We Southerners  have our heroes, Lee, Jackson, Hampton, Longstreet, Hood, Pettigrew, and the list goes on. But few of us look to the likes of William Quantrill as hero material, most likely due to his fighting  tactics not being in line with with “gentlemanly” warfare. He is generally denigrated for his planning and execution of the raid on Lawrence, Kansas.  I say that Quantrill is very much the Southern hero and deserves a place, in our history, alongside the aforementioned men.

To understand Quantrill and  his perceived viciousness, one must look to what caused this young man, this teacher/book salesman/farmer, to  turn into one of the fiercest, and most respected among his men, guerilla warrior.

Quantrill came of age in the late 1850’s up through 1860 when John Brown was committing his acts of violence in the name of abolishing slavery. He wrote to his mother on January 26, 1860, “They all sympathize for old J. Brown, who should have been hung years ago, indeed hanging was too good for him. May I never see a more contemptible people than those who sympathize for him. A murderer and a robber, made a martyr of, just think of it.”  Unfortunately, Quantrill was soon to meet such a “contemptible people.”

Quantrill, raised as an abolitionist, became disillusioned when he and William Gregg, one of his earliest followers, were on a wagon train headed for Pikes Peak. Along with them was was an unnamed  “negro boy.” Quantrill and his group were attacked by Union Col. James Montgomery’s Jayhawkers while camped on the Kaw River. Gregg tells us that his brother was killed, the “negro boy” was taken along with the wagon, and that he had been shot and left for dead. Quantrill also was wounded in this attack. Gregg states that “Montgomery’s band was known to get one hundred dollars for every negro caught” and that the blacks were taken to New Orleans, and sold.

Quantrill began to plan his revenge and for several months, rode as a Jayhawker, to learn the name of each one who attacked his camp on the Kaw River. One by one, each one of those Jayhawkers mysteriously ended up with a bullet to their head. From this moment on, Quantrill became a leader and began gathering his army. He trained them how to ride horses, how to shoot, how to travel light, how to fight and how to get away and back to safety. Quantrill eventually was given rank as a Confederate officer by the Confederate leadership in Richmond.

Quantrill’s actions are too numerous to mention here, but he is best known, and hated by those uninformed, for his raid on Lawrence, Kansas. In order to understand Lawrence, one must look to what caused Quantrill and his men to commit to such a raid. The cause was, the acts of the other side.  The brutality of the Union, and especially Jayhawkers, against Missourians was horrendous, such acts equaling those of   Sherman and his March to the Sea. Suspected Southern sympathizers were being murdered and their homes plundered by Jayhawkers, mostly operating out of Lawrence. One example of such brutality would  be 13 year old John Fox, shot and killed by the Federals while his mother and sister held him, pleading for his life. His crime was that he had fed his brother, one of Quantrill’s men. Federals murdered 14 year old James Nicholson because his brother was a Confederate soldier under CSA General Sterling Price’s command. During these Jayhawker raids, women  were tortured, and sometimes raped, their men often executed on their doorsteps, in front of the wives and children.

But the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, was the collapse of the “jail,” the Thomas Building, in Lawrence. Imprisoned in this jail, on the top floor, were eleven women and young girls, their only crime being, they were related to Quantrill’s men. While imprisoned there, the Union guards sabotaged the supports to this building, causing it to implode upon itself. Of the 11 women imprisoned, 5 were killed, including “Bloody Bill” Anderson’s sister, Josephine. (Anderson was riding with Quantrill at the time.) Josephine, buried in the debris, could  be heard calling for help to “take the bricks off her head.” Eventually her cries stopped. Little Martha Anderson, also “Bloody Bill’s” sister, tried to escape out a window. She lived, but her legs were horribly crushed.

Before executing his plan on Lawrence, Quantrill met with all his top aids to get a vote on whether to raid or not.. All voted for the raid. Anderson’s words were, “Lawrence or hell but with one proviso, that we kill every male thing.” So on August 21st, 1863, Quantrill and his 300-400 man army set out on Lawrence Kansas to exact revenge for the deaths of those Southern women, and for the Jayhawker atrocities against Missourians, in general. Union sympathetic authors have told us that Quantrill ordered all men in Lawrence killed. Newspapers in the North reported women and children killed as well. This is simply not true. Quantrill gave specific orders not to molest any women or children, but to kill every man wearing a Union uniform. Those men, not fighting with the Federals, were spared.

Systematically, with lists of names, Quantrill’s men set out to destroy the Jayhawker stronghold. In four hours, it was complete. By the end of the raid, most of Lawrence’s buildings were on fire and 120 of  Quantrill’s enemies lay dead. Quantrill lost about 40 men in the raid. By comparison, the Union raid on Osceola Missouri, led by Union officer James H. Lane, was four times more destructive than the Lawrence raid.

Quantrill continued fighting the Union Jayhawkers and soldiers wherever he could find them in defense of his native state, and especially his county. He was shot in battle and died on June 6, 1865. He was only 27 years old.

Many of Quantrill’s men established new pursuits in well respected careers. One became a doctor in Johnson County, Missouri.  Some went into law enforcement, some into political careers, and some, went on to a career of crime, robbing banks and trains, i.e., Frank and Jesse James, and the Younger brothers. But for many years those men gathered for reunions, each telling stories of their days with Quantrill, their most prized possession being the button with Quantrill’s picture they proudly wore on their lapels.

So, was William Quantrill a hero? Maybe not to those he fought, but to the South, and especially to Missouri, he most definitely was.

Keith Redmon

Keith Redmon is an independent writer, a master mason, and retired police sergeant from North Carolina.


  • Jack Howard says:

    I have always admired Quantrill. He only did what every Yankee did. God bless W. C. Quantrill!!

