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Chapter 9: battle of Ossawatomie.

Captain Brown, after the fourth of July, returned to Lawrence. Early in the month of August, General Lane entered Kansas by the way of Nebraska Territory. The confidence that the fighting men felt in his military ability, made his return an event of historical importance. Several revolting atrocities — the mutilation of Major Hoyt, for example, the scalping of Mr. Hopps, and a dastardly outrage on a Northern lady1--aroused once more the military ardor of the Free State men. Aggressive hostilities began. The cowardice that the Southerners, now vigorously assailed, displayed at every point, has never probably been equalled in American history: [144] excepting recently, indeed, in the very valiant and venerable State of Virginia.

Hitherto, the Republican leaders in the East, by every mail and numerous messengers, had earnestly and successfully counselled peace — urging the Free State men, for party purposes, to submit to outrage rather than strike an offensive blow. The insult of the Fourth of July, followed up, on the 13th of August, by the Governor's proclamation,--which practically called on the Missourians to make a new invasion,--exhausted the patience of the Northern settlers, and, in a rapid series of surprises, they soon, and with unexampled precipitation, drove the Southern invaders from all their inland strongholds.

Let us follow John Brown during this eventful period. From the 4th of July till the 30th of August, he was neither idle nor inactive. With a wounded son-in-law, who had been shot at the battle of Black Jack, he left Topeka about the end of July; and, on the 5th of August, entered the camp of the organized Northern companies, then known as Jim Lane's army, at a place four miles from the northern boundary line, which the emigrants had named Plymouth, in honor of the Puritans,--who had crossed the sea for the same purpose that they were now crossing the prairie:

To make the West as they the East,
The Homestead of the Free.

A brother of John Brown's wounded son-in-law, on learning of the casualties of Black Jack, at once left North Elba, and joined the second Massachusetts Company at Buffalo. The old man rode into camp, and [145] inquired if Wm. Thompson2 was there. He found him, and they left the camp together. The Captain was riding a splendid horse, and was dressed in plain white summer clothing. He wore a large straw hat, and was closely shaven; every thing about him was scrupulously clean. He made a great impression, by his appearance, on several of the company; who, without knowing him, at once declared that he must be a “remarkable man” in disguise. The old hero and his party then proceeded to Nebraska City, or Tabor, in Iowa, and left the wounded man and his brother there.

General Lane was not with his army, but came down with a few friends,--among them Captain Brown,reached Topeka on the night of the 10th of August; and at once took command of the Free State forces. He immediately started for Lawrence, and, on arriving there, found that the Northern boys were preparing to attack the Georgians, then at Franklin. He and Captain Brown were both present at that skirmish. They proceeded on the same night to Rock Creek, for the purpose of seizing the murderers of Major Hoyt; and Captain Brown there assumed the command of a small company of cavalry. They encamped near Rock Creek; the disfigured body of Major Hoyt was discovered, and decently buried; and, in the morning, they started for Fort Sanders, on Washington Creek, to find that the Missourians had fled. It is probable that the old man was also at the capture of Fort Titus; and it is certain that, on the 26th of August, his company was at Middle Creek, at a point now called Battle [146] Mound, eight miles from Ossawatomie, where there was a camp of one hundred and sixty Southern invaders. The Free State forces, consisting of sixty men,--the united companies of John Brown, Captain Shore, and Preacher Steward,3-- surprised and attacked these marauders at noon, and utterly routed them in a few minutes, killing two of them, and capturing thirteen prisoners, and twenty-nine horses, three wagon loads of provisions, and one hundred stand of arms.

On the same night, a detachment of this Free State force travelled to a point on the Sugar Creek, fifteen miles distant, and captured over sixty head of cattle, which the Southern marauders had brought into the Territory, or stolen from the settlers.

A new invasion.

