Today is the anniversary, in 1863, of Quantrill's raid on Lawrence, Kansas, the then provisional capitol of that state. The attack, made by some 450 Missouri 'Bushwhackers' [guerillas] and regular troops [who did not engage in the atrocities], killed some 160+ males over the age of 12, and left most the town in ruins. Quantrill lost only one man, who missed the recall signal due to drunkenness. He was torn to pieces by survivors and relief troops. Quantrill and his men rode back the 50 miles they had traversed on their approach march, and scattered into the woods on the Little Blue River. So who was he?
Quantrill was born in Dover, Ohio, and had been a school teacher, teamster and ruffian before the Civil War. During 'Bleeding Kansas', he was found on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri border, usually involved in crimes like rustling, and usually allied with Southern sympathizers. When the war broke out, Quantrill went with the South, joining and leading Missouri Guard units [southern guerillas], in an increasingly vicious, fratricidal war on the border. There is some question whether Quantrill initially tried to follow the rules of war, paroling, prisoners, etc. If he did, it didn't last long [the Union was taking no irregular prisoners], and it never applied to Union sympathizer civilians. By 1862, the Black Flag was out.
Quantrill, of all the Bushwhackers, showed real military talent for guerilla war. He rapidly became primus inter pares of the various guerilla chieftains, and by 1863, he was the unacknowledged [by his compatriot leaders] of the various bushwhacker bands. His subordinates included George Todd, William 'Bloody Bill' Anderson, Dave Poole, "Little" Archie Clements, and two cousins, Frank James and Cole Younger. The tactics used by the James - Younger gang were a refinement of what Quantrill's Raiders did during the War.
In 1863, several female relatives being held in a hotel/jail in Kansas City on the orders of Gen. Thomas Ewing [Sherman's brother-in-law] were killed when the building collapsed. Among those who died were Anderson's sister, and relatives of Cole Younger. The Bushwhackers believed the cave-in was deliberate. The raid on Lawrence was their response.
Quantrill faced the problem of getting to Lawrence, some 50 miles behind a heavily patrolled border. Still, he had his men on Mt. Ouriat, on the edge of town, by dawn on August 21st. The raid, murders and arson were accomplished by noon, and Quantrill was on his way back to Missouri by the afternoon. He followed Lawrence up with an attack that autumn on a U.S Army column near Baxter Springs. At the time, Quantrill was heading south to winter in Texas. The attack was a complete surprise, and a Union General barely escaped the carnage. Some Union corpses were scalped [a specialty of "Bloody Bill"]. The war was a whole lot nastier.
That winter in Texas, Quantrill found himself caught between Confederate authorities, who were outraged by pillaging by Quantrill's men [and they weren't happy based on the reputation of Quantrill's men alone].Quantrill, a commissioned partisan Captain in Confederate service, was ordered to arrest Anderson. The result was a mutiny against Quantrill. Anderson took his own followers and left [to be joined in 1864 by a young Jesse James]. George Todd took over Quantrill's band. Quantrill returned to Missouri leading some six men.
In 1864, Quantrill was largely quiet. He participated, against his own advice, in an attack on a fortified town with Anderson and Todd. As Quantrill predicted, it was a stupendous failure. He also participated in the ambush of the Union troops chasing Anderson after the Centralia Massacre. But aside from that, he did nothing.
In 1865, with the writing on the wall, Quantrill broke east, heading for Virginia [it was supposed]. Frank James was with him. Quantrill got as far as Kentucky, where he and his group were surprised by Union partisans. Quantrill was mortally wounded, and taken to a hospital where he died after converting to Roman Catholicism.
One final indignity was not righted until the mid-twentieth century. Quantrill's skull was found in a college fraternity house in Ohio. It was subsequently buried with military honors.
And so it ended. Whatever else he was, and whatever else he did, Quantrill's name is synonymous with the Border War. Hell, his name is shorthand for it.