Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Whitaker Brothers, Bleeding Kansas and the Border Wars - Civil War Saturday

Benjamin Franklin Whitaker (1841-1932) and his brother Frederick Lucius Whitaker (1844-1915) were my husband's 3x great-uncles, younger brothers of his great great-grandfather Henry Lyman Whitaker (1838-1902). Born in Massachusetts and dying on the west coast, their lives spanned the continent. It is for these Whitakers that I've nicknamed my husband's paternal family the Westward Expansionists.

They were born in western Massachusetts, near Springfield, to Stephen Lyman Whitaker and his wife, Emaline Kentfield (Kantfield). Both parents were from deeply entrenched New England families. But after their father died in 1852, their mother moved her boys west - first to Illinois and then by 1858 to Pardee in Atchison County, Kansas Territory.

Atchison County is on the northern edge of the area known as Bleeding Kansas where free and slave state forces struggled over land and power in the years leading up to the Civil War. No documented deaths occurred there related to these struggles and the worst of the violence had abated when the Whitakers settled there. But it could not have escaped their notice that the Kansas-Missouri border was fraught with tension.

In 1860 the brothers were living with their mother and new stepfather, Joseph Trueax. Frank may have been elsewhere at the time of the census enumeration. He's listed as a gold seeker and I'm not sure there was much gold panning, mining or seeking in Kansas.

On 16 Jul 1861, six months after Kansas achieved statehood, the brothers enlisted in the Army at Fort Leavenworth. They are recorded as serving in Kansas's 10th Infantry Regiment, Company B. One regimental history states that the 10th was formed from the 3rd & 4th Regiments in 1862, however the Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kansas, Vol. 1. - 1861-1865 lists the Whitakers on the Company B roster from enlistment. (Of note is another Whitaker from Atchison County also enlisted in Company B (as an officer) - David Whitaker/Whittaker. I know of no relationship between this Whitaker and my husband's family.)

The brothers spent the war close to home, chiefly in Kansas and Missouri. They took part in the Battle of Cane Hill, skirmished with Quantrill in 1863 and guarded the military prison across the Mississippi River in Alton, IL. Both were discharged after three years, mustering out on 19 August 1864 back at Fort Leavenworth. Frederick served as a private for the duration of his service, but his older brother Frank was promoted three times, ending his service as a First Sergeant. 

Following the war both married and started families. Their lives following the war are full enough to demand another post. 

For further information see
Border Disputes and WarfareTerritorial Kansas Online, 1854-1861 (
Civil War, Kansas Historical Society/Kansapedia (
Watts, Dale E. How Bloody Was Bleeding Kansas?, Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains; Vol. 18 (2) (Summer 1995): pp. 116–129 (


  1. Loved this post! It reminded me of a member of my family tree, Noah Martin Eaton (1832 – 1909) was a South Reading, Massachusetts abolitionist who removed to Lawrence, Kansas, a center of anti-slavery sentiment. His two oldest children out of six were born there in 1861 and 1862. On August 21, 1863, during the Civil War, Confederate guerillas led by William Quantrill burned most of the houses and killed 150 to 200 of the men they found in Lawrence. Noah removed his family back to Wakefield, Massachusetts, where he spent the rest of his life. They were lucky to escape Kansas safely during this violent part of history!

  2. They were, Heather. I've got half a dozen people I'm looking for who simply disappeared from Kansas and western Missouri during those years. Children show up in the 1870 census - but the parents are gone with no record of ever serving in the military.

    The Territorial Kansas Online website has some interesting info on the NE Emigrant Aid Company which was instrumental in moving abolitionists into KS.

  3. Susan-
    Enjoyed your post. My gr grandfather and his father were early Kansas pioneers who came as part of an Ohio Company, predominantly abolitionist Quakers. Both enlisted. One was in the 8th Kansas Volunteer Infantry and the other the 13th Kansas. Fortunately, they were injured but survived. A brother did not. My family stayed on in Kansas. I lived there when I was very young, but I am just now discovering some of the early history. What strong people they were.

  4. I also enjoyed this post. The fighting during the civil war years was so different in Kansas and Missouri from the battles in the east. It's hard to picture how difficult it must have been during those years as neighbors sometimes fought neighbors.

  5. Thank you Margel & Sheryl. I remember your posts about your Kansas soldiers, Margel. Devastating stories. It is surprising me how many Civil Wars there were. Men left families in New England or Michigan and travelled hundreds, even a thousand miles to fight on what was all but foreign soil. In the South men often fought within miles of their homes and their families were far more involved in the conflicts. And the border states - well you're right Sheryl. Neighbors fought neighbors, brothers fought brothers, fathers fought sons. It was beyond brutal.


Comments related to the information shared here are most appreciated. All comments are moderated, and since I am not actively researching right now it many take a day or two for your comment to post. Please know that it will post, and that I much appreciate the feedback.