On the 17th of August, the Missourians, alarmed at the threatening aspect of affairs in the Territory, issued, at Lexington, an inflammatory appeal for another grand and overwhelming expedition against the Northern men in Kansas. It is so characteristic of the times and the spirit of the Slave States, and indicates so clearly the terror which Old Brown had inspired in Missouri, that I subjoin it with a few rhetorical omissions only:

To the citizens of Lafayette County:

It becomes our painful duty to inform you that civil war has again commenced in Kansas. Four hundred abolitionists, under Lane, have actually come into the Territory, and commenced a war of extermination upon the pro-slavery settlers. [147]

On the 6th of August, the notorious Brown, with a party of three hundred abolitionists, made an attack upon a colony of Georgians, numbering about two hundred and twenty-five souls, one hundred and seventy-five of whom were women, children, and slaves. Their houses were burned to the ground, all their property stolen,--horses, cattle, clothing, money, provisions, all taken away from them,and their ploughs burned to ashes. This colony came from Georgia to settle peaceably in Kansas, and were quietly cultivating the soil, and disturbing no one. They did not even have arms for defence. They are now driven from the territory, with nothing left but their clothes on their backs — indeed, they even took the boots off the men's feet, and put them on their own. Captain Cook, who has charge of the colony, is now here asking for arms and men to aid his colony to settle again in the Territory.4

August 12.--At night three hundred abolitionists, under this same Brown, attacked the town of Franklin, robbed, plundered, and burnt, took all the arms in town, broke open and destroyed the post office, carried away the old cannon “Sacramento,” which our gallant Missourians captured in Mexico, and are now turning its mouth against our friends. Six men were killed, and Mrs. Crane knocked down by an abolitionist. [All false.]

The same day a Mr. Williams, a settler near St. Bernard, was shot by an abolitionist, who sneaked upon him while he was quietly mauling rails on his claim.5

August 13.--About fifty abolitionists attacked the house of Mr. White,6 in Lykins County, robbed him of every thing, and drove him [148] into Missouri. He is a Free State man, but sustains the laws of the Territory.

August 15.--Brown, with four hundred abolitionists, mostly Lane's men, mounted and armed, attacked Treadwell's settlement, in Douglass County, numbering about thirty men.

They planted the old cannon “Sacramento” towards the colony, and surrounded them. They, being so largely overpowered, attempted to escape; but as they were on foot, it is feared they have all been taken and murdered.


Meet at Lexington on Wednesday, August 20, at 12 o'clock. Bring your horses, your guns, and your clothing — all ready to go on to Kansas. Let every man who can possibly leave home, go now to save the lives of our friends. Let those who cannot go hitch up their wagons and throw in a few provisions, and get more as they come along by their neighbors, and bring them to Lexington on Wednesday. Let others bring horses and mules, and saddles and guns, --all to come in on Wednesday. We must go immediately. There is no time to spare, and no one must hold back. Let us all do a little, and the job will be light. We want two hundred to three hundred men from this county. Jackson, Johnson, Platte, Clay, Ray, Saline, Carroll, and other counties are now acting in this matter. All of them will send up a company of men, and there will be a concert of action. New Santa Fe, Jackson County, will be the place of rendezvous for the whole crowd, and our motto this time will be, “No quarter.” Come up, then, on Wednesday, and let us have concert of action. Let no one stay away. We need the old men to advise, the young men to execute. We confidently look for eight hundred to one thousand citizens to be present.

At the same time a similar address, more general in its character, was issued from Westport, and dated August 16. It was signed by David R. Atchison, W. H. Russell, A. G. Boone, and B. F. Stringfellow.

Thus appealed to, a force of two thousand men assembled at the village of Santa Fe, on the border; and, after entering the Territory, divided into two forces --one division, led by Senator Atchison, marching to Bull Creek, and the other wing, under General Reid, advancing to Ossawatomie. [149]

The force under Atchison fled precipitately on the morning of August 31, on the approach of General Lane, and after a slight skirmish between the advance guards of the Northern and Southern “armies,” which occurred about sunset on the previous evening. They fled in company with the division that had just returned from Ossawatomie.

The reception of this force at Ossawatomie by Captain John Brown is one of the most brilliant episodes of Kansas history. They were between four and five hundred strong,--armed with United States muskets, bayonets, and revolvers, with several pieces of cannon and a large supply of ammunition. When John Brown saw them coming, he resolved, to use his own modest phrase, to “annoy them.”

