Roleplayer #28, April 1992

Bleeding Kansas

An Old West Campaign in the Civil War

by Robert L. Collins

Ad Astra Per Aspera is the motto of the state of Kansas, and means To The Stars Through Difficulties. It was an apt Choice, considering the bloody beginning of the state's history.

From the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 to the end of the Civil War, Kansas was wracked with bloodshed and Violence – a drama with an astounding cast of characters Hollywood could never match. The cause of all this was slavery, and the result was a new state with a reputation for Republicans, rowdiness, and a worried rural outlook.

This presents an unusual campaign background. Good and evil are both clear and cloudy. Violence is abhorred and encouraged. Friends can be far away, and enemies can live next door. A Bleeding Kansas campaign will involve politicking, robbery, sod-busting, murder, guard duty, wagon trains, railroad trains, building towns and burning them.

The PCs can be bushwhackers one moment and settlers the next. They can start the campaign as ordinary men and women, and become partisans, soldiers, lawmen, and businessmen before the campaign ends. There's a wide range of adventures for the PCs to become involved in. And while the initial span of the campaign is little more than a decade, it can move on to second and third generations of PCs (just like real life).

The first step toward this roleplaying adventure is to understand a little of its history.

The Crimes Against Kansas: 1854 to 1860

On 22 May 1854, after a long and bitter debate, the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed the U.S. Congress. The debate had irrevocably crippled the Whig Party, created the Republican Party, and had all but cemented the sectional division of the country into North and South. The question: would the new territories be free ("free-soil") states, or would slavery be permitted?

The Kansas-Nebraska act left the decision up to a popular vote of the inhabitants of the new territories . . . a vote to be held after settlement had begun. Within days after the act's passage, settlers on both sides of the slavery issue headed for Kansas. In New England, abolitionists started up Emigrant Aid Companies to promote free-soil settlement. Senator David Atchison of Missouri pledged to drive abolitionists out, and plantations sprung up along the Kansas River. The territory's first election was held in the fall of 1854 to choose a legislature. The legislature was overwhelmingly pro-slavery, but over 5,000 of the ballots (in a territory with only 3,000 eligible voters!) were fraudulent. The "border ruffians" from Missouri had stolen the march on the abolitionists, and the new legislature took their seats in Lecompton.

In 1855, Territorial Governor Andrew Reeder was removed when he protested the draconian pro-slavery laws passed by the legislature. It was a felony to even write or speak against slavery! The free-soil men decided to set up their own legislature in Topeka, ignoring the dictates of the so-called "bogus" legislature controlled by the slavers. The two sides clashed late that fall, but pro-slavery Governor Wilson Shannon negotiated with free-soil leader James Lane, and no blood was spilled.

Through the winter of 1855-56 several free-soil men were murdered, but there were no retaliations. In May, on orders from pro-slavery Judge Samuel Lecompte, a mob of border ruffians, deputized as a posse, descended on Lawrence, now the center of free-soilism. The Lawrence men decided not to fight (their leaders had fled or were out of the territory), and the "posse" sacked the town. This enraged John Brown, free-soil fanatic and head of a militia company.

On the night of 23 May, Brown, four sons, and three other men abducted five proslavery settlers from Pottawatamie Creek and killed them, maiming some of the bodies. Mayhem blossomed, and over the next several months small bands of partisans attacked and killed opponents, often burning their homes. The U.S. Army, outnumbered and sometimes outgunned, could do little.

James Lane had gone east to rally support among Northerners. He managed to marshal an army to aid the besieged free-soil Kansans. He re-entered the state on August 7, and with the free-soil militia took several proslavery towns. Senator Atchison raised his own army for a counterattack. The two forces met, but the commander of Ft. Leavenworth intervened and convinced both sides to demilitarize. In August, Governor Shannon resigned.

