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Cover Story June 25th, 2009

  Untitled Document


lyle e davis

The name Quantrill may not mean much to you today, but time was it struck fear into the heart of every man, woman and child within a mile of his presence. Or even rumored presence.

He was one of the meanest sonofabitches in the Civil War, confirmed by both friend and foe.

William Clark Quantrill is said to have been mean from the day he was born. As a child, he would show his cruel tendencies by shooting pigs in the ears, just to hear them scream, nail snakes to trees, rip the wings off birds, anything to cause pain.
He didn’t change much as an adult. Indeed, he got worse. He became a legend for his cruelty and used the Civil War as an excuse for his forays into farms and towns that he felt were worth plundering.

He became known as the leader of the most savage fighting band in the Bleeding Kansas/Missouri Border War. He was also known as the most ruthless bushwhacker during those turbulent times.

William Clarke Quantrill

Born on July 31, 1837, to Thomas Henry and Caroline Cornelia (Clarke) Quantrill, he would, in his early adult years, teach school briefly in Ohio and Illinois. One wonders what it must have been like to have been a student in his class. One imagines punishments were frequent and severe. And likely enjoyed by the teacher.

He left the academic world fairly quickly, however. Seems someone had accused him of stealing horses. He abruptly decided to remove himself to Kansas in the year 1857.

Soon, he would accompany an army provision train to Utah in 1858. Along the long trail to Utah, the man who had grown up in a Unionist family met numerous pro-slavery Southerners who deeply affected his beliefs. Once in Utah, he began to use the alias of Charles Hart, lived his life as a gambler and was quickly associated with a number of murders and thefts at Fort Bridger and elsewhere in the territory. Not surprisingly, more warrants were issued for his arrest and he thought it prudent to return to Kansas.

In December 1860, he joined a group of Kansas Free-State men who were intent upon freeing the slaves of a Missouri man by the name of Morgan Walker. But Quantrill’s participation was only a ruse. As the Jayhawkers hid in the bush, Quantrill volunteered to “scout the area.” Soon, Quantrill, along with Walker, returned to ambush the four Kansas men, killing three of them. When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, Quantrill joined the Confederate side with enthusiasm. He fought with Confederate forces at the battle of Wilson's Creek in Oakhills, Missouri, in August 1861. This battle marked the beginning of the Civil War in Missouri, where the state would become the scene of savage and fierce fighting, primarily from guerilla warfare.

Quantrill is generally credited not with inventing guerilla warfare but employing it very efficiently, if not ruthlessly.

By late in the year, Quantrill became unhappy with the Confederates’ reluctance to aggressively prosecute the Union troops. As a result, the young man took it upon himself to take a more antagonistic course with his own-guerilla warfare, becoming the leader of Quantrill’s Raiders, initially a small force of only a dozen men. The guerrilla band, strong supporters of slavery, began to make independent attacks upon Union camps, patrols and settlements. His reputation grew and he soon was able to attract a variety of thugs, pro-slavery citizens as well as Confederate soldiers who had decided it was more fun, and probably safer, to join a guerilla band and kill innocent men, women and children rather than fight traditional military units. After all, they had weapons and would fight back. So, they left their assigned military units and joined Quantrill. By 1862 Quantrill’s band had grown to over one hundred.

Quantrill soon became the most powerful leader of the group that pillaged the area. Several famous would-be outlaws joined his group including Frank and Jesse James and the Younger Brothers. Justifying his actions for perceived wrongs done to them by Kansas Jayhawkers and the Federal Authorities, the band robbed Union mail, ambushed federal patrols, and attacked boats on the Missouri River throughout the year. Quantrill's nature as an outlaw, murderer and thief made him a prime candidate for the vicious attacks, where he took advantage of the pandemonium for his own use in profitable hit-and-run attacks on pro-Union sympathizers and Federal Troops alike.

On August 11, 1862, Colonel J.T. Hughes’s Confederate force, including William Quantrill, attacked Independence, Missouri, at dawn. They drove through the town to the Union Army camp, capturing, killing and scattering the Yankees. During the melee, Colonel Hughes was killed, but the Confederates took Independence which led to a Confederate dominance in the Kansas City area for a short time. Quantrill's role in the capture of Independence led to his being commissioned a captain in the Confederate Army.

On October 17, 1862, Quantrill and his band moved to attack Shawnee, Kansas. As they neared their destination, they came upon a Federal supply train, where they captured twelve unarmed men. Later these 12 drivers and Union escorts would be found dead, all but one shot in the head. Continuing on, Quantrill and his band attacked the town, killing two men and burning the settlement to the ground.

