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Abbott Howitzer


This impressive weapon has had a rich past defending Kansas from proslavery men.

James Burnett Abbott was an early arrival to Kansas Territory, coming to Lawrence, Kansas, with other New England emigrants in October 1854. He quickly became involved in efforts to make Kansas a free state in the years leading up to the Civil War.

In 1855 Abbott traveled to the eastern United States to raise money and purchase arms for the free-state effort. At Detroit he received $100 from a businessman. At Boston, Amos Lawrence contributed 100 Sharps rifles to the cause. Abbott had the parts of the rifles shipped to Kansas in separate boxes to avoid attracting attention.

After Boston, Abbott visited Providence and New York. He met with Frederick Law Olmsted, a free-state fundraiser and landscape architect who later would design Central Park. Olmsted helped Abbott by collecting money to purchase this howitzer, a type of cannon.

The howitzer was shipped to Kansas City from the factory, Ames Manufacturing Company in Chicopee, Massachusetts. From there it was smuggled to Lawrence on a perilous cross-country journey. David Buffum, Thomas Bickerton, and other freestaters hid the cannon from proslavery supporters in a wagon filled with more innocuous goods. At one point the wagon mired down in the muddy road and, ironically, was freed by proslavery men unaware of the cargo's true nature.

The howitzer successfully protected Lawrence until it was captured during the sacking of the city on May 21, 1856. It was recovered by freestaters in an exchange of prisoners after the battle of "Fort Titus" (the burning of the home of proslavery leader Henry Titus) near Lecompton on August 16, 1856.

Afterwards the gun was used on the Kansas-Missouri border in Linn County, and by James Lane's brigade in Missouri during the Civil War. It went to Lawrence at the conclusion of the war and remained there until Major Abbott requested it be transferred to the Kansas Historical Society's collections.

James Abbott, member of a militia company, took part in the Battle of Black Jack and the 1856 defense of Lawrence. When statehood was achieved in 1861, he was seated in the first state house of representatives and later served as a state senator. The United States agent to the Shawnee Indians, he led a party of them in the 1864 Price Raid defense of the state. In 1861 Abbott moved to DeSoto, Kansas, where he lived until his death in 1897.

The howitzer is in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History, where it is displayed in the main gallery.

Entry: Abbott Howitzer

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: November 1997

Date Modified: February 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.