May 10, 1865
William Clarke Quantrill is given the wound that will eventually (June 6) kill him in a barn by soldiers in Bloomfield, Kentucky.
Although it may be hard to believe, given how history remembers him, Quantrill was actually well-educated and even followed in his father’s footsteps, as he become a schoolteacher at the age of six-teen. In 1854, his abusive father died of tuberculosis, leaving the family with a huge financial debt. Quantrill’s mother had to turn her home into a boarding house in order to survive. Quantrill helped support the family by working as a schoolteacher but left home a year later and headed to Mendota, Illinois, where he took a job in the lumberyards, unloading timber from rail cars. One night while working the late shift, he killed a man. He was arrested, but as he claimed self-defense and there were no eyewitnesses and the victim was a stranger in town, William was set free. Despite being cleared, or at least not found guilty, police strongly urged him to leave Mendota. Quantrill continued his career as a teacher, moving to Fort Wayne, Indiana in February 1856. Even though the district was impressed with Quantrill’s teaching abilities, the wages remained meager and he journeyed back home to Canal Dover that fall, with no more money in his pockets than when he had left.
In 1861, William joined a group of brigands who roamed Missouri and Kansas, kidnapping runaway slaves in exchange for reward money. There he met Joel B. Mayes, a Confederate sympathizer and war chief of the Cherokee Nations, in Texas and he joined the Cherokee Nations. This association re-inforced his pro-slavery views, and his group became Confederate ‘bushwhackers’, feared for their guerrilla tactics, which used effective Native American field skills.
They included Jesse James and his brother, Frank. It was Mayes who taught Quantrill guerrilla warfare tactics. He would learn the ambush fighting tactics used by the Native Americans as well as sneak attacks and camouflage.
Quantrill, in the company of Mayes and the Cherokee Nations, had originally joined up with General Sterling Price and fought at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and Lexington in August and September 1861, but he deserted General Price’s army and went to Blue Springs, Missouri to
form his own “Army” of loyal men who believed in him and the Confederate cause. By Christmas of 1861, he had ten men who would follow him full-time into his pro-Confederate guerrilla organization. These men were: William Haller, George Todd, Joseph Gilcrist, Perry Hoy, John Little, James Little, Joseph Baughan, William H. Gregg, James A. Hendricks, and John W. Koger. Later in 1862, John Jarrett, John Brown (not the abolitionist), Cole Younger, as well as William T. “Bloody Bill” Anderson and the James brothers joined Quantrill’s army.
The most significant event in Quantrill’s guerrilla career took place on August 21, 1863. Lawrence was the home of James H. Lane, a senator infamous in Missouri for his staunch anti-slavery views and also a leader of the Jayhawkers (actually, just outlaws masquerading as Union soldiers). For years, Lawrence had been seen as the heart of anti-slavery forces in Kansas and as a base of operation for incursions into Missouri by Jayhawkers and pro-Union forces. Just a few weeks prior to the raid, Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr. (who is a foster brother
to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman) had ordered the detention of any civilians giving aid to Quantrill’s Raiders. Several female relatives of the guerrillas had been 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, “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.
Early on the morning of August 21, 1863, William rode down on Lawrence, Kansas at the head of a combined force of as many as 450 guerrillas. Senator Lane, who was a prime target of the raid, had managed to escape through a cornfield in his nightshirt, but the guerrillas, 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 weapon of choice, carried out several of the killings personally, 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.
On August 25, 1863, General Ewing authorized General Order No. 11 (not to be confused with General Ulysses S. Grant’s order of the same name) in retaliation for the raid. The Order called for 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.
Almost two years later, on May 10, Quantrill and his band were caught in a Union ambush at Wakefield Farm. Unable to escape on account of a skittish horse, he was shot in the back and paralyzed from the chest down. 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.
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Photo courtesy of wikipedia.com