Alfred Shull stared at the newspaper headline, which detailed the nearby Lawrence Massacre, in horror, “Lawrence Burned! 134 Citizens Murdered. Those Missouri Bushwhackers have crossed the line!”, he fumed to wife, Elizabeth. It had been difficult establishing his farm in Linn County, Kansas while the feud over the upcoming popular sovereignty vote warred between the anti-slavery “Free Staters” and pro-slavery “Bushwhackers”.
Alfred moved his family from Ohio to Linn County, Kansas in the mid-1850’s when the territory opened to new settlers. His excitement at the prospect of putting down roots amid rolling hills and rich soil, was quickly overshadowed by the fallout from Congress’ decision to repeal the Missouri Compromise and leave the question of Kansas slavery laws up to a resident vote, known as the doctrine of popular sovereignty. Once the question was left to popular vote, mass chaos and brutality followed in an era known as “Bleeding Kansas”, a flash-point for the Civil War. In order to secure the vote, anti-slavery “Free Staters” moved into the Kansas territory by the thousands, funded by the New England Emigrant Aid Company, creating settlements near the already established pro-slavery squatter communities – two groups living in close proximity who had fundamentally different views on politics and basic human rights.
On May 30, 1855, an election was held to establish the Kansas Legislature, which was easily won by pro-slavery advocates, due to hundreds of non-residents flooding over the Missouri state line and stuffing ballot boxes. The Free-Staters were incensed by the arrival of these last-minute residents, but the U.S. Federal Government recognized the new territorial government, which Free-Staters referred to as “Bogus Legislature.” Turmoil between the two factions rapidly increased leading to the Kansas-Missouri Border War. Colonel Charles R. Jennison was ordered to the border with a volunteer infantry unit. This unit, known as “Jayhawkers”, was notorious for overstepping their border security mandate by plundering and looting pro-slavery advocates without provocation.
Alongside the horrific August 1863 headline detailing the Lawrence massacre, Alfred read an advertisement for a call to arms by none other than the infamous Col. Jennison, promising “whoever enlists in his new 15th Kansas Cavalry will have an opportunity to do some “heavy” work for the Union and for Kansas.” “Maybe a loose cannon like Col. Jennison is what it will take to put an end this conflict.” Alfred quipped.
On October 31, 1863, at 34 years of age, Alfred mustered into the Union camp on the bluegrass below Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for a three-year enlistment. He was assigned to Company D of the 15th Volunteer Cavalry, part of a new unit of Kansas Jayhawkers under Col Jennison. Their location on the border would prove to provide constant action for Alfred’s unit.
A year later, in 1864, Colonel Holliday, Adjutant General of the State, described the efforts by Alfred’s 15th Volunteer Cavalry Unit in the following words, “It was made up of men whose ardent attachment to the cause of freedom and the maintenance of the General Government, peculiarly qualified them as zealous and efficient guardians of the public welfare in the district of the country where their duty called them. Always on the alert for bushwhackers and guerrillas, they have frequently administered such good and wholesome admonition to them as to cause the name of the 15th to become a terror to those ‘enemies of the human race.‘ Patient of endurance, and fearless almost to desperation in the face of the enemy, they have added laurels to the memory of their slain, and converted the appellation of ‘jayhawkers’ into one of honor and fame.”
In August of 1864, Col Jennison and his unit were temporarily reassigned. Alfred was sent to Fort Scott from September of 1864 through April of 1865, under the command of Colonel Charles W. Blair. During this time, Alfred’s wife Elizabeth and the children had a front-row seat to the frightening battle of Marais des Cygnes, which took place near their home in Valley, Kansas on October 25, 1864. Fortunately, the union prevailed and none of the Shull family was hurt.
By the time the war ended in 1865, the term Jayhawkers was used as a derogatory term by Confederates but embraced by Kansans who were proud of their state’s contributions to the end of slavery and preservation of the Union. When the University of Kansas fielded their first football team in 1890, the chosen mascot was the Jayhawkers, which was eventually shortened to Jayhawks. Though the war ended, animosity between Kansans and Missourians continued through the generations which yielded a bitter sports rivalry which still exists between the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the University of Missouri Tigers.
Following the Union victory, Alfred returned to his family in Valley, Kansas until his wife, Elizabeth’s death in 1870. Two years later Alfred Married Nancy Reeves McDonald and relocated the family to Greene County, Missouri. Surprising, considering the animosity between Kansas and Missouri during the war.
My reflections on the shull story
It is interesting to consider the impact on children who grew up during this volatile period, surrounded by racism, violence, and fear. Not long after the Shull family relocated to Missouri, Alfred’s son, John Ransom Shull (our ancestor), who was a young teen during the Civil War, married Martha Gibson (listed as African American in the 1880 census). John’s marriage to Martha brings up many questions in the Jim Crow post-war laws (which I am still researching). Although historical records speak only to our ancestor’s actions and not their motives, this marriage leads me to be hopeful that Alfred and the Shull family were not only pro-union and anti-slavery, but they embraced the truth in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address that God created all men to be equal. The Bible says in I Samuel 16:7, “The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (NKJV)” If all of us could follow that example, our world would be a much better place.
Alfred Samuel Shull was born in Whitewater, Hamilton County, Ohio in 1829. When Alfred’s 2x great grandfather, Carl Jacob immigrated to the US in 1739, the name was spelled Schöll. Over the years the Schöll name has morphed into Sholl, Schull and Shull, which is the form that was passed down through our family line. Alfred had eight children with wife Elizabeth Ferguson and one child with wife Nancy Reeves McDonald. He passed away on December 16, 1895 in Strafford, Missouri and was buried with an inscription about his civil war service proudly engraved on his tombstone.