John Geary became the new governor, and persuaded outgoing President Pierce to send more soldiers. Geary managed to stem the violence but had little success against the bogus legislature. In March of 1857, after proslavery men had threatened his life, Geary resigned and fled; Rob-rt Walker, a fair-minded southerner, took his place. He tried to make the next election clean. Not only did he fail, but as a reward for his honesty President Buchanan, under pressure from southern Democrats, fired Walker. John Brown led raiders from southeast Kansas against Missourians in 1857 and 1858.

The proslavery legislature tried to submit a state constitution to Congress. It was blatant in its stand on slavery, and free-soil Kansas voters refused to approve it. Buchanan nevertheless submitted the "Lecompton Constitution" to Congress on February 8, 1858. Meanwhile James Denver replaced Walker and a free-soil legislature took control of the territory.

In late March the Senate approved admission of Kansas as a slave state but the House declined, after fisticuffs on the House floor. By the following winter Kansas calmed. A new constitutional convention was held in 1859, and its document was soundly free-soil. On 29 January 1861 Kansas was admitted to the Union as the 34th state.

Free Soil Afire: 1861 to 1865

Throughout the summer and fall of 1861 Missouri teetered between the Union and the Confederacy. Pro-Confederate forces lost several battles, won at Wilson's Creek, then tried to retake the state and failed. Having failed in battle, many resorted to guerrilla warfare.

On of their first targets was Lawrence. A band of guerrillas attacked the town in the fall of 1861. They failed miserably; only a few buildings burned, and the only deaths were two of the raiders. Kansans were still outraged, and Kansas regiments began to retaliate. For the next three years western Missouri and eastern Kansas were overrun with partisans and guerrillas on both sides, and sporadic raids ensued.

After one such outbreak by Confederates in the spring of 1863, Gen. Thomas Ewing, commander of the Far West, had families of several guerrillas arrested and placed them under guard in Kansas City. On August 14 a building housing some of them collapsed, and five died.

Wild for revenge, William Quantrill led 450 men on an attack on Lawrence. He used ten farmers as guides, killing them when they could help no more. His force rode into Lawrence early in the morning of August 21. 183 men and boys were killed and over 180 buildings were destroyed. James Lane, now a Senator, narrowly missed being killed, and led a pursuit. Ewing ordered the forcible evacuation of four Missouri counties.

The raids continued until Sterling Price led an ill-fated invasion of Missouri in September, 1864. Nothing went right and, after losing a battle near Kansas City, Price's army fled south. The Union forces pursued him vigorously all the way to Arkansas. Hundreds of Confederate guerrillas who'd joined the invasion were killed, and the raids died out. Quantrill was killed in Kentucky in early 1865 trying to get to Washington to kill President Lincoln.

Of the 30,000 Kansans eligible to serve in the U.S. Army, over 20,000 joined. This was one of the highest percentages among Union states, and Kansas suffered the highest mortality rate of all the states in the Civil War. Most Kansans serving were whites, but Kansas was the first state to raise a black regiment. In October 1862 it skirmished with rebels, and ten died, the first black casualties of the War.

160 Acres and a Dream: 1865 and Beyond

Before the Civil War, Congress had tried to pass legislation to open up the West to settlers. Southern politicians blocked each attempt, fearing it would open the vast area to abolition hordes. Secession removed these politicians, and on 20 May 1862 the Homestead Act was passed.

It gave 160 acres to any settler who would work and improve the land for five years. No limits were set on what a settler could do with his property. Thousands accepted the offer; some set up ranches and large farms, but most came in groups and set up small farming communities.

Many ex-soldiers were among the new settlers, busi-nessmen and railroad founders and builders. Despite modern films and stories such as The Outlaw Josie Wales, the guerrillas were given generous paroles when the War ended, and were allowed to keep their guns. Still, many could not find work, and they turned outlaw. The best-known of these men were the James and Younger brothers, who'd joined Quantrill's band early in the War. Of course, ex-soldiers like the Earps were hired as lawmen to fight these ex-guerrillas.

