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August 21, 1863: The Lawrence Massacre


On August 21, 1863, a Confederate guerilla group led by William Quantrill attacked citizens in the town of Lawrence, Kansas, during the American Civil War. Guerillas killed more than 150 boys and men and burned much of the town. The Lawrence Massacre, also known as Quantrill’s raid, was a culmination of tension between local abolitionists and pro-slavery partisans along the Missouri-Kansas border.

William Quantrill

These border tensions had been brewing for some time. Beginning in 1855, pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers engaged in a series of violent confrontations and political killings over whether Kansas would be a free state or a slave state, leading to a border war known as “Bleeding Kansas.” Lawrence was founded along the Oregon Trail on the homelands of the Kaw, Lakota, Osage, and Kikapoo by New Englanders. Considered the anti-slavery capital, Lawrence was well-known as a stronghold for abolitionists and the Free-State movement. When Kansas was admitted to the Union at the start of the Civil War, the town became a gathering place for pro-Unionists and Jayhawkers, Free-State militiamen known for attacking plantations, freeing enslaved Black people, and confiscating Confederate supplies in nearby Missouri.

In April 1863, Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr. issued General Order No. 10, which called for the arrest of anyone “giving aid or comfort” to Confederate guerillas. A number of women and girls, most of them relatives of the guerillas, were arrested and incarcerated in squalid conditions in a women’s prison in Kansas City. A week before the Lawrence Massacre, the prison collapsed, killing four and leaving others with severe injuries.

The Leavenworth Times – August 15, 1863

In the predawn hours on August 21, Quantrill led a group of about 450 Confederate guerillas, also called “Bushwhackers,” into Lawrence. They surprised the town’s sleeping residents and began to execute civilians and loot valuables. Panicked residents tried to hide in cornfields or along the Kansas and Wakarusa rivers, though some surrendered only to be shot later. For over four hours, Quantrill’s raiders pillaged and burned the town, killing at least 150 men and boys.

The Lawrence Massacre was one of the bloodiest events of the Kansas-Missouri border war. Following the attack, Gen. Ewing issued General Order No. 11, ordering all citizens of four counties on the Missouri side of the border to relocate to Kansas City. Ewing intended to cut off supplies and support to the guerillas, and under his orders, Jayhawkers burned everything remaining to the ground.

Although Quantrill was a field-commissioned officer under the Partisan Ranger Act, Confederate leadership was outraged by his tactics and withdrew official support for his Bushwhackers. Quantrill led his men south towards Texas and continued to wreak havoc. Infamous members of Quantrill’s raiders included Bloody Bill Anderson, outlaw Jesse James, and his older brother Frank James. On May 10, 1865, William Quantrill was shot by Union troops in Kentucky in one of the last engagements of the Civil War. He died of his wounds on June 6, 1865.

Jesse and Frank James

If you would like to learn more about the Lawrence Massacre or William Quantrill, search Fold3® today.


  1. Cindy Hart says:

    Horrific event. Wondered why no mention of Osceloa, Missouri? “Remember Osceola” was said to be what the men yelled in Lawrence.

  2. William K Nolan says:

    I keep seeing the term boys and men killed. This is an incorrect statement. Boys are 12 and under. Teenagers or young men describes those killed at Lawrence. Most of these were above the age of 15 and already fighting in both armies. The youngest killed that day was 13-14. Only 106 men and teenagers died that day. Thirty four soldiers were killed. This gets us to 140. From 141 to 190 seems to be stretch. The youngest Quantrill Raider was a 13 year old whose father had been killed in a Union raid. An abolitionist raided Lawrence a few days before the raid and took most of the weapons. After the raid the the depopulation of 4 counties along the Missouri border. At each farm or small village all structures were burnt to the ground. All men killed. Women and children were forced into poverty and at the beginning of winter. Is this not a terrible event. All this was done in the name of war.

    • Correct, Mr. Nolan. Please read “Black Flag” by Thomas Goodrich. After reading the Prologue, you will not be able to put it down..

    • Jeff Wade says:

      I may be related to the thirteen year old. What is his name, if you know?

