by Jeanne Gehret

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book cover featuring man in top hat with sword and title "The 116"

Daniel Read (D.R.) Anthony served as a Frontier Guard in a pivotal episode at the start of the Civil War. For nine days in April 1861, he and 115 other Kansans bivouacked on the floor of the White House. Their mission? To protect the recently-inaugurated President Lincoln from abduction and probable death.

James P. Muehlberger mentions Anthony several times in his meticulously researched nonfiction book, The 116: The True Story of Abraham Lincoln’s Lost Guard. (Ankerwycke, 2015. All page numbers in this post refer to this book.) The 116 men who laid down their heads, and would have laid down their lives for Lincoln, served under James Lane in a fierce fighting corps.

Author Muehlberger carefully explains the events leading up to that pivotal encampment of the Guard in Washington. As early as 1859, when Lincoln was practicing law in Illinois, he visited Kansas and met Lane, a Kansas lawyer.

Kansas was only a territory at that time. There, abolitionists and slaveholders battled to determine whether it would enter the Union as a slave state or free one. The charismatic Jim Lane led the guerilla antislavery fighters (variously known as Red Legs and Jayhawkers), including Anthony. Only three months before the start of the Civil War, Kansas entered the Union as a free state in January, 1861, thanks to Lane’s Frontier Guard. Shortly after that, Lane became the first senator from Kansas.

James Lane and his fearless men

Jim Lane and many Kansas freestate men were in Washington when the Confederates fired upon Fort Sumter, which began the Civil War. With a fearlessness typical of the group that would become the Frontier Guard, Lane stood up on a dry-goods box to address hostile onlookers consisting of mainly Southerners. The crowd cried “Hang him!” And here’s what happened next:

“Lane’s eyes flashed, and his voice boomed, ‘Mob and be damned! I have 100 men from Kansas in this crowd, all armed, all fighting men, just from the victorious fields of Kansas! They will shoot every damned man of you who again cries, “Mob’!’ The ominous click of cocking revolvers was heard throughout the crowd and the Kansas men murmured their assent. The pro-slavery men stood deathly still, for no one seemed to know who stood next to him, and then they gradually melted away into the shadows . . .” 11

As you can see, Muehlberger’s prose reads like a novel, but it is all carefully footnoted. His sources include newspaper reports, letters, memoirs, and military documents.

Lincoln, hearing of Lane’s bold act just a couple blocks away from the White House, called upon the Kansas senator to raise a guard to protect the White House and the city of Washington. One hundred sixteen answered the call, including Daniel Anthony and many other leading men of Kansas.

These included George Keller, a “rank abolitionist” who helped found the city of Leavenworth and built two of its most prominent hotels; Tom Ewing, Jr., who soon became a Union general in the war; and A.C. Wilder, a Rochester friend of Anthony and co-publisher of a newspaper in Leavenworth.

Here’s Muehlberger’s description of how the Guard bivouacked on the floor of the White House’s East Room:

“The Kansans slept that night with their heads to the walls, touching elbows…under gaslight from three enormous chandeliers, their rifles stacked down the center of the room.”

Dire conditions in D.C.

At the time, these 116 Kansans were all that Lincoln had protecting him. Meanwhile, Confederates were busy cutting Washington off from help. Maryland rebels tore up railroad tracks, burned railroad bridges, and destroyed telegraph lines. Federal officials predicted that the city would starve within ten days and fall into the secessionists’ hands. Virginia seceded, Robert E. Lee submitted his resignation to the U.S. Army, and a blockade formed against the North. The mail was stopped and all routes into the city obstructed.

Lane’s strategic disinformation

Soon after the Frontier Guard arrived in D.C., they marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in their frontier clothing. Making good use of spies infiltrating Confederate circles, Lane mounted an effective disinformation campaign. Over a period of several days, he convinced Southerners he had as many as a thousand frontiersmen at the ready. His goal was to make the rebels hesitant to attack.