Bleeding Kansas PCs

Most of the roles PCs can take in this campaign are covered in GURPS Old West. An OW Detective can be a Bleeding Kansas spy; Gunslingers and Outlaws are irregulars; and Settlers and Soldiers are everywhere.

Any Kansan character will have a strong ideology. The first settlers into Kansas Territory were highly partisan for one side or the other. The players should decide where their characters stand on the slavery issue. This will determine how the campaign will proceed.

Players may also take the approach first suggested in GURPS Horseclans, portraying groups of characters instead of individuals. They could even play whole settlements, fighting over slavery early on, and on other issues later. This approach is especially good for railroading campaigns. Players take the part of competing rail companies and go at it. Likewise, towns can compete over which one will be the capitol or county seat, or where the railroad will build a terminal.)

A few notes about soldiers: it was not unheard-of for Civil War soldiers to rise very quickly in the ranks. Nathan Bedford Forrest began his career as a private and within half a year was a general. Robert Gould Shaw, first commander of the famed 54th Massachusetts Colored Regiment, went from Captain to Colonel in a few months. PCs can start low and rise as high as their abilities, and the GM, will take them. However, most of these rapid rises only occurred because of great courage or intelligence, or because a regiment was decimated.

Most soldiers from Kansas and Missouri didn't serve in the main Civil War theater of northern Virginia. Kansas regiments did serve with Grant at Shiloh and Vicksburg, and with Sherman at Atlanta.

After the War some Confederates decided to join (or rejoin) the U.S. Army. They were barred from being officers, but could still become respected sergeants and soldiers. And some Union officers who elected to stay in the Army after the War had to take reduced ranks, which caused no end of disciplinary problems.

Campaign Adventures

Most adventures will revolve around one of two basic themes: Life in the Army, or Crusading for the Cause.

The Hunt: This can involve the Army hunting for partisan bands, partisans hunting for enemy parties, or settlers just wanting to find who attacked them and bring them to justice.

Retaliation: Like The Hunt, but always after an attack. The Army rarely retaliates, but can be the victim of a partisan retaliation.

The Raid: A small-scale attack on a settlement or town. Its purpose should be to grab supplies, punish an enemy, or burn down the office of an opposing newspaper.

Siege: A full-scale effort against a town, either to commit wanton destruction, or (during the War) to oust an enemy occupation force.

Ambush!: An attack by guerrillas against an Army patrol, supply train, or column on the march. This is a wartime adventure best suited to Confederates, but a Union force could try for glory against Price's invasion of 1864.

Anything for a Vote: This is strictly a pre-War adventure. It consists of forging votes, stealing real ballots as they're on their way to be counted, persuading fence-sitters by any means, and anything else that it takes to make sure that the right man wins. (This will fit into any Old West campaign anywhere; Western elections simply were not expected to be fair!)

The Supplies Must Get Through: A convoy or courier going from Point A to Point B. Before the War this would be abolitionists trying to get supplies to free-soilers; during the War, Army soldiers escorting supply wagons to a small fort. Guerrillas will be a threat; so will the weather.

Some of the adventures in GURPS Old West will work if the action moves east of Kansas and Missouri. When railroads became the way to move men and supplies, both sides used commandos to destroy the other's rail lines and rolling stock. Both sides tried to engage the Plains Indians as allies, and some succeeded. And, with Americans fighting Americans, any traveler – a peddler, a preacher, a member of a theater company – could be an enemy spy.

Of course, in this campaign, the PCs will sooner or later fight at The Big Battle. GMs must use caution: Civil War battles were very bloody affairs. Enlisted men and sergeants had better chances than did officers, who were expected to literally lead their men into battle. Research the engagements carefully, so the PCs will not find themselves dead in their first adventure.

Bleeding Kansas NPCs

Here are a few of the characters involved in the Bleeding Kansas drama.

