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'Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri' examines retaliatory effects of Border War

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

LAWRENCE — History books are filled with the gruesome and grandiose details of epic Civil War battles such as Gettysburg, Antietam and Chancellorsville.

The combat that receives considerably less ink, however, was waged along the Kansas-Missouri border — some occurring before the Civil War even began. Attacks by groups along both sides of the state line led to a violent cycle of robbery, arson and revenge, leading to the worst guerrilla warfare in American history.

“To ignore the guerrilla warfare here is to misunderstand a big part of the war,” said Jonathan Earle, associate professor of history at the University of Kansas and co-editor of “Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri: The Long Civil War on the Border,” published today, Aug. 20, by the University Press of Kansas. “The violence started in the 1850s, and many ordinary people suffered and were killed.”

Earle and co-editor Diane Mutti-Burke, a University of Missouri-Kansas City professor, recruited 15 young scholars to explore the bloodshed and its lasting effects on the two neighboring states, as well as the nation as a whole.

The book’s release coincides with 150th anniversary of the Lawrence massacre, when Confederate guerrillas led by William Clarke Quantrill killed about 200 people and burned buildings to the ground in Lawrence on Aug. 21, 1863. This violence was followed four days later by General Order No. 11, which forced evacuation of rural areas in four western Missourian counties.

“Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri” shows how and why the border region was so divided on the issue of slavery.

Earle felt it was important to explore the conflict from both states’ perspectives in one book. He and Mutti-Burke noticed most scholarly publications and conferences approach the topic from one side or the other, he said.

While Missourians tended to side with the south, most Kansan settlers wanted to stop the spread of slavery into their territory, Earle said.

“It’s fair to say Missourians led the first attacks, but eventually, it all escalated to retaliatory violence,” with robbery, arson and murder common along the border, Earle said.

The fighting between the “Jayhawkers” (Kansans) and “Bushwhackers” persisted for years, putting strain on communities budding near the border. Residents of newly formed towns knew death and destruction could be right around the corner, Earle said.

“(The conflict) changes the way you live your life,” he said. “Why plant that crop when you know someone’s just going to come and set fire to it? Why invest in a farm when soldiers might force you to leave at gunpoint?”

While longtime Kansans and Missourians may know about the border massacres, Earle said many American’s aren’t familiar with these stories.

But he bets they’d be fascinated by them.

“The Civil War is the central episode in our country’s history, and slavery is the original sin of its founding,” Earle said. “We’re still dealing with its repercussions and the issues it unleashed, whether it’s talking about a rodeo clown wearing an Obama mask in Missouri, or debating how much government people want in their lives.”

The Lawrence Public Library will host a “Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri” book launch at 7 p.m. today at the Carnegie Building, 200 W. Ninth St.