Humboldt relives Civil War Days

Register Reporter

HUMBOLDT — The Civil War was particularly vicious for residents within easy striking distance of the Kansas-Missouri border.
Humboldt, as fate would have it, found itself in the midst of brutal guerrilla warfare between abolitionists in support of Kansas’ free-state status and pro-slavery confederates from Missouri.
The town was attacked twice; the first, on Sept. 8, 1861, was considered little more than a “nuisance raid.”
A group of 150 marauders, mainly Missouri guerrillas and pro-Confederate Indians, robbed stores and houses of anything of value.
Although most of the men of Humboldt were out of town helping defend Fort Scott, the attackers quickly left. Within days of the raid, however, two home guard companies were formed to pursue them.
In a sharp engagement, Capt. John A. Mathews — who led the inaugural attack on Humboldt — was killed.
Many in Humboldt believe Mathews’ death — coupled with an increasing number of strikes by Kansans within Missouri communities — sparked a second, more brutal attack on Humboldt a month later.
A force of 350 Confederate troops returned to Humboldt on Oct. 14, 1861, catching most of the townsfolk by surprise, and ordered everyone out of the community.
The town was burned, the fires sparing only a few churches and Humboldt’s Masonic center. Flames were visible from Iola, eight miles to the north.
Still, Humboldt historian Eileen Robertson considers the attack a miracle.
“When a town was burned, it was common for the invaders to kill all of the men and boys,” Robertson explained. “But when they attacked Humboldt, they marched all of the men out of town and guarded them, but then they left.”
Only two men were fired upon during the raid, in both cases to prevent escape. One of the shooting victims, Abel Secrest, died, the only fatality in the Humboldt raid.

THE INFAMOUS Humboldt raid will be brought to life once again as part of the 2009 Humboldt Civil War Days, which begins Friday evening and runs through Sunday.
The events begin at Mount Hope Cemetery with Arnold Schofield, a ranger with the National Park Service. Schofield, historian at the Fort Scott National Historic Site for several years, will speak about the Kansas “Confederate” Cherokees.
Following Schofield’s speech, Randy Downey of rural Yates Center will read the contents of a letter written by Julius Justice to his wife on Feb. 24, 1862. The letter is remarkable for many reasons, Robertson said.
Justice, an avid abolitionist, was a member of the Kansas 9th Cavalry’s Company K — also known as the Jayhawkers. The Jayhawkers were a rather infamous group themselves, known for their cutthroat ways of attacking Missourians.
The group was ordered to spend a few months at Humboldt’s Camp Hunter — site of this year’s celebration — in order to “cool their heels,” Robertson said.
The letter will reveal what Robertson is certain will be quite a surprise to those who attend Friday’s event.
“It’s kind of a neat example of bringing history to life,” she said.

SATURDAY’S schedule is filled, beginning at 10 a.m. at Camp Hunter Park with a Parade of Participants, including actors portraying Abraham Lincoln, members of Kansas’ first colored infantry and other participants of Humboldt’s sacking.
The first of two large-scale re-enactments — the first raid on Humboldt — runs from 10:30 to 11 o’clock, south of the Camp Hunter entrance. The invaders once again will be portrayed by The Texas Knights, a group of Confederate soldier re-enactors.
Jimmy Johnson portrays his great-great-grandfather, who escaped slavery to join the First Kansas Colored Infantry, from 11:15 to 11:45 underneath a big tent at Camp Hunter.
Musical interludes by Bob Horn, who will perform Civil War songs on his handmade instruments, run at noon and 12:40 p.m. around a number of military drills.
The play “The Court-martial of Pvt. Driscoll” begins at 1 o’clock, followed by Tom Leahy’s portrayal of Abraham Lincoln at 1:50.
The Plainsmen will regale the crowd with a number of black powder skits of 1860s Wild West Kansas at 2:40.
The “Burning of Humboldt” re-enactment starts at 4 o’clock, once again by the Texas Knights.
Also available at Camp Hunter during the day are a number of children’s activities, carriage rides and historic displays.
Robertson will also have a booth displaying Camp Hunter’s history, first as a camp for soldiers, then as a local dump and finally as a community park. Known for several years as South Park, Camp Hunter returned to its original designation in honor of Humboldt’s history.
Robertson will also point out Camp Hunter’s refurbished shelterhouse and upgraded facilities for campers.
The events continue Saturday evening with the film “Bloody Dawn” — depicting William Quantrill’s infamous 1863 raid of Lawrence — being shown at the Humboldt High School Auditorium from 6 to 7.
A Union Gala Dance, complete with Free-Staters era band and Robert Thomas as the “preceptor” or dance caller at the Humboldt High School cafeteria. There is no admission charge to attend the three-hour dance, which begins at 7.
Don’t worry, Robertson said. Dancers are not required to dress in Civil War era costumes.
“Just sit back, relax and enjoy the music,” she said.

A TOUR of 12 historically significant sites in and around Humboldt fills Sunday’s schedule.
Costumed re-enactors will greet the bus tour, which leaves the northwest corner of the square at 1 and 3 p.m.
Tours of the Humboldt Historic Society Museum complex, at the intersection of Second and Neosho streets, runs from 1:30 to 4. Tours of Patrick Haire’s woodworking shop, on the west side of the city square, run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“Civil War Days takes a tremendous amount of work from a large number of dedicated people,” Robertson said. “We’re especially proud of the growing number of young helpers who are taking part. They’re able to bring history alive for the people of Humboldt. I’m sure the people learn a lot more from the re-enactors than they would listening to me yakking.”