When Lane neared Prairie City, he learned that Plumb and his men were nearby. Quantrill, meanwhile, had left the Santa Fé Trail and turned south down the Fort Scott Road for half a mile. Quantrill likely changed roads to avoid contact with Plumb or to seek a less-expected route back to Missouri. Lane sent a messenger to Plumb telling him that he was attacking Quantrill’s rear guard and asked for support. In response, Plumb sent Coleman across Ottawa Creek with two companies of cavalry to help Lane. Plumb, meanwhile, stayed on the east side of Ottawa Creek, his object to cut off Quantrill before he got to Ottawa Crossing, a difficult fording point in front of the partisans. Plumb intended to attack Quantrill’s front, while Lane and Coleman attacked his rear in a decisive battle.

Quantrill learning that his rear guard was being attacked, gathered some of his men, and personally counterattacked Lane and Coleman’s weak force, and it  fell back in disarray. Quantrill led the charge, “riding recklessly, the bridle-reins on the saddle-horn, firing rapidly with revolvers in both hands.” When Plumb heard the loud barrage of gunfire to the north, he feared for Coleman and Lane’s safety and marched to the sound of the guns, abandoning his plan to cut off the guerrillas. Quantrill having cleared the Federals from his rear, returned to Ottawa Crossing and saw his men across the ford. Quantrill now cut out sixty of his best men and formed a rear guard. For the rest of the way back to Missouri, he employed a classic cavalry tactic, placing thirty of his men at fifty-feet intervals across the rear of his force in a long skirmish rank. Another thirty-man skirmish rank was positioned parallel to the first rank, but 400 feet behind it. Now, when Plumb’s force charged the guerrillas, the rear-most skirmish rank, when pressed hard, fired volleys at the bluecoats until it expended its ammunition, then it rode through the rank of thirty men behind it, making them the rearmost guard, and the two skirmish lines continued to rotate in this way. Because Quantrill had obtained fresh horses at Lawrence, his rearguard was seldom challenged by the jaded horses of the Yankee cavalry. Both Plumb’s and Coleman’s horses had been riding for more than fifteen hours without respite. Quantrill told the rear guard, “Fall back on me whenever it may be necessary, but whatever you do, don’t let them break your line.” Periodically, the rear guard halted, which forced the Union soldiers to form into line of battle. Then, the rear guard fired a volley and rode off. This gave the guerrillas in the main body a chance to rest. So, for the rest of the day, the grinding pursuit continued, with minor skirmishing between Plumb’s advance guard and Quantrill’s rear guard. Plumb had given Lieutenant Cyrus Leland, Jr., the command of the Union’s advance guard and gave him the more experienced men and the freshest horses to harass the guerrillas, but his attacks were ineffectual. Even when Leland was able to approach the guerrillas closely and challenge them, he was vulnerable, for the rest of the Union troopers lagged far behind dangerously out of supporting range. The intense heat and exertion caused men and horses on both sides to die of heat stroke. Many of the horses died a few days later from the rigor of their sixty-plus-mile march. Both forces had been active for over twenty-four hours with little opportunity to eat and none to sleep. The guerrillas, to lighten their loads and speed their progress, had jettisoned much of their plunder, leaving litter sprawling behind them.                                        

Around sundown, the guerrillas neared Paola. Scouts informed Quantrill that a Union force blocked the way ahead at Bull Creek. Leland, informed of this also, ordered his men to charge the guerrillas. Quantrill, aware of the threat to his front, counterattacked Leland, to his rear, throwing the Kansans’ advance guard into a wild retreat. William Gregg, Quantrill’s adjutant, said the Union cavalry were driven “pell mell like a drove of sheep for half a mile or more.” The rest of the Union force, commanded by Plumb, lagged so far to the rear that they were of no consequence.                                                                                                     

Quantrill now turned his men left and north along Bull Creek as the light waned. Reaching a pond along the way, some of the guerrillas rode into the water until it reached the sides of their horses. They dipped their hats into the water filling them, then raising the hot, sallow liquid to their mouths, drinking their first water since early morning. Darkness covered the prairie. Traveling several miles north, Quantrill crossed Bull Creek at Rock Ford, where a flat, rock slab formed the bottom of the river, providing easy passage for the wagons and ambulance. On the other side of the river, the men tethered their horses and gathered around a small knoll and along the hillside to rest. Many of the men fell asleep instantly.

