William Quantrill

William Quantrill
William Clarke Quantrill
Born July 31, 1837(1837-07-31)
Canal Dover (now Dover), Ohio
Died June 6, 1865(1865-06-06) (aged 27)
Louisville, Kentucky
Buried at St. John's Catholic Cemetery Louisville Kentucky
Allegiance United States of America
Confederate States of America
Service/branch Confederate States Army
Years of service 1861-1865
Rank Captain

American Civil War

William Clarke Quantrill (July 31, 1837 – June 6, 1865) was a Confederate guerrilla leader during the American Civil War. After leading a Confederate bushwhacker unit along the Missouri-Kansas border in the early 1860s, which included the infamous raid and sacking of Lawrence, Kansas in 1863, Quantrill eventually ended up in Kentucky where he was mortally wounded in a Union ambush in May 1865, aged 27.


Early life

Quantrill, the oldest of 8 children, was born at Canal Dover (now just Dover), Ohio, on July 31, 1837. His father was Thomas Quantrill, formerly of Hagerstown, Maryland. His mother, Caroline Cornelia Clark, was a native of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. They were married on October 11, 1836, and moved to Canal Dover the following December. Thomas Quantrill died December 7, 1854, apparently of tuberculosis.[1]

Little is known of Quantrill’s life in Dover, though it appears that he was raised by his mother in a Unionist family. However, he always had a loathing for its Free-Soil beliefs. After several years working as a teacher in Mendota, Illinois, Quantrill traveled to Utah Territory with the Federal Army as a teamster in 1858 as part of the Utah War, but left the army there to try his hand at professional gambling. In 1859, he moved to Lawrence, Kansas, and again taught school.

Guerrilla leader

When the Civil War began in 1861, Quantrill claimed he was a native of Maryland and may have joined the Missouri State Guard. However, his dislike of army discipline[citation needed] led him to form an independent guerrilla band by the end of that year. This bushwhacker company began as a force of no more than a dozen men who staged raids into Kansas, harassed Union soldiers, raided pro-Union towns, robbed mail coaches, and attacked Unionist civilians. At times they skirmished with the Jayhawkers, undisciplined Union militia from Kansas who raided into Missouri. The Union commanders declared him to be an outlaw, even though Quantrill apparently did secure a Confederate commission as a captain of partisan rangers. When the Union Army ordered all captured guerrillas to be shot, Quantrill ceased taking prisoners and started doing the same. He quickly became known to his opponents as a feared Rebel raider, and to his supporters as a dashing, free-spirited hero[citation needed].

Lawrence Massacre

The most significant event in Quantrill's guerrilla career took place on August 21, 1863. Lawrence had been seen for years as the stronghold of the anti-slavery forces in Kansas and as a base of operation for incursions into Missouri by Jayhawkers and pro-Union forces. It was also the home of James H. Lane, a Senator infamous in Missouri for his staunch anti-slavery views and also a leader of the Jayhawkers. Moreover, during the weeks immediately preceding the raid, Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr., had ordered the detention of any civilians giving aid to Quantrill's Raiders. Several female relatives of the guerrillas were imprisoned in a makeshift jail in Kansas City, Missouri. On August 14, the building collapsed, killing four young women and seriously injuring others. Among the casualties was Josephine Anderson, sister of one of Quantrill's key guerrilla allies, William T. "Bloody Bill" Anderson. Another of Anderson's sisters, Mary, was permanently crippled in the collapse. Quantrill's men believed the collapse was deliberate, and the event fanned them into a fury.

Many historians[who?] believe that Quantrill had actually planned to raid Lawrence in advance of the building's collapse, in retaliation for earlier Jayhawker attacks[2] as well as the burning of Osceola, Missouri.

Early on the morning of August 21, Quantrill descended from Mount Oread and attacked Lawrence at the head of a combined force of as many as 450 guerrillas. 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", Quantrill, known to be armed with several French pinfire revolvers, his favorite weapon of choice, carried out several personally,[3] 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.[citation needed] 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.

On August 25, in retaliation for the raid, General Ewing authorized General Order No. 11 (not to be confused with General Ulysses S. Grant's General Order of the same name). The edict ordered the depopulation of three-and-a-half Missouri counties along the Kansas border (with the exception of a few designated towns), forcing tens of thousands of civilians to abandon their homes. Union troops marched through behind them, burning buildings, torching planted fields and shooting down livestock to deprive the guerrillas of food, fodder, and support. The area was so thoroughly devastated that it became known thereafter as the "Burnt District". Quantrill and his men rode south to Texas, where they passed the winter with the Confederate forces.

