Quantrill & Mosby - Kindred Spirits

Both William Clarke Quantrill and John Singleton Mosby were the South's most recognizable and daring guerrilla leaders. Both their careers took similar turns. Quantrill began the war as a private rising in rank to sergeant after fighting at Wilson's Creek, Lexington, the First Battle of Independence and the Battle of Lone Jack. Then after being directed by General Sterling Price to organize his own company he was later commissioned a captain on August 12, 1862. Mosby started the war as a cavalryman under Jeb Stuart after gaining his fighting experience at Manassas and Antietam before setting up his own band of some 300 men in January of 1863. Quantrill too normally operated with 300 men. At the height of his success Quantrill commanded over 450 men during his Lawrence, Kansas raid.                

Both guerrilla leaders were regarded as outlaws by the Federal military though both operated under the Confederate government's Partisan Ranger Act. Quantrill as well as Mosby was forced to fight under the "Black Flag." The "Black Flag" meant "no quarter" for prisoners and was the most feared Confederate battle flag to Union soldiers. This was not a practice supported by the Confederacy, which condemned the killing of prisoners. However, pro-Confederate guerillas were often given "no quarter" when they surrendered and that was more than enough reason for them to fly the "Black Flag" in retaliation.

In Virginia, Union General Philip Sheridan raised the "Black Flag" when in September 1864 he captured seven of Mosby's men and hung them as outlaws. Mosby was forced to respond in kind, executing five Union prisoners. As the situation escalated, Mosby wrote to Sheridan asking for a return to the fair treatment of prisoners, which was granted. In Missouri General Henry Halleck raised the "Black Flag" by outlawing all guerrillas and issued orders to execute all guerrillas when captured. On April 15, 1862 after the Lowe House fight Federals captured two of Quantrill's men and immediately shot them both. Wounded guerrillas were treated with the same brutality. In May Quantrill sent a message to the Union command seeking an exchange of prisoners to which he was curtly rebuffed. During the Lawrence raid Quantrill's surgeon Dr. John Benson was credited with saving numerous lives of those in Lawrence. Upon returning to his home citizens pleaded for him to surrender, that he would be treated as any other prisoner. After giving himself up Benson was convicted for being a Quantrill man and shot on October 15, 1863.

The guerrilla groups under Quantrill and Mosby operated in the same fashion. The men had no camps nor fixed quarters, and never slept in tents. When they wanted to eat they stopped at a friendly farm house, or went into some little town and bought what they needed. For Mosby, his area of operations embraced in general two counties in Virginia, Fauquier and Loudoun, totaling some 1,200 square miles known as "Mosby's Confederacy." In contrast, Quantrill controlled over 3,200 square miles in a five county area surrounding his base of operations in Jackson County, Missouri, known as "Quantrill Country."  

During the war local government was suspended. There were no courts or officers to keep the peace or to make sure the law was obeyed. The people looked to Quantrill and Mosby to make the necessary laws and to enforce them. Mosby would not permit any man to commit a crime, or even a misdemeanor, in his domain. In like fashion Quantrill caught a deserter from Price's army, George Searcy, just before Christmas 1861. Searcy had gained a reputation as a thief and robber who made no distinctions between his victims. When captured he had in his possession a large quantity of horses and livestock. Searcy was tried and condemned to death and hung. Quantrill returned the horses, mules, and other property to their owners, some of whom were Union men. Guerrilla Harrison Trow commented, “The execution acted as a thunderstorm. It restored the equilibrium of the moral atmosphere.”

The arms and accoutrements carried by both forces were in most part the same. Each of Mosby's men was armed with two .44 caliber Colt Army revolvers. Some few who could afford it, or who had succeeded in capturing extra pistols wore an extra pair in saddle holsters or struck into their boot legs. Both groups prime battle strategy was open battle in close combat with unerring marksmanship. Mosby's skirmishes were fast and furious and quickly over, one or the other side withdrawing at a dead run when their pistols were empty. Though cleverly executing well planned ambushes and skirmishes Quantrill was known for leading the van in numerous stand up battles.