John Brown

ST 10, DX 10, IQ 13, HT 10; Charisma +4, Strong Will +3, Voice, Patron (Eastern Abolitionists); Fanatic, Stubborn, Intolerance (proslavery men), Enemy (U.S. Army, 9 or less); Bard-15, Black Powder Weapons-13, Agronomy-12, Theology-11, Fast-Talk-17, Leadership-15.

John Brown was a wild-eyed, anti-slavery, Bible-quoting fanatic who believed he was chosen by God to exterminate slavery. He and his many sons struck terror into the hearts of proslavery people with his midnight raids. He left Kansas in 1858 to plan an assault on the Harper's Ferry Arsenal that would spark a slave uprising. It failed, and he was hanged in December 1859.

If the PCs are free-soilers, they might join him on a raid or meet him fighting the proslavery armies. If they're ruffians they'll try to kill or capture him, or they'll be his next targets. If they're in the Army, Old Brown will elude them at every turn.

William C. Quantrill

ST 10, DX 11, IQ 13, HT 10; Charisma +2, Military Rank 4; Fanatic, Intolerance (Unionists and free blacks), Duty (to his band, 12 or less), Enemy (Union Army, 12 or less); Area Knowledge (west Missouri)-14, Fast-Talk-17, Leadership-15, Tactics-15, Scrounging-15.

Quantrill was a washout who'd lived in Lawrence when the Civil War broke out. He immediately joined the Missouri Confederates, and soon became unofficial leader of the Confederate guerrillas. He has a deep hatred of Yankees and blacks, and will not hesitate to kill anyone he thinks is an enemy. He is an expert at ambushes and surprise attacks.

Captain, later Governor, Samuel Crawford

ST 10, DX 10, IQ 12, HT 11. Military Rank and Social Status vary as his career progressed. Has Honesty disadvantage. Leadership-14, Politics-13, Strategy-14, Tactics-13.

A friend of James Lane when the War began, he quickly joined the Union Army. His company saw action at Wilson's Creek, and lost 50 out of 76 men. He later commanded the Second Kansas Colored Regiment.

In 1864 Lane persuaded him to run for governor. As a member of Lane's faction, he was an outsider in the state capitol – and though a war hero, he still held only the rank of Captain. Then came Price's invasion. Crawford shone, and at the battle of Mine Creek (the only battle fought in Kansas), Crawford led an attack on Price's army and routed it. His daring captured 900 prisoners and the governor's office. Crawford was re-elected in 1866, but resigned in 1868 to lead a regiment against raiding Indians. It was a winter campaign, and did not succeed, but Crawford's stature in Kansas history was never diminished. (Side note: Joseph McCoy persuaded Crawford to waive the cattle quarantine law in 1868 so McCoy could make Abilene a cow town. Thus Crawford also gets credit for making Kansas a reception point for Texas cattle.)

Crawford is a bold, daring figure, and PCs serving with or under him are bound to share in his glory. If they survive the War they may find him willing to reward them with good (i.e., interesting) jobs or help for their business. He won't violate the law, however.

Senator (General) James Lane

ST 10, DX 9, IQ 11, HT 10. Tall, thin, often Poor; Fast-Talk-17, Leadership-15, Politics-18; sometimes had Enemies and Reputation.

Lane came to Kansas in 1855. He was a shrewd politician who could move a crowd to almost any action. Before the War he tried to avert violence, but made sure proslavery men knew he was a skilled general (even though he wasn't). He was chosen to the Senate in 1861, and became a close friend to President Lincoln. On a few ignoble occasions he led troops in the field, and he was the first to warn of Price's invasion. He did not join the Radical Republicans, and when Lincoln died, he found his political career waning. Apparently despondent, he committed suicide on July 1, 1866.

Abolitionist PCs will find Lane a hearty supporter, but not in violent acts. In the Civil War they might serve under him early on, and again in 1864. Proslavery PCs may try, before or during the War, to capture and kill Lane. (Quantrill planned to do so in his 1863 raid on Lawrence.)

