a school-teacher turned vigilante leader -- 9/28/20
Today's selection -- from Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier's First Gunfighter by Tom Clavin. William Clarke Quantrill was one of the most bloodthirsty soldiers in American history. His start in crime came in the terrible days of Bleeding Kansas, when the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 had left it to the popular vote to determine whether those territories would be slave or free. The opposing factions had erupted in armed conflict, and Quantrill's guerrilla gang had taken full advantage in a string of thefts, cattle rustling and more. He and that gang, which came to include Cole Younger and Frank and Jesse James, became a unit of the Confederate Army:
"Even when the [protective forces] were at full strength, they could not completely protect Kansans from the worst of the Southern-sympathizing guerrilla groups. And the worst of the worst, who truly made Kansas bleed, was William Clarke Quantrill, a school-teacher turned vigilante leader.
"Born in Ohio in 1837, Quantrill left his teaching position to move to Utah, then returned east, to Lawrence, Kansas. He didn't remain long there because his proslavery views found more of a welcome in Missouri. Soon after the Civil War began, Quantrill joined General Sterling Price's troops and thus was part of the force opposing General Lyon and ['Wild Bill'] Hickok at Wilson's Creek. He chafed, though, under authority and believed that the Southern troops were not brutal enough.
"In the western part of the state, there were many former Border Ruffians who hadn't had their fill of violence against abolitionists and Kansas residents in general. They were quick to fall in behind Quantrill -- who had deserted Price's army -- as he formed a group of guerrillas. He did not have any particular ties to the South and was not a slave owner and had no desire to be one. However, according to the Civil War historian James McPherson, Quantrill 'chose the Confederacy apparently because in Missouri this allowed him to attack all symbols of authority. He attracted to his gang some of the most psychopathic killers in American history.'
"They were active early in the war, raiding civilian settlements in addition to Union outposts. In 1862, Quantrill and his guerrillas officially became a unit in the Confederate army, and he was appointed a captain. They conducted raids on isolated Union camps and for a short time took and ransacked Independence. They later did the same to Shawnee, Kansas. En route, they captured a dozen unarmed drivers of Union supply wagons. All were murdered. Over time, the band known as Quantrill's Raiders would include the future outlaws Frank and Jesse James, the Younger brothers, and William 'Bloody Bill' Anderson.
"Quantrill's raid on Lawrence on August 21, 1863, became one of the most notorious events of the entire war. The direct motive for the attack has often been attributed to the collapse of a federal prison in Kansas City, which killed several Confederate sympathizers being held there, including wives of the raiders, and crippled Josephine Anderson, Bloody Bill's fifteen-year-old sister. A week later, Quantrill gathered about four hundred men and off they rode. Entering Lawrence, they immediately set to work destroying as much property as they could. The raiders set fire to as many as two hundred buildings, and when panicked people ran out of the burning structures, they were gunned down. The fires and the bullets killed close to 150 people. Quantrill had gotten too big a lead on them, and his band of murderers escaped across the river and into Missouri."