Who Was William Clarke Quantrill? The Man, The Mystery, The Psychological Report-.

William Clarke Quantrill was an enigma. Not because of what he said or did but because of what his enemies wrote about him after the war. The victorious North who was accorded the privilege of writing the history of the conflict never ceased to vilify and denigrate the character of what even his critics considered to be the greatest light cavalry leader and guerrilla warrior in history. His enemies excelled in promoting a hysterical and paranoid account of him that included lies, half-truths and sensationalism.

We can look back and be thankful today for the journalistic efforts of those who sought out any new information about this great leader from his followers during their annual post war reunions. Though they were mostly reticent individuals we can piece together a solid example of Quantrill's personality and character by those who knew him best: his acquaintances and those he led through the dangers and perils of mortal combat through five states. What we find is not a "modern day terrorist" as the academics would like us to believe but a fascinating individual whose actions can be justified in fighting a determined enemy bent on total extermination of the Southern way of life.  

We at quantrillsguerrillas.com are delighted to be able to share a few insights into Quantrill by those who knew him best reflecting on his personality and character. The following quotes are from Quantrill's friends and former guerrillas many of them continuing after the war in honorable professions; such as law enforcement, judges, congressmen and heads of universities.  

On this website you can view  other images of Quantrill, some of which are not available anywhere else such as the ambrotype of W.C. Quantrill which he gave to Lydia Stone. the image was taken in Kansas in 1860. Inside the case, in Quantrill's hand, is written, "To Lydia from Quantrill 1860."Lydia is Lydia Stone who nursed Quantrill in Kansas when he came down with yellow fever. in case you don't remember Quantrill tried to save her father from his men during the Lawrence raid.

Quantrill's childhood friend from Canal Dover, Ohio and a former Union soldier, William W. Scott said,"He was temperate and honest...He was uncommonly precocious intellectually...He was fond of books and quick to learn...Quantrill was a diffident, reserved youth." Another friend from Quantrill's hometown was Joseph Talbott, a staunch Union supporter during the war. He recalled that "As a young man, Quantrill was honorable, well educated and universally esteemed. Rufus Wilson who knew Quantrill's mother in Canal Dover and a Union soldier during the war remarked that "One of Quantrill's redeeming traits seem to have been a deep and tender love for his mother.  He wrote her more or less regularly during all of his western wanderings and until the war came always sent her part of the money he earned."  

Quantrill's mother, Caroline Quantrill described her son this way. "[He] was always a good boy. He was very, very good to me. He never forgot his old mother. Why, he sent me money all the time he was away from home, even when he was a Confederate soldier. He always divided his pay with me. He was kind and noble...Though of a retiring nature he had a ready smile and a warm heart and was never known to be quarrelsome...For he was very gentle and kind and affectionate.  He was high minded, and I never knew him to manifest a cruel, or heartless disposition." Our first image is of a young Quantrill long before the horrors of War aged him. 

T. J. Walker whose father Andy Walker rode with Quantrill said that "My father said he didn't recall having any fear of the famous guerrilla, that he appeared to be a kindly and refined man." James Campbell a follower of Quantrill said that "Quantrill was the smartest man I ever knew. He had the qualifications of leadership in him.  He knew just what to do in every situation...He was gentle and sometimes jolly." Quantrill's adjutant, Lt. William Gregg recalled that "Quantrill was very mild in his manner. He was well informed, and was not given to profanity, nor was he brutal...One thing I do know, however, and that is that he was a soldier and not afraid to die. That he was equitable and just to friend and foe."  

Another of Quantrill's officers was Charles Fletcher Taylor. He remembered that "Quantrill was always well liked by his men. He always treated them well."Harrison Trow another Quantrillian authored a book on Quantrill following the war saying that "Quantrill became a guerrilla because he had prudence, firmness, courage, audacity and common sense. His judgment was clearest and surest when the responsibility was heaviest, and when the difficulties gathered thickest about him. Based on skill, energy, perspicacity and unusual presence of mind, his fame as a guerrilla will endure for generations." Guerrilla J. T. Keller knew Quantrill and remembered that "He had good judgment. He knew men and how to handle them. He was cautious and laid his plans well. He seemed to know just what to do, and he did it. His men all liked him. He was not at all tyrannical...Quantrill was a quiet spoken man."  

