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William Quantrill

leader of a band of Confederates known for creating mayhem wherever and whenever possible

William Clarke Quantrill

William Clarke Quantrill was born in Dover Canal, Ohio, on July 31, 1837. Little is known about his early life except that he moved often during his early adulthood in search of adventure and money. Sometime in 1857 he arrived in Stanton, Kansas, where he taught school for one term. In 1858, he travelled with an army wagon train to Utah, where he made a living as a gambler. He was back in Stanton by 1859, where he again taught school until becoming a horse thief and slave trader. His crime spree made him a wanted man, and he fled to Missouri in late 1860.

Although he was personally against slavery, Quantrill joined the Confederacy upon outbreak of the Civil War. He spent the first year of the war with various Confederate units harassing Union troops, raiding Union forts and strongholds, and basically creating mayhem whenever and wherever possible. By December 1861 he had organized his own guerrilla band, which quickly became more interested in looting and murder than in furthering the Confederate cause. Although his band was never formally recognized as a Confederate Army unit, Quantrill did receive a commission as a Captain by the Confederacy.

Quantrill's Raiders, as his band was known, terrorized Kansas and Missouri for almost two years before committing what is considered the most senseless act of the entire Civil War. On August 21, 1863, Quantrill and his men rode into the free-state stronghold of Lawrence, Kansas, and began looting and burning every structure they came across. As they made their way through the town the raiders rounded up every man and boy they could; they then herded their captives into the center of town, where they murdered them in front of their wives, sisters and daughters; a total of 183 males, most of them either young boys or old men, were killed, and all but two businesses in the city were left burning when the raiders departed. In response to Quantrill's raid, the Union Army forced the residents of four Missouri border counties to leave their homes and then destroyed everything left behind in order to prevent the residents' return. Quantrill responded to this action by attacking federal forces at Baxter Springs on October 6, 1863, and killing 100 defenseless soldiers.

With virtually every Union unit west of the Mississippi River in pursuit, Quantrill led his men to Texas. The Raiders subsequently broke up into several small guerrilla bands, each of which went its own way. On May 10, 1865, Quantrill and his band were intercepted in Kentucky by a Union unit led by Captain Edward Terrill. A furious gun battle left Quantrill badly wounded and many of his men either dead or on the run. Quantrill died of his wounds at an army hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, on June 6, 1865. Many members of Quantrill's band, including Cole Younger and Frank James, continued their criminal ways and became notorious in their own right.

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Civil War

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The Robinson Library >> Civil War Period, 1861-1865 >> Biography, A-Z

This page was last updated on August 28, 2018.