Black Jack plans are solidified
Piece by piece, the 150th anniversary celebration of the Battle of Black Jack is falling into place. The sesquicentennial commemoration is scheduled for June 2-3 just east of Baldwin where the first armed skirmish of the Civil War occurred in 1856.
The schedule of events has just about been finalized by the Friends of the Battle of Black Jack and kick off with a 6 p.m. campfire supper on June 2. There will also be battle field tours and period music. The program for the evening starts at 7:30 p.m. and is entitled "John Brown's Letter To His Wife," which will be a portrayal of the infamous Civil War figure by Arnold Schofield.
"The subject of the letter from John Brown to his wife is the battle," said Kerry Altenbernd, a member of the Black Jack Battlefield Board of Trustees. "My understanding is that in it he describes the battle and comments on it."
Saturday's events start with a 7:30 a.m. breakfast on the prairie. At 9 a.m. will be another historical performance, this one by Bill Worley who will portray August Bondi. That performance will also include an appearance by Brown.
"The performance of August Bondi by Bill Worley will also feature the battle," said Altenbernd. "Bondi was a Jewish immigrant who came to Kansas to support the abolitionists and fought alongside Brown in the battle.
"We are also trying to get at least one other speaker to present a short program on the significance of the battle to the world at large," said Altenbernd.
The remainder of the Saturday schedules includes music by the Blue and Gray Brigade, battlefield tours, Black Jack Cabin tours, prairie tours and presentations by Brown and Bondi descendants in Rice Auditorium on the Baker University campus. All of those events are scheduled to start at 10 a.m. and last until noon.
The event concludes at 1:30 p.m. with a narrated motor coach tour of John Brown's trail, which will visit the Pottawatomie Massacre site, Osawatomie and other points of interest. A silk screen print exhibit of Jacob Lawrence's "Legends of John Brown" will be on display at the Holt-Russell Gallery at Baker from May 22 through June 19.
Tickets for all the events are available at MidAmerica Bank, the Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce and the Lawrence Visitors Center. For more information, contact the chamber at (785) 594-3200, the information center at (785) 865-4499 or go online to www.blackjackbattlefield.com.
The battle was the result of retaliation between anti- and pro-slavery groups. An anti-slavery group led by Henry C. Pate had burned down several buildings in Lawrence, a Free State hotbed, on May 21, 1856. Brown's group, which included several sons and a son-in-law, murdered five pro-slavery men, which is known as the Pottawatomie Massacre, on May 24.
On June 1, 1856, Brown and his group joined forces with another anti-slavery group at Prairie City to form a band of 27 men. They were searching for Pate's men who were looking for Brown as a result of the massacre.
On the next day, Brown led an attack on Pate's men who were camped near Black Jack Creek three miles east of what is now Baldwin City. Historical accounts say the battle lasted three hours and Pate's men surrendered. There were no casualties and government forces from Fort Leavenworth later made Brown release Pate's men.
Although the Civil War wouldn't technically start until later, many historians have come to say the Battle of Black Jack was the first battle of the conflict. In 2001, the Friends of the Battle of Black purchased the land, including the Robert Hall Pearson House, which is now on the Kansas Historical Registry. Future plans are to turn the area into a National Park.
Those efforts include sprucing up the area in preparation for the June 2 celebration. Volunteers have been coming to the park every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for work days. While they've accomplished a lot, there's still plenty of work to be done ahead of the anniversary gala.
"Things have been going well," said Altenbernd. "We have gotten a lot done the last few weeks, even though we have not had too many volunteers come out lately. Saturday may be a good volunteer day as several groups have indicated they will have people out there. A Baldwin church is planning to have their youth group out there for several hours."