Shortly thereafter, Quantrill traveled to Richmond, Virginia, where he sought a regular command under the Confederacy Partisan Ranger Act. However his reputation for brutality had preceded him and his request was denied. Yet, they did promote him to the rank of colonel in November 1862.

At about the same time, the Commander of the Department of Missouri, Major General Henry W. Halleck, ordered that guerrillas such as Quantrill and his men would be treated as robbers and murderers, not normal prisoners of war. Quantrill’s tactics became even more aggressive after this proclamation, as he no longer adhered to the principals of accepting enemy surrender.

In May of 1863, Quantrill and his band moved closer to the Missouri-Kansas border. Brigadier General Thomas Ewing, Jr. from Kansas, who commanded the district border, was not happy with Quantrill’s presence. Soon, he issued General Order Number 10, which stated that any person - man, woman or child, who was directly involved with aiding a band of guerrillas would be jailed.

The idea was, by taking away the border guerillas means of food and shelter they would leave the area. Before long, women and children were rounded up and placed in a dilapidated three story building in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Of particular interest to the Federal Troops were the known relatives of the guerillas, including family members of “Bloody Bill” Anderson and the Younger Brothers.

Though signs that the building housing the women and children was unstable, such as large cracks in the walls and ceilings, and large amounts of mortar dust on the floor, the signs were ignored. On August 13, 1863, the building collapsed killing five women and injuring dozens of others.

Among the killed and injured in the collapse were women who were close relatives of prominent Confederate guerrillas. Those killed in the collapse, included Josephine Anderson, sister of "Bloody Bill Anderson," Susan Crawford Vandever and Armenia Crawford Selvey, Cole Younger's cousins, Charity McCorkle Kerr, wife to Quantrillian member Nathan Kerr, and a woman named Mrs. Wilson. Many others were injured and scarred. Caroline Younger, sister to Cole and James Younger, would die two years later as a result of her injuries. Another Anderson sister was crippled for life, when both of her legs were broken in the incident.

When news of the collapse reached the families of the dead and injured, they went wild. Soon crowds began to gather around the ruins as the dead and wounded were carried off, shouting "Murder!" at the Union forces.


September, 1863

Later, Quantrill and his men would claim that the building was deliberately weakened, giving them ammunition for the infamous attack on Lawrence that was about to come.

Early on the morning of August 21, 1863, Quantrill, along with his murderous force, which had now grown to about 400, descended on the still sleeping town of Lawrence, Kansas. Incensed by the free-state headquarters town, Quantrill set out on his revenge against the Jayhawker community. In this carefully orchestrated early morning raid, he and his band, in four terrible hours, turned the town into a bloody and blazing inferno unparallel in its brutality.

The Lawrence, Kansas Raid as illustrated in Harper's Weekly, September, 1863.

Quantrill and his bushwhacker mob of raiders began their reign of terror at 5:00 a.m., looting and burning as they went, bent on total destruction of the town, then less than 3,000 residents. By the time it was over, they had killed approximately 180 men and boys, and left Lawrence nothing more than smoldering ruins. Senator Lane, a prime target of the raid, managed to escape through a cornfield in his nightshirt, but the bushwhackers, on Quantrill's orders, killed 183 men and boys "old enough to carry a rifle," dragging many from their homes to execute them before their families. The ages of those killed ranged from as young as 14 all the way up to 90. When Quantrill's men rode out at 9 a.m., most of Lawrence's buildings were burning, including all but two businesses. His raiders looted indiscriminately and robbed the town's bank.

The Lawrence Massacre led to swift retribution, as Union troops forced the residents of four Missouri border counties onto the open prairie by issuing General Order #11 on August 25, 1863. The order required all persons living in Cass, Jackson, Bates and part of Vernon counties to immediately evacuate their homes, leaving the area a virtual “No-Man’s Land.” The Federal Troops and Kansas Jayhawkers immediately burned and looted everything left behind.

Having been pushed back, Quantrill moved his men to Texas. On their way south, Quantrill’s well-mounted and armed force of 400 men came upon the 100-man headquarters escort of Union General James G. Blunt. Quantrill’s band attacked on October 6, 1863, killing more than eighty men in what later become known as the Barter Springs Massacre.

Upon his arrival in Texas, Quantrill reported at Bonham on October 26, 1863, to General Henry E. McCulloch. Quantrill and his men were ordered to help round up the increasing number of deserters and conscription-dodgers in North Texas. The band captured a few but killed even more, whereupon McCulloch pulled them off this duty. The General then sent them to track down retreating Comanches from a recent raid on the northwest frontier, which they did without success.

