When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, Kansas was in a unique position. It had been a state for mere weeks, and already its residents were intimately acquainted with civil strife. Since its organization as a territory in 1854, Kansas had been the focus of a national debate over the place of slavery in the Republic. By 1856, the ideological conflict developed into actual violence, earning the territory the sobriquet “Bleeding Kansas.” Because of this steady escalation in violence, the state’s transition from peace to war was not as abrupt as that of other states.
Kansas’s War illuminates the new state’s main preoccupations: the internal struggle for control of policy and patronage; border security; and issues of race—especially efforts to come to terms with the burgeoning African American population and Native Americans’ coninuing claims to nearly one-fifth of the state’s land. These documents demonstrate how politicians, soldiers, and ordinary Kansans were transformed by the war.