Charles R. Jennison

Charles R. Jennison

Charles Rainsford Jennison was born in Antwerp, Jefferson County in northwestern New York. When Jennison was 12, his family moved west to a small town near Madison Wisconsin. While living there, Charles studied medicine and became a practicing doctor. In 1857, Doctor Charles Jennison moved to Osawatomie, Kansas. Less than a year later, Jennison relocated south to Mound City in Linn County, Kansas.

Soon after arriving in Mound City, Jennison thrust himself into a leadership role. Mound City was competing with Paris to be the Linn County seat. After Paris threatened to contest Mound City's victory in a vote, Jennison organized a band of men to ride to Paris, seize the county records by force, and then take them back to Mound City.

While in Mound City, Jennison also participated in retaliatory raids across the border led by prominent Mound City resident James Montgomery. They would be referred to as “the scourges of the border.” However, Jennison soon felt too constrained by the limits that Montgomery imposed on what could be taken in these raids. Jennison would begin to lead his own raids across the Missouri border. Jennison would proclaim his war against the Missourians to be “self-sustaining.” In addition to taking anything of value, often Jennison's men would destroy whatever they couldn't take. His men would be referred to as Jennison's Jayhawkers.

Jennison also would punish pro-slavery men based in Kansas. In the fall of 1860, Jennison led his men on a punitive raid against some pro-slavery settlers living near Trading Post, Kansas. The raid was retribution for the murder of some free-state men by members of a pro-slavery group called the “Dark Lantern Order.” Jennison rounded up a number of prisoners an hastily conducted a “trial.” Among the prisoners was Russell Hinds who would kidnap blacks in Kansas and take them to Missouri for a five dollar bounty. At the trial's end, all prisoners except Hinds were released on the condition that they immediately leave the Kansas Territory. Hinds was found guilty and hanged on November 12, 1860. Later that month Jennison wrote about this incident in a letter to George L. Stearns.

... for the last year that this county has been infested by a band of desperadoes known as Kidnapers and that it has become necessary for us as Anti Slavery Men to take a stand against that and accordingly as the offences become more frequent we resolved and publickly two that any man found guilty of that crime should pay the forfeit with his life and accordingly as we had the proof we arrested one Rus Hinds and tried him publickly and Hung him for being Engaged in that unholly business ...

A few days later, Jennison and his men captured Samuel Scott, who they also tried, convicted and executed. They next went after Lester D. Moore, who they believed was a member of the Dark Lantern Order. He resisted their attack and was shot dead. To put a stop to Jennison's vigilantism, the Kansas Territorial government offered a reward for Jennison's arrest. In December 1860, U.S. Army General William S. Harney sent two companies under the command of Captain Nathaniel Lyon to arrest Jennison and Montgomery. Lyon was unable to find either of the two men. It has been reported that Lyon was not motivated to find them because he was an abolitionist himself and thus sympathetic with Jennison's and Montgomery's actions. Jennison was now a fugitive from justice, but the outbreak of the civil war would render that moot.

During the summer of 1861, Doc Jennison formed a company of Kansas state militia that he called the Mound City Sharp's Rifle Guards. During their frequent raids into Missouri, they did not distinguish between secessionists and loyal Unionists. Eventually Kansas Governor Charles Robinson asked the Federal commander in the west, Major General John Charles Fremont, to authorize Jennison to raise a volunteer cavalry regiment. It was highly likely that Robinson gave this commission to Jennison in order to further remove him from Kansas politics. Jennison was a powerful ally of Kansas Senator James H. Lane, Robinson's chief rival in Kansas.

The result was the 7th Kansas Cavalry Regiment being formed and mustered into service on October 28, 1861. Its commander would be Col.Charles R. Jennison. The Mound City Sharps Rifle Guards would become Company H with the notorious outlaw, Marshall Cleveland, as its captain. Another member of Company H was an 18-year-old horse thief with the name of William F. Cody (the future Buffalo Bill). Company K was commanded by Captain John Brown, Jr. After Brown's resignation in May 1982, George H. Hoyt would become Company K's Captain. When mustered into service, the 7th Kansas would have just under 1,000 men serving in 10 companies.

