Military Wiki
Quantrill's Raiders
Active 1861–May, 1865
Country Confederate States of America (claimed)
Allegiance CSA Dixie
Branch Partisan Rangers, American Civil War
Type Guerrilla
Engagements American Civil War
Captain William Quantrill

Quantrill's Raiders was a loosely organized force of pro-Confederate Partisan rangers, "bushwhackers", who fought in the American Civil War under the leadership of William Clarke Quantrill. The name "Quantrill's Raiders" seems to have been attached to them long after the war, when the veterans would hold reunions.


The Missouri-Kansas border area was fertile ground for the outbreak of guerrilla warfare when the Civil War erupted in 1861. Historian Albert Castel wrote:

For over six years, ever since Kansas was opened up as a territory by Stephen A. Douglas' Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854, its prairies had been the stage for an almost incessant series of political conventions, raids, massacres, pitched battles, and atrocities, all part of a fierce conflict between the Free State and proslavery forces that had come to Kansas to settle and to battle.[1]

In February 1861 Missouri voters elected delegates to a statewide convention, which rejected secession by a vote of 89-1. Unionists, led by regular US army commander Nathaniel Lyon and Frank Blair of the politically powerful Blair family, and increasingly pro-secessionist forces, led by governor Claiborne Jackson and future Confederate general Sterling Price, contested for the political and military control of the state. By June, there was open warfare between Union forces and troops supporting the Confederacy. Guerrilla warfare immediately erupted throughout the state and intensified in August after the Union defeat at the Battle of Wilson's Creek.[2]

By August 1862, with the Union victory at the Battle of Pea Ridge, the state was free of significant regular Confederate troops but the violence in Missouri continued. One historical work describes the situation in the state after Wilson's Creek:

Unlike other border areas in Maryland and Kentucky, local conflicts, bushwacking, sniping, and guerilla fighting marked this period of Missouri history. "When regular troops were absent, the improvised war often assumed a deadly guerrilla nature as local citizens took up arms spontaneously against their neighbors. This was a war of stealth and raid without a front, without formal organization, and with almost no division between the civilian and the warrior."[3]

The most notorious of these guerrilla forces was led by William Clarke Quantrill.

Methods and legal status[]


Early photo of Capt. William Clarke Quantrill

Quantrill was not the only Confederate guerrilla operating in Missouri, but he rapidly gained the greatest notoriety. He and his men ambushed Union patrols and supply convoys, seized the mail, and occasionally struck towns on either side of the Kansas-Missouri border. Reflecting the internecine nature of the guerrilla conflict in Missouri, Quantrill directed much of his effort against pro-Union civilians, attempting to drive them from the territory where he operated.

Under his direction, Confederate partisans perfected military tactics such as coordinated and synchronized attacks, planned dispersal after an attack using pre-planned routes and relays of horses, and technical methods, including the use of the long-barreled revolvers that later became the preferred firearm of western lawmen and outlaws alike. The James-Younger Gang, many of whose members rode with Quantrill, applied these same techniques after the war to the robbery of trains and banks.

Confederate induction[]

On 15 August 1862, Quantrill and his men were officially mustered into the Confederate army under the Confederate Partisan Ranger Act. Quantrill was designated as a captain and other officers were elected by the men. Quantrill often referred to himself as a General. Despite the legal responsibility assumed by the Confederate government, Quantrill often acted on his own with little concern for his government's policy or orders.[4] His most notable operation was the Lawrence Massacre, a revenge raid on Lawrence, Kansas in August 1863.

Lawrence had historically been the base of operations of abolitionist organizations, and during the war, pro-Union irregular raids by Redlegs and Jayhawkers into Missouri. A month prior to the raid, family members of Quantrill's men held as hostages by Unionist forces in a dilapidated and overcrowded Kansas City prison, died when that building collapsed.

Lawrence, Kansas destruction[]

Calling for revenge, Quantrill organized a unified partisan raid on Lawrence, Kansas, the center of these Union forces. Coordinating across vast distances, small bands of partisans rode over 300 miles (480 km) to rendezvous on Mount Oread in the early morning hours before the raid. Quantrill's men burned a quarter of the town's buildings and killed at least 150 men and boys.[5]

One of the main targets of the raid, abolitionist U.S. Senator Jim Lane, escaped by fleeing into corn fields.[6] The Lawrence raid was the most successful and infamous operation of Missouri's Southern guerrillas.

