Part of the Cool Civil War Names series.
If someone made a movie about William Quantrill, he’d be sorta like Lt. Aldo Raines from Inglourious Basterds but a Confederate instead of U.S. Army and probably not as funny and killing civilians instead of Nazis. (Tarantino film coming in 3…2…) Originally a schoolteacher in Ohio, Quantrill toiled for a bit in low-paying jobs, his family saddled with debt after his father died. As a teenager he took up gambling in Salt Lake City and got handy with a knife and rifle before returning to Kansas where he quickly turned to the life of a brigand, earning money through noble affairs like capturing runaway slaves cattle raiding. It was during this time when his erstwhile anti-slavery views soured quickly toward Confederate sympathy.
At the war’s start in 1861, Quantrill joined up with Joel B. Mayes, a Cherokee chief and Confederate major who taught Quantrill the Native American-inspired guerrilla warfare techniques he’d later employ to a deadly degree. He fought for awhile, but soon spun off his own guerrilla band of bushwhackers later known as the Missouri Partisan Rangers, aka “Quantrill’s Raiders.” The group made its infamous name in Lawrence, Kansas, hotspot of Union activity, when it raided the town to avenge the deaths of some the Raiders’ kin in a Union prison. They executed 183 men and boys from age 14 to 90, looting the town bank and making off to Texas, where the group split off into smaller companies.
Quantrill’s last stand came in Kentucky in 1865 when he and a few remaining Raiders were killed in a raid, meeting at ignominious end at the age of 27. But his legacy lived on through one of his ex-Rangers named Jesse James, who used Quantrill’s hit-and-run tactics in bank robberies to great “success.” There also was established the William Clarke Quantrill Society, which is dedicated to “the study of the Border War and the War of Northern Aggression on the Missouri-Kansas border with an emphasis on the lives of Quantrill, his men, his supporters, his adversaries, and the resulting historical record.” In the South, the Civil War is known as the War of Northern Aggression; this may be my Yankeeness talking, but in Quantrill’s case the aggression was all his.
Up next in CCWN, the riled-up Robert Barnwell Rhett.