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  American HistoryUnited States: Local History and DescriptionThe WestKansasHistory
 
Battle of Black Jack

considered by many to be the first battle of the Civil War

On May 21, 1856, a force of about 750 pro-slavers sacked the free-state stronghold of Lawrence, Kansas. The next day, Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina attacked Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts on the Senate floor and beat him severely. On the night of May 24-25, in retaliation for both of these acts, radical abolitionist John Brown and some of his followers murdered five pro-slavery settlers at Pottawatomie Creek. About a week after the Pottawatomie Massacre Deputy U.S. Marshal Henry Clay Pate captured two of John Brown's sons at their farm in Osawatomie. The stage was now set for what many historians consider the first true battle of the Civil War.

As Pate and his men (about 50 in total) made their way from Osawatomie to Fort Leavenworth with their prisoners, they stopped at and ransacked the town of Palmyra, near present-day Baldwin City, and took some of its residents prisoner. Upon hearing of Pate's actions, Brown and about 20 men set out to track him down and free the prisoners. On the morning of June 2, Brown surprised Pate on the banks of Black Jack Creek, a popular campground along the Santa Fe Trail a few miles east of Baldwin City. The ensuing battle, which lasted about three hours, left two free-staters and three pro-slavers wounded. About half of Pate's men deserted during the battle, and Pate was forced to surrender to Brown, who only agreed to let him go after Pate agreed to release all of his prisoners.

re-enactment of the Battle of Black Jack


Charles Sumner
John Brown
Civil War

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This page was last updated on February 17, 2015.

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