Major General James G. Blunt

William Clarke Quantrill (July 31, 1837 – June 6, 1865) was a Confederate guerrilla leader and mass murderer[1][2][3][4] during the American Civil War.

Quantrill experienced a turbulent childhood, became a schoolteacher, and joined a group of bandits who roamed the Missouri and Kansas countryside to apprehend escaped enslaved people. The group became Confederate soldiers called Quantrill's Raiders, a pro-Confederate partisan ranger outfit best known for its often brutal guerrilla tactics, and including the young Jesse James and his older brother Frank James.

Quantrill was influential to many bandits, outlaws, and hired guns of the American frontier as it was being settled. On August 21, 1863, Quantrill's Raiders committed the Lawrence Massacre, which they had conspired. In May 1865, Quantrill was mortally wounded in combat by U.S. troops in Central Kentucky in one of the last engagements of the American Civil War. He died of his wounds in June 1865.

Early life

William Quantrill was born at Canal Dover, Ohio, on July 31, 1837. His father was Thomas Henry Quantrill, formerly of Hagerstown, Maryland, and his mother, Caroline Cornelia Clark, was a native of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Quantrill was also the oldest of twelve children, four of whom died in infancy.[5] Quantrill taught school in Ohio when he was sixteen.[6] In 1854, his abusive father died of tuberculosis, leaving the family with a huge financial debt. Quantrill's mother turned the home into a boarding house to survive. During this time, Quantrill helped support the family by working as a schoolteacher, but he left home a year later for Mendota, Illinois.[7] There, Quantrill worked in the lumberyards, unloading timber from rail cars.

One night, while working the late shift, Quantrill killed a man. Authorities briefly arrested him, but Quantrill claimed he had acted in self-defense. Quantrill was set free since there were no eyewitnesses, and the victim was a stranger who knew no one in town. Nevertheless, the police strongly urged him to leave Mendota. Quantrill continued teaching, moving to Fort Wayne, Indiana, in February 1856. Quantrill journeyed back home to Canal Dover that fall.[8]

Quantrill spent the winter in his family's diminutive shack in the impoverished town and soon grew restless. Many Ohioans migrated to the Kansas Territory for cheap land and opportunity. This included Henry Torrey and Harmon Beeson, two local men hoping to build a large farm for their families out west. Although they mistrusted the 19-year-old Quantrill, his mother's pleadings persuaded them to let Quantrill accompany them to turn his life around. The party of three departed in late February 1857. Torrey and Beeson agreed to pay for Quantrill's land in exchange for a couple of months' worth of work. They settled at Marais des Cygnes, but a dispute arose over the claim, and Quantrill sued Torrey and Beeson. The court awarded Torrey and Beeson what was owed to them, but Quantrill paid only half of what the court had mandated. Although his relationship with Beeson was never the same, Quantrill remained friends with Torrey.[citation needed]

Soon, Quantrill accompanied a large group of hometown friends in their quest to settle near Tuscarora Lake. However, neighbors soon began to notice Quantrill stealing goods out of other people's cabins and banished him from the community in January 1858.[citation needed] Soon thereafter, Quantrill signed on as a teamster with the US Army expedition heading to Salt Lake City, Utah in the spring of 1858. Quantrill's journey out west is little known except that he excelled at poker. Quantrill racked up piles of winnings by playing the game against his comrades at Fort Bridger but lost it all on one hand, leaving him broke. Quantrill then joined a group of Missouri ruffians and became a drifter. The group helped protect pro-slavery Missouri farmers from the Jayhawkers for pay and slept wherever they could find lodging. Quantrill traveled back to Utah and then to Colorado but returned in less than a year to Lawrence, Kansas, in 1859[9] where he taught at a schoolhouse until it closed in 1860. Quantrill then partnered with brigands and turned to cattle rustling and anything else to earn him money. Quantrill also learned the profitability of capturing runaway slaves and devised plans to use free black men as bait for runaway slaves, whom he subsequently captured and returned to their enslavers in exchange for reward money.[citation needed]