This is his own account of the way in which he did it:

Captain Brown's account of the battle.

Early in the morning of the 30th of August, the enemy's scouts approached to within one mile and a half of the western boundary of the town of Ossawatomie. At this place my son Frederick K. (who was not attached to my force) had lodged, with some four other young men from Lawrence, and a young man named Garrison, from Middle Creek.

The scouts, led by a pro-slavery preacher named White, shot my son dead in the road, whilst he-as 1 have since ascertained — supposed them to be friendly. At the same time they butchered Mr. Garrison, and badly mangled one of the young men from Lawrence, who came with my son, leaving him for dead. [150]

This was not far from sunrise. I had stopped during the night about two and one half miles from them, and nearly one mile from Ossawatomie. I had no organized force, but only some twelve or fifteen new recruits, who were ordered to leave their preparations for breakfast, and follow me into the town as soon as this news was brought to me.

As I had no means of learning correctly the force of the enemy, I placed twelve of the recruits in a log house, hoping we might be able to defend the town. I then gathered some fifteen more men together, whom we armed with guns ; and we started in the direction of the enemy. After going a few rods, we could see them approaching the town in line of battle, about one half a mile off, upon a hill west of the village. I then gave up all idea of doing more than to annoy, from the timber near the town, into which we were all retreated, and which was filled with a thick growth of underbrush, but had no time to recall the twelve men in the log house, and so lost their assistance in the fight.

At the point above named, I met with Captain Cline, a very active young man, who had with him some twelve or fifteen mounted men, and persuaded him to go with us into the timber, on the southern shore of the Osage, or Marais-des-Cygnes, a little to the north-west from the village. Here the men, numbering not more than thirty in all, were directed to scatter and secrete themselves as well as they could, and await the approach of the enemy. This was done in full view of them, (who must have seen the whole movement,) and had to be done in the utmost haste. I [151] believe Captain Cline and some of his men were not even dismounted in the fight, but cannot assert positively. When the left wing of the enemy had approached to within common rifle shot, we commenced firing; and very soon threw the northern branch of the enemy's line into disorder. This continued some fifteen or twenty minutes, which gave us an uncommon opportunity to annoy them. Captain Cline and his men soon got out of ammunition, and retired across the river.

After the enemy rallied, we kept up our fire; until, by the leaving of one and another, we had but six or seven left. We then retired across the river.

We had one man killed--a Mr. Powers, from Captain Cline's company — in the fight. One of my men--a Mr. Partridge--was slot in crossing the river. Two or three of the party, who took part in the fight, are yet missing, and may be lost or taken prisoners. Two were wounded, viz., Dr. Updegraff and a Mr. Collis.

I cannot speak in too high terms of them, and of many others I have not now time to mention.

One of my best men, together with myself, was struck with a partially spent ball from the enemy, in the commencement of the fight, but we were only bruised. The loss I refer to is one of my missing men. The loss of the enemy, as we learn by the different statements of our own, as well as their people, was some thirty-one or two killed, and from forty to fifty wounded. After burning the town to ashes, and killing a Mr. Williams they had taken, whom neither party claimed, [152] they took a hasty leave, carrying their dead and wounded with them. They did not attempt to cross the river, nor to search for us, and have not since returned to look over their work.

I give this in great haste, in the midst of constant interruptions. My second son was with me in the fight, and escaped unharmed. This I mention for the benefit of his friends.

Old preacher White, I hear, boasts of having killed my son. Of course he is a lion.

John Brown. Lawrence, Kansas, September 7, 1856.

The brilliancy of this exploit can only faintly be traced in the old hero's modest and characteristic account of it. Nearly five hundred men, as the Missourians subsequently admitted,--and all of them heavily armed,--were arrested in their march of desolation by a little band of sixteen heroes, imperfectly equipped; for the company of Captain Cline, after firing a few shots, retired from the conflict, in consequence of being out of ammunition; and there was only one Sharpe's rifle in Captain Brown's command. The old man stood near a “sapling,” which is still pointed out, during the whole of this memorable engagement, quietly giving directions to his men, and “annoying the enemy” with his own steady rifle, indifferent to the grape shots and balls which whizzed around him, and hewed down the limbs, scattered the foliage, and peeled off the bark from the trees on every side. When the writer visited the site, many months after this event, the wood still bore the marks of that [153] glorious conflict. The General of the invading army afterwards admitted that if Brown had been provided with Sharpe's rifles, nothing could have prevented his men from making an ignominious retreat.

