Introduction: Quantrill’s Raid and Order Number 11

In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence and the issuance of Order No. 11, KHC is featuring excerpts from the “Quantrill’s Raid and Order Number 11” Shared Stories of the Civil War reader’s theater script. The Shared Stories of the Civil War reader’s theater project is a partnership between KHC and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.                                                    

On to Lawrence, KS

On to Lawrence, KS, Photo courtesy of:, Kansas State Historical Society. Copy and Reuse Restrictions apply.

 This introduction is intended to provide context to the reader’s theater script. It is not a comprehensive examination of events leading up to Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence or the issuance of Order Number 11. It has been developed to remind us to consider the violence and complexities of the time period as we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. “Quantrill’s Raid and Order Number 11” reader’s theater script was created using excerpts taken from historical letters and witness accounts, and both historical and contemporary newspaper articles.

Citations for all quotations featured in the script can be found on the Quantrill’s Raid and Order Number 11 Citations page.  Links to the citations page are available on each blog post.                    

Two of the most notorious and unsettled events of the Civil War along the Missouri and Kansas border were Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence in 1863 and the issuance four days later of General Order Number 11.

The era of “Bleeding Kansas” had subsided by 1861, the year the first shots of the Civil War were officially fired at Fort Sumter, though skirmishes over slavery still posed a threat in some parts of the region. Many feared the Civil War would bring renewed violence between Kansas, a “free” state, and Missouri, a state which permitted slavery, but was not officially part of the Confederacy. This was also an era when spontaneous and unauthorized partisans formed pockets of informal militias known as guerrillas.

By the time Kansas became a state in 1861, the population demographics of Missouri and Kansas began to lay in sharp contrast to one another. In Missouri, 75% of Missourians claimed Southern ancestry and were largely immigrants from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. One in eight families held slaves, with three-fourths of these families holding fewer than five.

Missourians ultimately boasted the unique distinction of having dual governments during the Civil War — a provisional Union government, under the political leadership of Governor H.R. Gamble and the military leadership of Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, and the Confederate-sympathizing Missouri State Guard, led by Governor Claiborne Jackson and Major General Sterling Price.

Kansas, on the other hand, was anything but divided. The years of Territorial Kansas — 1854–1861 — brought political tensions and turmoil as “popular sovereignty” determined the question for the nation: Free or Slave? On January 29, 1861 the answer was clear: Kansas would be admitted into the Union as a free state. Lawrence continued to pride itself on being what one resident called the “citadel of abolitionism” in the West.

Missourians feared Kansas “Jayhawkers” would cross over to loot and destroy civilian property. Kansans, including those in Lawrence, feared the “Bushwhackers” for similar reasons. One of the most notorious raiders was William Quantrill, who had made a name for himself by sacking pro-Union border towns such as Aubry and Olathe.

By June 1863, uneasiness along the border increased and Lawrence mayor George Collamore requested Border Commander Thomas Ewing to send a temporary force to guard the town. Ewing sent 20 men. A month passed. Nothing happened and by July 31, Ewing had withdrawn some of the protection. Three weeks later, on August 21st, 1863 Quantrill’s raiders stormed the town at dawn, taking its residents by surprise.

Four days later, Border Commander Brigadier General Thomas Ewing issued Order Number 11. It mandated that citizens in four Missouri border counties who were unable to establish their loyalty to the Union, must evacuate their homes or move within a mile of a Union post. Property was burned while women and children fled with only the clothes on their backs. Chaos and looting engulfed the border region for weeks.

To this day, Kansans mourn the victims of Quantrill’s Raid, and Missourians remember the damage done to its citizens from Order Number 11.

Questions to Consider:

1. Is violence ever justified?

2. Were Jayhawkers and Bushwhackers fundamentally good people who were unfortunate enough to get caught up in the unfathomable and violent passion of war?

3. Are “normal” peaceful citizens capable of being stirred into violent action?

Check out the first excerpt of the script on KHC’s Blog today!