Civil War started in 1856?

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Here’s an interesting bit of American Civil War trivia: What many consider the first battle in the bloodiest war in the nation’s history — the Battle of Black Jack near Baldwin City — didn’t claim a single life.

That battle, a small skirmish between bands of pro- and anti-slavery men, occurred about five years before what many textbooks and historians refer to as the first official event in the Civil War at Fort Sumter in South Carolina in 1861.

But for a group of interested observers, local residents and a growing number of historians, the Civil War started on June 2, 1856, on a small patch of land 3 miles east of Baldwin City.

“This is where the Civil War started, as far as I’m concerned,” said Kerry Altenbernd, a tour guide at the battleground site on the battle’s 151st anniversary Saturday. “It is an important site ... you’re standing on sacred ground.”

It was that land where famous Civil War icon John Brown, noted for his anti-slavery zeal and propensity toward violence to get his point across, led an abolitionist militia to raid a group of pro-slavery men.

Many shots were fired and a few people were severely wounded before the pro-slavery militia surrendered to Brown and his band of abolitionists after a three-hour fracas.

But the public at-large, and even people who grew up near the battle site, aren’t aware of the battle’s significance.

“Historical amnesia has been a big problem,” Altenbernd said.

That’s become motivation for a group of local historians and other interested observers to try to get the word out about the site and make it a more prominent landmark in Civil War lore.

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