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William Clarke Quantrill

By John T. Marck

The man who grew to be one of, if not the most feared and ruthless in the Confederacy was born in Canal Dover, Ohio on July 31, 1837. When just a young man he went west with the intention of teaching school, however, soon found himself involved in gambling, becoming an outlaw, committing numerous murders and thefts.

When the Civil War began, he engrossed himself in the border disputes in Missouri and Kansas, and took advantage of the pandemonium for his own use, robbing, and killing those whose sympathies were with the Union.

Fighting for the Confederacy, he first saw action at Wilson's Creek in 1861, but in 1862, started his guerilla operations in Missouri, capturing the town of Independence in August. Soon thereafter, he was promoted to the rank of captain for his abilities as a good leader, yet his ruthless activities that followed hindered him from what should have been an respectable career.

In November 1862, Quantrill and his men raided a wagon train, capturing twelve unarmed men. When these twelve were later found dead, all but one had been shot in the head, indicating that they were plainly murdered, after having been taken prisoner. Quantrill then traveled to Richmond where he requested a command under the Partisan Ranger Law. However, his reputation for having committed numerous atrocities had preceded his visit, so the Confederacy denied him a command under the Partisan Law, yet did promote him to the rank of colonel instead.

In 1863, he returned to command his band of raiders, continuing his savage ways. That summer, on August 21, he and his force of three to four hundred raiders stormed into Lawrence, Kansas and began their ravaging of the town. For more than three hours they slaughtered the citizens, killing about one hundred fifty men, while making about 80 women widows, and 250 children orphans, while looting, then burning the town. After the raid was over, the governor of Kansas, Thomas Carney said that "No fiend in human shape could have acted with more savage barbarity."

From the collections of the Osma Room, Lawrence Public Library, and the Watkins Community Museum of History, Lawrence Kansas, the accounts of the raid are best remembered by witness accounts: According to R. G. Elliott: On last Friday morning (the 21st inst.) at 5 o'clock in the morning we were attacked by Quantrill and his gang, some 300 or 400 in number. We had not a moment's warning. The people were awakened from their slumber by the crackling of pistols and the tramping of horses, and as they ran out to form companies or to find a place of security , they were shot down in cold blood. Such an appalling sight I hope never again to witness -- to see unarmed people who had surrendered and given up every dollar they had and treated them with every civility in hopes of saving their lives, shot down and killed -- often they were wounded -- to hear the shrieks and piteous entreaties of women and children -- to see wounded men lying helpless and dying -- their wives throwing themselves upon them to save them -- shot again through the folds of their wives dresses -- burns out every feeling of humanity for these demons. The number of those massacred we have not exactly determined, as many remains of charred bodies are found in the ruins of burned buildings. We have been engaged ever since in burying the dead. I believe there have been over 120 houses burned. All the business part of town is in ashes, except 3 stores.

Richard Cordley remembered that they said their orders were "to kill every man and burn every house" ... Some reveled in the work they were doing, some recoiled from it and some were touched with pity ... And, O. W. McAlaster said; By this time the invaders were separating. The larger number ... rode rapidly down Massachusetts street to the Eldridge House, shooting all men and boys as fast as they appeared in sight, ...

By the outrage of citizens, the Union army was constantly in pursuit of Quantrill. Additionally, he had by this time, fallen into some discontent with Confederate officers because he refused to obey their orders. Basically running rampant to his own desires, Quantrill was finally stopped in May 1865, when he was shot and wounded by Union soldiers while on a raiding Kentucky.

William Quantrill died as a result of these wounds on June 6, 1865 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Copyright 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author. Grateful appreciation to the Lawrence Public Library, and the collections of the Osma Room, Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont Street and the Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Massachusetts Street, Lawrence Kansas.