The Free State Embassy, Part One

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

I’ve mentioned a few times that the people of Lawrence sent emissaries to Wilson Shannon hoping for relief. Information about their mission remains scant, save for the testimony of one to the Howard Committee. William Phillips went out and tried to meet the Governor himself, though he couldn’t find Shannon, and shows no knowledge of the other mission. Shannon himself doesn’t seem to have found it worth mentioning except when confronted directly with the emissaries’ testimony on the matter.

G.P. Lowery and C.W. Babcock, Kansas Legion men both, received their commission on Wednesday, November 28, and set out the next day. Lowery describes their charge:

I was sent […] to Governor Shannon, with a letter. We were told to state to Governor Shannon what was going on here, what was our position, and what had occurred upon the other side, presuming that he might be ignorant of it.

That all sounds reasonable enough. Lowery and Babcock set out the next day, passing the free state pickets. Half a mile thereafter, they came on the opposition lines. Six men on horseback demanded a password that they lacked.

We got the cork out of the only countersign we had as soon as possible, and that passed us that guard.

That sounds like something rude, or a colorful way to say they rode like madmen and raced by, but the guards only questioned the men about their provenance and advised them to turn back. When they refused, nothing more came of it. Other guards recognized them, but accepted the lie that the men had decided to quit Kansas for Illinois. It took yet another encounter before the proslavery men arrested them. Their captors then sought out men who Lowery and Babcock claimed would vouch for them.

With the free state men temporarily unattended, Lowery felt confident enough to poke about

and found one piece of artillery, with a guard sitting on it asleep. I went up to him, as I thought I would spike his gun, having the tools in my pocket; but thinking it was rather risky, as the guard was just coming back, I returned to where we had been taken

Spiking a cannon meant driving an obstruction, usually a literal spike, into the touch hole. That would prevent the weapon’s discharge until one could dig it out. Given the general paucity of artillery in Kansas, he might have significantly damaged the proslavery arsenal. But he lost his chance when the guard returned to carry the embassy to a Missourian. This Missourian, a Dr. Henry, had come and gone from Lawrence twice and in the course of it decided that the Missourians came on false rumors. Lowery had taken him through the Lawrence lines twice, so he returned the favor.

On the way out, Lowery and Babcock’s escort commiserated about the situation they’d gotten themselves into and quizzed them about Lawrence:

They were very particular as to the number of guns and men we had here at Lawrence, and he asked what flag we had here, and I told him the stars and stripes all the time. he said he was glad to hear that, and should report it to his friends, but that the people of Lawrence had behaved very badly; that he had heard we had a red flag here, and had built a hotel with port-holes, and western people did not like that. That seemed to be all the grounds he had for going to war with us.

Once clear of the guard, again, the two passed many parties of Missourians in the night. They took to joking with them, saying that they’d best get hurry as “the Yankees were going to attack the camp, and would wipe them out.” As their numbers grew, the joke wore thin and they “then went along very politely.” Large groups of hostile, armed men tend to promote circumspection.

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