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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 264: Kansans defend President Lincoln

Friday, May 13, 2011

At the beginning of the Civil War in April 1861, the nation's capital was in a state of disarray and confusion and there were several plots to kidnap President Abraham Lincoln from the White House.

A newly elected Kansas senator by the name of James Henry Lane offered to protect President Lincoln with a group of armed Kansans until proper military protection could be secured, and the Kansas Frontier Guard was established.

The following article on these Kansas patriots is located in the spring 2011 edition of "Reflections" which is published as a free quarterly magazine by the Kansas Historical Society. Copies are available at the Mine Creek Battlefield Visitor Center.

"Kansas' Frontier Guard

Soon after the Civil War began on April 12, 1861, the safety of the nation's capital and that of President Abraham Lincoln became of national concern. In a time before the Secret Service, Washington, D.C., lacked a military presence and armory to protect the president and the city. A large number of Southern sympathizers lived in the city and in nearby Virginia.

James Henry Lane of Kansas quickly responded to the need for a volunteer militia. Lane, recently elected to serve as one of Kansas' first two senators, had just arrived in the city to begin his first term. Senators Lane and Pomeroy checked into the Willard Hotel in Washington on April 13.

That evening sympathizers from the North and South began to clash.

"I have a hundred men from Kansas in this crowd, all armed, all fighting men, just from the victorious (battle) fields of Kansas!" Lane shouted, Pomeroy later recalled.

"They will shoot every damned man of you who again cries 'mob, mob'!"

In answer to the concerns, Lane and Cassius M. Clay of Kentucky, an abolitionist and Lincoln's minister to Russia, formed two volunteer units.

On April 14, 1861, Lane recruited the Frontier Guard from approximately 120 Kansas men who were in Washington to make contact with the new administration.

The names of only 51 of those men are known. As volunteers, the Frontier Guard and the Clay Guard members were not mustered into the Union Army, nor did they receive any pay.

Lane's guard established its headquarters at the Willard Hotel. Within days, the guard was asked to report to duty at the White House until troops could arrive from the north. Maj. David Hunter of Gen. Winfield Scott's staff told Lane that they had learned that an attempt would be made to kidnap the president and overturn the government. The guard quickly moved to occupy the East Room (of the White House); Gen. Scott supplied the troops with firearms.

Guard members reported that President Lincoln himself visited during the two weeks of their encampment in the White House.

Many of the Kansas newspapers published accounts of the guard's duty at the White House.

"Kansas State Journal, Lawrence, May 9, 1861:

Such a post of honor on such an emergent occasion for the president had heard the rumor that day himself and Gen. Scott were in danger of assassination from a Virginia party that night was no ordinary compliment.

Other companies, of no little notoriety and experience, were in the city, but this distinction was reserved for Kansas."

The news circulated in a few national newspapers as well.

"Providence, Rhode Island Daily Post, April 19, 1861:

Rumors of invasion of Washington tonight have excited much war feeling. Whatever may be the grounds for such reports, it is certain the government is expeditiously preparing for all emergencies.

The Kansas men here, about 60 in number, have formed a company called the Frontier Guard. They have been given the post of honor in the East Room of the president's house."

Meanwhile, other Frontier Guard members, joined by the Clay Guard, were posted at the long bridge over the Potomac River near Virginia. When guard members received reports of Confederate troops in the area, they began an extensive search. They found no Confederates but did capture a rebel flag flying at a house. They claimed it to be the first captured by Union troops.

On April 26, President Lincoln honored the Frontier Guard for its service. The President thanked the guard for the patriotic feeling that prompted their efforts. The guard was discharged on May 3, 1861, after Union troops arrived.

Just four years later, on April 14, 1865, President Lincoln created the U.S. Secret Service, five days after the end of the Civil War. The agency's role is to protect current and former national leaders and their families, along with investigating counterfeiting of currency and treasury bonds. The legislation was on Lincoln's desk the night he was assassinated."

Senator James Henry Lane and members of the Frontier Guard returned to Kansas later in 1861 and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches