Western Trips

Monday, June 20, 2011

Quantrill / The Raider

Our stories in "Western Trips" revolve around historic events of importance. Places where history unfolded. Some are more pleasant than others but all hold historic significance. You can find reminders of historic events everywhere around you and perhaps you might wish to visit a few of our historic sites on your next vacation or weekend road trip. The story that follows is an excellent example.

Missouri, Kansas and the Civil War

During the American Civil War, the people of the states of Kansas and Missouri were quite divided about the question of slavery. You could say that this region was a hotbed of partisan divisions. In 1861, the state of Missouri voted down a motion to secede from the Union 89 to 1. As a result, there were many skirmishes, some more bloody than others. Obviously, the Civil War was fought from Gettysburg in the north to Louisiana in the south. It was fought as far west as Arizona. What happened in the Kansas and Missouri areas however was nothing short of a terror campaign and what occurred in Lawrence, Kansas was almost unbelievable in it's violence.

William Clarke Quantrill

One name that stood out the most was Ohio born William Clarke Quantrill, pictured on the left. Quantrill led a loosely organized band of Pro-Confederate irregulars. This band of rangers, at one time numbering over 400, went on what only can be described as a rampage of terror and killing rivaling the worst carnage imaginable during the Civil War era. Supposedly one member of Quantrill's band of irregulars was the then 16 year old Jesse James and his older brother Frank. The infamous Younger brothers, later allies with the James brothers during their attempted Northfield Minnesota bank robbery, were also members of Quantrill's group.

Some people would describe Quantrill as a southern patriot. Many others would accuse him of being nothing short of a butcher. The fighting taking place there was guerrilla warfare. Quantrill fought against both the Pro-Union "Jayhawkers" as well as regular Union troops sent to Missouri and Kansas. William Quantrill's mind set changed during the war when the Union commanders labeled him a murderer and robber as opposed to being an enemy combatant. At that point the Quantrill band, later referred to as 'Quantrill's Raiders", acted as marauders with no consideration for any established rules of warfare.

The Burning and Killing in Lawrence Kansas

At one point during 1863, Quantrill decided that the town of Lawrence, Kansas was filled with Union sympathizers and that it had to be attacked. As a result, on the morning of August 21st, 1863 Lawrence was attacked but a better description would be that it was literally destroyed as the image to the right depicts.

Quantrill reportedly invaded the town with some 450 men, killing, looting and burning. Numerous buildings were burned to the ground. At least 150 Lawrence males were killed, most offering no resistance. Some of those killed were simply farmers not really involved in the North/South struggle. As a response to this deadly raid, the U.S. Government ordered the depopulation of three and one-half counties in Missouri that bordered Kansas.

Historians have long debated the true motives behind the Lawrence Massacre as it was referred to by the North. The Quantrill gang looted Lawrence which is in conflict with truly Confederate patriotic intentions. In fact, some of Quantrill's guerrilla troops were known to be simple outlaws prior to the Lawrence attack. I suppose outlaws can be partisan as well.

For sure there were a tremendous amount of fatalities on both sides of the Civil war conflict, but what stands out the most about the Lawrence attack was the large scale killings of unarmed noncombatants. The patriotic argument is that the Union forces and Pro-Union irregulars also destroyed southern communities. As you can see, the perspective taken was strictly along partisan lines. The argument persists to this very day.

To emphasize the difference of opinions concerning the Lawrence, Kansas episode, the picture at left is of a Quantrill reunion held in 1875, some twelve years after the massacre. Obviously, the participants were not prosecuted as war criminals after the war.

As far as William Quantrill was concerned, he was killed in 1865 while fighting in Kentucky with only about a dozen men. He died of his wounds shortly after the battle in a military hospital.

Just so you don't think that conspiracy theories are only a modern day creation, rumors sprang up that Quantrill was spotted in various parts of the country as well as Canada.

As reported in a 1907 newspaper story, a member of the Michigan cavalry during the Civil War claimed he ran into Quantrill on Vancouver Island while working in the timber industry. The man who stated he was Quantrill went by the name of John Sharp. During the encounter the man reportedly went on to describe Quantrill raids in Missouri and Kansas in great detail. Sharp claimed that he survived the Kentucky battle and became a cattleman in Texas before moving to Oregon and then on to Canada. Strangely enough, shortly after the news story appeared, Sharp was found beaten and died shortly thereafter. He gave no information about his attackers before his death. Fact or fiction? You be the judge.

If your road trip takes you near the Lawrence, Kansas area there are several interesting historic sites and tours regarding the Quantrill Raid. Travel information, travel guides and specific points of interest can be found in the websites listed below. 



See the additional Western Trips articles on the links below...

Jesse James and the Blue Cut Train Robbery

U.S. Cavalry Museum at Fort Riley Kansas

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images in the public domain)