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Quantrill's Raids

Illustration of Quantrill's raid on LawrenceThe name of William Clarke Quantrill was already known before he led his band of guerillas in a deadly raid on Lawrence, Kansas, August 21, 1863. Claiming to fight for the confederacy, Quantrill organized a band in December 1861. Operating near the Kansas-Missouri border, the raiders began forays into Kansas, attacking towns about 15 miles from the border.

Born at Canal Dover, Ohio, in 1837, Quantrill came to Kansas in 1857 to farm. He went west to seek adventure in the Rockies and returned to Kansas where he worked briefly as a schoolteacher in Stanton, Douglas County. Then Quantrill turned to stealing slaves and horses from Missouri and reselling them to the highest bidder. When the Civil War began, Quantrill joined the Missouri Confederate troops but soon left to form his own army.

Quantrill led his first attacks in 1862 with 30 men. His band included William “Bloody Bill” Anderson, George Todd, Fletcher Taylor, Cole Younger, and Frank James. While they considered themselves confederates, the members murdered and looted for their own gain.

Quantrill's flag

On September 7, 1862, just after midnight, Quantrill’s band of about 140 men attacked Olathe, Kansas. The raiders killed six men and held Olathe residents in the public square while they looted businesses and private homes. During the chaos, one of the raiders apparently dropped a flag in the public square.

Since Quantrill’s band was not known to carry flags, its use is unclear. Only seven inches by 13 inches, the flag may have been a “streamer,” the type placed on the staff above a regimental flag. It may have been a keepsake, like a “Bible” flag, used as a bookmark in large family Bibles by both northern and southern families. After the raid, Olathe resident Jonathan Millikan found the flag in the square.

A band of about 300 men arrived in Lawrence at daybreak on August 21, 1863. By noon the raiders had destroyed more than 200 homes and businesses and left 150 men dead or dying. Larkin Skaggs was the only one of Quantrill’s band who was killed. On his body were found a coin purse and money belonging to 19-year-old John Speer. Speer and his brother Robert were among the Lawrence residents killed in the attack.

H.M. Simpson, a Lawrence banker, described the experience in a letter dated September 7, 1863. “Judge Carpenter was pursued all over his house and finally shot repeatedly while in his wife’s arms,” Simpson wrote. “They raised Mrs. Sargent’s arm in order to make a fatal shot at her husband. Mrs. Fitch was not allowed to pull her husband’s body out of the burning house, but was compelled to stand by and see the corpse consumed. Men were repeatedly shot with children & even babies in their embrace.”

On May 10, 1865, one month after the end of the Civil War, Quantrill was mortally wounded in a skirmish with Union soldiers in Kentucky.

Entry: Quantrill's Raids

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: July 2013

Date Modified: July 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.