During their winter in Texas, Quantrill's lieutenant, William "Bloody Bill" Anderson, took some of the men to organize his own group. With two such groups in the area, Texas residents became targets for raids and so many acts of violence that regular Confederate forces had to be assigned to protect residents from the activities of the irregular Confederate forces.

Finally, General McCulloch determined to rid North Texas of Quantrill’s influence and on March 28, 1864, Quantrill was arrested on the charge of ordering the murder of a Confederate Major. However, Quantrill escaped returning to his camp near Sherman, Texas, pursued by over 300 state and Confederate troops. His band then crossed the Red River into Indian Territory, where they resupplied from Confederate stores and started the long journey back to Missouri.

Soon, his guerrilla band began to break up into several smaller units and his vicious lieutenant, "Bloody Bill" Anderson, known for wearing a necklace of Yankee scalps into battle, would continue to terrorize the state of Missouri. As Quantrill’s authority over his followers disintegrated they elected George Todd, a former lieutenant to Quantrill, to lead them.

Anderson's greatest fame came as a result of a massacre and battle with Union soldiers at Centralia, Missouri, when on September 27, 1864, he led a band of about seventy men into the town. Some dressed in captured Union uniforms, the thugs showed no mercy to the Centralia residents as they systematically raided homes and stores. Barricading a train that approached Centralia, Anderson's men found 23 unarmed Union soldiers on furlough. The soldiers were taken from the train, and ordered to disrobe. After isolating one soldier, Sergeant Tom Goodman, the other 22 soldiers were shot and killed as the horrified Centralia residents and train passengers looked on.

Sergeant Goodman, who was taken hostage by the Anderson guerrillas, lived to write of the whole affair after the Civil War.

In their final act of wanton destruction, the guerrillas set fire to the Centralia Depot, sacked and set fire to the train and then sent it on its way, west, with no crew aboard, to later crash and be destroyed.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to regain his prestige, Quantrill concocted a plan to lead a company of men to Washington and assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. He assembled a group of raiders in Lafayette County, Missouri, in November and December 1864, with the idea of completing this task. However, the strength of Union troops east of the Mississippi River convinced him that his plan could not succeed. Quantrill turned back and resumed his normal pattern of raiding.

With a group of thirty-three men, he entered Kentucky early in 1865.

In May a Unionist irregular force surprised his group near Taylorsville, Kentucky, and in the ensuing battle Quantrill fired back at the pursing Federal guerillas, while trying to mount a colleague’s horse. He was hit in the back by a ball, which entered at the end of the left shoulder blade, headed downward, and struck his spine, paralyzing him below his arms. Federal guerillas shot him one more time, cutting off his index finger of his right hand.

After the battle, the Union guerilla’s Captain Terrill spoke with Quantrill. Quantrill insisted that he was Captain Clark of the 4th Missouri Cavalry. He gave Terrill his gold watch and five hundred dollars to allow him to remain at the scene where he had been wounded. Captain Terrill summoned Doctor McClasky. The doctor told Quantrill his wound was fatal. Some of Quantrill’s men rode back to see him and the doctor stated that he could not be moved from the house.

On May 12, 1865, Captain Terrill appeared at the house with an old Conestoga wagon drawn by two mules. He placed a straw bed in the wagon and placed Quantrill into the wagon and headed for Louisville. The next day, Captain Terrill with his prisoner, arrived in Louisville at the headquarters of General John Palmer. Taken to a military prison, Quantrill lived until June 6, 1865, where he died from his wounds at the age of twenty-seven.

This meaner than mean man, this ruthless, murderer of men, women and children, crammed more viciousness into one life than should ever have been allowed. And he did it all in only 27 years. Yes, he was 27 years old when he died. About 27 years too late.

During the war, Quantrill met fourteen-year-old Sarah Katherine King at her parents' farm in Blue Springs, Missouri. They married and she lived in camp with Quantrill and his men. At the time of his death, she was seventeen.

He is buried at the Missouri Confederate Soldier’s Memorial in Higginsville, Missouri. Quantrill's actions remain controversial to this day. Some historians view him as an opportunistic, bloodthirsty outlaw; James M. McPherson, one of America's most prominent experts on the Civil War today, calls him and Anderson "pathological killers" who "murdered and burned out Missouri Unionists."

Others, such as Missouri biographer Paul R. Petersen, continue to regard him as a daring horse soldier and a local folk hero. Some of Quantrill's celebrity later rubbed off on other ex-Raiders — Jesse and Frank James, and Cole and Jim Younger — who went on after the war to apply Quantrill's hit-and-run tactics to bank and train robbery.


Civil War Harper's Weekly, September 27, 1862

photo photo
Quantrill’s Raider Reunion, about 1875 Quantrill’s Gravesite






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