Last years

Grave of Capt. William Quantrill in Fourth Street Cemetery, Dover, Ohio
Grave of Capt. William Quantrill in Higginsville, Missouri

While in Texas, Quantrill and his 400 men quarreled. His once-large band broke up into several smaller guerrilla companies. One was led by his notable lieutenant, William "Bloody Bill" Anderson, whose men came to be known for tying the scalps of slain unionists to the saddles and bridles of their horses. Quantrill joined them briefly in the fall of 1863 during fighting north of the Missouri River.

In the spring of 1865, now leading only a few dozen men, Quantrill staged a series of raids in western Kentucky. He rode into a Union ambush on May 10 near Taylorsville, Kentucky, armed with several French pinfires which bore his name, and received a gunshot wound to the chest. He was brought by wagon to Louisville, Kentucky and taken to the military prison hospital, located on the north side of Broadway at 10th Street. He died from his wounds on June 6, 1865 at the age of 27.[4]

Claim of post-1865 survival

In August, 1907, news articles appeared in Canada and the United States claiming that J.E. Duffy, a member of a Michigan cavalry troop that dealt with Quantrill's raiders during the Civil War, had met Quantrill at Quatsino Sound, on northern Vancouver Island while investigating timber rights in the area. Duffy claimed to recognize the man, living under the name of John Sharp, as Quantrill. Duffy said that Sharp admitted he was Quantrill and discussed in detail raids in Kansas and elsewhere. Sharp claimed that he had survived the ambush in Kentucky, though receiving a bayonet and bullet wound, making his way to South America where he lived some years in Chile. He returned to the United States, working as a cattleman in Fort Worth, Tex. He then moved to Oregon, acting as a cowpuncher and drover, before reaching British Columbia in the 1890s, where he worked in logging, trapping and finally as a mine caretaker at Coal Harbour at Quatsino.

Within some weeks after the news stories were published two men, "obviously from the South," came to British Columbia, travelling to Quatsino from Victoria, leaving Quatsino on a return voyage of a coastal steamer the next day. On that day Sharp was found severely beaten, dying several hours later without giving information about his attackers. The police were unable to solve the murder.[5]


During the war, Quantrill met thirteen-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.[6]

Reputation and legacy

Quantrill's Raiders reunion circa 1875

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."[7] Others, such as Missouri biographer Paul R. Petersen,[8] 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. The William Clarke Quantrill Society[9] continues to research and celebrate his life and deeds.

In fiction

  • Dark Command (1940), in which John Wayne opposes former schoolteacher turned guerrilla fighter "William Cantrell" in the early days of the Civil War. William Cantrell is a thinly veiled portrayal of William Quantrill.
  • Renegade Girl (1946) deals with tension between Unionists and Confederates in Missouri.
  • Kansas Raiders (1950), in which Jesse James (played by Audie Murphy) falls under the influence of Quantrill.
  • Woman They Almost Lynched (1953), featuring Quantrill's wife Kate as a female gunslinger.
  • The Stranger Wore a Gun (1953), in which a former Quantrill Raider becomes bank robber until his old comrades catch up with him.
  • Gunsmoke 's first television season episode Reunion '78 features a showdown between cowboy Jerry Shand, who has just arrived in Dodge City, and long-time resident Andy Cully, hardware dealer (a one-time character.) Cully turns out to have been one of Quantrill's Raiders, and Shand, hailing from Lawrence, Kansas, has an old score to settle with him.
  • Quantrill's Raiders (1958), focusing on the raid on Lawrence.
  • A 1959 episode of the TV show The Rough Riders entitled "The Plot to Assassinate President Johnson", as the title suggests, involves Quantrill in a plot to assassinate President Andrew Johnson.
  • Young Jesse James (1960), also depicts Quantrill's influence on Jesse James.
  • Arizona Raiders (1965), in which Audie Murphy plays an ex-Quantrill Raider who is assigned the task of tracking down his former comrades.
  • The TV series Hondo featured both Quantrill and Jesse James in the 1967 episode "Hondo and the Judas".
  • In 1968's Bandolero!, Dean Martin plays Dee Bishop, a former Quantrill Raider who admits to participating in the attack on Lawrence. His brother Mace, played by James Stewart, was a member of the Union Army under General William Tecumseh Sherman.
  • The Legend of the Golden Gun (1979), in which two men attempt to track down and kill Quantrill.
  • A Belgian comic series, Les Tuniques Bleues ("The Blue Coats") depicts Quantrill as twisted, even psychotic.
  • Lawrence: Free State Fortress (1998), depicts the attack on Lawrence.
  • The 2000 episode entitled "The Ballad of Steeley Joe" on the series The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne depicted both Jesse James and William Quantrill.
  • The USA Network's television show Psych, in an episode entitled "Weekend Warriors", featured a Civil War re-enactment that included William Quantrill. The episode spoke about Quantrill's actions in Lawrence, but the reenactment featured his death at the hands of a fictional nurse Jenny Winslow, whose family was killed at Lawrence.
  • In the novel Gone to Texas, by Asa (aka Forrest) Carter, Josey Wales is a former member of a Confederate Raiding Party led by "Bloody Bill" Anderson, Quantrill's Lieutenant. The book is the basis of the Clint Eastwood film The Outlaw Josey Wales.
  • Quantrill's Lawrence Massacre of 1863 is depicted in Spielberg's mini-series Into the West (2005)
  • Depicted in Robert Schenkkan's play The Kentucky Cycle.
  • The novel Woe To Live On (1987) by Daniel Woodrell was filmed as Ride With The Devil (1999) by Ang Lee. The film features a harrowing recreation of the Lawrence massacre and is notable for its overall authenticity. Quantrill, played by John Ales, makes brief appearances.
  • In the novel True Grit by Charles Portis, and the 1969 and 2010 film versions thereof, Rooster Cogburn boasts of being a former member of Quantrill's Raiders, and LaBoeuf excoriates him for being part of the "border gang" that murdered men, women, and children alike during the raid on Lawrence, Kansas.
  • In Bradley Denton's alternate history tale "The Territory", Samuel Clemens joins Quantrill's Raiders and is with them when they attack Lawrence, Kansas. It was nominated for a Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award for best novella.