Jennison would waste no time in punishing Missouri secessionists for their transgressions. While the regiment was still being organized and Maj.Gen. Sterling Price was threatening Lexington, Missouri, Jennison took some of his cavalry to Independence, Missouri at the request of its Marshall, William Miles. Jennison proceeded to arrest every adult male and seize all of their possessions. With Miles help, Jennison then identified and released all known Unionists, sending them on their way with their possessions. Jennison proceeded to admonish the remaining, accused secessionists and warned them to stop their depredations against pro-Union Missourians. Then he released them, but kept their possessions.

Jennison was often absent from the regiment leaving his second in command, Lt. Col. Daniel Anthony in command. The 7th Kansas Cavalry was assigned to patrol duty in Kansas City, Missouri. While there, Jennison issued a proclamation whose purpose was to remove the means by which secessionists would be able to sustain themselves in western Missouri. All individuals who were not loyal to the Union were required to sign a “Deed of Forfeiture” turning over all of their possessions to the US Government. Anyone who did not sign the deed was considered a traitor and killed.

Although Jennison was absent, the 7th Kansas Cavalry saw its first action on November 10, 1861. Colonel Anthony took three companies east of Independence along the Little Blue River against a force of Southerners recently recruited by a Capt. Upton Hays. Outnumbered by 4-to-1, Anthony's force attacked and was soundly defeated. During the retreat, Anthony's force destroyed the rebel camp and captured their horses.

On December 19, 1861, Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck wrote a letter to General-in-Chief, Maj. Gen. George McClellan complaining about the jayhawking perpetrated by Jennison's regiment.

The conduct of the forces under Lane and Jennison has done more for the enemy in this State than could have been accomplished by 20,000 of his own army. I receive almost daily complaints of outrages committed by these men in the name of the United States, and the evidence is so conclusive as to leave no doubt of their correctness.

Halleck received the following message from Colonel Union General Frederick SteeleFrederick Steele concerning raiding by Jennison.

J. W. Smith ... reports that Jennison's men, under Major Anthony, are there [Rose Hill, Missouri], committing depredations upon Union men and secessionists indiscriminately. They have burned forty-two houses in that vicinity and robbed others of valuables and driven off stock.

Mr. Smith says they took his wife's silverware, furs, & c. He estimates the value of property taken from loyal citizens at $7,000; and, to cap the climax, they shot to death Mr. Richards, a good Union man, without cause or provocation.

He further states the people, except the strongest Union men, are going to Price's army for protection. The force engaged in this business is estimated at 300 or 400. At last accounts these banditti were about 50 miles from here. On my advice Mr. Smith started for Kansas to report these circumstances to General Hunter and request him to take measures for the recovery of the stolen property.

I saw a letter from a lady this evening, which was full of taunts, and no doubt many people believe that Jennison is carrying out the policy of our Government.

I would send out all my cavalry to bring in all these marauders, but we are in the midst of a very severe storm, and it is probable that they could not be overtaken within the limits of this State.

Complaints from outraged Missourians would continue to force Halleck to take steps against Jennison's raids.

I inclose herewith a copy of a letter from Colonel Steele, commanding at Sedalia, in relation to depredations committed by Jennison's men in Western Missouri. Similar accounts are received of the conduct of the First Kansas Regiment along the Missouri River, in the counties of La Fayette and Jackson. These men do not belong to this department, and have no business to come within the State. I have directed General Pope to drive them out, or, if they resist, to disarm them and hold them prisoners. They are no better than a band of robbers; they cross the line, rob, steal, plunder, and burn whatever they can lay their hands upon. They disgrace the name and uniform of American soldiers and are driving good Union men into the ranks of the secession army. Their conduct within the last six months has caused a change of 20,000 votes in this State. If the Government countenances such acts by screening the perpetrators from justice and by rewarding with office their leaders and abettors it may resign all hopes of a pacification of Missouri. If Kansas troops are again permitted to come into this State to commit depredations, the State can be held only by the strong arm of military power. The bitter animosity created against these troops is naturally transferred to the Government which supports them and in whose name they pretend to act.

