The residents of Lawrence, Kansas, would never forget what happened on August 21, 1863, if indeed they were lucky enough to survive. The reason for the bloody raid that left nearly two hundred men dead and caused between $1 million and $1.5 million in damage (in 1863 dollars) is still the subject of speculation. Whether it was in retaliation for an attack by Senator James H. Lane’s “jayhawkers” on Osceola, or revenge for the collapse of a women’s prison in Kansas City that killed relatives of “Bloody” Bill Anderson and other guerrillas, the event that would come to be called the Lawrence Massacre was one of the largest and most significant acts of violence on civilians in the American Civil War.

It would forever alter the destiny of William C. Quantrill and his infamous Raiders. And the ramifications would echo into the next century in a small town in northwest Missouri.

With the declaration of war in 1861, the North and South separated into usually well-defined areas of battle geography that marked the American Civil War. Not so in the Missouri-Kansas border country, a regional hotbed of political and armed warfare. Unlike other border states to the east, guerrilla fighting, ambushes, raids, skirmishes, massacres, and atrocities of personal revenge between proslavery and abolitionist forces pitted neighbor against neighbor and defined the region.

Most of the early settlers who established homes, farms, and businesses in the northwest Missouri frontier were of Southern origin, hailing from states such as Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. Only later, in the 1850s, did settlers from northern states such as Ohio migrate to the fertile, well-watered forests and prairies, armed with their convictions. Both sides founded groups that sponsored and located settlers of their political persuasions: antislavery abolitionist jayhawkers to Kansas and states-rights proslavery secessionists to Missouri.

Enter the Raiders

The best known of the leaders of the Missouri bushwhackers, also called pro-Confederate partisan rangers, was William Clarke Quantrill (often spelled Quantrell in period newspapers and writings). Born in Canal Dover (today, simply called Dover), Ohio, on July 31, 1837, Quantrill was a bright but troubled young man. His behavior was constantly defended by his doting mother, who was always his champion, even as her son reached manhood. His father, a high school principal, was less supportive. In his teens, Quantrill had short-term stints of employment as a teacher in Ohio, Illinois, and later, in Kansas.

As with any larger-than-life historical figure, Quantrill’s story proves difficult, perhaps impossible, to determine where fact ends and legend begins. Nodaway County author Homer Croy wrote of Quantrill, “Because of Quantrill, widows wailed, orphans cried, maidens wept.” Croy was echoing the sentiment of William Elsey Connelley, author of the 1909 book Quantrill and the Border Wars, in his introduction to the 1956 Civil War Book Club edition of Connelley’s book.

A solitary youngster with few friends, young Quantrill is said to have relished inflicting pain and torture on animals, finding pleasure in stabbing horses and cattle by the roadside to hear them scream.

Unsettled, he appeared to always be on the move, often pushed and honed by associations with gamblers, thieves, and killers in his late teens. In 1860, he joined a group of free-state activists, jayhawkers in Kansas, switching over later to lead a band of pro- Confederate guerrillas in Missouri to kill and maim Union soldiers and pro-North citizens.

Quantrill joined the Confederate army and fought in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek near Springfield in 1861, the first major battle of the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the Civil War. But devotion to a cause and carrying out orders were not to Quantrill’s liking. He soon broke with the army, complaining that the South was not fighting with necessary ferocity and commitment, and formed a band of renegades, robbers, and murderers. Quantrill received a field commission as captain in the Confederate army in August 1862 under the Confederate Partisan Act, but he often referred to himself as “Colonel.” Unlike Quantrill, his band of raiders never was sanctioned by the Confederate government.

Lawrence Burns

On the bloody August day when Quantrill’s renegade band of more than four hundred guerrillas attacked Lawrence, which was then known as the center of antislavery sentiment, many of the bushwhackers allied with or under the leadership of Quantrill would not participate in the carnage. Even as the smoke cleared from the attack on Lawrence, Southern support for Quantrill’s Raiders was beginning to fade.

After the raid on Lawrence, during the winter of 1863- 1864, Quantrill lost control of his guerrilla forces. Despite their gain in notoriety and expansion in numbers, accompanied by increasing expertise in the American Indian style of guerrilla fighting, the group was considered undisciplined and dangerous. The confidence of the men in their leader was slipping; many suspected that as a Northerner, Quantrill fought for no principles, just self-serving purposes of gathering plunder and increasing military rank.

During a tumultuous winter in Texas, the group divided into bands, each commanded by a “lieutenant” such as George Todd and “Bloody” Bill Anderson. When the command returned to west-central Missouri in the spring of 1864, the final break occurred. With Anderson and Quantrill parting company before leaving Texas, Todd took command of the larger remaining splinter group. Accused of “having lost his sand,” Quantrill took a small nucleus of about forty loyal bushwhackers and headed east toward Kentucky.