    • Cynthia L Wallace says:

      I have read many historical articles regarding this atrocity upon the town of Lawrence, Kansas, and never have I seen your version of this historical event. Could it be that your chronology is off?
      I have read local history and it is said the number of men and young men killed on this fateful morning was that of approximately 300…nearly all men of the town.
      It was after this ransacking and pilliaging that General Order #11 was enacted that 4 Missouri border counties were ordered evacuated.

    • Raymond J Nellis says:

      How do you know the ages of the younger men who were killed in this event? You haven’t cited any source.

    • William K Nolan says:

      Google it. There are many sources. Some by name and some with just numbers.I was tired of the boys and men. In the many sources I found I saw no children mentioned. Young men were killed. There are many instances how women saved their man. Instances how families survived in the corn fields. This was a massacre without question. I think with a few years of detail research we could find where families were lost, but I found none in a one day review. I did find that my family did not move to north east Missouri until 1870. Finding online detailed studies is fairly easy and some of the sources like the National Park Service are fairly good, though I often disagree with there battle comments. Also Wikipedia has good data, it is a document filled with comments like we are seeing in the Fold3.

    • Katherine Rubie says:

      I appreciate you pointing out a more detailed description of what is meant by “boys” and the apparent error in its use. But, I’m wondering if the term “boys” in this historical account comes from that time period, rather than a chosen word from this time period. I ask this, because it might be relevant to that time period to use “boys” rather than “teens” because of a different understanding of these terms. Did they use the word “teen” or “teenager” back then? If not, did they use “boys” to define what we would consider teens now? And would they have used “children” if kids younger than this affected age group had been killed? I don’t actually know the answers to these questions, but I think it might be worth looking into because we often impose terminology and interpretations of events on the past through the lens of current time periods. I think we all need to be mindful of this, because many errors have occurred in translating ancient texts, or interpreting historical accounts, by filtering it through modern words and ideas. I do know that at some point in human history we saw children as miniature adults, and it was also common for youth to work in many areas (clergy, farmers, smithing, mining, etc) right alongside adults. So, there may be a need for all of us to research when children were first seen as children, when teens were designated as “teens” rather than adults (or even children), and going further still when we decided teens were still kids rather than adults and when we assigned the age of 18 as the distinguishing point as which children become adults. This is important to our history too, so if you should discover the answers to these questions, I would be very interested in hearing what you find out.

      Also, I was wondering what happened to the women and children while reading this article, so I really appreciate you filling in that answer for me. All too often history is written about men, while women, and especially children, are often overlooked simply because they were seen as little more than property, or simply citizens without rights, and therefore lacking the qualifications needed to make contributions to history. One person here mentioned in their comments that in the US we are taught history by memorizing the names of important men in our history, the accomplishments they made, and the dates on which these events happened. This makes for some pretty boring history classes to be sure, but worse yet, we don’t make it relevant to half our population when we rarely discuss women. In this case, the women may not have had an accomplishment to focus on, but it certainly is important to know they were left homeless and defenseless – during a time of year when traveling, finding food, and clothing would have had severe limitations which would have been important to survival. I find your insight and comment very important to know and this speaks further to the brutality and harsh conditions of that event and time period.

  3. Gloria ODonnell says:

    I am like you with no love of history until I left school, although my father read history books since his first days in his one room school on the Canadian Prairies in 1921.
    My mother was Norwegian and born in 1916 from Ancestors first arriving in Minnesota. Her two grandmothers the only two of all the ancestors in Minnesota that ended up in Alberta. The story of my Great grandmother Lee and her neighbour Peggy Whitford a Cree First Nation woman married to a Scotsman and Peggys daughter Flora’s is their very own not a perspective of the memories of someone else. You can read the Whitford diaries and the testimony of Flora Chalmers in the Donalda Museum Archives. It is there I Found my Great Grandmother date of death on January 25-1907. Where she is buried is unmarked somewhere on the prarie. Half my ancestors in unmarked graves on those early homesteads. Deaths in 1903, 1907, 1909, 1911, 1927 all unmarked graves. Devastated by disease and dying before their children even started school. Thanks to these diaries I have found out what happened to my Great Grandmother Lee and the Cree woman who nursed her final night on earth.

