New museum exhibit details Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence

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LAWRENCE, Kan. -- This week, the city of Lawrence is marking the anniversary of one of the bloodiest civilian catastrophes in the Civil War. 150 years ago William Quantrill and his band of Confederate sympathizers raided Lawrence.

A new exhibit at the Watkins Museum of History walks visitors through that bloody day, and the years of struggle and revitalization that followed.

It’s easy to overlook the small, ageing marker, half concealed by grass. A few words tell the story of a score of young unarmed Union recruits shot on this site 150 years ago.  Most people don't even know it’s here.

“The morning of August 21, 1863 William Quantrill and 400 raiders pro-Confederate sympathizers descended upon Lawrence and set to destroying the town," historian Jeremey Neely said.

Quantrill and his men wanted revenge for attacks on small Missouri border towns. The raid was a complete surprise.

“Within a few hours they had killed more than 180 men and boys and burned most of the homes and businesses before racing back to Missouri ahead of pursuing federals,” Neely said.

The exhibit shows the Eldridge Hotel, flames leap from the windows as a white flag hangs amidst the chaos.

“The raid was so much bigger than anything that had happened before.  A typical raid had 20 to 30 raiders this was 400,” Steve Nowak, Watkins Museum Executive Director said.

The museum takes visitors on an interactive trek through Quantrill’s raid. They hear details from those who survived.

“The best comparison is what the Middle East is like. The Suni's and the Shiites battling back and forth that was what Missourians and Kansans were doing 150 years ago right here in this part of the country,” Watkins said.

All the residents of the Eldridge Hotel actually survived Quantrill’s raid, and in the years following the war, it was rebuilt. The Lawrence city seal depicts a phoenix rising from the ashes of the old hotel.

But the bitterness of the border wars lasted for generations

“There was suffering on both sides. There wasn't any one clear victor and one clear loser,” Watkins said.

The actual anniversary of the raid is this coming Wednesday. Characters will re-enact the raid beginning at 6 a.m. Some of the characters are already tweeting about it, you can follow them by utilizing the hash tag: #QR1863 or going to the Lawrence 1863 Web site.

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