In order to stop the jayhawking, Maj. Gen. David Hunter issued General Orders No. 17 in the Department of Kansas on February 5, 1862, declaring marital law.

The civil authorities of Kansas being manifestly unable to preserve the peace and give due security to life and property, and having in various instances notified the general commanding of their inability to uphold the laws unassisted by the military arm, and the crime of armed depredations or jayhawking having reached a height dangerous to the peace and property of the whole State and seriously compromising the Union cause in the border counties of Missouri: Now, therefore, martial law is declared throughout the State of Kansas and will be enforced with vigor.

... the crime of jayhawking shall be put down with a strong hand and by summary process, and for this purpose the trial of all prisoners charged with armed depredations against property or assaults upon life will be conducted before the military commissions ...

Even with all the evidence of his regiment's jayhawking, General Hunter gave Jennison a promotion on January 31, 1862 to acting brigadier general. His new brigade would be made up of the 7th Kansas Cavalry, the 8th Iowa Infantry and a battalion of the 7th Missouri Infantry.

Halleck had had enough and decided to send Jennison to New Mexico to fight the Apache. Jennison submitted his resignation on April 10, 1862 and it was accepted on April 15, 1862. But Jennison was not satisfied with simply resigning. He called together the 7th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry and gave them an animated speech. In the speech he explained why he had resigned, condemned his Union commanders as being pro-slavery, and encouraged members of the regiment to follow him in continuing to defend Kansas. Brig. Gen. Samuel Sturgis ordered Jennison arrested and incarcerated in a St. Louis, Missouri prison. The Jennison propaganda machine started working in earnest. Jennison was never brought to trial. When released from prison, Jennison was hailed as an anti-slavery hero in Kansas.

Meanwhile, the 7th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry Regiment was sent east of the Mississippi River to Corinth, Mississippi. Charles R. Jennison retired briefly to civilian life until called back to service in the protection of his state. The reason was the raid on Lawrence, Kansas and the massacre of 150 of its citizens by the Missouri guerrillas led by William C. Quantrill. Following the Lawrence Massacre, Kansas Governor Thomas Carney commissioned Jennison a Colonel and requested he raise a cavalry regiment. With the help of George H. Hoyt (commander of the original Kansas Red Legs), Jennison raised a regiment within a month. The regiment was mustered into service with over 1,000 men on October 17, 1863. Jennison was the regiment's commanding officer, operating out of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Hoyt was second in command, a Lieutenant Colonel. For awhile the 15th Kansas Cavalry would stay in Kansas, quietly patrolling the border counties.

But in the fall of 1864, Jennison would be called in to help defend Kansas (and Missouri) against an invasion from the south by Maj. Gen. Sterling Price. Ironically, the 7th Kansas Cavalry was part of Union Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton's Cavalry Division that was pursuing the rear of Price's Army. Jennison was in command of the 15th Kansas Cavalry and was waiting to fight Price's Army just east of Kansas City, Missouri.

During Price’s 1864 invasion of Missouri, Jennison commanded the 1st Brigade in Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt’s Provisional Cavalry Division in the Army of the Border. Jennison's brigade fought at Lexington on October 19, the Little Blue River on October 21, the Big Blue River on October 22, and south of Brush Creek on October 23. Having been kicked by a mule, Jennison was not present when his brigade next fought at Newtonia on October 28, the engagement of Price's failed invasion.

After Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis called off the pursuit of Sterling Price, Jennison continued his jayhawking ways on his return to Kansas. In December of 1864, Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt began an inquiry into allegations of atrocities by Jennison and the 15th Kansas Cavalry:

I have learned unofficially that the command under Col. C. R. Jennison, Fifteenth Kansas Volunteers, on their return from the Arkansas River, after the abandonment of the pursuit of Price committed many acts of vandalism on their march through Washington and Benton Counties, Ark. This outrageous conduct of Colonel Jennison and a portion of his command (for if what I have heard is true it can be characterized in no other terms) was wholly unauthorized by superior officers and is very much deprecated. I inclose you official copy of instructions1 to him when he left me at the Arkansas River. He was sent in that direction to meet supply train that was following in my rear, and it was expected that lie would proceed to Fort Scott with as little delay as possible without interrupting any one in the country through which he passed except armed parties of the enemy. I am causing an investigation into the conduct of Colonel Jennison in Northwestern Arkansas, with a view of meting out just punishment to the guilty parties, and to further the object I desire that you shall take measures to ascertain all the facts you can in relation to the affair mentioned (Colonel Jennison's conduct in Washington and Benton Counties on his return march) and forward to me with as little delay as possible. The testimony should be ill the form of affidavits and the loyalty of the witnesses certified to.

