Boston 1776-Missouri 1861-The Guerrilla An American Military Tradition.

There have been guerrilla soldiers in every American engagement from the Revolution to the present day. The truthful account of their exploits has seldom been recorded as they represent a small group of men. Their style of fighting has often been misrepresented. They often fought savagely to the death.

From the annals of the history of guerrilla warfare one name stands out from the rest, that of William Clarke Quantrill. Quantrill acquired his knowledge and skill with weapons at an early age. After fighting in every large scale battle in Missouri during the first year of the Civil War Quantrill quickly rose through the ranks before being detailed to organize a partisan ranger company employed behind enemy lines.

As a guerrilla leader Quantrill was ordered to disrupt Union commands by ambushing Federal patrols, attack foraging parties, halting the mails, cutting telegraph lines, coordinating attacks on Union outposts, establishing a base of operations, ensuring local civilian support, seizing arms and ammunition, supplying men for his own organization and supporting recruiting efforts for the regular Southern army, and maintaining enough offensive military operations to keep the enemy confused, cut off and disorganized. These maneuvers Quantrill effectively accomplished during the whole course of the war.

Missourians sympathetic to the cause of States Rights and for the guarantees of the Constitution decided to ride south and enlist in the Missouri State Guard under the command of General Sterling Price. The term of initial enlistment was for six months. Many thought the war would be of a short duration. After winning Southern victories at Wilson’s Creek, Dug Springs and Lexington Southern soldiers returned home in the fall after their enlistments expired to harvest their crops. While they were gone their homes had been burned, their possessions stolen and their male relatives murdered and their female relatives abused. Most sought out a guerrilla unit to attach themselves to and fight for revenge.

On February 22, 1862 William Clarke Quantrill led a group of raiders onto the streets of Independence, Missouri, to attack a band of Jayhawkers and a unit of the 2nd Ohio Cavalry camped outside of town. In the skirmish that ensued two guerrillas were killed, Hop Wood and Gabriel George. The remaining guerrillas rushed out of town escaping to the heights above the city spring on the east side of Independence. Quantrill was wounded in the melee but managed to speak at young Gabriel George’s funeral in Oak Grove two days following the battle.

In the ensuing months Quantrill led his men on an attack on Aubry, Kansas seeking badly needed supplies. Returning from Kansas Quantrill’s men were surrounded at the Tate house but managed to fight their way out. The guerrillas were next discovered at the John Flanery house and again managed to escape. Moving to the farm of Sam Clark the guerrillas engaged Federal soldiers under the command of Captain Albert Peabody. After a stand up fight at the Battle of the Ravines both sides were reduced to throwing rocks and clubbing their rifles. The guerrillas again escaped.

During the summer of 1862 so many skirmishes took place in Jackson County that Quantrill gained a renowned reputation becoming much hated by his Kansas enemies. In August Quantrill anticipated a raid on the Federal garrison in Independence. Days before the attack was made Federals rode out from their command post and ambushed three of Quantrill’s men as they were crossing a ford on the Little Blue River eight miles south of Independence. Guerrillas John Little and Ed Koger were killed. George Todd managed to escape into the rock outcroppings overlooking the river. On August 11, 1862 with Quantrill spearheading the assault Confederate forces routed the Federal garrison at Independence. A few days later on August 16, Confederate recruiting officers and hundreds of new recruits were attacked by Federals at Lone Jack, Missouri. The Southerners gained another well deserved victory but were forced to withdraw with their new recruits back into Southern Missouri.

One Southern recruiting officer, Colonel Upton Hays stayed behind to bolster his quota of men. Hays asked Quantrill to furnish him protection while he set up a recruiting camp on the banks of White Oak Creek in Southern Jackson County. Word of the camp reached Kansas Jayhawker Colonel Charles Jennison. Bringing with him an additional regiment under Colonel William Penick they attempted to attack Hays and Quantrill in a pincer movement from both ends of a long narrow valley on August 18, 1862. Quantrill’s men took up defensive positions in the rocks overlooking the valley floor. After three unsuccessful charges the Jayhawkers limped their mauled regiments back to Kansas City. The significance of the battle of White Oak Creek was that it was the third Southern victory within a week’s time with each victory owning its success to Quantrill and his men.

The rest of the year of 1862 continued to excel Quantrill into the limelight as undoubtedly the greatest light cavalry leader of the war. Adding to his laurels was his raid on Olathe, and Shawneetown, Kansas plus a battle on the streets of Wellington, Missouri against the 71st Missouri State Militia, and many other skirmishes too numerous to mention. The fighting abilities of Quantrill’s men during the year 1862 hardened them for an even more devastating year in 1863.

© Paul R. Petersen quantrillsguerrillas.com 2008  "Permission should be requested and agreed to before using this copyrighted essay." Below is an image of Quantrill which he gave to Lydia Stone.                                                                                 


                                          MEMBERS ONLY SECTION

Text Size