Officially, the first battle of the American Civil War was the Battle of Fort Sumter just outside of Charleston, SC, 150 years ago this week on April 12-13 in 1861. But many argue the true first battle of the war occurred on June 2, 1856 five years before shots rang out in South Carolina in Bleeding Kansas at the Battle of Black Jack, just east of Baldwin City, Kan.
The Battle of Black Jack was a pivotal moment leading up to the Civil War. In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The act said residents who homesteaded in the Kansas and Nebraska Territories would decide whether to enter the Union as a slave or free state.
Due to its prime central location, Kansas became ground zero in the fight over slavery. Organized abolitionist groups from nNorthern free-states traveled in the thousands to Kansas. Pro-slavery supporters from Missouri jumped the border in an attempt to shift the balance in their favor. As a result, pro and anti-slavery groups had frequent disagreements and outbursts.
On May 21, 1856, approximately 750 pro-slavery forces lead by Henry C. Pate entered the free-state city of Lawrence Kan. They destroyed the Free State Hotel and two abolitionist newspaper offices. They also looted homes and other businesses. The next day, May 22, Congressman Preston Brooks from South Carolina physically attacked Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate chambers with a cane. He even continued beating Sumner even after he became unconscious and bleeding.
Meanwhile, John Brown’s sometimes extreme protest against pro-slavery had already made a national name for himself in the past years. Brown had moved his family to the Osawatomie area arriving in the mecca of turmoil.
A week after the Lawrence sack and the U.S. Senate beating, a band of men, led by Brown and companion Capt. Shore, located and then executed five pro-slavery men with swords at Pottawatomie Creek. Brown’s men allowed Jerome Glanville and James Harris return home. And the legend of Pottawatomie Massacre became part of Kansas’ lure.
Shortly after the massacre, three anti-slavery men, including two of John Brown’s sons were taken prisoner by Pate and posse.
On June 2, 1856, Brown and approximately 29 other men located Henry Pate and his band camped out by a creek near the town of Black Jack.
The town had been established little more than a year earlier along the Sante Fe Trail in 1855. It featured a tavern, post office, blacksmith, hotel, general store, doctor office, school, and two churches.
There, Brown’s men attacked and fought what is now known as the Battle of Black Jack.
The battle lasted five hours and was won by the free-staters. Pate later wrote, “I went (to Kansas) to take Old Brown and Old Brown took me.”
Pate and approximately 22 of his followers were captured and held for ransom. Brown agreed only to release them when his sons were released.
Pate later served in the Confederate Army as a Lieutenant Colonel in 5th Virginia cavalry under Major General J.E.B. Stuart during the American Civil War.
The town of Black Jack was was abandoned in 1865 near the end of the Civil War, but a marker commemorating its famous battle exists still today.
Many argue Civil War started at Black Jack five years before first shots in South Carolina