General Nathaniel Lyon

ST 12, DX 12, IQ 11, HT 13. Military Rank 7; Impulsive; Tactics-15, Strategy-15, Leadership-16.

This fiery redhead spent time in the Army in Kansas before the Civil War, and was in command of the St. Louis arsenal when the War began. He cleverly kept Confederate sympathizers from getting the rifles at the arsenal, raised some German-American regiments, and chased the secessionist governor and his forces all the way to Springfield, Missouri. At a conference to avert Missouri secession Lyon angrily declared "Rather than concede . . . the right to dictate to my government in any matter . . . I would see you . . . and every man, woman, and child in the State dead and buried. This means war!"

He met his end at the battle of Wilson's Creek on August 10, 1861. He had only 5,500 troops facing 12,000 Confederates. Rather than wait to be attacked, he split his force and attacked them. At first he gained ground, but then the second column met a Louisiana regiment in the same uniform as an Iowa regiment, and held their fire. The Louisianians fired at close range and the Union men ran. The Confederates concentrated on Lyon's main force, and he was killed trying to rally his men. The Union force retreated, but in good order. The exhausted Confederates refused to pursue them, and Missouri stayed in the Union.

The First and Second Kansas Regiments fought at Wilson's Creek and took heavy losses, so PCs who join early will no doubt fight with him. Lyon was not only fiery but shrewd, ignoring conventional wisdom if it didn't look promising. If he'd lived he'd almost certainly have supplanted Grant as the great Union general.

General Sterling Price

ST 10, DX 12, IQ 11, HT 11. Military Rank 6; Unlucky; Strategy-14, Tactics-14.

At the start of the War Price commanded the Missouri State Guard. He was a subordinate general at Wilson's Creek. After that battle he tried to reclaim Missouri but his army melted away come harvest time. He tried again in 1862 under Earl Van Dorn, but that army was routed at the battle of Pea Ridge. His last attempt was in 1864, after William Quantrill had talked him into an invasion.

Price is competent, but has very little luck. Proslavery PCs might serve with him, and Union PCs might fight against him if stationed in Kansas or Missouri. His forces did not see action against Grant and Sherman in the campaigns of 1862 and 1863.

Senator David Atchison

ST 9, DX 10, IQ 12, HT 9. Charisma +2; Impulsive; Bard-16, Fast-Talk-17, Politics-15.

Senator Atchison was a fire-eater from Missouri, and president pro tern (the Vice President had died, and Pierce hadn't appointed a successor). He led border ruffians on several occasions, including the Wakarusa War of 1855. He was a compelling speaker who urged his followers to rid Kansas Territory of abolitionists. The town of Atchison was named for him, and became the center of proslavery activity.

Governor John Geary

ST 13, DX 11, IQ 11, HT 12. Honest; Stubborn; Bard-14, Politics-15.

Geary was the third Territorial Governor in Kansas in two years. Before coming to Kansas he was mayor of San Francisco, and had faced down many an outlaw. He was 6'4", 36 years old, and took on any task with determination.

Within two months of his arrival he'd calmed the territory, but in January 1857 the tide turned. The proslavery legislature passed laws that were too extreme by half, and was acting in spite of the fact that the free-soil people were in the majority. He tried to Veto most of these laws but each veto was overturned. Finally in March, angry with the "bogus" legislature and fearing for his life, he resigned and left the territory.

When he'd entered Kansas Geary had been a Democrat. When the Civil War ended he became the Republican governor of Pennsylvania.

Geary is an honest, tough, hearty man. If the PCs are Federal troops during his term, he's the best friend they have; if they're partisans, especially proslavery ones, he's their worst enemy.

General Thomas Ewing

ST 11, DX 10, IQ 11, HT 12. Military Rank 6; Leadership-13, Strategy-13, Tactics-15.