    • Dawn (Tomoson) Whitaker says:

      What an incredible find those diaries are for you! I also have Norwegian ancestors from those time periods who settled in Minnesota, as I’m finding out many did. I would love it if I could find diaries or correspondence written by some of my family who lived during that time. It adds so much to the understanding of what they experienced.

    • A true, pure American family, Gloria. Genealogy and is a wonderful thing; to learn why we are who we are.

  4. Sue Young says:

    My mother in law’s great grandparents Christian and Sophia Metz survived the massacre through Sophia’s quick thinking. She rolled her husband up in a carpet and threw him out the window. Lucky none of the terrorists wanted a carpet

  5. Marilyn Hassig Obee says:

    I am proud to be born and raised in the Free State of Kansas, in Kansas City, KS. Went to college at the University of Kansas, Lawrence. As with most of you, I had limited information of details (because I was not completely interested as a kid) but as an adult I’m soaking in as much history as possible. My interest grew with doing genealogy on both sides of my family.
    Thank you all for posting more history of your families. Thank you Fold3 for posting this. The comments have been fascinating!

  6. Shelley Hallman says:

    My Grandnother, Nora Casey, was born and raised in Southern Missouri in 1879. As a child in the early 1960s , along with other 4 th graders was given a very basic overview of the Civil war. Though all of her children had been born in Southern Missouri, by 1922 she, and their children, had moved to California so I was not “southern born -southern bred “ and knew little of American History other than the primarily fictional accounts presented in the television westerns. I went home from school and excitedly asked Grandma. who by then was over 80 years old, “Grandma, are we Union or Rebels side?” To my extreme shock she became very upset and angry and answered with tears in her eyes”. Don’t you ever ever talk like that again! What is done is done and can not be changed so leave the past alone! “ So even though the had been born 15 years after the Civil War the devasting effects on the area was still severely impacting the area . Her parents both had siblings who had served with the armies and died as a result of their wounds or crippled for life. Many of the girls were married between the ages of 13-15 , ( Nora and 2 of her sisters at age 13) because the families were property stricken and getting married eased the burden on their families. They were struggling to rebuild what had once been thriving farms to a level that could sustain the families . Both Nora’s Grandfather’s were dead by 1870 from war related issues . I was shocked when, as an adult and doing family research for genealogy. to discover that many of the women known to be related to her family were listed as widowed housekeepers or boarders in households in the same areas where the family had previously had their own households. The censuses from 1870 on ward shows that many of the widows were in their early to mid 30s to early 40s and the ages of the children indicated that they had been born in late 1850s to 1867 so more than a few were widowed due to the war and its aftermath.
    The context of a letter Luvica Casey, my Great Grandmother , mentions that their farm had a railway running through the fields and that they had been “ visited” by the Armies of both sides. There also is a proven story of a man associated with her family. I think her father’s cousin who managed to sneak back home to check on his wife and children. A soldier who was in the opposing Army happened to be in the Area and stopped by to check on his cousin , found that her husband , the earlier mentioned soldier, was there and shot him dead in front of his family .
    I had not recognized or even thought about the “ actual length” of wars. That realistically they continue way beyond the start and end dates given in history books. They begin was before and the collateral damage does not conclude for decades or often generations.

    • Katherine Rubie says:

      Wow! Thank you so much for sharing your family’s stories and your recollections of how the effects of war can continue to painfully live on for a person’s lifetime. You made a great point in saying that the start and end dates of wars go well beyond any official record of those start and end dates. This is so important to keep in mind, because it helps us the understand the context of why the war happened in the first place (didn’t just spring up out of nowhere for no apparent reason) and why people like your grandmother can feel so sensitive over an innocent question such as yours.

      Ignoring history does nothing for us, while knowing, acknowledging, and owning our history can help us to better avoid making the same mistakes and even to heal from those events. I feel badly for your grandmother because it is clear she carried a great deal of shame with her for all those years. I wish things could have been different for her. Imagine how much more happy she might have been, and what you could have learned about your own family history, had she been able to come to terms with her own experiences and been able to talk about it.

      It’s really unfortunate that so many people take on the attitude of “the past is the past,” because we really miss out on knowing more about their personal history and even the entire history of a town, a state, or a nation when we only hear one side of it. I know Southerners often get prickly when trying to talk to them about slavery, the Civil War, and other things about their past they don’t want to talk about. I’ve even witnessed a good many younger persons who don’t even fully understand their own history. That’s really very sad IMO.

