- Historic Sites
“See Those Men! They Have No Flag!”
October 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 6
This previously unpublished account of Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, Kansas, was written by Miss Sophia L. Bissell, who with her parents, her sister Arabella, and her brother-in-law, Henry C. Lawrence, was living there on that fateful Angust 21, 1863. Many years later, back in her native Sufffield, Connecticut, Miss Bissell set down her memories of the event; they appear here by courtesy of her great-grandnephew, Edward W. Lawrence of Dover, Massachusetts.—Ed.
I don’t remember whether it was the 21st or 23rd in ’63, it was Friday anyway. Henry got up … by half past four, to go with Robert [the hired man] and the horses to his farm the other side of the city, and Arabella got up to give them their breakfast. All at once she came to the lower hall and called out, “Sophia, Sophia, look over toward Hanscombe’s and see those men! Robert says they are Secesh, they have no flag!” So I got up and looked and there coming along the road from Kansas City way and about ½ mile away were ever so many men on horseback coming along very quickly, strung out, oh, I should think there must have been three or four hundred of them. In a few minutes when they got to the piece of prairie out in front of our house we heard them say, “Halt!” And then … they all separated into bands and went yelling and shooting fast as they would ride, a band for each street …
The guerrillas went to Griswold’s house, he was a whole-sale druggist … They had boarders, three young couples, one was Joe Trask, editor of one of the papers … they were going to shoot him but he gave himself up as prisoner of war and gave up the other men in the house too. He went in to tell them, and … they went along out to give themselves up and were all shot down.... I told you about Carpenter. They chased him all around the house, his wife following him. He … stumbled and fell, and his wife threw herself right on top of him and tried to cover him all over. But the guerrilla went around and around him and tried to find a place to shoot and then he lifted up her arm and shot her husband dead right under her.
The mayor was a little man from Boston. Joe Trask called him “our nervous mayor” because he had had troops sent from Leavenworth to protect the city; but they made so much fun of him that the troops were sent back only ten days before.... Well, the mayor got down into a well in his cellar, but they burned the house and he was smothered there....
There were a lot of merry going fellows in town, come to enlist.... Everyone of them was shot down. They said there were eighty widows made that way. I said to one of them … “It isn’t so bad as Indians would have been for they would have killed the women and children.” “I don’t consider it any favor,” she answered, “to be left behind.”
… And then five men rode into [our] yard, and the leader rode his horse right up on the piazza; each one seemed to have a position assigned them, one set fire to the stable, one set fire to the house up stairs setting fire to the husk mattresses on the bed and to things in the bureau drawers, one of them stayed sometime in the dining room arranging quantities of money that he had tucked away all over him, and the fifth was opening the trunks in the house that we hadn’t carried out. Then he and the one who had arranged his money went to the trunks out doors, and ransacked them, taking valuable dresses and gloves and everything that struck their fancy. One of the men just drove his heel through the tills of Arabella’s trunk. Oh, there was so much difference in them! That was the worse looking guerrilla of them all, his lower lip hung way down and out as he talked and he was half drunk.... [He] attacked Henry, he snapped his two pistols all around but they didn’t go off... when he found he couldn’t shoot him he just turned his pistol round and began striking Henry with the other end of it. Henry had on a thick Panama hat but the man cut through that and the blood ran down his face. Arabella tried to protect him and ran back and forth between Henry and the leader begging him to spare [him]. The leader said he had no control over the man, but he did speak to him and the man turned around a moment impatiently, letting go of Henry, and Henry ran at once through the house and out into the corn....
I had run down stairs to ask the leader not to burn the house. “Won’t you spare the house? Won’t you spare the house?” I asked. “We are just plain quiet people and have never done any harm.” He took off his hat and made a flourishing bow and said, “For your sake I will spare it.” But I couldn’t put out the fire not even when Arabella came to help; the husk mattress fell in pieces, we burned our hands and had to give it up and go down stairs. Then the leader told them to get onto their horses and be off; they all took off their hats and made us bows and said, “Now you know what we have been suffering down in Missouri!” …
All at once another man came up on horseback with a gun in his hand and we thought he was another guerrilla. “Are you on fire?” he asked. “Oh yes,” we said, “we’re all on fire,” for we thought that was what he wanted and we wanted to content him. But he said, “Shall I help you put it out?” “What are you?” we asked. “Oh, I’m a Union man,” said he. So … Henry came out of the corn and he and the Union man put out the fires … [The raiders] had made dreadful havoc … A hundred and eighty were killed—there were seventy-five or eighty widows …
Of course it was a very sad time, everybody was poor together, but it was wonderful how we came up and all helped each other. The good Lord helped us. Some families lost two or three members and everything they possessed. About ten years afterwards the government paid for some of the losses. We got $1,000, what we put our loss at, though it was really a great deal more … But we didn’t mind about money, for all our lives were spared and we were all unhurt.