5/10/1865 - American Civil War over for all intents and purposes with the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, and the assassination of President Lincoln, knowing he will probably be hung if he stops fighting having given "no quarter" to so many over the last few years, Southern guerrilla leader Captain (though he considers himself a colonel) William Clarke Quantrill battles on ... until a bullet through his back on the Kentucky farm of James H. Wakefield stops the killer in his tracks.
Born into a well educated Ohio family in 1837 (his father is the local school teacher), before the war that makes his name infamous, Quantrill is a poor school teacher trying to make ends meet by also taking other jobs about the town of Mendota, Illinois ... at one, while working unloading lumber from rail cars during a late shift, he gets into an argument that ends in a "self-defense" shooting death of a fellow employee ... a first indication of the man's favorite method of conflict resolution. Reputation and chances in the area tainted (there are also rumors of bad behavior with animals, nailing snakes to trees, shooting pigs to hear them squeal, tying the tails of cats together, and slicing open neighbors' horses and cows), in 1857, the 5'9", slightly built, red haired, blue-eyed, 19-year-old moves to the perfect locale for a budding sociopath ... the killing fields of "Bleeding Kansas," where Jayhawkers in opposition to slavery, and Bushwackers supporting the institution, are at war for the heart and soul of the territory. A skunk in the making, in favor of the Union at first, during this period Quantrill has property taken away from him when he doesn't work the land or pay his rent, serves as a teamster for the United States Army on an expedition into the Mormon lands of Utah, becomes an expert poker player, joins a group that protects Missouri farmers from Kansas Jayhawkers, teaches school in the town of Lawrence, Kansas (until it closes in 1860), rustles cattle, and for the bounty bucks available, catches runaway slaves. By the time the shells begin falling on Fort Sumter in April of 1861, he is all in for the South and slavery.
Riding down to Texas, Quantrill enlists as a private in Company A of the 1st Cherokee Regiment of the Confederate Army, and sees action with the force of General Sterling Price at the Battle of Wilson's Creek (a Confederate victory in which over 2,500 men are killed). When not fighting or playing poker with his mess mates, Quantrill becomes friends with Joel B. Mayes, a Cherokee war chief that teaches him the hit-and-run tactics of the Indian warriors. Not happy with being ordered about though, Quantrill deserts shortly after the battle and heads to Missouri to form an army of his own.
The Battle Of Wilson's Creek
Maniacs aplenty in Missouri, starting with ten men, by early 1862 Quantrill is in command of several hundred desperadoes that include George Todd, Cole Younger, Frank James (Jesse will follow his older brother's lead and become a guerrilla in 1864), Archie Clement, and "Bloody" Bill Anderson (he goes into battle with dead men's scalps decorating his horse, and carries a string, with knots tied in it, for every man he kills ... it will have 53 knots by the time he finally goes down). Calling found and marauders organized, Quantrill leads his group in robbing the Union mail, ambushing small Northern forces (typical of their methods, after taking a Federal supply train of twelve wagons, the group not only kills every soldier escort they captured, but also shoots each of the unarmed drivers in the head after the men surrender), and attacking shipping on the Missouri River. On August 11, 1862, the group briefly takes possession of the town of Independence, Missouri ... a trial run for an upcoming visit to Quantrill's former digs in the town of Lawrence.
Bloody Bill Anderson
The group's most savage acts take place when Quantrill leads his command against Lawrence (a community of roughly 3,000 people at the time). Revenge (Quantrill believes he has been mistreated by the people of the community during his time there as a teacher ... and his men carry death lists of the men their commander wants murdered) and plunder the goals, striking as dawn is breaking on August 21, 1863, Quantrill and between 300 to 400 raiders ride into town with their guns blazing, and in four hours of mayhem, kill between 185 boys and 225 men (anyone deemed capable of fighting back ... most shot, in one case though, bound prisoners are placed in a burning building to die ... a 12-year-old is the youngest victim), destroy a quarter of the town's buildings (and all but two businesses), and fill saddle bags full of thousands of dollars in loot. Not happy at all, in the aftermath of the attack, Northern General Thomas Ewing, Jr. issues "General Order #11," evicting thousands of Missourians from their homes in four counties of the state ... homes which are then burnt to the ground, creating a desolate no-man's land in which it is impossible for Quantrill to operate ... the area will come to be called the "Burnt District."
