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Jayhawker: The Civil War Brigade of James Henry Lane

by Bryce Benedict, University of Oklahoma Press, 2009,$32.95

The Civil War on the Kansas-Missouri border has received increased attention lately—due a great deal, no doubt, to the fact that the“unconventional” operations in that region remind us of modern warfare in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. In Jayhawker, first-time author Bryce Benedict delivers an intriguing contribution to “Border War” literature with a well-written study of the brigade of Kansas volunteer troops raised in 1861 by fiery U.S. Senator James Henry Lane.

Lane’s brigade participated in few engagements of real significance during its brief existence, which ended in early 1862 with the general reorganization of all Kansas regiments (not to mention frustration with Lane over his scheme to personally lead a command on a grand expedition into the Indian Territory and beyond). During this time, though, Lane and his men did manage to win notoriety for their conduct of what were deemed excessively punitive operations in western Missouri. These not only saw Kansans quenching an understandable desire to repay Missouri residents for the havoc they had inflicted a few years earlier in Kansas, but also served as a spark for the vicious guerrilla struggle along the border that tormented the region for years to come.

Benedict offers a somewhat revisionist take on Lane and his command. He does not deny that Lane’s men committed “outrages” against Missouri civilians and their property, or that Lane’s rhetoric on the subject was indeed inflammatory, but he contends that Lane did not personally participate in those outrages as previous historians—and legend—have intimated. Benedict joins a number of recent experts who have argued that Lane’s operations and those of other commanders in Missouri early in the war—especially those that targeted slavery—were of real significance, for they set precedents that anticipated the evolution of Northern attitudes toward the treatment of Southern property during the war.

This is a useful and generally enjoyable book, but more maps should have been included. Moreover, though Benedict has consulted a truly impressive range of primary source material, it is curious that neither Michael Fellman’s work on the guerrilla war in Missouri nor Mark Grimsley’s and Charles Royster’s on the escalation of violence and targeting of civilians during the war, appear in the bibliography. Given the subject matter and arguments the author makes for Lane’s place in the evolution of the Northern war effort, addressing points established in those works could have enhanced the value of this study.


Originally published in the January 2010 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here