Columbia College-Lake of the Ozarks 'story telling' history professor Jim Pasley continues with the fourth installment of his series of essays commemorating the Civil War

This article appeared in the Dec. 16-17 edition of the Lake Sun newspaper.

Lesson 4: Guerrillas made history in Civil War

To help commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, we asked Columbia College history professor Jim Pasley, also known as the ‘story telling’ teacher to give us a little more insight into the history of the war.
Read Lesson 1

Read Lesson 2
Read Lesson 3
Read Lesson 5

There were basically two groups of guerrillas that came into existence in Missouri during the Civil War. One group was formed by the confederate commanders of the Trans-Mississippi Army of the Confederacy. The other group was made up of people who joined to seek revenge for the atrocities committed in their communities by the Union Army.

The most famous of the latter group was a band of guerrillas led by William Clarke Quantrill. To this day, Quantrill remains a legend of the Civil War yet he never fought in any of the major battles such as Shiloh or Gettysburg and never commanded a force of over 200 men.

Quantrill was a northerner, born on July 31, 1837, in Canal Dover, Ohio, the oldest of 12 children.  He lived only 27 years. His father was a high school teacher and at 16 William followed in his father’s footsteps and became a teacher who taught in Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana. In 1857, at the age of 19, he moved to Miami County, Kansas.

William Clarke Quantrill was a small man, 5’9” with reddish brown hair and a compact build. He was quiet spoken and did not look like what you would expect a guerrilla to look like.

Upon arriving in Kansas, he soon realized that teaching and farming were not the lifestyles he wanted. He moved to Lawrence, Kansas and soon began running with a rough crowd. Some of the boys he ran with were Lawrence abolitionists.
In the winter of 1860, Quantrill was accused of stealing a horse and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Fearing the law, Quantrill now sought a way to get out of Kansas.

He now came up with a plan to do just that. He called on 5 of his abolitionist friends and told them he knew where they could go in Missouri and steal 25 slaves from a wealthy planter. During this time, thugs from Kansas were known to steal Missouri slaves and then sell them back to their owners. It was a very profitable but also very risky business.

Armed with pistols, Quantrill led the 5 men to the farm of Morgan Walker in Blue Springs, Missouri. Quantrill told the others he would ride ahead and scout out the area. What he actually did was ride straight to the Walker farm and warn him what was about to happen. He told Walker that he should go get his neighbors and have them hide in the bushes with their guns. He then told Walker that he would go get the abolitionists and bring them to the farm in about an hour. When he returned, Walker was to allow Quantrill to knock on the front door and let Quantrill inside. As soon as Quantrill was in, the neighbors would spring the ambush.

The plan worked perfectly. As soon as Quantrill was inside, the neighbors opened fire killing the 5 abolitionists. Quantrill had instantly gone from being a wanted horse thief in Kansas, to a hero in Missouri!

The fight at the Walker farm was reported in the Kansas City newspapers and Quantrill made up a story about his past to cover his background. He claimed he was a native of Maryland and that he and his brother were on a trip to Pike’s Peak the previous year. As they passed through Kansas they were ambushed by abolitionists. He claimed they killed his brother and left him for dead at the side of the road. Quantrill said an old Indian found him and nursed him back to health. He then joined the abolitionists under an assumed name and waited for his chance to seek revenge. This story was repeated time and time again and even Quantrill’s men believed it to be true.
Following the incident at Walker's farm, Quantrill remained in Missouri and soon formed his famous band of guerrillas fighting on the side of the Confederacy. This group included Cole Younger and his brothers as well as Frank and Jesse James. In our next lesson, we will follow the exploits of Quantrill and his men as they wreak havoc on the Union forces occupying Missouri under Marshall Law.