Confederate reaction[]

The Confederate leadership was appalled by the raid and withdrew even tacit support from the "bushwackers". Following the raid, in the winter of 1863-64, Quantrill led his men behind Confederate lines into Texas. There, their often lawless presence proved an embarrassment to the Confederate command.

Some Confederate officers appreciated the effectiveness of these Missouri irregulars against Union forces, which never gained the upper hand over them, especially Quantrill. Among these was General Joseph O. Shelby, who rode south into Mexico with his troops rather than surrender at the end of the war, and whose command was remembered as "The Undefeated". Their exploits are also immortalized in a later addition to the post-war ballad, "The Unreconstructed Rebel":

"I won't be reconstructed– I'm better now than then.
And for that Carpetbagger I do not care a damn.
So it's forward to the Frontier soon as I can go.
I'll fix me up a weapon and start for Mexico."[7]

John Noland[]

Among Quantrill's men was a freed former slave man named John Noland. He was one of Quantrill's scouts, reputed to be his best one. Noland helped scouting Lawrence, Kansas, before the raid by Quantrill's men in 1863. He joined Quantrill's raiders because of the abuse his family suffered at the hands of Kansas Union Jayhawkers. Post-war pictures show him sitting with comrades at reunions of the Raiders. In the 1999 movie Ride with the Devil, depicting a group of fictionalized Missouri bushwhackers similar to those of Quantrill's Raiders as well as the Lawrence raid, the character of Daniel Holt was representative of Quantrill's John Noland.

Dissolution and aftermath[]

Reunion of Quantrill's Raiders. The first official reunion occurred in 1898, more than 30 years after Quantrill's death and the end of the Civil War.

During late winter 1863, Quantrill lost his hold over his men. In early 1864, the guerrillas he had led through the streets of Lawrence returned from Texas to Missouri in separate bands, none led by Quantrill himself.


A former lieutenant, "Bloody" Bill Anderson, assumed command in late 1863, shortly after the Lawrence Massacre. Many raiders, including Frank James, rode in 1864 under "Bloody Bill", who was killed in October 1864.

Although Quantrill regathered some of his men in late 1864, the days of Quantrill's Raiders were over. Quantrill died at the hands of Union forces in Kentucky in May 1865.

Much of that group continued under the leadership of Archie Clement, who kept the Raiders together after the war and harassed the state government of Missouri during the tumultuous year of 1866. In December 1866, state militiamen killed Clement in Lexington, Missouri, but his men continued on as outlaws, emerging in time as the James-Younger Gang.

Popular culture[]

In the films True Grit, protagonist Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne in the original 1969 version and Jeff Bridges in the 2010 version) prides himself on being a part of Quantrill's Raiders during the Civil War while arguing with Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. He also has a cat named General Sterling Price after a famous Confederate General from Missouri. The movie The Outlaw Josey Wales is loosely based on Quantrill's Raiders.


  1. Castel (1997) pp. 1-2
  2. Nevins (1959) pp. 120-129, 310-316
  3. Donald, Baker, and Holt (2001) p. 177. The quote within the larger quote was from Michael Fellman, Inside War: The Guerilla Conflict in Missouri during the American Civil War, (1989) p. 23.
  4. Schultz (1996) p. 117
  5. Casualties are based on the more recent scholarship of Dr. Michael Fellman, Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. See Fellman (1989) cited above and referenced below, p. 25 and 254.
  6. Wellman, 1961.
  7. with variations by Ry Cooder for the 1980 film, "The Long Riders":


  • Castel, Albert.Civil War Kansas: Reaping the Whirlwind. (1997) ISBN 0-7006-0872-9. This is a republication of the 1958 edition with a new introduction and some text corrections.
  • Donald, David Herbert; Baker, Jean Harvey; and Holt, Michael F. The Civil War and Reconstruction. (2001) ISBN 0-393-97427-8
  • Fellman, Michael. "Inside War: The Guerilla Conflict in Missouri in the American Civil War." (1989) ISBN 0-19-506471-2
  • Nevins, Allan. The War for the Union: The Improvised War, 1861-1862. (1959) SBN 684-10426-1
  • Schultz, Duane. Quantrill's War: The Life and Times of William Clarke Quantrill. (1996) ISBN 0-312-14710-4

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