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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hunting Quantrill in Civil War Missouri

A hundred and fifty years ago this week, Union forces in Missouri were hunting someone who would become a legend. The Seventh Missouri Infantry had moved to Blue Springs in Jackson County, where infamous Confederate bushwhacker William Clarke Quantrill was operating.

A schoolteacher from Ohio, Quantrill made a name for himself during Bleeding Kansas by fighting on whichever side offered the most chance for booty. Once the war started in earnest, he threw in his lot with the South and rampaged across Missouri. Even at this early stage of the war he was robbing stagecoaches, wagon trains, mail carriers, and stealing horses. Many of these actions were hit-and-run attacks on Union forces; others were simple banditry. His followers rode the best horses, either stolen or given to them by Confederate sympathizers, while Union troops, indifferently mounted on government-issued steeds, had a hard time catching him.

From January 29-February 3, the Seventh Missouri tried their best. They managed to kill six of his men and capture much of his booty, including a fine stagecoach and team and seven wagons filled with pork and tobacco. Quantrill got away, however, and would only die in the last days of the war in 1865.

The Official Records include an interesting complaint from a Union officer stating that his men lacked boots and shoes and "the suffering men have filled the hospitals with frostbite." They also hadn't had any sugar for two weeks. The rebels weren't the only ones suffering from supply problems during the Civil War.

Quantrill appears briefly in my Civil War novel A Fine Likeness. Two men who rode with Quantrill for part of the war, Frank James and Bloody Bill Anderson, are supporting characters. One of the reasons I picked Civil War Missouri as a setting for my novel was because there were so many interesting real characters for my fictional ones to meet!

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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