  7. Cynthia L Wallace says:

    I have read many historical articles regarding this atrocity upon the town of Lawrence, Kansas, and never have I seen your version of this historical event. Could it be that your chronology is off?
    I have read local history and it is said the number of men and young men killed on this fateful morning was that of approximately 300…nearly all men of the town.
    It was after this ransacking and pilliaging that General Order #11 was enacted that 4 Missouri border counties were ordered evacuated.

  8. Gloria says:

    I wish educators would discuss:
    Could slavery have ended without a war? If yes is the answer how? If not why?
    We need that answer now as clearly heading towards WW3. North America is a mess.
    Covid has shown how easy power was taken away from the people. In my province a healthy young man out skating one evening wrestled to the ground by police and arrested. I can not wrap my head around that one and it has terrified me of the future of my grandchildren. Lockdown laws why, by who, how and for what?
    Is This story of what happened then happening right now in Ukraine? How can humans end evil?

    • By voting for constitutional republicans. (Please note the small letters)

    • Also, Gloria. the wokeism in academia today prevents us from learning the truth. That secession was constitutionally legal in 1860. Lincoln called up troops to put down the ‘rebellion’ of firing on Fort Sumter, a federal installation in the Charleston harbor, when the war was going badly for the North, they sought the higher moral ground and freed the slaves thus making it completely about slavery.
      The Southern states began their own undoing in 1861, thus ending slavery with the war (a good thing). IF the states didn’t secede, slavery would have ended, state by state; probably ending in the late 1880’s compliments of the Industrial Revolution.

    • Katherine Rubie says:

      Awesome questions Gloria. I know some of those answers, but honestly, it all comes down to power. Whomever is holding the reins gets to decide what part of history is told and the whys will be in that side of the story.

  9. Connie Reineccius says:

    I was born in Lawrence, KS, and raised in the farmlands of Lawrence and Baldwin City and I didn’t know all of this information. It is truly amazing to find out some of these facts now. Especially since Lawrence was founded along the Oregon Trail (how did I miss that in history class?) because now I live in Oregon. It’s amazing how the two states are similar in so many ways. I love this article. Thanks for the eduction!

  10. J Horan says:

    To briefly answer the question of when are you a man or a boy. Research the Orphan Train history from Civil War to 1929ish. This is when our “ideas” of childhood were developed.

  11. Raymond Johns says:

    Just a personal observation if I may. It is my humble opinion that whether the person is a boy , a teenager or a young man is in the eye of the reader. It changes when it hits closer to home. Nations throughout history have sent their young men to fight their wars. To the nation 18 is a young man ready to fight for his country. To the general population 18 could be a boy. To his parents 18 is a child.
    I wish for the day when a nation’s leaders are forced to fight alongside the young men they send into the fray.
    On a side note , life expectancy in 1860 was about 40 years of age. So should we refer to someone that has reached the halfway point in his life , a boy?

    • William K Nolan says:

      In 1860 a 13 year old young men was doing hard work on farms and ranches. Only the rich were able to continue school. There were few laws in the south and west requiring schooling. Moms resisted 13-15 year old young men going to war, but recruiters sought 16-18 year olds who had size and strength. Even tough smaller young men were recruited. It was a tough time in the south and west. The north was beginning to civilize. But the time was 1860 not now. Eighteen year olds were graduating from college. Today it is twenty two or more. The college graduates were the ones who lived over 40. The ones who did not survive 40 started to work at 13 and it was not an easy life on a farm or ranch. It was a little better in towns and better in cities. In 1862 the Confederacy tried to get rid of those under 18 and over 45. Two years later, they accepted anyone who could fight or help. We see in Lawrence that Quantrills, youngest was 13. One of the young men killed in Lawrence was 14-15 and wearing a Union uniform. War blurs the edges of age. In WW2, Korea and Vietnam we had 13 year olds sneak in. Since then we have better screening, but you can bet men under 18 are still getting in to the services.

