William C. Quantrill

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Quantrill, William (Power Flask).jpg
This powder flask belonged to William Clark Quantrill, who led guerilla raids against Union soldiers in Kansas and Missouri during the Civil War.

William Clarke Quantrill was a leader of Confederate guerrilla forces during the American Civil War.

Quantrill was born in Ohio on July 31, 1837. He spent most of his youth in Tuscarawas County, Ohio. Quantrill's father earned a living as a coppersmith. Upon reaching adulthood, Quantrill briefly taught school in Ohio. In 1858, Quantrill moved to Utah and became a gambler. He also committed numerous robberies. In 1859, he moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where he again taught school. Quantrill soon left the school and by the winter of 1860, he had been indicted for robbery and murder. He fled to Missouri and joined the Confederate Army at the beginning of the American Civil War.

During 1861, Quantrill served as a regular soldier and fought in the Battle of Wilson's Creek. By 1862, he had formed a band of guerrillas that attacked Union supporters in Kansas and Missouri. Confederate government officials never sanctioned Quantrill's tactics. With the war's outbreak, Confederate officials debated whether they should allow guerrilla forces to combat the invading Northern forces. In 1862, officials issued the Partisan Ranger Law, which permitted the creation of partisan ranger units. These units were to operate behind enemy lines, attacking supply and communication systems, as well as ambushing Northern forces. Because of Quantrill's unwillingness to obey orders and because of his brutal tactics, Confederate officials refused to permit him to form a Confederate unit of partisan rangers to wage war against Northern civilians and military forces. However, Quantrill did receive a commission as a colonel in the Confederate military.

Because of Quantrill's illegal tactics, the guerrilla leader and his men became infamous for their brutality. These guerrillas had no qualms about executing prisoners. In November 1862, Quantrill's command captured twelve Union soldiers guarding a wagon train. Their comrades eventually found the twelve men. Eleven of the prisoners had been killed with gunshots to their heads. These depredations prompted General Thomas Ewing, Jr., to declare that any citizens of Missouri who aided Quantrill and his men would be arrested. On August 14, a jail in Kansas City Missouri that held detainees collapsed, and Quantrill responded with a raid on Lawrence Kansas. The town had been the center of Free State forces in Kansas and was the home of Senator James Lane. On August 21, 1863, Quantrill, with approximately four hundred men, entered the unsuspecting town. They spent the next four hours killing Unionists. They had hoped to capture Lane, who had actively campaigned for Kansas to become a free state. Lane managed to escape, but approximately 180 other people did not. Quantrill's men killed these people and then looted the town. Women and children were among the dead. The guerrillas also set fire to numerous buildings in the community.

The Union Army responded when Ewing issued General Order No. 11, which ordered the depopulation of counties on the Kansas-Missouri border in an effort to eliminate guerrillas' sources of support. Union soldiers entered the communities in which the guerrillas lived and destroyed their homes and property. The soldiers were able to drive Quantrill and his men out of Missouri. The raiders regrouped in Texas. They continued to fight during the rest of the war and even after it had ended, exemplifying the lawless tactics that Confederate officials had so feared during the war. Among the ranks of Quantrill's men were Bill Anderson, Frank James, and Jesse James. On a raid in Kentucky in May 1865, Quantrill was severely wounded. He died on June 6, 1865, in Louisville, Kentucky.

See Also


  1. Brownlee, Richard S. Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy: Guerrilla Warfare in the West, 1861-1865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1958.


  1. Dee, Christine, ed. Ohio's War: The Civil War in Documents. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.  
  2. Fellman, Michael. Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri During the American Civil War. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1989.


  1. Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War: Her Statesmen, Generals and Soldiers. Cincinnati, OH: Clarke, 1895.
  2. Roseboom, Eugene H. The Civil War Era: 1850-1873. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1944.