Contrary to popular belief, the infamous raid of Lawrence on Aug. 21, 1863, was a well-planned attack, not an impulsive assault by gun-slinging outlaws.
Weeks before the invasion, William C. Quantrill sent one of his spies to town to discover just how vulnerable it was. Quantrill assessed his chances of victory and knew the best opportunity would have to come under cover of darkness.
The other misconception is that all 448 men who rode with Quantrill were bent on killing innocent men. Not only is that not true, but some of the riders may not even have been men. But I'll get to that in a moment.
As he surveyed the town before the sun rose, Quantrill, still cautious, sent five of his best horsemen to check it out. He wanted to be certain the residents of Lawrence were not waiting for him with weapons drawn. When his horsemen returned, informing him that all seemed to be serene, Quantrill heard some of his men grumbling about the wisdom of shooting up the town. Some may have imagined they'd simply loot the stores. Others may have wanted to kill certain notorious pro-slavery men. Still others, such as some of the 104 Confederates under Col. John Holt's command who had joined Quantrill, may have believed they were there to engage in battle against Yankee soldiers.
It's likely that not all of Quantrill's invaders were men. Two girls who may have been participants in the raid were Kate Clarke King and Sallie Young. Fifteen-year-old Kate was Quantrill's common-law wife. Dressed in men's clothes, she often rode with her husband. Her motive for taking part was likely loyalty to her husband as well as her desire for the treasures that awaited her from looting.
The other girl, Sallie Young, remains a controversial figure. Some consider her a traitor, while others regard her as a savior. When she entered Lawrence on her trip from Lecompton, she was forced to accompany Quantrill to show him which homes to destroy.
In 1915, Alex Case published a story in which he indicated that Sallie, a Lawrence resident, knew some of the Quantrill raiders because her brothers were pro-slavery Democrats. Case believed that as Young rode with Quantrill, she pointed out men whose lives ought to be spared because of their pro-slavery activities. But others claim that, after her capture, she took pleasure in directing Quantrill to the men who were on his so-called "blacklist."
Jacob Rote was a 13-year-old boy who was kidnapped by Quantrill's men in the early morning hours of Aug. 21, just outside Hesper. We know that Jacob must have been an unwilling rider accompanying Quantrill's marauders because William Gregg, a member of the Quantrill gang, delivered on his promise to get the boy a new suit and pony.
|This is the first of three columns by novelist Tom Mach, a Lawrence resident.|
While Gregg showed some integrity by making good on a promise, George Todd, another of Quantrill's key men, was essentially a firebrand. In Hesper, Todd encountered an old man named Joseph Stone and beat him to death with a musket. Todd apparently felt that Stone was responsible for Todd's arrest in Kansas City two years earlier.
Todd stood in sharp contrast to Quantrill. While Quantrill planned his moves, Todd acted first and thought about it later. One of the members of the Quantrill gang said this of Todd:
"Quantrill had always to hold him back, and yet he was Quantrill's thunderbolt. Todd only charged. Were he attacked in front, a charge; in the rear, a charge; on either flank, a charge."
In other words, Todd was a hothead, while Quantrill was intelligent and calculating. Both were murderers, but they had different styles.
There is some controversy as to whether Jesse James rode with Quantrill.
According to Quantrill raider John Edwards (no, not the senator), Jesse, who was almost 16 at the time, partook in the Lawrence massacre. But if Jesse did ride, it might have been more for the excitement of plunder than revenge.
Edwards claims Jesse had a weakness for pretty girls. Edwards describes how an attractive 16-year-old girl approached Jesse "just as he was in the act of shooting a soldier in uniform who had been smoked out of a cellar." She pleaded with Jesse not to kill him, informing Jesse that the man was a widower with eight children. Jesse put away his pistol and didn't harm the man. Perhaps he wanted to make a good impression on her.
Cole Younger, another Quantrill guerrilla, apparently showed signs of compassion during the raid. He reportedly dragged from a closet a large man with asthma. While Younger pressed his pistol against the man's chest, the captive's wife begged Younger not to shoot, as her husband had not slept in a bed for nine years. Younger released the man after considering her appeal and the man's asthmatic condition.
George Shepherd was another guerrilla who supposedly had a weakness for either flowers or children. He was said to have "rescued a wounded man and two children from a burning house because one of the children had given him a rose."
Larkin Skaggs was a Quantrill man who showed no loyalty to anyone, including his leader. Skaggs, considerably older than Quantrill, was a middle-aged man, bald in the center of his head with an outcropping of scraggly hair at the ends. He probably went on the raid strictly for the thrill of it, knowing he'd be able to steal all the whiskey he wanted. Skaggs drank to excess during the Lawrence massacre, and it was probably because of his mental stupor that he stole a diamond ring from Lydia Stone. This was the ring Quantrill had given her years earlier when she nursed him back to health when he (under the alias Charley Hart) lodged at a Lawrence hotel owned by the Stone family.
Quantrill forced Skaggs to return the ring to the young woman, but he glared at Lydia Stone on his way out saying, "Miss, I'll make you rue this." He later made good on his threat by killing Lydia's father, Nathan.
"Bloody" Bill Anderson, a ruthless marauder with the Quantrill gang, seemed to have made a sport out of killing for killing's sake. It is easy to see why he was nicknamed "Bloody." He took great pleasure in keeping track of his victims by making a knot in a long silk cord for each of his murders.
Holt displayed more compassion for innocent citizens than did Anderson or Todd.
A Lawrence furniture store owned named Henry Clarke realized he might be killed when he saw Holt approach him as the raiders ravaged the town. Clarke, nonetheless, struck up a cordial conversation with Holt, who prevented other guerrillas from shooting Clarke. In another instance, an officer who many believe to have been Holt, spread word to his men that the house of Mrs. Fred Read was not to be molested further after he took pity on her.
William Quantrill was distinctly different from his followers. He was young, intelligent, a former school teacher, and apparently had a charming smile. But his youthful, friendly appearance was deceiving; he was seething with abhorrence for abolitionists and Yankees.
In fact, Quantrill may fit the profile of a mass murderer. Mass murderers, according to Antonio Mendoza, author of "Killers on the Loose," are "usually people who aspire to more than they can achieve. They feel excluded from the group that they wish to belong to, and develop an irrational, eventually homicidal, hatred of that group. Invariably, they choose to die in an explosion of violence directed at a group they feel oppresses, threatens or excludes them."
In summary, Quantrill's raiders did not act alike or think alike. Fortunately, Quantrill and his ilk are gone. The idea of wanton killing of innocent people is a thing of the past.
Or is it?
The Lawrence raid gives us all a lot to think about, especially after 9-11.
-- Tom Mach is the author of Sissy!, an award-winning novel about Kansas (and particularly Lawrence) during 1862 and 1863.