Before 1860, Quantrill appeared to oppose slavery. For instance, Quantrill wrote to his good friend W.W. Scott in January 1858 that the Lecompton Constitution was a "swindle" and that James Henry Lane, a Northern sympathizer, was "as good a man as we have here". He also called the Democrats "the worst men we have for they are all rascals, for no one can be a democrat here without being one".[10] However, in February 1860, Quantrill wrote a letter to his mother that expressed his views on the anti-slavery supporters. Quantrill told her that slavery was right and that he detested Jim Lane. He said that the hanging of John Brown had been too good for him and that "the devil has got unlimited sway over this territory, and will hold it until we have a better set of man and society generally."[11]

Guerrilla leader

In 1861, Quantrill went to Texas with the enslaver Marcus Gill. They met Joel B. Mayes and joined the Cherokee Nations. Mayes, of mixed Scots-Irish and Cherokee descent, was a Confederate sympathizer and a war chief of the Cherokee Nations in Texas. Mayes had moved from Georgia to the old Indian Territory in 1838. Mayes enlisted and served as a private in Company A of the 1st Cherokee Regiment in the Confederate army. Mayes taught Quantrill guerrilla warfare tactics, ambush fighting tactics used by Native Americans, camouflage, and sneak attack tactics. Quantrill, in the company of Mayes and the Cherokee Nations, joined with General Sterling Price and fought at the Battle of Wilson's Creek and First Battle of Lexington in August and September 1861.[12]

In late September, Quantrill deserted Price's army and fled to Blue Springs, Missouri, to form his own "army" of loyal men who had great belief in him and the Confederate cause, and they came to be known as "Quantrill's Raiders". By Christmas 1861, ten men followed Quantrill full-time in his pro-Confederate guerrilla organization:[13][page needed] 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 to be confused with the abolitionist John Brown), Cole Younger, William T. "Bloody Bill" Anderson, and the James brothers would join Quantrill's army.[14] On March 7, 1862, Quantrill and his men attacked a small US Army outpost in Aubry, Kansas, and ransacked the town.[15]

On March 11, 1862, Quantrill joined Confederate forces under Colonel John T. Hughes and took part in an attack on Independence, Missouri. After what became known as the First Battle of Independence, the Confederate government decided to secure the loyalty of Quantrill by issuing him a "formal army commission" to the rank of captain.[16]

In the early hours of September 7, 1862, William Quantrill and a force of 140 men seized control of Olathe, Kansas, capturing 125 US Army soldiers.[17] On October 5, 1862, Quantrill attacked and destroyed Shawneetown, Kansas; William T. Anderson soon revisited and torched the rebuilding settlement.[18] On November 5, 1862, Quantrill joined Colonel Warner Lewis to stage an attack on Lamar, Missouri, where a company of the 8th Regiment Missouri Volunteer Cavalry protected a US Army outpost. Warned about the attack, the US soldiers repelled the raiders, who torched part of the town before they retreated.[19]

Lawrence Massacre

The most significant event in Quantrill's guerrilla career occurred on August 21, 1863. Lawrence had been seen for years as the stronghold of the antislavery 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 Henry Lane, a US senator known for his staunch opposition to slavery and a leader of the Jayhawkers.

During the weeks immediately preceding the raid, US Army General Thomas Ewing, Jr., 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 dead was Josephine Anderson, the sister of one of Quantrill's key guerrilla allies, Bill Anderson. Another of Anderson's sisters, Mary, was permanently crippled in the collapse. Quantrill's men believed the collapse was deliberate, which infuriated them.

Some historians have suggested that Quantrill planned to raid Lawrence before the building's collapse, in retaliation for earlier Jayhawker attacks[20][page needed] as well as the burning of Osceola, Missouri.

