Quantrill Was A Product Of His Time, Slandered By The "Author" Who Tied to Sell His Bones."

William Clarke Quantrill was a product of his times. He was a man made up by the personalities, the passions and the politics that surrounded him. Without the issue of slavery that was igniting the nation and the turbulent individuals that inflamed the border of Kansas and Missouri, history would never have recorded his name. Without a Nathaniel Lyon or a John Brown, a James Henry Lane or a Charles Jennison or their underlings like James Montgomery, George Holt or the likes of Marshall Cleveland or Daniel Anthony, there would never have been a William Clarke Quantrill.  Here is an image of purported friend, known robber of Quantrill's grave W. W. Scott.                                    

It is amazing how a single human being could be written about in history as the devil incarnate, without love for either of his parents or family and whose own mother was declared to be just a mother in name only showing no love for her son.

His father was reported to be an embezzler and thief and was looked down upon by his neighbors. Quantrill’s early youth described him as being fiendish for skinning neighbor’s cats and shooting pigs through their ears just to listen to them squeal. When courting young women it was reported that his talk would turn sadistic as he commented how many men he could hang from certain tree limbs. In his life in Kansas before the Civil War, he was described as being shiftless and without a visible means of support, even stealing from his neighbors and local merchants. He was a called a slave thief who stole slaves then held them for a reward from their owners. He was called a bloodthirsty killer, murdering and stealing from those in Missouri as well as Kansas. It has been written that in his band, no one trusted him and he made them nervous and edgy. It was said he had a mistress and after the war she opened a house of prostitution in St. Louis. When the war was coming to a close, Quantrill was even said to have made plans to go to Washington D.C. to kill President Lincoln.

All of these accounts when researched in detail have been found to be contradictory to fact. How could this so-called fiend have been a respected schoolteacher? How could he have organized and led up to 400 men in the most noted band of guerrilla fighters known in history?Why did regular Confederate army officers who outranked him yield to him and place themselves subordinate to his command? How could he be so hated by his own men and still lead them in the van of the most renown battles throughout Missouri, winning victories over superior Union forces? Mothers entrusted their sons to him. Citizens served him as spies. Women willingly nursed him and his men while his followers were intensely loyal to him even guarding him in battle.

The motives of Quantrill’s biographers and the mood of the times are questions to seek when writing an accurate portrayal of William Clarke Quantrill. Too often, writers simply print what others have printed before them and teachers wind up teaching their students, not truth but myth.  The controversy that has been produced surrounding William Clarke Quantrill is nothing less than a scandal. The Northern press conspired to blacken his name and those of his followers and even today the conspiracy continues.

Instead of researching Quantrill, research should be done on the authors of Quantrill.We must ask ourselves what are their backgrounds and motives? What are they trying to prove or disprove? Were the authors raised and schooled in prejudicial surroundings in an area that only saw Quantrill as a villain?

Studying past authors is almost as interesting as studying Quantrill himself. There are numerous incorrect and misguided books recently published on Quantrill, many of them simply borrowing from the genre of the dime store novel. It is clear that most authors have only repeated the sensational tales that have been perpetrated throughout history.

Any author that maligns Quantrill must also malign his followers. According to the Northern press, every guerrilla was a bloodthirsty, brutal, psychotic killer. All of their relatives were low-class individuals and criminally natured and all of their women were said to have loose morals. Authors cannot bring themselves to refer to Quantrill and his men as soldiers so they refer to them as outlaws. Quantrill’s partisan ranger band could not be credited with winning a military victory in open battle so they became bloodthirsty killers who murdered and massacred their victims.

These were the accounts carried down through history, written by a victorious enemy over a beaten but unbowed foe. As a matter of fact, if there is no record, there is no history. So thus, their accounts became the record of the past. If there was not ample evidence for the facts, the writers made sure there would at least be an ample record.

John McCorkle wrote a book on his exploits with Quantrill called, Three Years with Quantrill. He says that his writing, “is not published in any spirit of malice or hatred, but in order that the truth may be known, that the world may know that Quantrill and his band were justified in nearly all of their acts and that they were not altogether bad; that they were driven to desperation by brutal outrages committed against them and their friends.”

Captain William Gregg, Quantrill’s adjutant during the war, wrote; “History after history has been written of Quantrill and his men, none of which can be characterized as true. And that which is not true, is not history.”

One of the first detailed writings about Quantrill was from Major John Newman Edwards, who served as the adjutant for General Joseph O. Shelby. Shelby was a division commander in Missouri General Sterling Price’s Southern Army.  Edwards was said to have had more horses shot out from under him than any other man in Shelby’s division.Many guerrillas served under General Shelby when not engaged in actual partisan warfare.