The fearful slaughter was occasioned by the lawless character of the invading force. Alarmed at being fired at, they refused to obey orders, and foolishly huddled around the dead and wounded, instead of standing in their ranks and “closing up.” Into these panic-stricken groups Old Brown poured a deadly fire; and, before the officers of the enemy could restore order in their companies, thirty-two men lay dead, and more than fifty wounded. The brave band of Captain Brown saw the whites of the enemy's eyes, ere the old man gave the order to retreat.

The invaders, true to the Southern instinct, murdered a wounded prisoner who fell into their hands, arrested and killed a Mr. Williams, who was “claimed by neither party,” and who took no part in this or any other conflict; and, on the following morning, offered “Charley,” the Hungarian, a chance for his life, if he should escape their fire — a cowardly excuse, as the fearless boy told them, for riddling him with balls. They fired a volley into him, as he faced them defiantly.

Erroneously supposing that they had shot Captain Brown, they returned to Missouri, and boasted of their success; but the large number of corpses and wounded men whom they brought from Ossawatomie, and a knowledge of the insignificant force of abolitionists that had opposed them, created a feeling of terror in [154] the State, from which the Missourians never fully recovered. They never afterwards thought, and seldom said, that the Yankees would not fight. Captain Brown first created a dread of the North and her men in the minds of the Missourians; which, more than any other terror, prevented them from proceeding vigorously with the project of re-conquering Kansas. For General Lane, in the North, with hardly any loss of life, had done what Captain Brown, with this salutary slaughter, had effected in the South of Kansas--made it necessary to effect a re-subjugation of the Territory, or to give it up to freedom. Lane frightened the Southern invaders; but Brown struck terror into the centre of their souls.

Old Preacher White.”

Old Preacher White, who shot Frederick Brown through the heart,--although his victim was quietly walking along on the road unsuspecting and unarmed, -and afterwards, as the corpse lay stiff and bloody on the ground, discharged a loaded pistol into its open mouth, was a “National” Divine, of “the Church South,” of course, whose fate deserves a passing notice here; In order to make capital against the Northern correspondents in the Territory, by throwing discredit on their statements of Southern outrage, a pro-slavery man of Westport, Missouri, wrote an account of the recent murder of a person whom he called “Poor Martin White, a Free State preacher of the Gospel.” It served its purpose — for it was originally published in a Republican paper and widely copied; when — as had [155] been arranged — Martin White re-appeared, denied the story of his death, and ridiculed the Republicans for believing such stories. For a long time afterwards, the pro-slavery papers, whenever an outrage was recorded, would sneeringly allude to “Poor Martin White.”

For his services in furthering this stratagem, and as a reward for the murder of Frederick Brown, “Poor Martin White” was elected a member of the Territorial Legislature which assembled at Lecompton. During the course of the session he gave a graphic account of the killing of Frederick; laughingly described how, when shot, he “toppled over” --the honorable members roared at this Southern-Christian phrase — and abused my friend Phillips, author of “The conquest of Kansas,” for having spoken of the act as a murder; when, said the assassin-preacher, calmly, “I was acting as a part of the law and order militia.”

Poor Martin White, when the session was finished, proceeded to his home. But he never reached it. “Ho went to his own place,” indeed; for his corpse was found stiff and cold on the prairie — with a rifle ball in it. Poor Martin White!

Brown's address to his men.

They are coming — men, make ready;
     See their ensigns — hear their drum;
See them march with steps unsteady:
     Onward to their graves they come.