Early in the morning of August 21, Quantrill descended from Mount Oread and attacked Lawrence with a combined force of 450 guerrilla fighters. Lane, a prime target of the raid, managed to escape through a cornfield in his nightshirt, but the guerrillas, on Quantrill's orders, killed around 150 men and boys who could carry a rifle.[21] 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, in retaliation for the raid, General Ewing authorized General Order No. 11 (not to be confused with General Ulysses S. Grant's order of the same name). The edict ordered the depopulation of three and a half Missouri counties along the Kansas border except for a few designated towns, which forced tens of thousands of civilians to abandon their homes. Union troops marched through behind them and burned buildings, torched planted fields, and shot down livestock to deprive the guerrillas of food, fodder, and support. The area was so thoroughly devastated that it was known as the "Burnt District".[22]

In early October, Quantrill and his men rode south to Texas, to pass the winter. On the way, on October 6, Quantrill attacked Fort Blair in Baxter Springs, Kansas, which resulted in the so-called Battle of Baxter Springs. After being repelled, Quantrill surprised and destroyed a US Army relief column under General James G. Blunt, who escaped, but Quantrill killed almost 100 US Army soldiers.[23]

In Texas, on May 18, 1864, Quantrill's sympathizers lynched Collin County Sheriff Captain James L. Read for shooting the Calhoun Brothers from Quantrill's force who had killed a farmer in Millwood, Texas.[24]

Last years

The grave of Captain William Quantrill is at Fourth Street Cemetery, Dover, Ohio.
The grave of Captain William Quantrill is 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 lieutenant, "Bloody Bill" Anderson, and Quantrill joined it briefly in the fall of 1864 during a fight north of the Missouri River.

In the spring of 1865, now leading only a few dozen bushwackers, Quantrill staged a series of raids in western Kentucky. Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses Grant on April 9, and General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered most of the rest of the Confederate Army to General Sherman on April 26. On May 10, the US Army caught up to Quantrill and his band in an ambush in Wakefield, Kentucky. While attempting to flee on a skittish horse, Quantrill was shot in the back and paralyzed from the chest down. The unit that successfully ambushed Quantrill and his followers was led by Edwin W. Terrell, a guerrilla hunter charged with finding and eliminating high-profile targets by General John M. Palmer, the commander of the District of Kentucky. US officials, Palmer and Governor Thomas E. Bramlette, did not wish to see Quantrill staging a repeat of his performance in Missouri in 1862–1863.[25] Quantrill was brought by wagon to Louisville, Kentucky, and taken to the military prison hospital on the north side of Broadway at 10th Street. He died from his wounds on June 6, 1865, at the age of 27.[26]


Quantrill was buried in an unmarked grave in what became known as St. John's Cemetery in Louisville. A boyhood friend of Quantrill, the newspaper reporter William W. Scott, claimed to have dug up the Louisville grave in 1887 and brought Quantrill's remains back to Dover at the request of Quantrill's mother. The remains were supposedly buried in Dover in 1889, but Scott attempted to sell what he said were Quantrill's bones, so it is unknown if the remains he returned to Dover or buried in Dover were genuine. In the early 1990s, the Missouri division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans convinced the Kansas State Historical Society to negotiate with authorities in Dover, which led to three arm bones, two leg bones, and some hair, all of which were allegedly Quantrill's, being re-buried in 1992 at the Old Confederate Veteran's Home Cemetery in Higginsville, Missouri. As a result, there are grave markers for Quantrill in Louisville, Dover, and Higginsville.[27]

Claims of survival

In August 1907, news articles appeared in Canada and the US that claimed that J.E. Duffy, a member of a Michigan cavalry troop that had dealt with Quantrill's raiders during the war, met Quantrill at Quatsino Sound on northern Vancouver Island, while he was 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 raids in Kansas and elsewhere in detail. Sharp claimed that he had survived the ambush in Kentucky but received a bayonet and bullet wound, making his way to South America, where he lived some years in Chile. He returned to the US and worked as a cattleman in Fort Worth, Texas. He then moved to Oregon, acting as a cowpuncher and drover, before he reached British Columbia in the 1890s, where he worked in logging, trapping, and finally as a mine caretaker at Coal Harbour at Quatsino. Within weeks after the news stories were published, two men came to British Columbia, traveling 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 and died several hours later without giving information about his attackers. The police failed to solve the murder.[28]

