Monday, August 2, 2021

Review - "Moonlit Mayhem: Quantrill's Raid of Olathe, Kansas" by Jonathan Jones

[Moonlit Mayhem: Quantrill's Raid of Olathe, Kansas by Jonathan A. Jones (Author-Floating Spark Publishing, 2021). Paperback, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pp. 240. ISBN:978-1-7364633-0-7. $23.99]

Due in great measure to the target being the region's most prominent abolitionist stronghold, the incredible bloodshed involved, and the infamy of its perpetrators (among them William C. Quantrill and William T. "Bloody Bill" Anderson), the 1863 raid on Lawrence, Kansas and horrific civilian massacre that ensued have collectively gathered the lion's share of publishing attention on the topic of the Missouri-Kansas "Border War" within the larger American Civil War. However, a great number of towns on both sides of the state divide were visited with death, looting, and destruction inflicted by either pro-Confederate Missouri guerrilla bands or regularly enrolled (but all too often no less lawless) Kansas "Jayhawkers" led by Union officers such as James Montgomery, Charles "Doc" Jennison, and US Senator James Lane. Book-length works covering those raids appear only rarely (recent examples include locally published volumes detailing the destruction of the Missouri towns of Dayton and Osceola). Jonathan Jones's Moonlit Mayhem: Quantrill's Raid of Olathe, Kansas adds another title to the literature's short list of obscure border town raids deserving of more attention. In contrast to some of the affected settlements, several of which never recovered from the war's destruction, Olathe continues to grow by leaps and bounds, undoubtedly benefiting from being a part of metropolitan Kansas City.

Much of the book is composed of background and epilogue material. Of the former, chapters address Kansas statehood, the 1850s "Bleeding Kansas" period, and biographical sketches of key figures (most in-depth for Quantrill) in the many Missouri-Kansas border conflicts before and during the Civil War. Chapters following the volume's detailed coverage of the Olathe Raid summarize subsequent affairs in the region such as the 1863 Lawrence Raid and the draconian official response to it in the form of Order No. 11. The further careers of notable bushwhacker and Jayhawker leaders are also discussed, as are postwar events such as Quantrill raider reunions and the peculiar odyssey of Quantrill's bones. Depending on the background of the reader, some of these sections might be considered extraneous, and a strong editor might have usefully trimmed content and narrowed the focus down a bit, but the necessity of doing that is always in the eye of the beholder. The research behind those background sections of the book is primarily a synthesis of both popular and scholarly secondary works. That in itself can be a bit problematic, as the author perceptively acknowledges. A number of excellent works have been produced in recent decades that address the Bleeding Kansas period and broader aspects of guerrilla warfare in Civil War Missouri, but publications covering specific persons and events closely associated with the 1861-65 border conflict are still all too often the domain of either dated scholarship or local writers with heavily one-sided perspectives. Though quotes from several of the more deeply partisan authors are sprinkled about Jones's text, his own overall approach to the matters discussed in the book is more evenhanded than that found in many of the works referenced inside.

The volume's central topic, the September 1862 raid on Olathe, is covered thoroughly and well. Evidence seems to show that it was sparked by the execution at Fort Leavenworth of Perry Hoy, an early guerrilla associate and friend of Quantrill. Though Missouri bushwhackers jealously guarded their independence and flaunted most attempts at imposing formal military organization and behavior upon them, they did try to insist that they be treated as prisoners of war when captured. Thus, they were outraged by the issuing of General Henry Halleck's 1862 General Order No. 2, especially its stipulation that captured guerrillas not be treated as lawful combatants and instead summarily executed. After Hoy ran afoul of that order, Quantrill proclaimed that he would kill ten enemies in retaliation and targeted Olathe for a raid that would be the means of achieving that grim score. Using a combination of maps and text, Jones meticulously charts the course and conduct of the raid during which Quantrill's men (perhaps 140 in number, though estimates vary) killed both civilians and new military recruits along the route to Olathe and in the town itself. The physical layout of Olathe, the movements of the raiders in and around it, and the plundering that ensued in the town and across surrounding homesteads are all detailed.

The precise number of men killed during the raid cannot be determined, but sources seem to agree that somewhere between ten and fourteen individuals lost their lives (Quantrill himself claimed that his men killed ten, as promised). The raid demonstrated the vulnerability of Kansas border towns after the infamous depredations of Jayhawker leaders and units led Union authorities to remove them from the border altogether and deploy them elsewhere (for example, the Seventh Kansas Cavalry regiment, a.k.a. "Jennison's Jayhawkers," was sent all the way down to North Mississippi). Unfortunately for the Kansas citizens living near the border, no adequate replacement force was redirected for their protection. When Quantrill's band raided Olathe, the town had no plan of defense (antebellum courthouse squares were often fenced in and during the war some were converted into palisade defenses against surprise guerrilla and cavalry raids, but that was not the case at Olathe). Additionally, there was no organized garrison beyond a group of raw military recruits, all of whom were quickly captured. Estimates of the number of military prisoners taken by Quantrill vary widely up to 150, but the author offers sound reasons for believing that they did not actually number more than 25 or so. Quantrill paroled the prisoners after marching them some distance from the town, keeping a pair for use as hostages but who were later released unharmed under threat of retaliation. The raiders lost to pursuing forces their wagon train of plunder but escaped back to Missouri unharmed before once again disappearing into the brush.

The volume is abundantly illustrated. Historical events and movements are traced over dozens of modern maps, making it easy for readers to follow the marches and actions presented in the text. As a self-published effort, the book lacks some polish, and the odd statement or error that an independent proofreader or editor might have caught occasionally crop up. As an example of the latter, in the book's discussion of the retaliatory execution of Union Lt. Levi Copeland after bushwhacker Perry Hoy was shot (the instigating event of the Olathe Raid), the author more than once confuses Union General James Blunt with Quantrill lieutenant Andrew (Andy) Blunt. Devoid of most of the trappings that hinder so many other local histories of similar events, however, Moonlit Mayhem ends up shining substantial light on an often overlooked episode of the Missouri-Kansas border conflict during the Civil War.

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