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The Civil War

Early in the colonial era, the United States began evolving into separate regions of the North and South. Life in the Southern states of the United States developed along very different lines than those in the North. In the North, business became more industrialized, making the use of slave labor obsolete. Factory owners could hire wage laborers more cheaply than they could maintain slave gangs. Things were much different in the South. Slave labor was still in large demand in the southern states, as many industries were directly related to cotton production. Though most people lived on small farms in the South, owners of the largest plantations wielded great political power over the region.

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Click on the map for a larger view.

Reynolds Political Map of the United States, designed to exhibit the comparative area of the free and slave states New York and Chicago, 1856 - Library of Congress Geography and Map Division

By 1804, all the Northern states had outlawed slavery, and a few extremists, called abolitionists, called for the immediate emancipation of all slaves in the United States, without compensation to the current owners. As more people migrated westward, the slavery issue became even more controversial. Northerners wanted to prevent slavery from spreading to the Western territories, and Southerners believed that they maintained the right to carry their slaves into the West.

Motivated by the slavery issue and other political debates of the 1840s, Northerners and Southerners strongly disagreed with one another over the definition of "states’ rights." The "states’ rights" debate centered on the issue of how much control and power resided with the states as compared with the authority of the United States government.

Many Southerners strongly believed that the federal government was created by the states; therefore, the states were more powerful than the federal government. Based on their beliefs, Southerners argued that the people of the states could themselves choose which federal laws to obey. Southerners feared that the national government would take away their right to own slaves. Conversely, Northerners felt strongly that the federal government maintained power over the states, especially regarding the slavery issue.

During the 1850s, relations between the North and South continued to worsen. Following Abraham Lincoln’s presidential victory in 1860, Southern states began to secede from the Union. Southerners viewed Lincoln as an abolitionist and feared that he would try to end slavery in the South. The secession of Southern states resulted in the Civil War.

Kansans were active participants in the Civil War. Two-thirds of the adult male population, including black and Indian units, served in the Union army. Kansans fought in many battles in Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri and the Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Kansas suffered the highest death rate per capita during the war of any state in the Union. The largest Kansas contingent served in the Army of the Frontier under the command of Major General James Blunt, who was the only Kansan to make that rank during the Civil War.

Violence during the war continued along the border of Kansas and Missouri in the form of guerrilla warfare. A group led again by William Quantrill attacked Olathe in 1862 and Lawrence in 1863. An estimated 150 residents were massacred in the attack and the town was burned for a second time. Following the raid on Lawrence, Quantrill  attacked a Union column, led by General Blunt, near Baxter Springs. Ninety Union soldiers were killed and Blunt barely escaped.

The only major battle of the Civil War in Kansas was the Battle of Mine Creek near Pleasanton. A Confederate force led by Major General Sterling Price, retreating from a battle at Westport in Kansas City, Missouri, was met by Union troops commanded by Generals Alfred Pleasanton, James Blunt and Samuel Curtis. During this battle, 300 Confederate troops were killed or wounded and 900 were captured. The remaining Confederate troops were forced to retreat into Missouri. The Union troops followed and defeated the Rebels again in another battle at Newtonia, Missouri.

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A sketch of Quantrill's raid on Lawrence from Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, September 12, 1863 (Photo courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society)

This prairie near Pleasanton was the site of the Battle of Mine Creek

Additional Resources

bulletSee a map of Civil War battles in Kansas.
bulletRead a first hand account of life in Kansas during this time by the Reverend Richard Cordley in Pioneer Days in Kansas, Chapter 9: Kansas in the Civil War.
bulletRead Civil War letters from Kansans.

Study Guide Questions

  1. Who was William Quantrill and how was he involved in Kansas during the Civil War?
  2. What were some of the battles Kansans fought in during the Civil War?
  3. What happened at Battle of Mine Creek?
  4. Why did Kansas support the Union with such enthusiasm in the Civil War?


guerilla warfare

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