Between 1854-1861, Kansas and Missouri engaged in a bloody “border war” to determine whether the new Kansas Territory would allow slavery. This era of “Bleeding Kansas” subsided by 1861 with the admittance of Kansas into the Union. Yet, with the start of the Civil War occurring the same year, many living along the border feared renewed violence since Kansas was now a free state while Missouri permitted slavery. Soon enough, bands of unauthorized militia began roaming the border, raiding and destroying property. One of the most notorious of these raiders was William Quantrill, a Confederate sympathizer from Missouri who had made a name for himself by sacking pro-Union border towns in Kansas.
By June 1863, uneasiness increased and the mayor of Lawrence KS requested Border Commander Thomas Ewing of the United States Army to send a temporary force to guard the town of 2,500. Three weeks later, on August 21, 1863, Quantrill led 400 raiders in an early morning surprise attack on Lawrence. By the time it was over, nearly 200 Lawrence men had been murdered with at least 30 additional residents wounded. Property loss was estimated at $1.5 million and 200 buildings ruined. It was the worst civilian casualty during the Civil War.
On August 21, 2013, in recognition of the 150th anniversary of this event, community volunteers used Twitter to live-tweet Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence, KS. To stage the reenactment, fifty-one historical first person accounts – raiders, survivors, and victims – were connected through hashtag #QR1863. These accounts provided multiple narratives posted in real time through simple social media. The project was coordinated by a team including the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, Watkins Museum of History, Lawrence Public Library, Commemorate Lawrence 1863, Lawrence Social Media Club, and the Kansas Humanities Council.
Judges praised the project for its groundbreaking use of social media to reach and engage new audiences in the humanities, with one judge stating they “loved the marriage between amateur history geeks, education, scholars and the innovative use of new technology.”
This program won a Schwartz Prize in 2014 for outstanding work in the public humanities. To view the full nominating statement please click here.