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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Today in the Civil War: hunting for Quantrill in Missouri

By early 1862, William Clarke Quantrill was already making a name for himself as a rebel guerrilla. He had been involved with the border war for several years, serving on both sides before finally throwing in his lot with the South in 1861 when the war started in earnest.

Now he led quick, effective raids against Union outposts and infrastructure. In late March he burned an important bridge between Kansas city and Independence. Colonel Robert B. Mitchell of the Second Kansas Cavalry set out with about 300 men in pursuit. On this day 150 years ago he caught up with Qauntrill's band at Little Santa Fe, Missouri.

In his report in the Official Records, Mitchell says,

"I. . .reached Little Santa Fe about 10 o'clock that night, and sent Major Pomeroy about 3 miles from the town, with instructions to arrest one David Tate, whom I had reason to believe was connected with Quantrill. Major Pomeroy had with him a detachment of Companies D and E. . .When Major Pomeroy reached the house he demanded entrance, and a gun was immediately fired through the door. He then called upon them to surrender, and to send out their women and children if they had any in the house. After waiting some time, while shots were fired from the house, he ordered a volley to be fired into the house. The cries of women were then herd, when he ordered the men to cease firing. The women and children then came out and firing was resumed on both sides."

"Two of the men then came of one the windows and surrendered. They stated to Major Pomeroy that Quantrill was in the house with 26 men. Major Pomeroy then threatened to fire the house, and upon their continued refusal to surrender he ordered the house to be fired, and an attempt was made to fire it, but without success. Major Pomeroy and Private Wills, of Company D, were at this time shot. Major Pomeroy becoming disabled, Captain Moore took command, and sent back to me requesting re-enforcements, so as not to let any of the men escape. Captain Moore the house and they still refusing so to do,[unclear in the original] he ordered the house to be against set on fire, and this time the flames rapidly envolved [sic] the house."

The men in the house who were not wounded then burst out the weatherboarding at the back of the house and ran for the timber immediately in the rear. Two were shot down as they ran - 1 killed instantly and 1 mortally wounded. . .The others escaped, and though the woods were carefully scoured, no traces of them were found. While the firing was taking several men were seen to fall in the house, and the prisoners stated when they were first taken that there were 4 or 5 wounded. Five bodies could be distinctly seen in the flames at the time I reached the spot with that part of the command which was left behind."

"I caused all the horses and horses equipments of the enemy to be gathered together and guarded and remained at the house until 6.30 o'clock in the morning, when I started for the house of one Wyatt. As we nearer the house 6 or 7 men were seen to break from it into the brush immediately adjoining the premises. I immediately dismounted some of my men and sent them into the brush, but succeeded in capturing only 2."

"The command being without provisions, and being satisfied that Quantrill and those of his gang who had been in the locality had undoubtedly fled, I returned to the Tate House and started back to camp, leaving Captain Moore's command, with 1 wounded. We reached camp about 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon."

"Our loss was as follows: Major Pomeroy, severely wounded with a Minie ball in the right thigh near the femoral artery; Private William Wills, of Company D, since died, with a Minie ball in the right arm near the shoulder, and also with buck-shot in the groin and abdomen. We also lost 2 horses in the fight. The jayhawkers' loss was 5 killed or wounded and burned up in the house, 2 killed outside, and 6 prisoners. We took 25 horses, some of which have already been identified as belonging to parties in this State, from whom they were stolen, and about 20 sets of horse equipments."

It's interesting that in this Union report, Quantrill's rebel band is referred to as "jayhawkers". Modern historians generally use this term only for Unionist or supposedly Unionist irregulars. Back then, apparently, the definition wasn't so clear.

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