  • William Quinton Platt III says:

    To the victors go the spoils of writing the history books…

    Try finding something a yankee historian wrote concerning the Corwin Amendment. I’ll wait…

  • Joyce says:

    Excellent essay Mr. Redmon. Beautifully written and enlightening.


    Rough justice, as justice sometimes is. The perspective on such actions as Quantrill’s depends in part on whose ox is gored and who writes the account. Quantrill’s ox was definitely gored, and he gored back.
    Vengeance may be the Lord’s, but some men take out a loan in their pilgrimage through the vale of tears and soul-making. I for one sure as hell wouldn’t have wanted to have this lad as an enemy.

  • Linette says:

    Great article.
    Looks like John Brown and George Floyd have alot in common.

  • Gordon says:

    Josey Wales rode with Quantrill. Really…. he did.

    The Outlaw Joey Wales isn’t one of best, most honest movies about the War of Northern Aggression for nothing.

    Nice article, Mr. Redmon.

    • Keith Redmon says:

      I didn’t know Josey was a real person. But that movie is one of my favs.

      Thank you for the compliment.

    • Keith Redmon says:

      One of my favorite movies.

      Thank you.

    • David LeBeau says:

      Another fictional character who rode with Quantrill was Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn in the movie True Grit. It’s nice to know that there was a time when movie heroes once rode with Quantrill’s partisan rangers.

      Nice work Keith Redman!

  • Keith Redmon says:

    I didn’t know Josey was a real person. But that movie is one of my favs.

    Thank you for the compliment.

  • Gordon says:

    Asa Carter, the author of the novel GONE FOR TEXAS, which was the basis for the movie, used a Confederate guerrilla named Bill Wilson as the model. Josey wasn’t the real name. I think some of Wilson’s family was killed and he rode with Quantrill at least for a time to fight the Yankees.

    I knew the basic story but did a search before posting using “josey wales quantrill” to be sure. A couple good stories about it show up at the top of results. My favorite scene in the movie is the last when wounded Josey enters the saloon, dripping blood. One of the salon dwellers calls him “Mr. Wilson” to throw off the Marshalls as to his identity. Fletcher goes along with it so the other Marshall doesn’t know it’s Josey. The script writers put the name in to tie the fictional character to the historical one.

    I believe Clint Eastwood himself had read the novel and liked it. He used much of the novel for the script.

    Again, great job. Your comprehensive and informative article saves me from buying more books or at least gives a good idea where to start.

    • Paul Yarbrough says:

      Just a note for those who are unaware; Clint Eastwood is a member of The Sons of Confederate Veterans.

      • Gordon says:

        It helps explain why we’ve always liked Eastwood, doesn’t it?

        I’ve looked through online sources before to find his Confederate ancestors without any luck.

        • Paul Yarbrough says:

          I read it in some obscure site years ago. I also ask at a SCV meeting and was told it was true.

          • Gordon says:

            Oh! Absolutely it’s true! I’ve even seen it recently, maybe on SCV literature. Maybe here?

            I mean I’ve tried to find compatriot Eastwood’s ancestor on find-a-grave. I think his tree is pretty complete back as far as the War but never gets out of California. Good company, anyway.

    • Marlin Teat says:

      Carter was born in Anniston, Alabama. There was another guerrilla that operated the north Alabama, northwest Georgia area that very closely matches the Josey Wales story. “John Gatewood, Confederate Bushwhacker” by Larry Stephens is a very good read on the subject.

      From the back cover: “John Pemberton Gatewood of Fentress County, Tennessee, evolved into one of the deadliest guerrilla leaders of the Confederacy. Exploits attributed to Gatewood have painted him both as a vicious, unprincipled killer and a soldier fiercely loyal to his family and to those who shared his commitment to the Confederacy. His descent into what many considered barbaric behavior began after family tragedy drove him to join Champ Ferguson as a bushwhacker. Personally murdering more than sixty people, he and his men cut a swath of destruction through east Tennessee, northwest Georgia, and northeast Alabama. … The man who would become revered and reviled as the “Red-Headed Beast” was still a long-haired adolescent at the outbreak of hostilities in 1861. Stephens builds a narrative … capturing Gatewood’s life from his early days as a prosperous farmer’s son in the Wolf River Valley to his enlistment in the Confederate cavalry and eventual career as a blood-thirsty bushwhacker. The story ends with Gatewood’s mysterious post-war life as a Texas outlaw.”–

  • Robert Caffery Sr says:

    Thank you for this short, but highly informative article on Quantrill, Keith.
    Learning certain facts spurs one to do further research on this fascinating historical Southern hero!

    As an aside, I had occasion to shake Clint Eastwood’s hand when he visited Park City, UT during the 1980s, as I recall during the Sundance Film Festival. I had always liked the characters he portrayed in his various movies, and knowing now that he was a Sons of Confederate Veterans member makes that meeting even more special.

    • Gordon says:

      You want another sympathetic to the cause, more out of left field? Mary Tyler Moore. Her great-grandfather, Lt. Col. Lewis Tilghman Moore was part of the Stonewall Brigade. MTM helped with the restoration of his home in Winchester that serves as the Stonewall Jackson Museum. She also purchased an ancestral home in WVa, then donated it to the nearby college to house a database of soldiers.

      I wonder if Ted Baxter knew?

  • Matt Sanders says:

    I am the direct descendant of a Missouri “Bushwacker.” I’m trying to find out if he rode with Quantrill. My great-great…. grandfather lived in Vernon County. He was dragged out of his home in the middle of the night and murdered by Unionist militia from Cedar County in Feb. 1863.

  • TL says:

    Too bad Quantrill wasn’t at Appomattox.

    My oh my.

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