The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Civil War 150th

September 3, 2011

William Quantrill’s legacy remains mixed 150 years after Civil War

In the spring of 1881 — the American Civil War had been over for 16 years — a newspaper editor from Dover, Ohio, wrote an open letter to Joplin residents, asking them to tell their stories about William Clarke Quantrill.

W.W. Scott had known Quantrill as a boy in Ohio, and explained that he was undertaking a biography at the behest of Quantrill’s mother. Scott never explained outright why he turned to Joplin, although it was known that some of the men who rode with Quantrill — and perhaps a good many who rode in pursuit of him — lived in and frequented the booming mining town.

Pleading his case in the Joplin Daily Herald, Scott not only wanted details from those who knew Quantrill, but also laid out the few facts known about his early years.

“There was nothing about him to indicate his subsequent career,” Scott wrote to the Joplin Daily Herald, describing the Quantrill he knew as an intelligent, even-tempered person.

In fact, there was little that would indicate that Quantrill, a former school teacher whose sympathies tilted to the North at one point, would evolve into the man who led the slaughter of civilians at Lawrence, Kan., whose own men would massacre Union soldiers at Baxter Springs, Kan., and who terrorized much of the region throughout the war.

Scott was grasping at the mystery that even today baffles historians: How did Quantrill become — in the words of one historian — “the bloodiest man in American history?”

Transformed

James McPherson, dean of Civil War historians, has written that the warfare along the Kansas-Missouri border produced a degree of terrorism on both sides that was unmatched anywhere else during the Civil War.

Quantrill and his riders were victims of that terrorism, and the reason it escalated to its unparalleled level.

That Quantrill made a name fighting for the South is ironic since he was not a Southerner. He came from Ohio, and in fact, after moving to Kansas, he initially championed the Free-State cause. As late as 1858, he even called the radical Republican senator and abolitionist James Lane “as good a man as we have.”

Five years later, in his raid on Lawrence, it was that same Lane that Quantrill hunted more than any other man.

Somewhere along the way — this is the part that baffled Scott — something altered Quantrill, transformed and hardened him. He began blaming Free-Staters for the trouble on the Kansas-Missouri border, trouble that would soon spread across the country.

Edward Leslie, author of “The Devil Knows How to Ride,” the most recent full-scale Quantrill biography, believes Quantrill’s view changed after he joined an expedition to Utah as a teamster on the eve of the Civil War. On that journey, Quantrill fell in with “rough Southerners” who may have converted him to their point of view.

But Leslie doesn’t see Quantrill as a psychopath in the vein of men such as Bloody Bill Anderson, another Civil War guerrilla who operated in Missouri.

“He (Quantrill) was a normal human being. He may have had a disposition toward anti-social behavior. I think he was a normal human being who got caught up in a really brutal war. It brought out the worst in him and the worst parts of his personality.”

The fact that otherwise ordinary young men — farmers, teachers and merchants who grew up within the Christian tradition — became the kind of men who burned a town, killed nearly every older male occupant and slaughtered soldiers who had surrendered, isn’t unique to the Civil War.

It’s part of every war, argues historian Michael Fellowman, author of “Inside War, the Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri During the American Civil War.” Fellman is professor emeritus of history at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, and has written extensively about both the Civil War and terrorism.

Fellman notes that others at the time, including Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) also remarked on the transformation of men they had known, men who were “uncommonly sweet and gentle” in 1861 but who had become “remorseless” killers by war’s end.

Just as much of a mystery is how quickly that transformation was undone after the war, with many of these bushwhackers and Jayhawkers returning to farms, raising corn and children and attending Sunday services, Fellman noted.

Text Only
Civil War 150th
  • 082412newtonia.jpg Living history events will commemorate 1862 Newtonia battle

    One of the oldest and most historic homes in Southwest Missouri — the two-story brick mansion built by Matthew Ritchey about 160 years ago — will be the centerpiece for the 150th anniversary of the first Civil War battle at Newtonia.

    September 1, 2012 2 Photos

  • More Civil War events scheduled for this fall

    The 150th anniversary of the 1862 battle at Newtonia isn’t the only Civil War event slated for the region this fall. A site dedication and sesquicentennial celebration will take place in late October at the Battle of Island Mound State Historic Site near Butler.

    September 1, 2012

  • Confederate Gen. Price led 1864 campaign into Missouri to liberate state, disrupt election

    When former Missouri governor and Confederate Maj. Gen. Sterling Price led an invasion of the state in 1864, he hoped to liberate Missouri from what he believed was Union occupation that had been in place since the first year of the war.

    December 17, 2011

  • PrairieGrove BayonetorRetreat.jpg 'Angel of death'

    Maj. Henry Frisbie of the 37th Illinois — a Union veteran of the campaign that culminated near here in December 1862 — wondered after the Civil War why events in the East so often overshadowed events in the West.

    October 18, 2011 12 Photos

  • painting Civil War: Order No. 11 reduced border to a wasteland

    Solomon Young epitomized everything Americans admire in one of their own: self-made, a restless, westering soul hewing a life out of the wilderness with nothing but “a gun and an ax and two babies and a blanket,” according to family tradition.

    September 24, 2011 1 Photo

  • Battle of Baxter Springs William Quantrill’s legacy remains mixed 150 years after Civil War

    In the spring of 1881 — the American Civil War had been over for 16 years — a newspaper editor from Dover, Ohio, wrote an open letter to Joplin residents, asking them to tell their stories about William Clarke Quantrill.

    September 3, 2011 2 Photos

  • Ricky Dodson Battle of Wilson’s Creek played key role in Civil War

    The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, 150 years ago this week, was a victory for the Confederates. It also resulted in the first death of a Union commander, Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon.

    August 11, 2011 1 Photo

  • Ann Raab Battle of Island Mound marked first time blacks fought in Civil War combat

    In October 1862, Rufus Vann’s journey brought him to the farm of imprisoned bushwhacker John Toothman in Bates County.

    July 30, 2011 1 Photo

  • (8)EliWhitney.jpg Part 8. King Cotton 


    Slavery arrived in the New World before the Pilgrims, and it might not have survived to see Southern secession had it not been for Eli Whitney’s cotton gin.

    May 19, 2011 3 Photos

  • (7)Johnston.jpg Part 7. ‘Pavement of Dead Men’

    Having captured Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862, Ulysses Grant and his Army of the Tennessee pushed up the river of the same name as spring came.

    May 19, 2011 2 Photos

Facebook
Poll

A new provision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture allows qualifying districts with high percentages of students on food assistance to allow all students to eat free breakfasts and lunches. Would you agree with this provision?

Yes
No
     View Results
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
NDN Video
Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kerry: No Deal Yet on 7-Day Gaza Truce Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow Gaza Residents Mourn Dead Amid Airstrikes Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe Raw: Big Rig Stuck in Illinois Swamp Cumberbatch Brings 'Penguins' to Comic-Con Raw: Air Algerie Crash Site in Mali Power to Be Restored After Wash. Wildfire Crashed Air Algerie Plane Found in Mali Israel Mulls Ceasefire Amid Gaza Offensive In Case of Fire, Oxygen Masks for Pets Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites