Charles L. Edwards was one of the notable figures in the first half century of Kansas. He never became widely known in financial circles, did not make a political reputation, but nevertheless he was one of the most useful men the state ever had. He was intimately identified with the movement by which Kansas was organized with free institutions. He was also the pioneer schoolmaster of Lawrence. He gave many years to the upbuilding of its scholastic institutions, went from Lawrence to serve gallantly through the War of the Rebellion and remained a resident of that city for over sixty years.
He was born at Southampton, Massachusetts, of New England ancestry, on October 19, 1828, and death came to him in the fullness of years and after the maturity of achievement and experience on November 22, 1916.
He was liberally educated, attending the Phillips Academy at Andover and the Normal School at Westfield, Massachusetts. He taught in New England, but in November, 1855, having become identified with the New England Emigrant Aid Society, he came to Kansas in the service of that society. He was associated with that notable group of men who laid the foundations of civilization at Lawrence and took an active and courageous part in resisting the attempts of the pro-slavery men to impose their institutions on the government of Kansas Territory.
From his duties as a private citizen and a school man he volunteered to defend his country in the time of need. He was at the time only recently married. He had gone back to his native state in 1860 and at North Hadley on October 4th married Susan R. Powers.
In 1862 Mr. Edwards enlisted as a private in Company D of the Thirty-seventh Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Upon the organization of the company he was elected first lieutenant, and subsequently was promoted to captain. At the close of the war he held the rank of major in the regiment. From the time of his enlistment until the last fighting in Virginia he played a gallant part, and few men saw more of the actual struggle and hardships of the war. He was present at the battles of Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, Mine Run, Winchester, Petersburg, to name only a few of the major engagements, and he was also at Sailor’s Creek, the last pitched battle between the forces of General Grant and of General Lee, just preceding the surrender at Appomattox. When the draft riots broke out in New York City his regiment because of its efficiency was assigned to police and patrol the city. When Washington was threatened by General Early in 1864 his command was sent to check the advance and took part in the battle of Fort Stevens, only five miles away from the capitol.
After the war Major Edwards returned to Lawrence and continued the educational work which he had begun before the war. He was the first superintendent of public instruction of Douglas County. He was appointed to that office in 1859. At the time the county had only three organized schools. Within three months, such was his energy, he had thirty schools in operation. Mr. Edwards became one of the first trustees of what had become the University of Kansas, and was principal of the Academic Department when it opened in the fall of 1859.
He was one of the last survivors of the critical territorial period in Douglas County. He had not only been a spectator of history making events, but his keen mind and judgment made him an unusual repository of historical knowledge, and he was long recognized as an authority on the history of his city, county and state. Major Edwards was one of the founders and a charter member of Plymouth Congregational Church in Lawrence. For half a century he served as treasurer of the church, and was active in its varied affairs, including the Sunday school.
The keynote of his character was faithfulness. He had many opportunities to acquire wealth, but his sturdy character and innate honesty caused him to seek rather the love of his fellow-men and their respect by constant personal service which seldom had the remuneration of material wealth. Few men who ever lived in Lawrence left so deep an impress for good as did Charles L. Edwards.
The only surviving member of his family is his daughter, Miss Virginia S. Edwards, now connected with the Free Public Library of Lawrence.