A human side?

Why should we care whether William Quantrill had an unpleasant relationship with his mother?

It is difficult to believe we need a book purporting to show the “human side” of William Quantrill, who led the devastating 1863 raid on Lawrence. Who really cares, except perhaps devotees of the Confederacy, who still are inclined to consider this murderer a hero. The author of the novel “I, Quantrill” says the fictionalized story is designed to remind readers that the raid leader was just a man, not a demon.

It might be hard to sell that view to the families of the 180 men and boys killed by Quantrill’s raiders, who burned and looted everything they could in Lawrence. The 244-page book notes that Quantrill died in 1865 in Kentucky after being shot by Union supporters. Most of us familiar with the depth and scope of the atrocities committed in that 1863 slaughter are inclined to hope he suffered.

Why waste time trying to generate sympathy for Quantrill’s outlawry and bloodlust by suggesting they were at least partially a byproduct of a strained relationship with his mother. How did Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Attila the Hun get along with their mothers?

In the violent days of border wars involving Kansas and Missouri, raids took countless lives, and Kansans known as jayhawkers engaged in their share of murder and mayhem. Fortunately such activities have been transformed into less sanguinary athletic and commercial rivalries in this day and age.

As for the heroic status of Quantrill among Missourians (some of whom still contend he did only what was necessary), well into the 1900s the Lawrence raiders and their families held annual gatherings to “celebrate” what happened here in 1863. That is a “human side” we should understand and appreciate? For them it was “a war between the states,” which is designed to sound more humane. It was never that pretty.

Jonathan Earle, a Civil War historian and author at Kansas University, doesn’t hesitate to declare that despite any kind and commendable deeds Quantrill may have done along the way, the man’s reputation is “unrehabilitatable” – if not in parts of Missouri, certainly throughout this region of Kansas.

“I, Quantrill” by Max McCoy is regarded as a fictional effort, which seems to put into perspective any efforts to depict William Quantrill as having a “human side.” The bottom line is that he was in many ways a monster who deserves no sympathy for the life he led.