General Ewing was commander of the Department of the Far West, covering Kansas and Missouri. He was also the brother-in-law of General Sherman. He led the garrison of Pilot Knob, Missouri during Price's invasion of 1864. Price surrounded the fort and attacked, but was unable to take it. It was the first failure of his expedition.

Ewing is a tough man who shares Sherman's views on war. PCs serving under him will have many thankless jobs, but in 1864 will get their chance at glory.

Governor Charles Robinson

ST 11, DX 10, IQ 10, HT 10. Tall and handsome; Charisma +2, Common Sense; Stubborn, Greedy; Leadership-12, Politics-14.

Sent to Kansas in 1854 by the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Co., Robinson became the first political leader of the Kansas abolitionists. He helped establish Lawrence, and along with Cyrus Holliday (later founder of the Santa Fe RR) founded the town of Topeka. When Jim Lane arrived he and Lane became allies, but by 1861 they had become enemies. Robinson became the first governor of the state, but was impeached, along with the state auditor and secretary of state, after an illegal sale of state bonds. His political career was over, but he made some comeback in the late 1870s as an opponent of prohibition in Kansas.

Robinson is a solid friend to abolitionist PCs, but will rarely be in a position to help. In fact, PCs may find they have to save him from proslavery men.

Franz Sigel

ST 12, DX 11, IQ 9, HT 10. Cowardly; Greedy; Reputation -3 among all troops; Stubborn; all military skills at default.

In the Civil War, the term political general meant an incompetent, reckless general who shouldn't be in command of anything. The worst of these was Franz Sigel, a German-American from the St. Louis area. His first assignment was commanding the flanking column at Wilson's Creek, and as he rose in the ranks his name became more and more infamous. The last straw was in May 1864 at the battle of New Market in the Shenandoah Valley. He led 6,500 Union troops against a motley force of 5,000 Confederates, and his force was routed. This led to his dismissal by Lincoln; he was the only Union political general to be sacked before the election of 1864.

Sigel is a cowardly bungler who will put those who serve under him in no end of danger and disgrace. Serving with him will give at least a -1 Reputation Disadvantage, but only German-Americans will take his orders after mid-1862.

Sigel was typical of many officers, lieutenants to generals, who served in both armies during the War. Many officers gained their ranks through political appointments, and some in Confederate units were elected by their men. This, and the fact that the armies had literally thousands of men under arms, led to a large number of poor officers. Some were militarily ignorant, others had no discipline, and others merely interested in routine and the rule of law.

In mid-1862 the Union Army launched a campaign to remove these officers. Within a year most of the worst were gone, but not all. It took the Confederate Army longer, and they didn't succeed as well.

Some top-notch officers, including Ulysses S. Grant, were political appointments, but they were the minority. PCs could gain appointments through political influence, and should have some price to pay (maybe a -1 Reaction by other U.S. soldiers) for it. They shouldn't be incompetent or mean-spirited, but it might be a good idea to have at least one such officer in the PCs' regiment.


Any of these groups could serve as backers or actual Patrons, foes or dedicated Enemies, or simply background.

New England Emigrant Aid Company

Funded by Amos Lawrence, this company gave aid to some free-soil settlers. Most of the aid was in money or goods, though it did send Beecher Bibles (rifles shipped in boxes marked "Bibles"). Free-soil PCs Can get maps, low-priced goods, and loans from this or any other emigrant aid company.

Jennison's Jayhawkers

Officially this was the Seventh Kansas Cavalry Regiment, and it became the most notorious Union band of bushwhackers. Its leader, Charles Jennison, was cruel and brutal towards Confederates and their sympathizers. Susan B. Anthony's brother was second-in-command, and John Brown Jr. was a company captain.

Union guerrillas will almost certainly belong to, or ally with, Jennison's band. Confederate guerrilla PCs may try retaliation against Jayhawker families.