    • Jeff Wade says:

      Hello, I left a request before regarding the 13 year old “border ruffian”. My great grandfather was 14 when the war belle out, living in Jackson county, son of a “border ruffian” leader, who apparently was killed by “bushwackers” from Kansas. My great grandfather went to Texas and rode the trails a while. Any source you have about the 13 year old in Lawrence with Quantrill would be appreciated.

  12. Ray Vick says:

    Family tradition is Guerrilla Tom Henry of Union County, Kentucky was part of the raiders. He was my 2g granduncle. He was shot in the mouth by Federals toward the end of the war, survived but was sent to prison for his guerrilla activities. Pardoned by Lincoln he married and had kids. Later in life he was a starter at the horse races in Paducah, KY along side his old friend Frank James. Descendants of relatives recalled them saying they sat on his lap at the races where he could not spit because of his war wound.
    His brother George was killed in Morganfield, Union, KY in 1863 in a skirmish with Union troops.
    I have collected stories about Guerrilla Tom in his Gallery in my Lrayvick1 tree in Ancestry.

    • Ray Vick says:

      I forgot to mention the ironies. My 2g grandparents were reportedly killed by Indians in 1863 in or near Kansas while exploring the idea of moving to Kansas from Indiana (after the war kin moved to Marshall County, KS on the Nebraska state line). I have always suspected they were Jayhawkers who were killed by Rebels.
      One of their granddaughters, my gm, married the grandnephew of Guerrilla Tom.
      My family has always been ambivalent regarding the Civil War in part because there were both Union and Confederates in the family and because our ancestor Piety Reese nee Vick was one of those murdered by Nat Turner’s mob in 1831.

  13. Ricky Turner says:

    James E. Walters Jr., you’re absolutely correct. Many slave owners in the South were also abolitionists. Consider that many “owners” reviled slavery, therefore they would commit to indenturement.. Refusing to “own” another human. Also forgotten were the white slaves who sold the selves for passage to the “Americas”. Another forgotten fact: the largest Plantations, (those with the highest number of black slaves), were owned by freed men. Ex-slaves who thru indenturement earned their freedom and bought slaves. They also denied the possibility of freedom to their own slaves.

  14. Michelle Conner says:

    Knowledge of history is a good thing, whether its good or bad. Most of my life I was ignorant of my family history. Born in East L.A. 1956 I grew up all around Southern California. My mother was Mexican American from Texas, my father was “white” and other than his mother which was from Utah ( pioneers of the Mormon Church) I thought was completely Californian. My parents split when I was young and I was raised in 2 households. It was a racially mixed upbringing. My father had remremarried and my step mother was black. We were raised to embrace all differences and I personally didn’t really notice the racial differences until my teenage years when I saw how different people were treated. All my parents encouraged me to speak up, to stand up against unjust treatment. In the 60’s I was involved in sit-ins for the support of strikes for rights of migrant farm workers with Caesar Chavez, partipated marches for the rights of Black men and women I even was at a demonstration in support for Angela Davis.
    It wasn’t until in my mid 40’s after I moved to Tennessee that my eyes were opened about my heritage. My father wrote me a letter stating his father was from Louisiana and he inherited some land and wanted me to find out about it. I was fascinated that our California roots only started with him (my sisters and I were the first Califorian’s on my mother’s side). I started my Ancestry search.. I discovered I am descendants of the Acadians, early settlements of Louisiana. Primarily Lafayette, Abbeville, St Martin’s Parish. Broussard, Guidry, Nunez to name a few. I was proud to discover my ancestors opposed English oppression in Canada which brought them to Louisiana and that my ancestor Joseph did Beausoliel was considered a Hero of the Acadian Resistance. But later being appalled in learning later generations being slave owners and my 3xgf was a Senator for Louisiana and voted for the secession. There were more proud and sad moments found in my WHOLE family history. But it is my history, good & bad. And it is encouraging to think how much has changed. I am a humanitarian, I’d like to think following in the footsteps of Joseph. But I will not hide from the truth. I will not desire a re-write nor hide of a truth. I enjoyed reading Jenny’s article and the comments. Learning more about the Lawrence Massacre, Quantrell’s raids, tensions between Missouri-Kansas border, Osceola etc. We can’t change the past but by learning, listening and discussing we can change the direction of our future

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