The Battle of Fort Titus

Titus On August 16, 1856, some fifty Free State men under Captain Samuel Walker attacked Ft. Titus. After a brief battle, Ft. Titus and its thirty-four defenders, including Colonel Henry Titus, surrendered. Also surrendered were 400 muskets, a large number of knives, 13 horses, several wagons, a large stock of household provisions, farm equipment and $10,000 in gold and bank drafts. Slaves and servants owned by Titus were set free and instructed to go to Topeka. Two proslavery men defenders were killed and Titus and five other combatants were seriously injured. Eight free state men were wounded, Captain Henry Shombre mortally. The fort was then burned to the ground.

Ft. Titus was a proslavery stronghold in Douglas County about two miles south of Lecompton on the east bank of Coon Creek. Colonel Henry Titus built a fortified log house as a rendezvous point and place of defense for proslavery men fighting their Free State neighbors. After the battle, the site was purchased in 1856 from Titus by William Nace as a farm. In 1860, the Battlefield Distillery was opened on the old site of Ft. Titus by Nace and a Mr. McKinney.

Artifacts from the battle are on display in Lecompton on the first floor of the Territorial Capitol/Lane Museum and an oil painting of the battle is hanging in the second floor chapel. The Abbott Howitzer captured at Ft. Titus by Free State men and a pearl-handled sword taken off Titus are displayed in Topeka at the Kansas Museum of History and the cannon Old Sacramento used in the assault on Ft. Titus is displayed in Lawrence at the Watkins Community Museum.


The following partial account is from the Kansas State Historical Society Collections Volumes 1 & 2, 1881 and was written by a correspondent of the New York Times dated Lawrence, Sunday, Aug. 17, 1856.

When the advance guard of the Free-State forces arrived at Judge Wakefield's, on the California road, they were fired upon by a company of Pro-slavery men under Col. Titus. The fire was returned, and Titus and his men retreated, leaving one of their number dead.

Colonel Titus's cabin was within two miles of Lecompton, and like the other brigand leaders, he fortified it against attack. Early in the morning a party of Free-State cavalry made a charge upon some tents near the cabin, the inmates of which ran for the cabin, and were followed by the horsemen, who went too near the cabin, when they were fired upon by those inside, wounding four one, Capt. Shombre, from Indiana, mortally. The cannon was then brought up, and Cpt. Bickerton cooly brought his piece to bear upon it. Seven balls had been fired into it, when Col. Titus showed the white flag, and surrendered. Seventeen prisoners, twenty-five stands of arms and a quantity of provisions were taken; the cabin was then burned. During the attack, the United States troops, who were encamped near by, took a position between the Free-State forces and Lecompton, directly upon the road. Unwilling to attack the troops, as they feared they would be compelled to, instead, of attacking Lecompton the Free-State men with their prisoners marched to Lawrence.

Col. Titus was wounded in the head and shoulder, another of his men was wounded, and two others killed. There were six wounded on the Free-State side. Col. Titus had taken an active part in the sack of Lawrence, and on that day publicly declared, That if he ever came into that place again he would kill every Abolitionist in it. Some of the prisoners taken with him participated in this sack and assisted in destroying the presses of the Herald of Freedom and of the Free-State, and throwing the type in the river. The cannon balls used in firing at the cabin of Col. Titus were made of the lead melted down from the type of those presses, dug from the sand on the bank of the river; and as they plowed their way through the walls of Titus's cabin, they shrieked, Surrender to Freedom! as they sped on their way. Capt. Bickerton, when he pointed his cannon sat the walls of the cabin, calmly announced that he should give them a new edition of the Herald of Freedom. Col. Titus, instead of coming to kill Abolitionists, came whiningly begging of the Abolitionists to save his miserable life. He was supplied with comfortable quarters, and a physician to attend him. The other prisoners were confined in the Herald of Freedom building, where, on the 21st of May, some of them thought they had struck a death-blow to the freedom of speech, with the blood-red banner of South Carolina disunion waving over them. How strange the contrast! Yet such is the fortune of war.