The Order of American Knights

Formed in the first two years of the War, the OAK was a secret society of Confederate Midwesterners. They engaged in acts of sabotage in Missouri and the Old North-west. Sterling Price was its Missouri commander.

Its value as a Patron is limited. Even in Missouri it could only provide names of other guerrillas and sympathizers, their locations, and maybe cash to buy supplies (in Canada, usually). Its greatest use is its reputation; proof of membership will give a +3 reaction in many quarters.

The Union feared the OAK, and many plots were attributed to it. Union PCs could try to penetrate it, hoping to quash guerrilla activity. Or perhaps they stumble onto the one great plot that will make the OAK a powerful force, and have to struggle to save the Union!


Tribes west of the Arkansas River will have no interest in the white man's war and regard all white men the same. The Wichita tribe is pro-Union, and in 1861 was moved from northern Texas to its old grounds between the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers. Union soldiers and settlers will find allies in the Wichita, and the tribe will provide food, shelter, and primitive medical care.

The tribes in Indian Territory had little interest in the Civil War. Some Cherokees did sign a treaty with the Confederacy sent a few regiments. Cherokees will give Confederate PCs whatever aid they can. The Cherokees' enemies were persuaded to join the Union, and both groups participated in a few battles.

Changing History

In any campaign with real events as the background, a GM must be careful in dealing with the PCs and history. Will the PCs even be allowed to meet the actual historical personalities? Will they be able to take part in real events? In this campaign the GM will have to answer these questions.

Suppose that proslavery PCs kill John Brown in 1856. Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry convinced the South that the abolitionists were a valid threat. This is why secession was so popular and spread so quickly. Also, Brown's raid may have prompted many southern states to make needed improvements in their militias, which allowed for their massive mobilization and a long war.

To avoid changing history, the GM can set up alternatives. Perhaps some raids attributed to John Brown were not his doing, for instance. Of course, if the GM wants the campaign to remain historical, he's free to frustrate any PC attempts to change it by any means, including "You must have fired a hundred shots at Brown, but he's got a charmed life – he rides away safely."

The GM who permits changes in history will have to think those changes through between play sessions. Allow the actions of the PCs to help shape your new world – but not always in the way the players expect. For all its difficulties, a campaign to rewrite history is worth serious thought.

Suggested Reading

It's always a good idea to do some reading about a historical era before actual play begins, to get a feel for the time. An excellent book that gives a feel for the whole Civil War era, from the first stirrings of sectionalism during the Mexican War to Lee's surrender at Appamattox, is The Battle Cry of Freedom, by James McPherson. Couple it with Ken Burns' excellent documentary, and you'll not only know what happened and why, but you'll get into the minds of men and women who lived in those tempestuous times.

Alfred Castel wrote three books that are good background reading: A Frontier State at War, William Clarke Quantrill: His Life and Times, and General Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West. Be warned: they may be hard to find outside the Midwest.

In the mid-1970s a series of books called States and the Nation delved into the histories of the states. Kenneth Davis (Don't Know Much About History) wrote the history of Kansas. The most recent biography of John Brown is To Purge This Land with Blood, by Stephen Oates.

Both Charles Robinson and Samuel Crawford wrote books on their experiences in Kansas. Robinson's is The Kansas Conflict, Crawford's is Kansas in the Sixties.

There aren't too many movies about Bleeding Kansas. Of several films about John Brown, only the one that starred Raymond Massey actually covered his days in Kansas with any accuracy. (Santa Fe Trail, with Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan, is a histrionic mess.) The Outlaw Josie Wales isn't quite accurate in its beginning, but it is a good portrayal of a former Confederate guerrilla turned outlaw. There are films about Jesse James, but few (if any) concern themselves with his Civil War career.

(Back to Roleplayer #28 Table of Contents)

Copyright © 1997-2024 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved.

Steve Jackson Games | GURPS | Roleplayer Index