Frank James, who went on to win his own brand of notoriety after the war remembered this about Quantrill. "He had none of the air of bravado or the desperado about him...He was full of life and a jolly fellow...We all loved him at first sight and every man under his command was tried and true.  He was a demon in battle and did not know what it was to be afraid."  

Thanks to research we now know it was common practice for the members of Quantrill's command to routinely changed their appearance sometimes more than once a day in an effort to help avoid detection. Curiously most known images of Quantrill find him to be clean shaven, in a couple he sports a mustache, but none show him wearing the Imperial "goatee" which is featured in the only image published by the north.

To better understand the personality and character of William Clarke Quantrill, noted author Paul R. Petersen asked a prominent Kansas City, Missouri, psychologist, Daniel J. Keyser to compose a psychological report based on historical documentation about Quantrill from eyewitness accounts of those who knew him intimately. Dr. Keyser developed a Psychological Report for William Clarke Quantrill based on material gleaned from historical records and furnished from eyewitness accounts and established factual events.


Mr. Quantrill was a short, small man by today’s standards, standing less than 6 feet tall. He was in his midtwenties but seemed younger than his age. He had light blue eyes and sandy hair with a somewhat small, imperial mustache. His face was pale with a touch of tan. His build was slender and muscular with a lean, sinewy general appearance of approximately 150 pounds. He dressed neatly and appeared to be careful with his clothing and personal hygiene. He even polished his fingernails, which had to be rare for a man in his day and of his years. He wore kid gloves, probably more for his appearance than for the protection of his hands. His manner was debonair and polite, though he did not strut or brag. Some people who knew him described him as handsome. One would have to conclude that Mr. Quantrill was very conscious of his appearance, and had a certain vanity and narcissism about himself. His personality was apparently that of one who was exacting and meticulous. It is also possible to conclude that he was a cut above the general crowd of his era, in the care that he would take with himself and the impression he wished to leave with others. He wanted others to see him as poised, calm and a gentleman. He could well have been that.

Mr. Quantrill was an intelligent man. Though it is not possible to have psychometric data on this, there are conclusions that can be drawn. For instance, Mr. Quantrill was studious and went to Union College where he graduated when he was sixteen. He even became a teacher in one of the lower departments of the college. He was fond of history, loved to read and took courses in Latin and surveying. He was quick and accurate with figures. In fact, he was regarded as the best mathematician in his county. He also had an analytic ability. He could sort and parse things into component parts and then synthesize them together into a comprehensive whole. His plans were meticulous and complex. Every operation was detailed, with retreat and escapes considered carefully. The costs of each action were counted and the odds of success and failure computed. His judgment bordered on the occult, in that he was able to divine likelihoods and outcomes that others could not see. When responsibilities were heavy, his judgments were surest, validating the calmness and pose of his general demeanor. One concludes from the above that Mr. Quantrill was of above average intelligence, probably with an IQ somewhere between 125 and 140. His vocabulary was well above average as can be ascertained from the letters he has written to others. His attention, concentration, judgment, and planning were superior to the general population.
It is common in today’s world to assess general intelligence using the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. That instrument has subtests of General Information, Arithmetic, Vocabulary, Digit Span, and other tests to measure intellectual performance. Considering his likely performance on these sub-tests, it is easy to conclude that Mr. Quantrill had above average General Information, superior mathematical ability, superior vocabulary, superior memory and concentration, and superior planning. Tests such as Block Design and Picture Arrangement would have assessed his abilities in analysis and synthesis, and social anticipation and planning. Opposites would have measured his level of abstraction. He would certainly have generated superior scores on all of these tests of intelligence. In fact, it is possible the estimated IQ of 125–140 could be conservative.