We can gain from Edward’s writing, an account of the places and names and events of those who served with Quantrill and his partisan rangers. The only problem with Edward’s writing is that it was written in an elaborate style of the times with a heavy use of glowing and flowering details that obscured an accurate picture of actual guerrilla warfare.

Shortly afterwards, a Kansas historian, by the name of William Elsey Connelley, who had bounced around in different odd jobs before he became the editor of the Kansas Historical Society, found out about a collection of Quantrill information gathered by Quantrill’s boyhood friend, William W. Scott.

He realized the financial potential in Scott’s collection and purchased it from Scott’s widow. Connelley’s motives are readily suspect, as his father lost both his health and property during the Civil War fighting for the Union.Connelley surmised that if he alone could write a definitive book on Quantrill, showing him in a demeaning light and as a degenerate, that would naturally be popular in Kansas, then he might obtain the coveted title and position as the Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society.

Later, Connelley also showed his intentions for his own personal monetary enhancement by trying to sell Quantrill’s skeleton to a private collector.

In a maligning manner, Connelley sought to portray Quantrill and his men as psychopathic killers, without morals, fighting unprovoked battles against patriotic and honest men from Kansas. Many scholars, who knew of Connelley’s intent and had read portions of his manuscript before publication, warned him against his “extreme statements,” but they were simply ignored.

Connelley makes such glaring false statements that very few facts emerge to lend truthfulness to his book. Connelley’s fantastic suppositions are clearly vindictive. He goes to great pains to reconcile his views with what actually happened in history.

Even though serious Quantrill researchers have debunked Connelley, there have still been modern writers that expouse Connelley’s compilations as 100% true. What is true is that Connelley’s book, Quantrill and the Border Wars, was the most detailed work on Quantrill, containing more authentic first hand information about Quantrill than any other book of its time. The problem arises when one really researches Connelley’s footnotes. Many of Connelley’s original documents about Quantrill, that he quotes widely from, have been mysteriously lost, but this doesn’t keep Connelley or subsequent writers from quoting from them as fact. In them, the researcher can readily find prejudicial statements by Connelley, as well as those from Kansans, promoting their self-interests.

In his lifetime, W. W. Scott never made one disparaging remark about his boyhood friend, William Clarke Quantrill, but Connelley, in his papers, has Scott demeaning Quantrill at every turn. Rumors and unfounded third-hand information gathered years after Quantrill’s death are given top priority as truth by Connelley in denouncing Quantrill. Connelley also makes the fatal mistake as an author by surmising about feelings and emotions of others that he has no knowledge of. Professional writers have done numerous subsequent writings on William Clarke Quantrill.

Very few have done any research on their own but have relied solely on Connelley’s book written back in 1909.Many repeat the same worn out rumors and inaccuracies and still claim that they have done exhaustive research. Even today, other writers beside Connelley write with a disgusting display of prejudice and a total lack of objectivity. What Connelley did to Quantrill was to muddy the waters for serious researchers that came after him.  A photo of William Elsey Connelley.                                                                                 

The easy approach is to take Connelley at full face value and write with sensationalism for purely commercial value. Many writers vie for this sensationalism because it is unpopular to buck the trend in the journalistic and historic field. Everything about Quantrill’s life has been greatly distorted by prejudicial historians and journalists. The hatred of his Kansas enemies and of those he fought against during the war were manifested in writings and were grossly exaggerated by those who had never come face to face with him.

Only sensationalized claims previously heard by those who had cause to try to blacken his name, because of their own political views and sectional feelings, have been noted for history. Quantrill’s critics have painted him in the worst possible light and have collectively and in collusion told and written unfounded and unproved stories of mentally ill and deranged behavior attributed to him.

Even the faintest light of question can easily disprove many contradictory statements.When the guerrillas achieved a resounding victory by annihilating their enemy in battle, it was called a massacre but from a military viewpoint, Quantrill’s guerrilla tactics resulted in a very efficient use of inferior numbers that resulted in a higher percentage of enemy casualties. His use of fire superiority, cover and concealment, speed of movement, use of a vast intelligence network, and psychological warfare made his men a force equal in comparison with Mosby’s guerrillas or Nathan Bedford Forrest’s regular mounted cavalry.

Paul R. Petersen © Quantrillsguerrillas.com. "Permission should be requested and agreed to before using this copyrighted essay and/or image."



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