God of Freedom! ere to-morrow,
     Slavers' corpses Thou shalt see;
Georgia maids shall wail in sorrow,
     For my sacrifice to Thee! [156]

Philistines shall fall — the river
     That meanders through this wood
Shall be red with blood that never
     Throbbed for outraged womanhood;

Blood of men, who, when their brothers
     Traffic human flesh for gold,
Laugh, like arch fiends, as poor mothers'
     Heartstrings break for daughters sold;

Men who scoff at higher statutes
     Than their codes of legal wrong;
Men whom only tyrant-rule suits;
     Men whom Hell would blush to own:

I will lay them as on altars,
     Prairies! on your grasses green:
Cursed be the man who falters-
     Better had he never been.

Brothers! we are God-appointed
     Soldiers in these holy wars;
Set apart, sealed and anointed
     Children of a Heavenly Mars!

Weakness we need not dissemble-
     But Jehovah leads us on:
Who is he that dares to tremble,
     Led by God of Gideon?

Let them laugh in mad derision
     At our little feeble band--
God has told me in a vision
     We shall liberate the land.

Rise, then, brothers; do not doubt me;
     I can feel his presence now,
Feel his promises about me,
     Like a helmet on my brow.

We must conquer, we must slaughter;
     We are God's rod, and his ire
Wills their blood shall flow like water:
     In Jehovah's dread name — Fire!


A Kansas postscript.

Since the foregoing chapter was stereotyped, an unfriendly Kansas paper has related the following incident of the Battle of Ossawatomie:

We have no disposition to extenuate the crimes recently committed by this noted man. But there is no reason why the acts of kindness and charity which he was wont to perform should be forgotten, now that he is about to suffer the doom of a felon.

An instance of this sort fell under our personal observation. At the sacking of Ossawatomie, one of the most bitter pro-slavery men in Lykins County was killed. His name was Ed. Timmons. Some time afterwards, Brown stopped at the log house where Timmons had lived. His widow and children were there, and in great destitution. He inquired into their wants, relieved their distresses, and supported them until her friends in Missouri, informed through Brown of the condition of Mrs. Timmons, had time to come to her and carry her to her former home. Mrs. Timmons fully appreciated the great kindness thus shown her, but never learned that Captain John Brown was her benefactor.

1 “On the following morning, a young lady of Bloomington was dragged from her home by a party of merciless wretches, and carried a mile or two into the country, when her tongue was pulled as far as possible from her mouth, and tied with a cord. Her arms were then securely pinioned, and, despite her violent and convulsive struggles — But let the reader imagine, if possible, the savage brutality that followed. She had been guilty of the terrible offence of speaking adversely of the institution of slavery.” Gilson's Geary in Kansas, p. 98.

2 He fell at Harper's Ferry.

3 This gentleman was even more expert with the sword of Gideon than with the sword of the Spirit. He has been in more fights and liberated more slaves than any other man now in Kansas. He has won the honorable title of the Fighting Preacher. He “still lives.”

4 This “peaceable colony of Georgia men, women, children, and slaves,” was really composed of about one hundred and sixty of Buford's Southron invaders, the Georgia contingent of that marauding force. About the beginning of July, they camped near Battereville, a village of the Wea Indians, on the Reserve belonging to that nation. This place is about eight miles south-east of Ossawatomie. They made no improvements, or took any steps toward a settlement, the fact of camping on the Wea lands being sufficient proof that they had no such intention, for they were not open to settlement. They lived there in tents, sold whiskey to the Weas and Miamis, with whom they pretended to form some sort of treaty, and plundered and annoyed the Free State settlers. About the second of August, they took prisoner Preacher Stewart, robbed him of his horse, and stated that they intended to hang him. Preparatory to the execution of this murderous threat, he was left in charge of two drunken Miami Indians. Stewart, not being desirous of a “suspension,” made his escape, and reached Lawrence as speedily as possible. He immediately raised a company of ninety Free State men, and started for the Southern camp. They heard of his approach, and left in haste. When the Lawrence “boys” arrived at Battersville, they found some whiskey and a broken wagon. Captain Brown was on the northern boundary line at the time. Preacher Stewart and Captain Cutler were in command of the Free State men.

5 Mr. Williams was a quiet, peaceable man. He was murdered by a pro-slavery ruffian named McBride, for the crime of being a Missourian and Free State.

6 Preacher White, the murderer of Frederick Brown. This statement also is false.

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