Reporting from Cave Spring, Missouri, Captain Green C. Stotts send the following accusations to Brig. Gen. John Sanborn, who then forwarded it on to Blunt.

Jennison has just passed through this vicinity on his return from Arkansas River. The night of the [November] 19th he staid at Newtonia, the 20th at Sarcoxie, and the 21st at Dry Fork. Where he passed the people are almost ruined, as their houses were robbed of the beds and bedding In many cases every blanket and quilt were taken; also their clothing and every valuable that could be found, or the citizens forced to discover. All the horses, stock, cattle, sheep, oxen, and wagons were driven off. What the people are to do it is difficult to see. Many of them have once sympathized with the rebellion, but nearly all of them have been quiet and cultivated their farms during last year, expecting the protection of U. S. troops. Jennison crossed Coon Creek with as many as 200 head of stock cattle, half of them fit for good beef, 200 sheep, 40 or 50 yoke of work oxen, 20 or 30 wagons, and a large number of horses, jacks, jennets, say 100, as they were leading many of their broken-down horses and riding fresh ones. The Fifteenth Kansas had nearly all this property, and the men said they had taken it in Missouri. There are cases where the men tore the clothing oft of Women in search of money, and threatening to burn houses in order to get money is the common practice. They acted worse than guerrillas. Can the stock be returned to this department so that the owners can get their property.

After being arrested, Jennison strenuously defended his actions.

I was placed in command of a brigade 200 miles away from its base of supplies without subsistence or forage, dependent wholly upon the country through which we passed for supplies. It has ever been my policy, and still is, to protect the Government and soldiers even to the sacrifice of rebels and their sympathizers, as this captain is upon whose affidavit this action is based. My command many of them had been without food for five or six days, except beef. Further, let me say that my orders from the general commanding the First Division, Army of the Border, through his regular staff officer, in presence of at least ten officers of my brigade, was to desolate the country from the Arkansas River to Fort Scott, and burn every house on the route. For simply carrying out in part these instructions the enlisted men who have battled for the cause of our country so nobly are to suffer. As regards the acts that were said to have been committed, they are but light, and all stock taken from the enemy has been or will be properly accounted for by the quartermaster in charge. All that I ask is that justice may be done the soldiers of my command. My orders, as will be seen, are very strict, and before any commission the officers and men would be exonerated from all blame whatever, I think.

On June 23, 1865, Colonel Charles R. Jennison was dishonorably discharged from service as stated in General Orders, No. 153, Department of the Missouri.

Colonel Jennison was subsequently tried before a general court-martial at Fort Leavenworth, Kans., on the charges of “conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline, gross and wilful neglect of duty, defrauding the Government of the United States, and disobedience of orders,” was found guilty and sentenced to be dishonorably dismissed the service of the United States.

After being dishonorably discharged from the army, Jennison moved to Leavenworth, Kansas. When Daniel R. Anthony ran for Mayor of Leavenworth against former Kansas Governor Thomas Carney, Jennison campaigned against Anthony and Anthony was defeated in the 1865 election. In May of 1865, there was a chance encounter between Jennison and Anthony. Both men carried sidearms. After a heated exchange of words, there was gunfire during which Jennison was wounded in the leg. Jennison was brought to trial for “breach of the peace and shooting with intent to kill,” but was acquitted.

Jennison served on the Leavenworth city council for four years. Jennison was elected to the Kansas Legislature from Leavenworth County in 1865, re-elected in 1867, and elected to the Kansas State Senate in 1871. Jennison died in Leavenworth, Kansas on June 21, 1884 from a chronic respiratory ailment.