Monday, August 19, 2013

Terror 4

At dawn of Friday, August 21, 1863, William Quantrill and 450 pro-Southern guerrillas, surprised and captured Lawrence, Kansas. For the next four hours, Quantrill and his men engaged in an orgy of looting, burning and killing. When the raiders finally left at 9 that morning, the second largest city in Kansas was almost totally destroyed and more than 150 men lay dead. While some of you are familiar with the general outline of what has come be known as the Lawrence Massacre, the story of the immediate aftermath is less well-known. Now, on this, the 150th anniversary of the event, I will post over the next four days the following accounts from my book, Bloody Dawn—The Story of the Lawrence Massacre.

As the work progressed into the evening, a lookout on Mount Oread, watching the activity below, happened to glance south toward the Wakarusa. There to his horror he saw rising from the valley floor an all-too-familiar sight--smoke and flame. Without a second thought the rider flew down the hill and galloped into town, screaming with all the power in his lungs, "They are coming again, they are coming again; run for your lives, run for your lives."

With these startling words reserves cracked, then crumbled, and suddenly there was nothing left. In a moment, as if from one mind, panic seized all, and like a cannon shot the race from Lawrence instantly became a stampede. Someone rang the armory bell but no one was fool enough to rally. Men who had naively held to their homes at the onset of the first raid and who thus experienced the most terrifying hours of their lives didn't wait around for the second, but broke from town at a run, hair streaming in the wind.
Women, whose courage hadn't wavered during the Friday attack and whose poise had been a comfort to all, now caved in completely and became "utterly unstrung." Men, women, children--all raced blindly, filling the streets with a bedlam of sobs, shrieks, and shouts, expecting the slaughter to overtake them with every bound.

Run for your life . . . Quantrill is coming back and will kill all of us . . . Run to the country, Quantrill is coming . . . . Take your children and run . . . Quantrill is coming!

After a few short minutes the dust had settled. The town was deserted. Except for a few wounded, not a soul, black or white, resident or visitor, was left in Lawrence. As time passed, men on the opposite shore anxiously watched for the attack to begin. But mysteriously, there was only silence. Shortly, one hundred citizens recovered sufficiently to cross back and pass out weapons from the armory. Their plans for a stand went for naught, however, for they soon learned the cause of the lookout's alarm--imprudently, a farmer had chosen this moment to burn off a field of straw.

Knowledge of the error came too late to reach the majority of people, however. Some were far away and still running while others were even further along and had no intention of ever stopping, like the clerk at R & B's, who this time would not pull up until he reached New York and absolute safety. But for the rest, many carrying footsore children, there was no run left, and they simply alit in fields and thickets fringing the town.

That night proved to be one of the coldest, cruelest summer nights in border memory. The temperature plunged, the rain and hail came in sheets, the lightning cracked, the thunder roared, and the wind blew with all the fury of a cyclone. But still--soaked, frozen, and huddled as they were--few ventured back, for the wind and cold and rain were far preferable to Lawrence, where they firmly believed Quantrill was adding the final touches to the bloody work begun on Friday.

One of these miserable refugees, seeking an answer to it all, later questioned his aged father. "Why have we been so terribly punished? Why so infinitely worse than any other place in all the history of this war? Why beyond comparison and precedent?" After brief reflection on the territorial days of the fifties, the war on the border and the sagging fortunes of the South in the sixties, of the bloody days of rampage when Lane, Jennison, and their Jayhawkers had turned western Missouri inside out, the son found the answer to his own question. "It has come," he finally admitted, "and they have had their revenge."

But another, angrier than the first, and speaking for a great many more than the first, considered the scales once more uneven.

"Oh! God!" he implored heaven, "Who shall avenge?"

Who shall avenge? Surely they had not been forsaken. Surely, no matter the past sins, surely they had not been so entirely and utterly abandoned. Surely a just and righteous God, even while his children were being returned to dust, must have parted the clouds and sent fiery bolts, red with uncommon wrath, thundering down to smite the devil's host. Surely somewhere between heaven and hell the fiends had been brought to bay and slaughtered as they stood. Surely they had. Where then had it happened? When had it occurred? Who then, oh God, had indeed avenged?