Lawrence, Kansas - 1863
Mural - Lawrence In Flames
The Free State Hotel - After The Attack
Order #11 Goes Into Effect
Retreating down into Texas, Quantrill and his men come upon the 100-man headquarters escort of Union General James G. Blunt, and savagely kill more than 80 of the men in what will be called the Baxter Springs Massacre ... the last major "triumph" of the group. In Texas, egos, lack of enemy targets, duties that include hunting down deserters and chasing Comanche Indians, and Quantrill's arrest for the killing of a Confederate major fracture his command into several smaller guerrilla units, including one led by former lieutenant George Todd, and another run by Bloody Bill Anderson, now mindlessly killing to revenge the death of his sister (and the crippling of another), who died while a prisoner of Union jailers (the three-story Kansas City building in which she is being kept collapses ... an accidental tragedy that also claims the lives of three other women). Escaping custody, Quantrill and a much smaller band of followers make their way back into Missouri, pursued under orders from Confederate General Samuel Cooper, by Bloody Bill Anderson and his men.
Fences slightly mended, Quantrill, Anderson, and Todd will all fight together again, but by the spring of 1865, Quantrill with only a few dozen men, leaves Missouri for the plunder he thinks he can find in Kentucky (and the insane hope that he can ride on to Washington D.C. and assassinate President Lincoln). Wearing captured blue Northern uniforms of the 4th Missouri Cavalry, for a short time the guerrillas have success in the region, killing soldiers and robbing stores, but soon the word goes out and multiple Union commands begin searching the area for Quantrill (masquerading as Captain Clarke) and his men. On 5/10/1865, he is finally cornered.
Deciding to get out of the heavy rain they are riding in, Quantrill
and a handful of men take refuge in the barn of southern sympathizer, James H. Wakefield, where they have stayed before. Bored by the confinement in the barn, Quantrill's men begin pelting each other with corncobs, with guerrilla John Ross taking the most punishment, so much so that he flees the barn ... and outside sees Union troops, led by 23-year-old Captain Edwin Terrell (who will be killed himself a few weeks later), maneuvering to attack. "Great God, boys, the Federals are right on us," Ross yells at his companions. Up in a flash, Quantrill orders his men to "mount, about face, and charge" ... which they all do, except for Quantrill. As the guerrilla leader gets on his horse (borrowed and still gun shy), his leather stirrup breaks and he falls across his mount's back, panicking the animal ... seconds lost gaining control, when he rides out the door of the barn, a Union bullet hits him in the left shoulder blade and then drives down into Quantrill's spine, knocking him off the horse (he falls face down in the mud) and paralyzing him from the waist down (for good measure, another Federal fires at him as he is falling and shoots his right trigger finger off).
Believing the wounded man won't last the day, and not knowing Captain Clarke is actually Quantrill, Terrell and his men leave the guerrilla in the barn (after stealing his boots, pistols, and money) and ride off in pursuit of the southerners that escaped ... allowing Frank James and four others to eventually sneak back to the farm
to rescue their wounded commander. "Boys, it is impossible for me to get well, the war is over, and I am in reality a dying man, so let me alone. Goodbye," he tells his men as they ride off. Identity finally discovered, Terrell and his men return to the barn, place Quantrill under arrest, and take him on a stretcher to the military prison in Louisville. At the prison's hospital, nursed by a priest, Quantrill converts to Catholicism, makes a full confession of his many sins (or at least the big ones he can still remember), and receives the sacrament of extreme unction. Following an operation that takes place on 6/6, he dies ... only 27-years-old.
A monster in human form, Quantrill leaves, but is not forgotten as he is remembered with each robbery of the James-Younger Gang, and because his men begin gathering annually to honor their days as freedom fighters for the South (murderers to the North). Books, movies, television, and songs ... depending on your point of view, and support for the South or the North, the killer continues to be honored or reviled to this day.
First Official Reunion - 1898
Walter Pidgeon As Quantrill