Jump to Navigation

Battle of Osawatomie

Osawatomie, Kansas, August 30, 1856

The Battle of Osawatomie occurred on August 30, 1856, near Osawatomie, Miami County. This battle was the culmination of numerous violent events in Bleeding Kansas in 1856 between free-state and proslavery forces. This battle not only bolstered the morale of John Brown and his supporters, it also earned Brown the name "Osawatomie Brown."

With continuing threats to Osawatomie most of the 200 residents had abandoned the area by August 1856. Several separate incidents increased tensions in the days before the battle. Free-state troops headed south from Osawatomie on the Fort Scott Road were met by proslavery troops on August 25, 1856. After a brief skirmish the proslavery forces fled. John Brown and his troops joined the free-state troops two days later near the Sugar Creek region in Linn County. Splitting into two smaller groups, the troops conducted raids on proslavery homesteads near Middle Creek.

By the August 29 the free-state raids were completed and troops returned to Osawatomie. They divided the numerous items they had acquired from the proslavery homesteads. The few brave remaining citizens were concerned that the raids would draw further attacks from proslavery forces. They were right to be concerned. Proslavery troops from Missouri were assembling and planning a counter strike.

In Lawrence General James Lane was assembling a free-state militia to defend freestaters. He called Frederick Brown and four others to Lawrence to notify them of his plan. Brown had decided not to go to accompany them to this meeting.

Proslavery General John Reid believed that the elder Brown was in Lawrence. However, he had reliable information placing Brown in Osawatomie. At a council of war Reid and his men discussed which community to attack. Captain Hiram Bledsoe said it was the duty of the troops to destroy Brown and burn the town of Osawatomie. Reid approved the mission and prepared his troop of 400 men for the attack.

On the evening of August 29 John Yelton, the mail carrier, warned Osawatomie citizens they must “fight or flee.”  The next morning at daybreak the Reverend Martin White, a proslavery Baptist minister acting as a guide for General Reid, led the Reid’s troops into town. White shot and killed Frederick Brown who was leading an advance party of free-state men near Osawatomie. The town sounded the alarm to summon help.

When Brown heard about the death of his son he quickly rallied his troop of 40 men. He found a stone corral where his men found a vantage point to fire their Sharps rifles at the enemy. The stone corral helped to protect them from the cannon fire.  One of the balls from the cannon fire raked across Brown's back as he was crossing back and forth in the corral.

Reid moved his troops forward in rows toward the wooded area where Brown and his men were hidden.The proslavery men literally ran toward Brown's men to avoid being hit by the rifle shots. Reid’s cannons but failed to cross the distance toward their target; the abolitionists responded with gunfire. The battle ended when Brown's men ran out of ammunition. He ordered them to flee in different directions to draw the proslavery troops away from Osawatomie.

Failing to catch Brown’s men, the proslavery military plundered and burned nearly all of the buildings in Osawatomie. They spared a few women and children, and captured six prisoners. Reid’s forces continued to the north, attacking other towns along the way toward Topeka.

In addition to the death of Brown's son, four freestaters died—David Garrison, George Partridge, Theron Parker Powers, and Charles Kaiser. Reid’s troops also took several free-state men as prisoners. In all six free-state and two proslavery men died in the battle.

“God sees it,” Brown reportedly said after the battle. “I have only a short time to live—only one death to die, and I will die fighting for his cause. There will be no more peace in this land until slavery is done for. I will give them something else to do than extend slave territory. I will carry this war into Africa.” Brown began to turn his fight to the South, planning for a raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia.)  

Entry: Battle of Osawatomie

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: July 2016

Date Modified: October 2016

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