Instructions for the Army, Part Two

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Sorry for the late post, Gentle Readers. I forgot to set it to go live at the usual time.

E.V. Sumner wanted to help keep order in Kansas. He had instructions (PDF) from Washington to that effect and a new crisis seemed at hand with yet another proslavery posse and invasion from Missouri in motion. He reached out to Wilson Shannon, who had leave to call on him straight from the President, but Shannon appeared unwilling to take responsibility for calling the 1st Cavalry to the field. Sumner understood Shannon’s shyness as contributing to the danger, because his refusal to intervene and reign in these posses ensured that “they are made up of partisans.” Only the genuine fear both parties had for each other might avert a disaster.

Sumner had gone to Lecompton to see Shannon and then Lawrence to assess the situation there. When he placed himself at Shannon’s disposal on May 12, 1856, he carried with him a copy of a petition that a public meeting in the free state town had drawn up at seven o’clock on the eleventh.

we have the most reliable information from every section of the Territory that armed bands of men are forming, and that several hundreds are now encamped within a few miles of this town, who make the most violent threats of the destruction of the town and its inhabitants

Several hundred would about fit with the descriptions I’ve read elsewhere. Somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 showed up for the Wakarusa War and Jefferson Buford’s men could account for a few hundred just by themselves. Movement of that size would also fit with Marcus Parrott seeing two companies go by in a single day, though he didn’t say how many men in each. A company could mean the military formation, with a paper strength of around a hundred but often rather less than that. Or it could just mean he saw a group of armed men who appeared to share a purpose. Threats of Lawrence’s destruction, people included, came during the Wakarusa War as well. Nothing here looks particularly exaggerated.

Thus the meeting declares that C.W. Topliff, W.G. Roberts, and John Hutchinson go and

wait on Colonel Sumner, Commander of the First Regiment of United States Cavalry, and inform him of our imminent danger, and respectfully ask of him such protection as he may be able to extent to us

Roberts looks like the free state Lieutenant Governor, but his name comes as W.Y. Roberts elsewhere. Given the commonality of Williams and Robertses, I suspect a different person rather than a clerical error. I don’t recognize Topliff or Hutchinson.

If Wilson Shannon wouldn’t call out the army, maybe Lawrence could. Should Sumner come, then the proslavery side would face the same dilemma that the free state party had in December. To press on would mean levying war against the power of the United States. Even Franklin Pierce might have trouble excusing that, though no era suffers a dearth of shameless politicians willing to try just such a maneuver.


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