It has already been hypothesized that Mr. Quantrill was a calm, poised and stable, somewhat rigid personality, of keen intelligence, and touched with narcissism. He was not given to rash actions, clearly was not impulsive, and could even have been described in obsessive/compulsive character terms. His dress was controlled, his actions were controlled, his ideation and intelligence were controlled and his emotions were tightly controlled. Others described him as “Cool as a cucumber.” His calmness in emotional situations was known by all. In fact, it was said that the greater the danger, the calmer he became. He was fearless to the point of recklessness. When he led his men into battle, he was in front shouting them forward. However, we must remember that he had thought out and anticipated every eventuality, even to the point of obsessive/compulsive detail. Quite likely, when all the thinking and planning was done, his recklessness was nothing more than his commitment to action and to the total completion of the job. He would be a formidable opponent.  

The only break in this poised presentation of self was his laugh. Sometimes a gay, nervous chuckle or giggle could be heard right after he had killed a man. His men found this to be eerie and a little frightening. This point about him is somewhat in dispute according to records, and is crucial information. Should this be true, we could be left with a remarkably different personality. Rather than a calm, intelligent, quiet and meticulous leader of men, we would have an intelligent, cold, psychopath who could outwit his enemies and dispatch them with cruelty and without feeling. Our answer to this issue can be found in the social analysis of Mr. Quantrill. Socially, Mr. Quantrill is described as of a retiring nature, but with a ready smile for others and a warm heart. He loved his family and his family loved him. His inner life was apparently more active than his outer life, and few people were accessible to his inner thoughts and emotions. Many people knew him, but he had few close friends. He spoke little to others and some saw him as a loner. Yet, he was clearly a leader and dominant in groups. He was described as kind to his men and to his prisoners. His men did not fear him and he never quarreled with them. One account has him caring for a wounded man for over an hour. He was polite to women, admired them and defended them. He was said to have given the order that if any of his men were to curse or abuse a woman, that they should be shot on the spot. He gave the only picture he had of himself to a woman he was attracted to. His relationships with females were always cordial and considerate. These accounts would certainly be in contrast to a person thought to be cruel and psychopathic. A psychopath, or a more disturbed personality, would not be caring toward his men, and would be shallow in their relationships with women. The descriptions are more in keeping with earlier descriptions as a calm, poised, quiet, thoughtful leader who was fearless in battle, and who gave no quarter while the battle was on.

In summary, Mr. Quantrill is described as a small, smartly dressed young man of attractive appearance. He carried himself in a poised manner and drew positive responses from others. He was intelligent with an estimated IQ somewhere in the 125–140 vicinity. He would score high on most of the subtests of the WAIS. His vocabulary was superior, as was his mathematical ability, abstraction ability, attention and concentration, and his ability to analyze and synthesize. He had no apparent intellectual weakness. Emotionally, Mr. Quantrill was withdrawn and reserved and rarely given to impulsive action. The few exceptions were expressed in an unusual laugh that could be suggestive of a darker side of his nature or a nervousness that would break through the rigid controls of his personality. Socially, Mr. Quantrill had few friends, and seemed to prefer the role of a more distant, remote leader, than that of confidant and friend. He was respected and well thought of, and even admired.

Dr. Daniel J. Keyser PhD is a well respected psychologist practicing psychology, clinical psychology, biofeedback therapy and psychoanalysis in Raytown, Missouri. Dr. Keyser has authored  numerous books on psychology, education and psychology testing.

Further fascinating information concerning William Clarke Quantrill can be found in: Quantrill of Missouri, Cumberland House Publishing 2003, Quantrill in Texas, Cumberland House Publishing 2006 and Quantrill at Lawrence Pelican Publishing 2011.

Paul R. Paul R. Petersen © Quantrillsguerrillas.com. "Permission should be requested and agreed to before using this copyrighted essay." Our next image is of Quantrill and two brothers in arms.



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