Union Prison Collapse Historical Marker
This historical marker commemorates the collapse of a Union-operated prison during the Civil War, which killed four female prisoners. The building, located near modern-day 1425 Grand Boulevard, was used by the Union military to house female relatives and supporters of proslavery bushwhackers in Missouri. It was part of a campaign by federal forces to combat rampant guerilla warfare in the state during the war. The building apparently had some structural issues, and on August 13, 1863, it suddenly collapsed killing four and injuring many others. About eight days after the incident, Confederate forces and bushwhackers raided the city of Lawrence and killed upwards of 150 men, citing revenge for the building collapse as justification.
Union Prison Collapse Marker
Quantrill's Raid into Lawrence, Kansas, following the prison collapse in Kansas City, MO
Confederate bushwhacker Bloody Bill Anderson
George Caleb Bingham painting of General Order No. 11, an order occuring after the Lawrence massacre
Gray ghosts of the Confederacy : guerrilla warfare in the West, 1861-1865
Backstory and Context
History of the Union Prison and its Collapse
The Union Prison and its collapse expose the tense environment in the border states of Missouri and Kansas, which was, in part, defined by neighbor-against-neighbor intrastate war. Guerrilla warfare was prevalent with fights between Union "Jayhawkers" and Confederate "Bushwhackers." Beginning in 1863, Union officers began rounding up women suspected of providing aid and support to the Confederate guerrillas and then placing them in makeshift prisons at Kansas City. Some of the women and girls were arrested on public roads, while others were taken from their homes, and all were incarcerated without bond or bail. They were housed in these prisons while awaiting transport to St. Louis for trial. The prison here was a seven-year-old, three-story building, and the prisoners were housed on the upper floors while Union guards occupied the lower floors. There is evidence that Union soldiers removed some of the support columns from a foundation wall in the cellar to free up more space, possibly compromising the building's structural integrity.
The guards did report the dangers in the building’s structure, but no orders came to move the women. On August 13th, around dinnertime, with seventeen women and girls, one boy, and one guard inside, the building suddenly collapsed. Witnesses say they could hear the screams of frightened women up and down Grand Boulevard. Soon, a crowd gathered around the four bodies laid nearby, claiming “No accident...The Yankees did it.” Local bushwhackers were enraged by the news, saying that the killing of Southern white women violated codes of honor, civility, and morality. In what became known as "Quantrill's Raid," or the "Lawrence Massacre," around 400 Confederate guerillas attacked the town of Lawrence and killed 150 male civilians, both men and boys. The guerillas cited revenge for the collapse as justification for their actions. Today, the cause of the prison's collapse remains a matter of controversy.1
1.) O'Bryan, Tony. "Collapse of the Union Women’s Prison in Kansas City." Civil War on the Western Border. Kansas City Public Library, n.d. Web. 8 July 2016. http://www.civilwaronthewesternborder.org/content/collapse-union-women%E2%80%99s-prison-kansas-city