  1. ^ William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas, Miami County Part 2
  2. ^ Paul Wellman, A Dynasty of Western Outlaws, 1961
  3. ^ Mills, Charles (2002-04-05). Treasure Legends Of The Civil War. BookSurge Publishing. pp. 32. ISBN 978-1588986467. http://books.google.com/books?id=p4kRKWBgBnYC&pg=PA32&lpg=PA32&dq=%22old+enough+to+carry+a+rifle%22+quantrill. 
  4. ^ Kentucky Historical Society
  5. ^ McKelvie, B.A., Magic, Murder & Mystery, Cowichan Leader Ltd. (printer), 1966, pp. 55 to 62.; The American West, Vol. 10, American West Pub. Co., 1973, pp. 13 to 17; Leslie, Edward E., The Devil Knows How to Ride: The True Story of William Clarke Quantrill and his Confederate Raiders, Da Capo Press, 1996, p. 404, 417, 488, 501.
  6. ^ Sarah King Head at Find a Grave
  7. ^ James M. McPherson: "Was It More Restrained Than You Think?", The New York Review of Books, February 14, 2008
  8. ^ "Quantrill of Missouri: The Making of a Guerrilla Warrior–The Man, the Myth, the Soldier"
  9. ^ William Clarke Quantrill Society


  • The American West, Vol. 10, American West Pub. Co., 1973, pp. 13 to 17.
  • Banasik, Michael E., Cavalires of the bush: Quantrill and his men, Press of the Camp Pope Bookshop, 2003.
  • Connelley, William Elsey, Quantrill and the border wars, The Torch Press, 1910 (reprinted by Kessinger Publishing, 2004).
  • Dupuy, Trevor N., Johnson, Curt, and Bongard, David L., Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography, Castle Books, 1992, 1st Ed., ISBN 0-7858-0437-4.
  • Edwards, John N., Noted Guerillas: The Warfare of the Border, St. Louis: Bryan, Brand, & Company, 1877.
  • Eicher, David J., The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War, Simon & Schuster, 2001, ISBN 0-684-84944-5.
  • Gilmore, Donald L., ""Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas border, Pelican Publishing, 2006.
  • Leslie, Edward E., The Devil Knows How to Ride: The True Story of William Clarke Quantrill and his Confederate Raiders, Da Capo Press, 1996, ISBN 0-306-80865-X.
  • McKelvie, B.A., Magic, Murder & Mystery, Cowichan Leader Ltd. (printer), 1966, pp. 55 to 62
  • Mills, Charles, Treasure Legends Of The Civil War, Apple Cheeks Press, 2001, ISBN 1-588-98646-2.
  • Peterson, Paul R., Quantrill of Missouri: The Making of a Guerrilla Warrior—The Man, the Myth, the Soldier, Cumberland House Publishing, 2003, ISBN 1-581-82359-2.
  • Peterson, Paul R., Quantrill in Texas: The Forgotten Campaign, Cumberland House Publishing, 2007.
  • Schultz, Duane, Quantrill's war: the life and times of William Clarke Quantrill, 1837-1865, St. Martin's Press, 1997.
  • Wellman, Paul I., A Dynasty of Western Outlaws, University of Nebraska Press, 1986, ISBN 0-8032-9709-2.

Further reading

External links

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