Black Jack celebration planned
On Saturday, Civil War enthusiasts and others will once again be in the Baldwin City area, celebrating the 152nd anniversary of the Battle of Black Jack.
The Battle of Black Jack began two miles east of Baldwin City at dawn on June 2, 1856, when John Brown led a free-state militia to attack a pro-slavery militia under the command of Henry Clay Pate. After battling for three hours, Pate eventually surrendered. Although no one was killed in the encounter, historians still refer to the battle as an important event in the years preceding the Civil War.
"It was the initial armed conflict that led to the Civil War and changed history," said Diane Niehoff, who is helping to plan the celebration. "If not for that battle, our lives could be very different today."
This is the third year that the Black Jack Battlefield Trust has organized a celebration of the battle's anniversary. The first celebration was in 2006, when the trust celebrated the battle's150th anniversary. In 2007, the trust celebrated the anniversary once again.
"We're making it an annual event and each year there will be a little more," Niehoff said.
In addition to the celebration on Saturday, people interested in learning about the Battle of Black Jack can also visit the area on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the spring and summer. Tours are given at 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and other times can be set up by appointment.
Niehoff said that she hoped the event would increase the site's visibility as well as create greater interest in the public.
"We want to make people more aware of the site," Niehoff said. "Our goal is to make them aware of how important the battle was. Once they become aware of it they really take pride in the fact that our community played such an important part in the nation's history."
During the celebration Saturday, there will be tours of the battlefield as well as tours of the cabin and the nature trails surrounding the battlefield. There will be three tours given, at 4:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. All tours are free.
In addition, there will be a campfire supper at 6 p.m. Bigg's Barbeque will cater the event, serving brisket, pork, corn on the cob and peach cobbler. Tickets for the supper are $12.50 if bought in advance and $15 at the gate, while tickets for children 12 and under are $5. Advance tickets can be bought from MidAmerica Bank, the Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce and the Lawrence Visitors Center.
The Battle of Black Jack site also recently became part of the Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area, an area composed of sites in eastern Kansas and western Missouri that relate to the history of the Civil War.
Niehoff said that the inclusion of the Battle of Black Jack battle site in the heritage area has increased people's interest in the site.
"It definitely really amazes me how many people just stop by and, now that it has been designated as part of a national heritage area, more people nationwide are becoming aware of the site," Niehoff said.
The Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area was established in 2006. The Battle of Black Jack site near Baldwin City is just one of many sites included in the heritage area, which chronicles the events leading up to the Civil War, specifically, the border wars between Kansas and Missouri.
A national heritage area receives federal funding and works closely with the national parks service.
Judy Billings, acting director of the heritage area, said that being part of a national heritage area gives people a "more cohesive sense of place," informing community members about the role their ancestors played in shaping history.
"We have a heritage here that is very important to the national story and that still matters today," Billings said.
In addition to preserving history, Billings also said that being part of a heritage area also benefited communities economically, drawing business in from surrounding areas.
Although the original Battle of Black Jack actually took place on June 2, the anniversary's organizers decided to have the celebration on May 31, the closest Saturday to the actual anniversary.
But for those interested in seeing the battlefield at the exact day and time of the anniversary, Kerry Altenbernd, a volunteer for the Black Jack Battlefield Trust, will be giving tours of the battlefield from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. on June 2.
Altenbernd said he thought that it was important for the public to maintain close ties with their heritage.
"If we lose track of history, we lose track of where we came from and who we are as a people," Altenbernd said.