Quantrill’s Raiders

The story of William Quantrill and the Quantrill’s Raiders and Dover, Ohio history.

Excerpt from a past edition of OhioTraveler
By Robert Carpenter

Eastern Ohio has produced an inordinate number of famous people making exceptional contributions to every facet of society—probably more than any like-sized geographical area in the country.

Nearly all have come from rural areas or small towns, some remote and expunged from modern maps. But the people of their home regions have never forgotten them, and their pride is preserved even though association is often little more than geography.

However, there are exceptions. Dover, Ohio is located in the middle of this exemplar region, and they have rights to the famous, but also the infamous—perhaps notorious is a better characterization—and no one in Dover expresses an overt smugness with this particular relationship.

It’s understandable that there is little celebration in claiming someone portrayed as the “bloodiest man in the annuls of America.” Still, there is a fascination with this man whose name is better known than the most renowned war-time commanders coexisting during the nation’s ultimate military ordeal.

Over a period of time he was interred in two separate caskets in Dover’s Fourth Street Cemetery, but even with this bizarre arrangement, his remains are not all there. Indeed, it is said by many that William Clark Quantrill was never all there.

History books convey an impression that Quantrill was a hardened veteran who gained followers due to his wartime experience and martial acumen, when in fact he was little more than a boy—although one endowed with extraordinary leadership ability.

The oldest of eight children, Quantrill was only seventeen when he left his Dover home in 1854. His parents had swarmed attention on him, but apparently not the kind that cultivates ideal citizenship. His hard-drinking father beat him while his mother doted on him.

Although psychiatric problems were not then as quickly recognized as today, it was acknowledged early on that William would never be a poster boy for mental health. Although no mention is made of bed wetting or playing with fire, the third symptom of a psychopathic killer in the making—torture and killing of animals—was William Quantrill’s boyhood pastime.

Modern psychiatry describes psychopaths as manipulators, risk takers, and narcissists. They lack empathy, and have a total absence of conscience—but are usually quite intelligent. It’s not insanity, but rather a character flaw described in more polite terms as an antisocial personality. History implies that Quantrill’s contemporaries deemed such a depiction laughably inadequate.

In the most paradoxical of career choices, Quantrill began as a schoolteacher in Dover and then in Indiana and Illinois as he forged his way west on his first adventure.

Occupational satisfaction eluded him from the beginning, and he dropped teaching in favor of gambling, but sparse winnings compelled him back to Dover before his twentieth birthday. It was his indulgent mother who convinced two friends to claim a plot of land in “free soil” Kansas for William, and allow him to repay the courtesy by laboring on their farms. No one foresaw this maneuver as precipitous to the legend of “Bloody Kansas” which was almost totally composed by the treacherous hand of William Clark Quantrill.

The territory was a perfect bailiwick for someone of Quantill’s predisposition. Kansas and Missouri were split on slavery and skirmishes between factions escalated as the War Between the States heated up. Quantrill soon disposed of his farming obligations in favor of collecting bounty on runaway slaves. His most profitable scam was helping Jayhawkers (abolitionists) free slaves then recapturing them for the reward money. By 1860 he was wanted in Kansas for horse stealing, burglary, larceny and arson. He was never tried due to his escape to Missouri where he joined the Bushwhackers (Confederate guerillas).

With allegiance to a cause that better excused the instincts of a modern-day terrorist, his band of guerillas rapidly grew. They ambushed federal troops, robbed the Union’s mail and murdered civilians while burning and pillaging their way through every anti-slavery community in their path. Eventually he was commissioned as a Captain in an authorized Missouri detachment, but always operated outside the official chain of command.

Quantrill was described as about 5’ 9”with a Roman nose and sandy hair. He always wore a slouch hat and high-heeled boots to enhance his stature, but it was his reputation that made him a bigger-than-life hero to many southern sympathizers. Under his lead rode Frank and Jessie James and the Younger brothers who after the war continued their Quantrill-learned hit-and-run tactics to rob banks. As well as superior leadership he was a strategist of uncommon skills. So effective were his devises that Union forces never gained the upper hand over his mercenaries.