(The author has been to this spot and it is suitable for passage across the river by a tractor-trailer-truck with ease, during rain or shine.)                                                          

Meanwhile, Plumb and his men turned into Paola for the night after surviving a harrying experience when they crossed Bull Creek almost to be fired on by Lieutenant Colonel C. S. Clark’s men, who initially misidentified them. Leland's horses, scenting the presence of water and nearly dead of thirst, charged Bull Creek and a tragedy for the Union troops on both sides was narrowly averted. Plumb turned over command of his assembled forces to Clark at Paola, who outranked him, an was now in charge as the ranking officer. Between 1:00 A.M. and 2:00 A.M., August 22, Clark’s scouts returned to camp with word that the guerrillas were bivouacked at Rock Ford. Clark, however, refused to pursue Quantrill until the next morning. Soldiers during the Civil War seldom fought at night. After their early morning contact with Clark’s scouts, the guerrillas moved on in the darkness, soon brushing into Union Lieutenant Colonel Walter King’s scouts of the Fourth Missouri State Militia Cavalry.  The guerrillas stole away in the darkness. 

The Union Cass County Home Guards accompanying Clark the next morning mounted on fresh horses soon overran Quantrill’s rear guard near the Missouri state line and captured three of his men. George Hoyt, the resident Red Leg, took one of the captured men aside and questioned him. After interrogating the young man, Hoyt expressed disgust at the cheap trinkets the man had taken at Lawrence: “marbles, jews harps, mouth organs, toys, shoestrings, cheap buttons.” Hoyt shot him, saying, “I will just kill you for being a damned fool!” Ironically, Hoyt after the war became the future attorney general of the State of Kansas, the state’s chief law officer! Before the war, Hoyt acted as chief attorney for John Brown at his Harper's Ferry trial for his treason and murder. During the Civil War, Hoyt had been the field leader of the Red Legs, what Buffalo Bill Cody, who was one of them, called, "The Biggest gang of thieves on record." Charles Jennison was their titular leader but spent most of his time in 1863 playing cards with his cronies.                                                                                                                                                                          

The guerrillas were so besieged the next morning, August 22, 1863, that they were forced to abandon their ambulance, which earlier had traveled in Dick Yeager’s advance guard. The partisans, imperiled by the ambulance’s slow speed, concealed it down a wooded lane absent its horses but filled with its wounded. The Federals quickly discovered and captured the wounded partisans. One of the wounded men, Jim Bledsoe, asked that his wounded comrades be carried out of the ambulance and placed on their knees to face their enemies as they were being executed. “Do not shoot us from behind,” he requested. The Kansans complied and killed the wounded soldiers as they faced them. Kansas abolitionist historian William Connelley said that “Indians” accompanying the Union force scalped the dead prisoners. We will never know who did the scalping, only that it was admitted.by William Elsey Connelley, secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society after the end of the Civil War. This was the first scalping of the Border War and perhaps the Civil War. It's undeniable.

By this time, Union forces converged on Quantrill from every direction, and the guerrillas pushed on toward Grand River, near their camp of August 20, just south of modern Belton, Missouri. There, Quantrill divided his force, sending half the men south down the Grand River, the rest eastward, through the rolling, wooded hills toward Pleasant Hill. When the latter column of guerrillas arrived near Big Creek, west of Pleasant Hill, they ran into Lieutenant Colonel Bazel F. Lazear’s Missouri First Cavalry, and the partisans melted into the bush. Later, in pursuit of guerrillas, Lieutenant Cyrus Leland, Jr., captured three near Lone Jack. He hung them from a tree at such a height that a horseman riding underneath them could not touch their heels. Before he left the site, Leland posted a sign on the tree warning, “Don’t cut them down!” The U.S. Army claimed to have killed 100 of Quantrill’s guerrillas after the raid on Lawrence, which is likely a lie. Within six weeks, however, Quantrill annihilated eighty-seven of General James Blunt’s men at Baxter Springs in an engagement with a 100-man detachment led by the general himself—a considerable accomplishment if the above Union casualty figures were accurate, which they likely are not. General Blunt ran from Quantrill's men at Baxter Springs and allowed them, without the aid of his leadership to be overun by Quantrill's guerrillas and killed. How did Blunt make his getaway? On his blooded horse that outran his pursuers. He has never been accused of cowardice in modern academic histories, although when a naval captain does not stay till the last of his men are removed from his ship, he is called a coward and prosecuted. So the reader should judge the situation of Blunt, if the academic historians will not.  An image of General Blunt is below.                                        

Historians continue to trumpet the Lawrence raid as the worst atrocity of the entire Civil War. However, if the raid is placed within the context of the depredations suffered by Missouri civilians from 1858 onwards, Quantrill’s opinion that “Lawrence had it coming” makes considerable sense. Donald L.Gilmore ©2012 Quantrillsguerrillas.com "Permission should be requested and agreed to before using this copyrighted essay."                                                                  


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