by Al Benson Jr.
Member, Board of Directors, Confederate Society of America
Should you have chanced to read any history at all dealing with our “Civil War” really the War of Northern Aggression, you must surely have read something about “bleeding Kansas.” I can remember reading about that in my pre-teen “history” books.
Most of what you have probably read goes into some detail (fake history?) about how the greasy, slave-owning, bushwhacking denizens of Missouri spent all their spare time (when they weren’t beating their slaves to death) raiding across the border into that pristine abolitionist wilderness called Kansas, which as we have all been taught, was the home of all loyal, virtuous, pure-as-the-driven-snow abolitionist types whose only aim in life was a holy crusade to free all slaves everywhere from bondage.
If you are like the rest of us, you were probably spoon-fed the historical hogwash that this was the only type of behavior you could ever expect from the dregs of humanity that inhabited Missouri, while those wonderful folks living across the line in Kansas would never dream of engaging in such horrible deeds.
To say that the “historians” got this backwards would probably be an undeserved act of naive charity. Most of them, then as now, got it backwards on purpose because the actual truth was revolting enough that they just knew you didn’t need to be aware of it–lest you should begin to question the veracity of Mr. Lincoln’s “holy cause.”
For all the lofty pretensions of the cause of abolitionism, Kansas was populated by some who felt it was their “holy calling” in life to raid across the border into Missouri for whatever they could get out of it for themselves. It was what some might call “abolitionism for fun and profit.” The fun was burning the homes of Missouri farmers, the profit was hauling off all the loot they could carry away from those homes before they torched them.
In his book Bloody Dawn, author Thomas Goodrich noted the character of such sterling individuals as Kansan Charles Jennison. He noted: “Actually the outbreak of civil war simply lent an aura of legitimacy to a program Jennison had been pursuing all along. Jennison has been characterized as cruel, heartless, cowardly, and a moral vagabond.” A charitable description!
Goodrich continued: “Whatever the opinion, Jennison and his regiment became in fact the scourge and salt of western Missouri during the first summer and winter of the war. One by one the towns along the border fell victim to their forays. Stores were looted, safes emptied, elegant homes gutted. Nor was the countryside spared. Night after night the skies over the border were aglow as barns, cabins, and crops were set ablaze. Those hapless farmers lucky enough to escape the torch watched powerlessly while the fruits of their labor were hauled off in their own wagons. Herds of cattle, horses, and sheep were likewise driven west.” And it was all for the “glorious” cause of “preserving the Union.”
Even for all of that, Jennison might have created less furor had he been a bit more selective in whom he burned out, but he was not. He was an equal opportunity plunderer. He ventured out after anyone who had loot he could steal (for the preservation of the Union). Goodrich noted that, because of Jennison’s behavior, many in Missouri who might have remained Unionists, or at least fence-straddlers, became violent enemies of Lincoln’s war effort once Jennison had ministered unto them of the healing balm of abolitionist mercy.
And then, to give holy unction to Jennison’s activties, along came the abolitiionist preachers. Chief among them was one James Montgomery. This worthy has been described as a Bible-toting evangelist, but in his book Quantrill of Missouri author Paul R. Petersen has painted a somewhat different picture of Montgomery’s evangelistic methods. In discussing the depredations of some of the Kansans, Petersen noted: “The people who attacked him were not Missourians; they were Jayhawkers. These people stole from friend and foe alike, and the group that attacked Quantrill’s camp (this was even before the war commenced) supposedly belonged to James Montgomery’s band of thieves. Montgomery was a preacher from Linn County, Kansas Territory, and a captain in James Lane’s militia. In the late 1850s he was arguably the most feared of the border marauders, and even before the war, he led forays for plunder into Missouri.”
Petersen also noted in his book another “interesting” Kansas character, one John Ingalls, who wrote to his father back in Massachusetts telling him of conditions in Kansas. He said: “One remarkable feature of the social conditions here is a total disregard of the Sabbath…” You might wonder, with all those fiery abolitionist preachers running around there why such a situation existed. It would seem that these Kansas “preachers” were so occupied with plundering across the border in Missouri that they just had no time for services on the Lord’s Day–which says a little about the depth of their Christian commitment.
Another really virtuous Kansas character was John E. Stewart. He has been described as an “abolitionist extremist.” He enjoyed association with that saintly old murderer and terrorist, John Brown. Petersen has informed us that: “Even before the war Stewart had gotten a reputation of being associated with John Brown and James Montgomery in their deprecatory raids across the border…Before coming to Kansas he had been a Methodist minister in New Hampshire… His frequent forays across the border resulted in the Missouri legislature placing a price on his head, and he was suspected in Kansas of ‘entertaining loose notions with regard to property in horses as well as negroes.’ As in the case of all Jayhawkers, his professed zeal for abolition caused a large proportion of the settlers to overlook these activities.”
In other words, as long as you were an abolitionist it was perfectly alright to steal, kill, and burn. After all, didn’t the noble end of “freeing the slaves” justify the means? These people were the proto-Marxists of their day. Some sources have even reported that once some abolitionists “freed” some slaves in Missouri they brought them back to Kansas, took them south and resold them in New Orleans. But, hey, what the heck. They were in need of some hard cash so they could buy more of John Brown’s “Beecher Bibles” to kill more Missourians so they could “free” more Missouri slaves, so that made it all somehow legitimate in the twisted abolitionist mindset.
With men of this moral stripe, often led by preachers of the same moral stripe plundering their state, is it any wonder that so many in Missouri decided to throw their lot in with the Confederacy?
However, don’t bother hunting for this type of history in your “history” books. Since the winners get to write the “history” books it is much more convenient for their agenda if you are taught to focus on “bleeding Kansas” rather than on plundered Missouri.