Quantrill's men were armed with a variety of weaponry. Most carried a shotgun or carbine slung across their back in addition to the pistols they carried. Most common was the Colt or Remington revolver in .36 or .44 caliber. Most guerrillas carried a brace of revolver with some carrying up to four to six apiece. While "something gray" was the one requisite for Mosby's men, Quantrill's men became famous for what came to be known as the "guerrilla shirt." It was a large comfortable blouse with two broad breast pockets. They were immediately recognizable, a distinguishing mark of these men as was the "gray" for Mosby's men. These “guerrilla shirts” also demonstrated a kind of flamboyance, pride, and esprit-de-corps. In battle the soldiers would open their jackets to reveal their bright-colored shirts. Given the practicality of wearing scavenged Union uniforms to be able to operate behind enemy lines, the flaunting of their "guerrilla shirts" in combat revealed who was friend or foe amid the dust and smoke of close combat. Guerrilla shirts were more than mere decoration. The shirts were highly functional and practical. Designed for close pistol combat on horseback, they were made large enough to be nonbinding. The two large breast pockets were sewed at an angle, without pocket flaps, so the wearer could extract or dispose of extra pistol cylinders without difficulty. Both Quantrill and Mosby's men, when mounted on the finest of horses, certainly gave a ‘Knightly’ appearance.

The chief distinction was that the mode of warfare differed somewhat between the two guerrilla leaders. Mosby’s operations were limited to disrupting the enemies supply lines. He did this by operating behind the enemies lines taking prisoners and capturing horses and mules from enemy supply trains, the mules and horses badly needed for replacements for Lee's army. The number of enemy killed in combat during a whole season of campaigning under the command of Colonel Mosby wouldn’t equal what Colonel Quantrill killed in combat in one engagement. The enemy soldiers whom Mosby encountered were usually captured and after the war went home to be with their families. The enemy soldiers whom Quantrill encountered went home to be with their God. 

The South owed a debt of gratitude to both these exemplary guerrilla leaders. At the end of the war, though having served as an honorable Southern officer Mosby had a $5,000 reward on his head. He eluded capture until January 1866, when General Grant intervened directly in his case and paroled him. Quantrill had a reward of $50,000 on his head by his enemies in Kansas. He knew if he stayed in Missouri, he and his men would eventually be caught and hanged. Quantrill understood that the best option for him and his men was to head east to join with General Robert E. Lee’s army or another Southern general and seek reasonable surrender terms when the end of the war came.

In January 1865, Quantrill crossed the Mississippi River into Kentucky with forty handpicked men. The going was slow and treacherous and by March 29, Lee's army was forced to abandon Petersburg, Virginia. After the collapse of Petersburg the Confederate government fled the capitol of Richmond. Quantrill proceeded as far east as Spencer County, Kentucky and waited to see what would happen. Shortly after April 9, Quantrill received news that Lee had surrendered at Appomattox Court House. Quantrill continued skirmishing with Federal troops until he was shot and mortally wounded on May 10.

After Quantrill's death many of his men were hunted down and murdered by Union vigilantes. While some escaped to places like Texas some were driven into outlawry. Mosby went on to become a campaign manager in Virginia for President Ulysses S. Grant. Grant appointed him as U.S. consul to Hong Kong. Because of Mosby's friendship with Grant he regularly received death threats, his boyhood home was burned down, and at least one attempt was made to assassinate him.

Article by: Paul R. Petersen - Author of Quantrill of Missouri, Quantrill in Texas, Quantrill at Lawrence and Lost Souls of the Lost Township.

References: The Blue and The Gray - Henry Steele Commager, The Fairfax Press

Below is a previously unpublished image Mosby in a uniform of a Yankee private.





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