He ordered his men to march noisily at night across one of two bridges entering the city. The Guard made enough noise for a whole army. This greatly alarmed the Confederates lurking in the woods near the bridge.

In the midst of a president and cabinet full of fear, “the Frontier Guard marched conspicuously up and down in front of the White House, armed with rifles and Colt Navy revolvers.” 145 Within a few days, a Confederate Brigadier General advised against attacking Washington because he believed there was an army of 10,000 to 12,000 men defending the city.149

From April 18-25, the 116 Kansans kept the U.S. government from falling prey to Confederate forces. By the 27th, enough Northern troops had come to provide adequate reinforcements, and Lincoln disbanded his Frontier Guard. The president rewarded many of the Kansas heroes with military appointments. That’s when Daniel Read Anthony began as postmaster in Leavenworth, a job that he would gain and lose several times according to who held the commander-in-chief position in Washington.

Why D.R. packed a pistol

 Although I don’t usually read about Civil War battles, I do find stories apart from combat interesting. War focuses people and forms their character. This book is one of my favorites for the insights it gives into Lincoln’s personality, its description of the Kansans’ raids on Missouri, and especially for the glimpses of D.R. Anthony in his early adulthood.

I’d like to close with an anecdote that precedes D.R. Anthony’s brief service with the Frontier Guard. Anthony, raised as a peace-loving Quaker, became (in)famous for his prowess with a gun, proven in several streetfights. I had always wondered how he went from pacifist to gunslinger. Fortunately, Muehlberger had the answer. Here’s what he found.

About a week after Anthony first arrived in Kansas, he and abolitionist Sam Wood went into Leavenworth for provisions. A group of proslavery men challenged them and Wood, with his hands on his two revolvers, dared them to a fight. They backed down. And that’s when D.R. decided to carry a revolver. Later in the same town, a proslavery man called Anthony an abolitionist n—– lover. Then “he drew his pistol and fired at Anthony, knocking his hat off. Anthony drew and fired twice . . . Anthony was unharmed, but he decided to begin carrying two revolvers.” 32

I don’t often post book reviews. If you’ve enjoyed this one, please let me know. And why not recommend some of your own favorite books about the Civil War, the Wild West, Victorian times, or other topics covered on these pages? I read and respond to every comment.

7 Comments

  1. Mary Ann May 5, 2023 at 11:18 am - Reply

    Lincoln was in Kansas and specifically Leavenworth in 1859, not 1857. Lane made a speech in Leavenworth in 1857, which was supposedly read by Lincoln in Illinois. See pg 73 of The 116.

    • Jeanne Gehret May 6, 2023 at 7:13 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Mary Ann. I read that night until my eyes went bleary. Just can’t get enough of that book. (Doesn’t that sound like a good reason to get a date wrong? I will fix it.

  2. Elaine May 5, 2023 at 9:41 pm - Reply

    These were surely different times. Imagine our government officials today carrying guns.

    • Jeanne Gehret May 6, 2023 at 7:14 pm - Reply

      Well there are some that I definitely would not want to be armed!

  3. Carol Crossed May 7, 2023 at 10:55 am - Reply

    Like you, Jeanne, I am not a reader of Civil War history, but this makes me too want to read more.
    Susan B never through her weight behind the Civil War, being the pacifist that their parents were.
    This I believe was after their brother Merrit joined John Brown’s brigade, another disconnect with Quaker values.

    • Jeanne Gehret May 9, 2023 at 4:33 pm - Reply

      You’re right about the timing. John Brown was executed in 1859, and this occurred in 1861. So both of the Anthony men left their Quaker nonviolence behind.

    • Jeanne Gehret May 9, 2023 at 4:36 pm - Reply

      I would like to have been a fly on the wall in the Anthonys’ Rochester home, to witness what Lucy and Daniel Sr. discussed about their sons.

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