His finest hour (in his mind) and the most despicable as seen by ethical citizens, was the August 1863 raid on Lawrence Kansas. In retaliation for a perceived Union crime against Confederate prisoners, Quantrill led more than four hundred guerillas with the intent of destroying the town. The strangest and most repulsive action resulted from his twisted, heretofore unspoken code that forbid harm to women—but forced them to watch as their husbands and sons were murdered.

With an estimated two hundred killed and most of the town burned, retribution by the Union was swift and far reaching. Quantrill, never one to stand and fight, fled to Texas. Even some of his most hard-edged followers had been sickened by the slaughter in Lawrence and the Confederate command became disgusted and embarrassed by his atrocities. Texas authorities requested he leave. In the spring of 1864 he returned to Missouri, but there the rebels suffered one of their worst defeats. With resistance stronger and Quantrill having been declared an outlaw, he slipped away to Kentucky.

Organized Union troops had never come close to capturing him so they opted for a different tact. A man named Edwin Terrell—nearly as dastardly a wretch as Quantrill, on the premise that “it takes one to know one,” was authorized to hunt him down.  On May 10, 1865 Terrell’s small band caught up with Quantrill and a few of his men in Taylorsville, Kentucky. In a shootout Quantrill was struck by a bullet that lodged in his spine, instantly paralyzing him. He was taken to Louisville where he declined in agony for nearly a month before dying at the age of twenty-seven.  Fearing vandalism, his grave was disguised and left unmarked –which should have signaled the end to America’s most monstrous myth. It’s ironic that for years Quantrill’s name was spoken like a bad omen, but it was only after his death that the “raiders” designation was added—inserting new verve into the legacy and keeping it alive.

Twenty- two years later Quantrill’s saga was further resuscitated with the treachery and deceit befitting the subject and all the miscreants involved. Quantrill’s mother enlisted the help of William Scott, a boyhood friend of Quantrill’s, to bring his remains back home to Dover. In Kentucky the remains were exhumed and Mrs. Quantrill identified them by a chipped tooth. She was denied permission to remove the vestiges from the state—so a scheme was devised to steal them.

For two years following, Mrs. Quantrill toured Kentucky, Missouri and Kansas attempting to learn all she could of her son’s wartime activities, and returned to Dover for the final interment. However, Scott who had interim possession of the body parts pilfered the skull, some hair and five arm and leg bones. There was a burial, but it’s unclear whether it was with deception or agreement. There is certainty of course, that the coffin lacked all the remains. Afterward Scott tried to sell the skull to the Kansas State Historical Society, and the bones and hair were in their possession for a time. It’s also acknowledged that the skull was later in the possession of Scott’s son and used in fraternity initiations. Years passed before it was donated to a Dover museum where it remained until October 1992 when a decision for closure put the skull to rest in a tiny coffin in the Dover’s Fourth Street Cemetery. A flat marker can be found in the Quantrill family plot in the right rear of the burial ground near the alley.

In that same month the five bones and hair were finally re-interred at the Old Confederate Veterans Home and Cemetery in Higginsville, Missouri.

William Quantrill’s story is not the most dignified of Ohio’s past, and many are more than willing to let Missouri and Kansas have an outsized share of his legacy.  To this day there are descendents who deny connection to Quantrill.

Matt Lauezenheiser, director of the Dover Historical Society and the historical J. E. Reeves Mansion located at 325 E. Iron Avenue said, “We don’t celebrate Quantrill Day here in Dover.”  In the Carriage House Museum at the rear of the Reeves Mansion there is a life-size wax replica of William Quantrill’s head—but you’ll have to ask to see it. Lauezeheiser says they are not trying to hide it, but for preservation they keep it stored in a refrigerator.

In all its perversity, this Dover native’s tale is still among the most memorable of Buckeye state folklore. Who can forget the narrative of Quantrill’s Raiders? It’s part of history.

Go  to www.dovershistory.org or call 800-815-2794 for hours, tours, and prices.