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William Clarke Quantrill

William Clarke Quantrill

Confederate guerilla, 1837-1865

The name of William Clarke Quantrill was burned into the pages of the history of Kansas during the Civil War, as this leader of a murderous band of guerillas terrorized the settlements of eastern Kansas from 1861-1864.

Born in Dover Canal, Ohio, in 1837, Quantrill moved often during his early adulthood in search of adventure and, more importantly, money. By 1859 his travels had brought him to Stanton, Lykins County, Kansas Territory. (The county was later renamed Miami.) Two years earlier Quantrill had spent some time nearby in Douglas County and he returned to take a job teaching school and settle down. He soon changed professions from being a schoolteacher to the more lucrative and exciting career of horse-thief and slave trader.

Quantrill's new career began with a scheme of stealing slaves and horses from Missouri and reselling them to the highest bidder, preferably not their previous owner. In December 1861 he organized his infamous guerilla band, which included William "Bloody Bill" Anderson, George Todd, Fletcher Taylor, Cole Younger, and Frank James, to name a few. They claimed to be fighting for the Confederacy, but in fact their murdering and looting benefited only their pocketbooks.

With ruthless and unmerciful tactics, Quantrill carefully planned an attack on Lawrence and ordered his 450 guerillas to attack that fateful day of August 21, 1863. After a four-hour siege, the free-state town was destroyed. Businesses and homes were looted and the town was burned, but the most heinous part of the raid was that the marauders rounded up the men and boys into the middle of the town. As their wives and daughters watched, they were executed by the guerillas. This massacre has the distinction of being the worst perpetrated during the Civil War.

William Clarke Quantrill flagToward the end of the war Quantrill led his men first to Texas to prey on unprotected wagon trains headed West. From Texas they moved through Missouri to Kentucky. The plan was to surrender to Union forces in Kentucky disguised as a regular Confederate unit, and receive a pardon from the North. In May of 1865 Quantrill's plan was foiled when a Union unit, led by Captain Edward Terrill, intercepted his band. Quantrill was shot to death. Many of his men escaped capture and continued their outlaw ways, the most notorious being the Younger brothers and the James brothers, who spent much time in Kansas robbing banks, stagecoach lines, and railroads. Even in death, Quantrill's influence continued to plague Kansas.

Entry: Quantrill, William Clarke

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2004

Date Modified: November 2021

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.