William Quantrill -
Renegade Leader of the Missouri Border War
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Note: Some would say the following article is the "victors" version of
history. For an opposing view, read Paul R. Petersen's account
via the link at the end of this story (page 2).
Without any ties to
the South or to slavery, he chose the Confederacy apparently because in
Missouri this allowed him to attack all symbols of authority. He
attracted to his gang some of the most psychopathic killers in American
--James McPherson on Quantrill
William Clark Quantrill
Leader of the most savage
fighting band in the
Kansas/Missouri Border War, William Quantrill will long be known as the most ruthless bushwhacker
during these turbulent times.
Born on July 31, 1837
to Thomas Henry and Caroline Cornelia (Clarke) Quantrill, the boy displayed his cruel tendencies even as a child. Purportedly, this bad seed would shoot pigs through the ears just to
hear them squeal, nail snakes to trees, and tie cats’ tails together
for the pure joy of watching them claw each other to death.
He wasn’t to change
much as he grew older. After teaching school briefly in Ohio and
Illinois he fled to
in 1857 to escape a horse theft charge. His initial stay in
was short lived, when he accompanied an army provision train to
1858. Along the 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. Fleeing yet again, under
a warrant for his arrest, he returned to Kansas.
In December 1860,
he joined a group of Kansas
Free-State men who were intent upon freeing the slaves of a
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.
the Civil War broke out in April, 1861, Quantrill joined the Confederate side with enthusiasm. He
fought with Confederate forces at the battle of
in Oakhills, Missouri,
in August 1861. This battle marked the beginning of the Civil
Missouri, where the state would become the scene of savage and
fierce fighting, primarily from guerilla warfare.
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. Starting with a small force of no more
than a dozen men, the pro-slavery guerrilla band began to make
independent attacks upon Union camps, patrols and settlements.
His band of
marauders quickly grew to more than one hundred in 1862, with both regular
pro-slavery citizens and Confederate soldiers, until he became the most
powerful leader of the many bands of Border Ruffians that pillaged the
area. Several famous would-be
outlaws joined his ruffian group including Frank and
and the Younger Brothers. Justifying his actions for perceived
wrongs done to them by
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.
Vintage scene of Independence, Missouri
On August 11, 1862, Colonel J.T. Hughes’s Confederate
force, including William
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
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.
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.
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.
tactics became even more aggressive after this
proclamation, as he no longer adhered to the principals of accepting
In May, of
Quantrill and his band moved closer to the
border. Brigadier General Thomas Ewing, Jr. from
who commanded the district border, was not happy with their 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 Ruffians means of food and shelter; the
guerillas 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 Border Ruffians, including
family members of "Bloody Bill” Anderson and the Younger Brothers.
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 5 women and injuring
dozens of others.
Missouri Border Ruffians
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