Another legend that has circulated claims that Quantrill may have escaped custody and fled to Arkansas, where he lived under the name of L.J. Crocker until he died in 1917.[29]

The family of Major Cornelius Boyle believed that Quantrill had actually served as a bodyguard for the Provost Marshal General when he visited Mexico after the war, while Jubal Early was also in the country as they sought out an alternate resolution.[30]

Personal life

During the war, Quantrill met the 13-year-old Sarah Katherine King at her parents' farm in Blue Springs, Missouri. They never married, although she often visited and lived in camp with Quantrill and his men. At the time of his death, she was 17.[citation needed]


The reunion of Quantrill's Raiders was c. 1875.

Quantrill's actions remain controversial. Historians view him as an opportunistic, bloodthirsty outlaw. James M. McPherson, one of the most prominent experts on the American Civil War, calls Quantrill and Anderson "pathological killers" who "murdered and burned out Missouri Unionists".[31] The historian Matthew Christopher Hulbert argues that Quantrill "ruled the bushwhacker pantheon" established by the ex-Confederate officer and propagandist John Newman Edwards in the 1870s to provide Missouri with its own "irregular Lost Cause".[32] Some of Quantrill's celebrity later rubbed off on other ex-Raiders, like John Jarrett, George and Oliver Shepherd, Jesse and Frank James, and Cole Younger, who went on after the war to apply Quantrill's hit-and-run tactics to bank and train robbery.[33]

In fiction


  • A Belgian comic series, Les Tuniques Bleues ("The Blue Coats", first printed in 1994), depicts Quantrill as twisted, even psychotic.
  • In the DC Comics 12-part miniseries The Kents (1997), Quantrill is depicted as a traitorous man who lives under a false name in 1856 Kansas, pretending to befriend abolitionists and then leading them into deathtraps.
  • Quantrill appears in two volumes of the Franco-Belgian comic series Blueberry, The Missouri Demons and Terror Over Kansas.





  • Woody Guthrie's ballad "Belle Starr" identifies Quantrill as one of Starr's eight lovers, along with both of the James brothers.[34]



