The Missouri in the Civil War Message Board

Quantrill's Lawrence Raid

I have spent a week or so analyzing data from Paul Petersen’s account of Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence in “Quantrill of Missouri.” For comparison I have included data from Richard Cordley’s “History of Lawrence”, and various list of the killed, injured, and missing. I spent some time trying to reconcile differences in spelling of names, and trying to verify military status using the National Park Service’s database of Civil War Soldiers and Sailors. I used an Excel spreadsheet to hold the data, and to do “what if” comparisons.

Petersen wrote an excellent, very well researched book. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in knowing more about Quantrill. One thing I value highly is when an author makes their biases clear early on. Petersen does this admirably. He contends, correctly, that since history is written by the victors, the South has been badly maligned in many books. He feels that this is especially the case for Quantrill. Northern newspapers did create lurid accounts of the raid, with little attention to accuracy.

Petersen further feels that Quantrill was an exceptional military leader, and that he established many of the tactics of guerrilla warfare. I served in the US Army from 1964 to 1967. My poor physical shape did not qualify me for anything but a medic. I did, however, get the opportunity to take pre-commission and unconventional warfare courses. These were purely theoretical, and included irregular warfare and psychological operations. I suspect that this was what disqualified me for the Peace Corps later in life.

The Raid on Lawrence is central to any understanding of Quantrill, and his Rangers. There were many other Confederate officers who were sent into Missouri to recruit and conduct guerrilla warfare. Col Joseph C Porter is just one example. They tend to have a much better reputation then Quantrill. Had Quantrill not attacked Lawrence, I suspect that he would be remembered much as Petersen feels he should.

It is, therefore, very important that Petersen be able to justify the Lawrence Raid. Anyone who has studied this knows that it was in retaliation for Union atrocities. These include the sacking of Osceola, many raids by Jennison’s Jayhawkers, atrocities committed by Redlegs, General Orders targeting the families of guerrillas, and especially the collapse of the temporary women’s prison in Kansas City.

Military operations, however, need to be about more then retaliation. They need to have some strategic objective. They need to help the cause for which the soldiers are fighting. It should be noted that Quantrill was acting under the Confederate Partisan Ranger Act. This Act gave authority for irregular operations behind enemy lines.

Petersen contends that Lawrence was a legitimate military target for several reasons. It was the home of many jayhawkers, redlegs, and their leaders. It was the home of those who championed radical abolitionist and warfare against slave owners. Livestock and loot stolen from Missouri farms was taken to Lawrence for storage and sale. The newspapers broadcast a call for war against the South, and against Southerners in Missouri.

What I tried to do was make some sort of estimate of how many of those killed or wounded at Lawrence were a military threat to Missouri Southerners. I have followed Petersen’s lead and included any member of a Union regiment, jayhawkers, redlegs, militia, editors, radical abolitionists, and men who were armed when Quantrill attacked.

Petersen identifies eighty-one residents of Lawrence, and surrounding areas by name. Sixty-six (81%) of these would meet his definition of a military threat. Fifteen (19%) do not. Richard Cordley, a resident of Lawrence who was there during the attack, identifies fifty residents by name. Twenty-eight (55%) of them meet Petersen’s definition of a military threat, while twenty-two (45%) do not. The list I compiled of those killed or wounded contains a hundred and twenty-nine additional names that are not mentioned by either Petersen or Cordley.

Since neither Cordley, nor the lists of victims, gives information about redlegs, jayhawkers, and other irregular non-military threats I had to estimate these. I did so by using proportions of regular military to irregular from Petersen’s list. I was generous to Petersen in the assumptions I made. I estimated the number of regular military men by using the Soldiers and Sailors database. If there was a perfect match on the name, and only one, I considered that person to be a soldier. For those with common names that had multiple matches, I estimate one-half to be soldiers.

It should be noted that those identified as jayhawkers and redlegs are not listed in the Soldiers and Sailors database. Petersen uses the term “Jayhawker” to refer to any Kansas regiment. He also uses jayhawker to refer to individuals who did not belong to a regular regiment. The Redlegs were a guerrilla group centered in Lawrence. They made raids into Missouri. “Jennison’s Jayhawkers” was the Seventh Kansas Cavalry. All of these groups gained a very poor reputation among Union authorities. Many attempts were made to suppress them. Jennison’s Jayhawkers were ordered west to fight Indians. Jennison refused to go, and resigned his commission. The regiment was sent east of the Mississippi. They were in operations there at the time of the Lawrence Raid.

The soldiers identified using the Soldiers and Sailors database may have been in a regiment before the raid, but had been discharged. They may have been on furlough. Some of them did not enlist until after the raid, such as Hoffman Collamore who was wounded in the raid. His father was the Mayor, and Quarter Master General for Kansas. The father died during the raid.

Using these methods I decided that among the hundred and twenty-nine men not mentioned by either Petersen of Cordley, sixty-eight (52%) meet the definition of military, while sixty-one (48%) do not. Looking at the entire list of names of those mentioned in any of my sources, 59% meet the definition of military, and 41% do not.

Cordley has clearly emphasized the non-military residents of Lawrence, while Petersen emphasized the military. As I said, I used Petersen’s numbers to estimate how many of the men who were not in regular army regiments might have been jayhawkers, redlegs, radical abolitionists, or their vocal supporters.

Among the killed and wounded 58% are military while 42% are not. Among those who were not injured 64% were military while 36% were not. That tends to support Cordley’s contention that the military men were more likely to take cover at the first sounds of the raid, while the non-military would not. That leaves us with names of one-hundred and three men who were a military threat and were killed or wounded by Quantrill’s raiders, and names of seventy-six who were not. This estimate makes liberal use of Petersen’s definition of who is a threat, and who is not. It would appear that Quantrill’s raiders killed at least seventy-six men who were no threat to them, or to their cause.

As I said above, military operations need to have some strategic value, and must support the cause for which the soldiers fight. The Lawrence Raid seems to fail this test. As a result of the raid, the Confederate Government soon repealed the Partisan Ranger Act. Officials in Richmond and high Confederate commanders denounced the raid. It struck a potent psychological blow for the North, and hurt the South deeply. All families in Jackson, Cass, and Bates Counties were expelled and lost their homes and most of their possessions.

Had Quantrill not led the raid, he would be remembered as Petersen feels he should. Petersen convinces me that Quantrill is much maligned, and that he was a genius who helped develop the art of guerrilla warfare. I am not convinced, however, that Quantrill’s Raid of Lawrence helped the Confederacy or the South.

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Quantrill's Lawrence Raid