Mature Reflection Inconveniences Governor Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Fresh off their disappointing visit with Wilson Shannon, G.P. Lowery and C.W. Babcock passed by where the governor promised he would meet up with the 1st Cavalry to come to Lawrence’s rescue. Shannon might want the free state party to renounce their politics and surrender their arms, but they could retain a sliver of hope from the fact that he didn’t want Lawrence massacred. So when the two reached the Delaware ferry, they asked after Shannon and the Army. No one there had seen either, despite Shannon’s promise that he would meet Colonel Sumner and his men at that spot that very night.

What happened? A cynical reader might expect that Shannon fed Lowery and Babcock a line to get rid of them, but his correspondence reveals otherwise. Wilson Shannon had not blundered his way into another escalation, nor decided to throw in entirely with the violent arm of Kansas’ proslavery party. Shannon had assurances, dated December 2, that Colonel Sumner would move as soon as he had orders from Washington. Shannon passed those orders on to him on December 4. The next day, Sumner wrote that he would come at once and meet Shannon at the Delaware crossing. Everything seemed in order, but then plans changed.

According to Shannon, he decided the he could not afford to wait on the cavalry. The governor sent his apologies to Sumner and made for Lawrence, hoping that Sumner would soon follow.

At half past three o’clock, P.M., on  the 5th of December, I left Shawnee Mission, went to Westport, Mo. (distant some two and a half mile from the Mission), and requested Col. Boone-a grandson of Col. Boone of frontier memory, and the Postmaster at Westport–to accompany me to Lawrence , and, as his acquaintance with the leading Pro-Slavery men who were then in the camp near Lawrence was extensive, give me the benefit of his influence in keeping down an excitement and preventing any rash act upon the part of the troops then threatening that town.

If Shannon couldn’t have the 1st Cavalry, he could have Daniel Boone’s grandson to help restrain the border ruffians. Boone came and gave the governor “valuable assistance in restraining the volunteers.” The two turned back for Kansas and met a rider dispatched by Colonel Sumner. The Colonel wrote:

On more mature reflection I think it will not be proper to move before I receive the orders of the Government.

Hadn’t Shannon passed those orders on to Sumner already? The Executive Minutes state that Shannon sent on a dispatch from Franklin Pierce, but it seems that Pierce hadn’t given Sumner firm orders to proceed against Lawrence or place himself under Shannon’s command. I don’t have the document on hand to say for sure, but if he had, then Sumner would have had nothing to wait on.

That said, Sumner wrote all of a day before that he would come at once. Reading between the lines, it seems Sumner realized between dispatches that he and his command would step into a very fraught situation where their involvement might not turn out for the best. Engaging in operations against American citizens would in itself raise grave concerns, particularly in a time when Americans routinely cast a far more wary eye on their military than we do today. If Sumner proceeded and things went baldy, then some of the blame would surely fall upon him. To hazard that, Sumner would probably want as much confidence as possible that he acted in strict accord with orders.

Mature reflection or not, Sumner also wrote Shannon some reassurance:

This decision will not delay our reaching the scene of the difficulties, for I can move from this place to Lawrence as quickly, (or nearly so,) as I could from the Delaware crossing, and we could not, of course, go beyond that place without definite orders.

The cavalry would not come just yet, but when it did Shannon would hardly notice the delay. Doubtless the delay did not overly concern the Colonel, but the Governor must have felt differently. He had just accelerated his own timetable in light of the growing crisis, only to find out that his hoped-for peacekeeping force waited at Fort Leavenworth for the proper paperwork.

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