Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Little History Lesson - The Battle of Blackjack

as Keith and I are calling it: 

The Skirmish by the Mound 

Please biggify (by clicking on it)  this to read it, as it will tell you that the Battle of Blackjack was fought at this place on June 2, 1856, the first battle between free and slave states... or, the first battle, one could argue, of the Civil War. 

Keith has long maintained that the Civil War started not with the fall of Fort Sumter, but here in the Midwest, with the battle between Free and Slave Staters. 

I won't go into the history of the Kansas - Nebraska Act of 1854, which created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, and made into law the fact that they could determine whether they would be free or slave states by popular sovereignty, or vote... 
Or how eastern slave interests and abolitionists flooded Kansas with their supporters so that sometimes there were 1000 registered voters in a county.... and 6000 votes cast.  You can read about that HERE.

Remember, there was no "Union" or "Confederacy" at this point, and men were fighting over whether or not their own little settlements would be free or slave. 

In May, 1856, Sheriff Jones (pro-slavery) and his supporters had attacked the Free State Hotel in Lawrence, and the offices of a newspaper, throwing it's presses into the Kansas River.   In retaliation, a farmhouse had been attacked south of Blackjack by John Brown and his militia, and five men killed... The Pottawatomie Massacre.... and so it set in step the "battle" that was to take place at Blackjack, a small town in Douglas County, now no longer standing. 

Here is the site of the town, with a small graveyard alongside it. 

There are farms all around here, and this town site is about 3/4 of a mile from the "battle" site. 

This beautiful grove of sugar maples is on the east end of the battle site.  At the time of the battle, this was all open field.  Descendants of Robert Hall Pearson, who fought on the free state side, lived here until 2001.  This sugar maple grove was planted and sugared by them. 

This grassy mound was the site of the "battle".  If you look very closely, you will see a hint of red in the middle left.  That is my car, parked out on the road.  There is a dip down, and the grove, and then the road. 

Imagine being a "soldier"... and having either high or low ground.  You literally would have had to pop up, shoot almost blindly, and then duck again.  The grass was similar, and there was a creek behind you (between the car and this position) and also to the left.  

Henry Clay Pate, of West Virginia, led the 70-75 pro slavery militia below the mound, on the east side.  Read about him HERE.

John Brown, noted abolitionist, led the 25 or so free staters who had the higher ground.  We think of John Brown as some old curmudgeon, but if you read about him, you will see that he was a noted expert on sheep and wool, before he became an abolitionist. 

Both parties sent potshots at each other, both parties were on foot, the horses had been tied some distance away. 

John Brown finally sent two of his members to shoot or let loose the horses from the pro-slaver side, and this action caused Henry Clay Pate to present a white flag of surrender. 

He was subsequently arrested by John Brown, and sent to Fort Leavenworth. 

There were no deaths. 

Here is Captain's Creek, around which the parties fought.  Keith surmises it was a lot shallower 150 years ago, and I concur.   John Brown's party crossed on foot upstream of here. 

This is the home at the top of the hill built in 1898 by Robert Hall Pearson, who fought in the skirmish, and who wanted to preserve the battlefield, for which we are thankful.  This home is being rehabbed by the volunteer organization that cares for the battlefield, which can be found HERE 

The view uphill to the house in the background.  Remember, they believe it was all open, with high prairie grass at the time. 

Read more about John Brown HERE .

As a side note to history... 

Lt. J.E.B. Stuart and Colonel Robert E. Lee accepted the surrender of John Brown and his party at Harper's Ferry (which I have visited).  

Henry Clay Pate and General J.E.B. Stuart were injured mortally on the same day at the Battle of Yellow Tavern, in 1864.  

The dedication stone for the Battlefield monument: 

We forget that 80 years ago, there were still those alive who had fought in the Civil War... and it was not uncommon for dedicatory stones to be set.  Post 40, Grand Army of the Republic.  
It still gives me shivers to see these stones. 

I hope you have enjoyed our little trip back into history. 


  1. History is really fascinating! For such a young country as the States, you certainly have had your fair share of fights and battles! But I suppose, being a free thinking country, your gonna get from time to time those who would make change, for good or bad. i loved this post, truly.

  2. Many thanks for the history lesson! Your photos detail the story nicely.

  3. Great history. We went to Harpers Ferry last fall and I loved it there.

  4. I always enjoy a bit of history. And I love seeing sights like that being preserved for future generations to see. It's important to remember the battles fought and why they were fought. No war is ever pleasant and maybe seeing why they were fought can help stop new ones.

  5. Just curious where you came up with "West" Virginia on Pate. Did I scan the article too quickly? Also, just for the record, the state of West Virginia wasn't carved from Virginia until 1863.

  6. A good history lesson; thank-you! The whole issue of slavery, including these battles over it, saddens me so. That any people are ever considered less than human is beyond my comprehension....

  7. Gorges, this is Keith. The available information of Pate comes from the West Virginia historical society. I'm guessing that he lived in Virginia in 1850's, but the area that he lived in would eventually become West Virginia. Essentially this was a skirmish between two relatively disorganized posses. By the time the final surrender took place, most of the gunmen on both sides had deserted. And I can see why. If one were a young rifleman popping up out of the grass like a bobblehead for three straight hours in June in Kansas (think HOT) with no chance of hitting anyone because the ground between the two groups was higher than either group, one might eventually say "I'm outa here." And you can't blame them. Anyway it was one of a number of guerrilla type actions that took place over several years leading up to and into the US Civil War. If anyone wants to look it up, this era was called "Bleeding Kansas".

  8. It was a chilling side to history. I enjoyed seeing the pictures and the places you visited. I have read about that time of history because I really do feel that the War of " Northern Aggression" (My kids history teacher called it that.) Started then. John Brown I think fired the shot that was heard around the world but no one noticed until years later.

  9. I'm glad that you and Keith share this love of history. I'm sure that Keith's background gives him a unique perspective on this and other battle sites. American history is fascinating and an ongoing hobby of mine, especially our own local history in Nashville. Of course, as time has marched on I see it from a different perspective now than I did growing up in the south in the 1950s.

    I'm sure there is a sacred feeling at Harper's Ferry battle site but even where you took us, at Blackjack--I wonder why it never lasted even as a small community--where no lives were lost, I'm sure you still felt the significance of it. I'm glad you took us there with you.


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