The chief of all Jayhawkers, as everyone knew, was Charles Ransford Jennison. Born in New York, Jennison migrated westward, settling first at Osawatomie and then in Mound City, Kansas. Many abolitionist emigrants came to Kansas from New York though the state had known its share of slavery atrocities. Before the war one of every five New York families owned slaves. John Speer, a newspaperman from Lawrence, Kansas remembered Jennison as ‘a roisterer, a reckless, drinking man, and a gambler.’ Upon arriving in Kansas, Jennison immediately threw in his lot with the notorious John Brown. After first accompanying Brown on raids into Missouri before the war, he began conducting his own attacks on pro-slavery settlers on both sides of the border.
All too often, indiscriminate plundering characterized these attacks, as was the case when Jennison attacked Independence, Missouri, in the fall of 1861. Independence provoked Jennison’s emity because the town was the first in the state to raise the Confederate flag. On the day it was raised a large group gathered. A cannon signaled the moment that the flag reached the top of the staff, and afterward a large celebration was held. For this seemingly innocent act of patriotism Jennison crossed the border with his Jayhawkers and pillaged the town. Jennison said of the citizens, ‘They shall be treated as traitors, and slain wherever found; their property shall be confiscated and their homes burned, and in no case will any be spared either in person or property.’
Something of a glamour surrounded Jennison in those days; he had been conspicuous as a leader in the early days of border troubles, and his Jayhawkers had inflicted damage on the pro-slavery sympathizers that ranged all the way from blood to loot; indeed, he carried the latter to such an extent that the pedigree of most Kansas horses, it was said, should have been recorded as ‘out of Missouri by Jennison.’
Lieutenant Colonel Basel F Lazear, a Federal officer serving in Missouri, wrote to his wife, describing the conditions around Independence, Missouri following several of Jennison’s raids, saying that it was ‘one of the prettiest town I ever saw and this is the finest country up here I have ever seen in Missouri, but it is a waste now, but few people are living here and a full one third of the houses burnt and I would not be surprised if by fall they would not all be burnt and the country entirely desolated.’
In late November 1861, Jennison’s 7th Kansas Jayhawker Regiment was stationed four miles south of Kansas City, Missouri. When they were ordered to West Point, Missouri, 35 miles south, every house and barn along their line of march except one was burned. When they arrived in West Point, the town was plundered, 30 homes were burned, and 12 men were killed for being Southern sympathizers. Local citizens reported:
West Point fell an early victim to the Kansas raiders and the town was almost wiped out of existence. Its stores were looted and houses burned. The office of the West Point Banner, which had incurred the enmity of the Kansas men, was looted and type and machinery scattered and destroyed. The other towns suffered, but to a less extent.
There were many other instances in Missouri, so many that if I were to record every one of them, there would be many other parts to this series. I hope those who knew little of Southerners’ struggles and sacrifices in Missouri have now found a bit of sympathy for Missouri and her wonderful citizens and the brave men who faced such overwhelming odds and stood with Dixie in the hope that Missourians would too be a part of the wonderful Southern nation.