On August 21, 2013, community volunteers at Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area used Twitter and the hashtag #QR1863 to reenact the sesquicentennial of Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence, Kansas. This bloody civilian atrocity was preceded by years of escalating violence between pro-slavery Bushwhackers and abolitionist minded Jayhawkers along the Missouri-Kansas border. On August 21, 1863, Quantrill and 400 men rode in and when they left hours later, nearly 200 Lawrence men and boys had died and Lawrence was in smoldering ruins.
The #QR1863 program connected fifty-one historical, first-person accounts of raiders, survivors, and victims of the raid. The program focused on training a wide variety of members of the public to research and interpret history and incorporated underrepresented voices from a historical narrative into a “real-time” event. Primary sources, reminiscences, and digitized newspaper articles from 150 years ago concerning Quantrill’s Raid were made available to the volunteers. Secondary sources were used to create connective resources for participants including a map and a narrative timeline for August 21, 1863. Participants rigorously researched their characters and project scholars led two workshops to provide context for Quantrill’s Raid and help volunteers understand the history.
All of these resources were used to create Tweets that were sent out with the hashtag #QR1863. The volunteers gathered at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, August 21, 2013 on the 150th anniversary of the raid to send out their tweets that reflected in real time the events of the day in 1863. Hashtag #QR1863 trended worldwide on August 21, reaching 1.3 million people. So non-Twitter-users could follow along, the #QR1863 tweets were embedded online. There were 4,596 visitors to the site and the link to the Washington Post’s blog post covering the event was shared on Facebook 1,500 times.
#QR1863 supported the mission of Freedom’s Frontier with a creative and innovative approach to sharing the authentic story of Quantrill’s Raid through multiple perspectives and new technology. It shined a spotlight on the lesser-known history of the raid, engaged the public as participants, provided accessible and interactive narratives, and maintained a high level of research and interpretation. The project not only tapped into many Americans’ interest in the Civil War era, but also engaged a number of people who had never considered themselves history enthusiasts.