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The Union Women’s Prison Marker is located off 1425 Grand Boulevard in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. The marker was erected to honor those lost and injured after the building collapsed on August 14, 1863. The building housed female prisoners arrested under Union Brigadier General Thomas Ewing as part of a strategy in order to subside Confederate guerilla warfare along the Missouri-Kansas border. In 1863, Kansas City was named the headquarters of the newly-created U.S. Army District of the Border, which was charged with controlling the Confederate guerilla insurgency along the Missouri-Kansas border. The women were accused of aiding the Confederate guerillas, known as Bushwhackers. The 17 accused women were housed in the top two floors of a seven-year-old three-story building owned by renowned Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham. Union soldiers and officials worked in offices on the first floor. Four women were killed, and a number were injured. While it is unknown why the building failed, it is noted that Union officials removed support columns and bricks to make room for a storage cellar.

Union Prison Collapse Marker

Plant, Flower, Sky, Font

Ernst Ulmer painting of Lawrence Massacre

Horse, Cloud, Sky, Working animal

General Thomas Ewing

Face, Outerwear, Hairstyle, White

George Caleb Bingham painting of Order No. 11

Vertebrate, Cloud, Sky, Painting

The Union army in the border region experienced its fair share of difficulties with the Confederate army, particularly those unaffiliated supporters using guerrilla warfare throughout Jackson County. Having been backed into a corner, Union General Thomas Ewing strived to make a statement while remaining non-violent. Ewing issued Order No. 10 on February 4, 1863, threatening Bushwhackers with having their families removed from Missouri if the violence continued. However, guerrilla activity continued and was supported. Historian LeeAnn Whites explains that guerrilla warfare tactics are not under the same unsaid rules as traditional war. [1] “Guerrilla war, fought anywhere, on any terrain, and at any time, opens the prospect that women and children will be caught haplessly in the crossfire between competing groups of men,” said Whites. Whites further explains that while the men might have been the front-facing figures of guerilla warfare, the women were doing behind-the-scenes work, what she calls the [2] “supply line.” So, Ewing began arresting women who were accused of aiding Bushwhackers; some were arrested in public settings, and others were taken from their homes. While some women were found with resources such as lead, gunpowder, and suspicious amounts of cash, others were arrested simply for being associated with Bushwhackers and held as prisoners. Historian Joseph Beilein says one of the largest ways these women contributed was by creating [3] “guerilla shirts” for their husbands, boyfriends, and the like.[4] “The shirts were emblematic of the guerillas’ style more generally, the greatest influence on which was the look of the frontier hunters who had straddled the fringes of the white and Indian worlds since very early in the European settlement of the Americas." The women were not granted bond or bail and sat in the Kansas City prison awaiting trial in St. Louis. There were multiple prisons surrounding the Kansas City area, but the 1409 Grand Ave location was a tavern transformed to hold approximately 20 women. 

The tavern, already in poor condition, underwent mild renovation in order to house the women and create offices for Union soldiers. Kansas City native and future mayor Elijah M. McGee said in an affidavit that beams [5] “had been cut away from the girders or center beam” and other forms of support [6] “had already sunk some two or three feet." Although the building was inspected on August 3 and several structural deficits were noted, no action was taken. On the afternoon of August 13, the building collapsed, killing four women instantly and one more days later following her injuries. Many more were injured, including the teenage sister of infamous Bushwhacker William “Bloody Bill” Anderson. Rumors ran rampant that this tragic event was no accident. This was, in a sense, the final straw for the Bushwhackers, who demanded immediate action. [7] “We could stand no more… innocent and beautiful girls had been murdered in a most foul, brutal, savage and damnable manner. We were determined to have our revenge,” said John McCorkle, who lost his sister in the collapse. 

The Bushwhackers, led by Anderson and William Quantrill, began hosting meetings across farms in Missouri to discuss retaliation. On August 21, 1863, eight days after the prison’s collapse, Quantrill led the Bushwhackers to Lawrence, Kansas, and killed over 150 men and boys in under two hours. General Ewing had become increasingly frustrated with trying to control the Missouri guerrillas. This event prompted General Ewing to issue General Order No. 11 on August 25, 1863, four days after the Lawrence Massacre. The order stated that any Missouri citizens living in Cass, Bates, Jackson, and north Vernon counties had fifteen days to vacate. Ewing believed that this harsh order would finally put an end to the violent guerilla warfare that plagued Missouri and Kansas.

The collapse of the Union Women’s Prison in Kansas City is one of a series of tragic events that eventually led to the conclusion of guerilla warfare along the Missouri-Kansas border. As stated on the marker, [8] “A tragedy here and Order No. 10 were blamed for the Lawrence Massacre.” Ewing’s orders following the prison collapse made it difficult for guerrillas to regain control of the area, weakening their support and resources. This left them no choice but to abandon the area. Regardless, this event was a pivotal moment in the Civil War and was aptly dedicated by the marker located in downtown Kansas City. 

[3] [4] Beilein, Joseph M. “The Guerrilla Shirt: A Labor of Love and the Style of Rebellion in Civil War Missouri.” Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri, University Press of Kansas, pp. 169–186. 

“Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865.” General Orders, No. 10 | Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865, Kansas City Public Library,,duty%2C%20desertion%2C%20and%20mutiny.

Dennis, Clarence. “CuriousKC: How a Kansas City Women’s Prison Collapse in 1863 Fueled Quantrill’s Raid of Lawrence.” Flatland, Kansas City PBS, 5 Oct. 2020,  

Grubbs, Brian. “A Desolated Country: The Union Jail Collapse, Lawrence Massacre, and General Order No. 11.” Show Me Missouri, Show Me Missouri, 5 Oct. 2021,  

O’Bryan, Tony. “Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865.” Collapse of the Union Women’s Prison in Kansas City | Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865, Kansas City Public Library, 

[5] [6] [7] Telegraph, Martin City Telegraph. “The Collapse of a Women’s Prison 154 Years Ago Led to the Bloody Lawrence Massacre.” South Kansas City News - The Martin City Telegraph, Martin City and South KC: The Telegraph, 25 Aug. 2017, 

[8] The Historical Marker Database. “Union Prison Collapse Historical Marker.” HMdb.Org, CeraNet Cloud Computing, 10 Feb. 2023, 

[1] [2] Whites, LeeAnn. “Forty Shirts and a Wagonload of Wheat: Women, the Domestic Supply Line, and the Civil War on the Western Border.” The Journey of the Civil War Era, vol. 1, Mar. 2011, pp. 58–78. 1, For additional information about this article Access provided by University of Missouri - Kansas City (24 Jun 2013 13:56 GMT) 

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