William Clarke Quantrill (1837-1865)

William Clarke Quantrill (July 31, 1837 - June 6, 1865) was a pro-Confederate States of America guerrilla fighter during the American Civil War whose actions, particularly a bloody raid on Lawrence, Kansas, remain controversial to this day.

Early life

Little is known of Quantrill's early life in Dover, Ohio, though it appears that he grew up in a Unionist family and initially espoused Free-Soil beliefs. After several years working as a school teacher, Quantrill traveled to Utah with the Federal Army in 1858, but there left the army to try to his hand at professional gambling. In 1859, he returned to Lawrence, Kansas, and again taught school but, after charges were brought against him for murder and horse theft, fled to Missouri.

Guerrilla leader

By now a staunch Southern supporter, Quantrill joined the Confederate Army with the outbreak of the American Civil War, though his dislike of the strictures of army life would lead him to form the independent guerrilla band known as Quantrill's Raiders by the end of 1861. Quantrill's Raiders began as a force of no more than a dozen men who staged raids into Kansas from Missouri, harassing Union soldiers and sympathizers. They frequently skirmished with Jayhawks, the pro-Union guerrilla bands raiding Missouri from Kansas, as well as raiding farms and robbing mail coaches. Union forces soon declared him an outlaw, and the Confederacy officially made him a captain. Quantrill quickly became known to his opponents as a notoriously bloody raider, and to his supporters as a dashing, free-spirited hero.

The Battle of Lawrence

The most significant event of Quantrill's guerrilla career occurred on August 21, 1863, with what the South would call the Battle of Lawrence, and the North the Lawrence Massacre. Lawrence had been seen for years as the bastion of anti-slavery forces in Kansas; it was also the home of James H. Lane, a Senator infamous in Missouri for his Free-Soil views. In the weeks immediately preceding the raid, Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr., had ordered the detention of any citizens giving aid to Quantrill's raiders. A number of female relatives of the raiders were detained in a jail in Lawrence, which collapsed on August 14, killing four women. Quantrill's supporters alleged the collapse to be a deliberate attack, and the event fanned them into a fury.

In the early morning of August 21, Quantrill attacked Lawrence with a force of 450 raiders. Though Senator Lane, a prime target of the raid, managed to escape through a cornfield in his nightshirt, Quantrill's Raiders killed between 140 and 190 men, dragging many from their homes to kill them before their families. When Quantrill rode out at 9 AM, many of Lawrence's buildings had been burned, including all but two businesses; his raiders looted indiscriminately and also robbed the town's bank. The raid would become notorious in the North as one of the most vicious atrocities of the Civil War. Quantrill's supporters argued in contrast that the raid was just revenge for the Union's own atrocities in Missouri.

On August 25, in retaliation for the raid, General Ewing authorized General Order No. 11 (not to be confused with General Grant's more famous General Order No. 11) evicting thousands of Missourians from their homes near the Kansas border. Jayhawkers looted and burned much of what they left behind. Quantrill's band took part in the subsequent Confederate retaliation but, in the face of continued Union advance, finally fled to Texas.

Later life

Quantrill's band began to splinter with the retreat, breaking into several smaller units. One such was led by his vicious lieutenant, William "Bloody Bill" Anderson, who wore a necklace of Yankee scalps. In 1865, now leading only a few dozen men, Quantrill staged a series of raids into Kentucky. On May 10, Quantrill was shot in a Union ambush and died from the wound on June 6 at the age of 27.


Quantrill's actions remain controversial to this day. Some historians remember him as an opportunistic, bloodthirsty outlaw, while others continue to view him as a daring soldier and local folk hero. Something of this celebrity later rubbed off on several ex-Raiders—Jesse and Frank James, and Cole and Jim Younger—who went on in the late 1860s to apply Quantrill's hit-and-run tactics to bank and train robbery. The William Clarke Quantrill Society continues to research and celebrate his life and deeds. Quantrill's raid on Lawrence figures prominently in Jane Smiley's novel The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton.