James H. Holmes was a Free State guerilla fighter who fought with John Brown at the Battle of Osawatomie in modern day John Brown Memorial Park on Aug. 30, 1856.

Free State guerillas knew that Osawatomie was going to be attacked by pro-slavery militia men, and James H. Holmes had taken command of a group of Free State guerilla fighters who were headquartered near Osawatomie with the purpose of defending the Free State community.

Holmes stated, “I remained near Ossawatomie, taking in charge a company of 15 men, armed, but not mounted. We were in camp; the citizens of Ossawatomie supplied us with food as we remained to protect them at their earnest solicitation. During the weeks which preceded the battle of Ossawatomie, we were constantly alarmed by rumors of an attack upon the settlers.”

The Battle of Osawatomie was not a complete surprise attack, for the Free State community was disparagingly referred to as an “Abolitionist Nest” by pro-slavery advocates who sought to destroy the nascent Free State community and send its abolitionist and free-soil citizens packing back to the east in varying degrees of health.

Osawatomie’s founders sent James H. Holmes to Lawrence to bring more arms and Free State guerilla fighters to help defend the Free State community, and when he returned to Osawatomie in the days before August 30, 1856, he found that “all but two of the families had left, the male members of their families had remained to defend the place.”

The defenders of Osawatomie were prepared to defend the town well before John Reid’s pro-slavery force actually attacked Osawatomie, which presents not a picture of surprise and panic on the part of the Free State defenders of Osawatomie, but a resolute group of Free State guerilla fighters who were prepared to defend their homes and community well before the pro-slavery force attacked the Free State community.

Osawatomie’s Free State defenders were not surprised at the fact that Osawatomie was attacked by pro-slavery forces on Aug. 30, 1856, they were surprised because the pro-slavery forces delayed their attack on Osawatomie until John Reid could attack the town with enough pro-slavery militia men to ensure a victory.

The reality that Osawatomie’s abolitionist and free-soil defenders were ready for a fight, and had enough men to make it a real fight, gave the pro-slavery forces pause, and they wisely waited until they could achieve the element of surprise and have superior numbers when the pro-slavery forces attacked Osawatomie on Aug. 30, 1856.

John Brown is certainly the most well known of Osawatomie’s abolitionist and free soil defenders, but he had a stalwart group of abolitionists and free soil advocates who fought beside him at the Battle of Osawatomie.

They were ready to defend both their abolitionist and free soil beliefs, and the Free State community of Osawatomie at the Battle of Osawatomie on Aug. 30, 1856.

Grady Atwater is site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site.

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