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May 15, 2006

Cowley’s Spurgeon speaks to group at Allen County Historical Society


Register City Editor

Kansans and Iolans had yeomen's roles in the American Civil War.

That and other tidbits about early Kansas and Iola history were related by Cowley College history instructor Ken Spurgeon during a recent meeting of the Allen County Historical Society. The meeting was in the society's new Frederick Funston Meeting Hall, 207 N. Jefferson Ave., recently refitted from when it was a museum.

Spurgeon produced a documentary film, "Touched by Fire: Bleeding Kansas," which has been aired on public television. He said 223 Iola men enlisted during the Civil War, mostly in the 9th Kansas Cavalry and 8th Kansas Infantry. Among them were relatives of Spurgeon. Statewide, about 25,000 Kansans joined the Union Army, an extraordinarily high number considering in 1860 the state's population was barely 100,000.

As a percentage of its population, Kansas had a greater presence in the war effort than any other state. Companies D and E of the 9th Kansas had a preponderance of Iolans.

A particularly trying time occurred when men of Company E were attacked by Confederate irregulars, many thought to be members of William Quantrill's guerrilla band, at Westport, Mo.

Spurgeon said the Southern sympathizers' success – 12 Company E soldiers were killed, with some beheaded -- hinged on stealth. Some of the raiders appeared in front of the Union column in blue uniforms, the Northern choice, from a wooded area and caught the Union troops unprepared.

Quantrill and his men, about 450 strong, raided and sacked Lawrence Aug. 21, 1863. During the raid 180 Lawrence civilians were killed. No organized Union forces were on hand to challenge Quantrill's band.

Soon after the raid -- Quantrill and other renegades rode into anti-slavery Kansas from pro-slavery Missouri often -- Company D of the 9th Kansas, containing Iolans, was the first to pursue the Confederate irregulars. The 9th Kansas was part of the Army of the Frontier.

The 8th Kansas, with enlisted men from Iola in Company F, had a more distant role in the prolonged war. It was attached to Gen. William Sherman's force during his storied March to the Sea through Southern strong points, which left a trail of burned towns and farms in its wake. The 8th Kansas fought at Chichamauga, Missionary Ridge and during the Siege of Atlanta.

"The 8th Kansas was nicknamed the 'Greyhounds' because of how quickly its soldiers marched and moved," Spurgeon said.

The Kansans also at times were vilified for being rough fellows and often not subscribing as rigidly as eastern soldiers to military protocols.

"The Kansans were tough in battle, but lived a little on the loose side," Spurgeon said.

A particular point of contention for eastern troops was wide-brimmed black slouch hats the Kansans wore, which were out of character with Union uniforms.

At one point in the presentation, Spurgeon listed Iolans killed in Civil War battles. They were Charles Beauvois, John Borror, Marion Brown, Isaac Brubaker, James Dohoney, George Ela, John Gibson, William Grimes, Joe Jackson, Franklin Morris, Alex Needham and John Pirtle.

More died of disease than of gunshots, he said.

"Many Kansas men never had been more than 15 miles from home before the war," Spurgeon said, and didn't understand the wisdom of being careful with hygiene around others suffering illnesses.

Also, many died younger than they probably otherwise would have because of complications a few years later from war injuries and bouts with disease.

Spurgeon mentioned some of his relatives, including his great-great-grandfather, Joseph Madison Spurgeon, who came to Iola in the late 1850s and Eli and Sarah Lorance, other relatives, who are buried in the Iola Cemetery.

A family diary, lost for years, was found among the belongings of an aunt, who made several copies, one of which Spurgeon has. The diary is a valuable family treasure as well as a historical document, he said.

Among entries is one about Santford Spurgeon, an ancestor of Spurgeon's who lived to be 83 and who bought an "otomobile" and learned to drive at age 81 in 1921.

AFTER HOSTILITIES ceased, Spurgeon said Kansas became known as the "Soldier State," because so many men from Kansas were involved in the war.

By the late 1800s, about 20,000 Civil War veterans lived in Kansas -- "Everyone came home after the war," he said -- and 495 GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) camps, or local organizations, were in the state.

"As many as 50,000 Kansans then had a direct connection to the Civil War," he said.

Noting the ratio of enlistees to population, Spurgeon noted that "if you were here and a man, you served." In some cases the term "man" was stretched, with boys in their early teens, naively joining for adventure that was dispelled when they saw the true face of war.