  1. ^ Benzkofer, Stephan (August 18, 2013) "Massacre in Kansas" Chicago Tribune
  2. ^ Rosen, Fred (2015) Gold!: The Story of the 1848 Gold Rush and How It Shaped a Nation New York: Open Road Media. ISBN 9781504024488
  3. ^ Mayo, Mike (2008) American Murder: Criminals, Crimes, and the Media Canton Charter Township, Michigan: Visible Ink Press. p.163 ISBN 9781578592272
  4. ^ Burrows, Jack (2016) John Ringo: The Gunfighter Who Never Was Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press. p.139 ISBN 9780816536481
  5. ^ Edward E. Leslie, The Devil Knows How to Ride, Random House, 1996. pp. 406–406, 410
  6. ^ Blackmar, Frank, ed. (1912). "Quantrill, William". Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Embracing Events, Institutions, Industries, Counties, Cities, Towns, Prominent Persons, Etc. Standard Publishing Company. p. 524. Archived from the original on June 25, 2019. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  7. ^ Richard Brownlee, Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy, Library of Congress 1958, p. 54
  8. ^ Richard Brownlee, Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy, Library of Congress 1958, p. 55
  9. ^ Edward E. Leslie, The Devil Knows How to Ride, Random House, 1996
  10. ^ William Connelley, Quantrill and the Border Wars, Pageant Book Co, 1956, pp. 72–74
  11. ^ William Connelley, Quantrill and the Border Wars, Pageant Book Co, 1956, pp. 94–96. "My Dear Mother", February 8, 1860
  12. ^ Oklahoma Historical Society, John Bartlett Meserve, Chronicles of Oklahoma Archived February 22, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, Vol. 15, no. 1, March 1937, pp. 57–59. Accessed on August 30, 2009.
  13. ^ Richard Brownlee, Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy, Library of Congress 1958
  14. ^ John McCorkle, Accessed on 09-08-2009 Three Years With Quantrill Archived April 19, 2023, at the Wayback Machine, written by O.S. Barton, Armstrong Herald Print, 1914. pp. 25–26. Accessed through the Library of Congress online catalog
  15. ^ Quantrill's Raid on Aubry Archived May 13, 2019, at the Wayback Machine, Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1855-1865
  16. ^ Charles D. Collins, Jr. Battlefield Atlas of Price's Missouri Expedition of 1864 Archived November 1, 2020, at the Wayback Machine. Fort Leavenworth, Kan.: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2016, p. 21. ISBN 9781940804279
  17. ^ Quantrill's Raid on Olathe Archived May 11, 2019, at the Wayback Machine, Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1855-1865
  18. ^ In Kansas, Confederate guerrillas attack and burn Shawneetown for the second time Archived October 16, 2021, at the Wayback Machine, The House Divided Project at Dickinson College
  19. ^ Andra Bryan Stefanoni. Civil War raid on Lamar to be re-enacted for 150th anniversary Archived August 27, 2021, at the Wayback Machine, The Joplin Globe, October 2, 2012
  20. ^ Paul Wellman, A Dynasty of Western Outlaws, 1961
  21. ^ Pringle, Heather (April 2010). "Digging the Scorched Earth". Archaeology. 63 (2): 21.
  22. ^ General Order No. 11 Archived February 7, 2021, at the Wayback Machine, by Jeremy Neely, Missouri State University, Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1855-1865
  23. ^ Quantrill Attacks Fort Blair Archived October 11, 2018, at the Wayback Machine, Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1855-1865
  24. ^ A hard history lesson: 'A Civil War Tragedy' details 1864 lynching of Collin County judge, sheriff and sheriff's brother-in-law, McKinney Courier-Gazette, August 30, 2008 Archived
  25. ^ Matthew Christopher Hulbert, "The Rise and Fall of Edwin Terrell, Guerrilla Hunter, U.S.A.", Ohio Valley History 18, No. 3 (Fall 2018), pp. 49, 52–53.
  26. ^ Albert Castel, William Clarke Quantrill His Life and Times, Frederick Fell, 1962, pp. 208–213
  27. ^ "Replica Head of Confederate Raider Quantrill". Roadside America. Archived from the original on April 19, 2015. Retrieved April 18, 2015.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ Gary Telford. "The Great Quantrill - Crocker Mystery in Augusta, Arkansas". Woodruff County, ARGenWeb. Archived from the original on June 14, 2020. Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  30. ^ "Scottie transcript of Emily Hardestys Boylehardesty cassette taped history" (PDF).
  31. ^ "Was It More Restrained Than You Think? Archived August 29, 2018, at the Wayback Machine", James M. McPherson, The New York Review of Books, February 14, 2008
  32. ^ Matthew Christopher Hulbert, The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory: How Civil War Bushwhackers Became Gunslingers in the American West. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2016), pp. 47-48.
  33. ^ "William Clarke Quantrill Society". Archived from the original on April 27, 2010. Retrieved November 21, 2009.
  34. ^ "Belle Starr lyrics by Woody Guthrie". Archived from the original on October 5, 2021. Retrieved October 5, 2021.
  35. ^ "Stories of the Century: "Quantrill and His Raiders", February 21, 1954". Internet Movie Database. Archived from the original on May 1, 2010. Retrieved October 7, 2012.


  • The American West, Vol. 10, American West Pub. Co., 1973, pp. 13 to 17.
  • Banasik, Michael E., Cavaliers 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.
  • Hulbert, Matthew Christopher. The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory: How Civil War Bushwhackers Became Gunslingers in the American West. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2016. ISBN 978-0820350028.
  • 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 1-58898-646-2.
  • 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