Quantrill supposedly informed his men that they would enter Kentucky and work their way to Washington, DC, where they would assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. But more than likely, Quantrill planned to link up with General Robert E. Lee’s army, believing that the men would be considered Southern soldiers and would be pardoned with the coming end of the war in Virginia. But public opinion had turned against the raiders. Considered guerillas and not recognized as legitimate soldiers, Quantrill’s men were denied the general amnesty offered to the Confederate army upon Lee’s surrender. Viewed as outlaws, Quantrill’s men faced certain death if captured in Missouri.

Kentucky was a bushwacker’s paradise. Bandits and renegades on both sides roamed freely throughout, robbing and killing at will.

The Quantrill band joined with other guerrilla groups operating in the Bluegrass State, such as the group led by Marcellus Jerome Clark (also known as Sue Mundy) to terrorize with relatively little fear of reprisal or punishment. As Quantrill’s band maneuvered through Kentucky dressed in federal uniforms, the men passed themselves off openly as members of the nonexistent US 4th Missouri Cavalry. Posing as “Captain Clarke,” Quantrill continued to use the effective guise of his command as a Missouri unit detached to the Bluegrass State to track down secessionist guerrillas.

Unknown to the twenty-seven-year-old chieftain of Quantrill’s Raiders, the final hour was near. Ironically, the poseur would be chased by authentic guerrilla hunters. With the end of the Civil War around the corner, the Union had driven the formal Confederate army presence from Missouri and was redirecting troops to hunt down the guerrilla bands still operating in the upper South. Pursuit by guerrilla-hunting units became ruthless.

Closing In

Following the old adage, “It takes a thief to catch a thief,” federal authorities commissioned Union Captain Edwin Terrell, a leader of federal guerrillas in Spencer County, Kentucky, to hunt down the handful of men still in Quantrill’s band. Terrell himself held the poorest of reputations. At a very young age, he had joined the Kentucky Confederate troops. After about a year, he converted to the Union side where his federal guerrillas plundered and killed Southern sympathizers, an official but lawless band.

It would be this group of “scouts,” under the command of a young officer of the worst imaginable reputation, that would hunt down William Quantrill and end his life.

Quantrill’s last battle occurred in a pasture and wooded draw and barn lot near Taylorville in Spencer County, Kentucky, on May 10, 1865. Headquartered at the James H. Wakefield farm, the gang had sheltered its horses under the sheds around the barn, protecting them from a rainstorm. Some of the outlaws were relaxing, shedding tension with a sham battle of hurled corncobs and taking naps in a hayloft. They were somewhat comfortable in the knowledge that Captain Terrell’s guerrilla-hunting scouts were miles away with no knowledge of their whereabouts.

But the security of Quantrill’s crew was misplaced. Terrell’s scouts were on the pike just over the hill from the Wakefield farm, across the pasture from a blacksmith shop, when they received the report of a body of horsemen nearby. According to Connelley in Quantrill and the Border Wars, “The men of Captain Terrell went briskly up the lane, and, rising the swell, charged down upon the barn, unslinging carbines and getting pistols in hand. Coming in range, fire was opened and yells set up to terrify the Missourians.”

The terrified men scrambled wildly for their horses, Connelley wrote, adding that “those who were fortunate enough to mount, fled in a mad route.” Sleeping in the barn loft, Quantrill was unable to secure his gun-shy mount and pursued his men on foot. At least two heard his pleas and turned back to wait for him, guaranteeing their demise from pursuing gunshots as their leader fell mortally wounded.

Many books and articles have attempted to tell an accurate story of Quantrill’s last battle, but only someone who was present would have the final information. That eyewitness to history was a young soldier named John Langford.

A Missouri newspaper, The Albany Ledger, published since 1868, is rich in information about the last chapter of Quantrill’s life. In an article published Friday, October 11, 1907, the newspaper states, “Here in Gentry County, some five or six miles from Albany, resides a man in the person of John Langford who has the distinction of having shot the guerrilla. Those acquainted with him will understand why he has never been given prominence by the press for the act. He is a quiet, unassuming gentleman, and it was with some difficulty that we gained his consent to relate the incidents of the much-discussed event.”

The Quiet Hero

John Langford was born May 15, 1836, in Anderson County, Kentucky, and was a member of Company B, 15th Kentucky Infantry, the band of scouts who pursued Quantrill’s band. After the Civil War, he drifted to Illinois and on to southwest Iowa. In the late 1890s, Langford settled in northwest Missouri, south of Albany.

“The fact that a bullet from his revolver closed the career of the celebrated Quantrell [sic] was common talk among the twenty-eight men who composed the scouting party,” the Ledger reported in the same story. By some means apparently unknown to Langford, Quantrill’s mother later tracked down Langford’s location and sent several letters to him, “inquiring among other things if he had any relics” of Quantrill’s body still in his possession, the Ledger reported.

Contact between Langford and Quantrill’s mother was handled by W. W. Scott, one of Quantrill’s boyhood friends. The Ledger in yet another article on Friday, November 1, 1907, reported, “Monday, Mr. Langford brought this office a batch of letters from W.W. Scott, of Canal Dover, Ohio, where Quantrell’s [sic] mother resided until her death and where the guerrilla was born and raised. Scott was a personal friend of Quantrell’s [sic].” The letters Scott wrote to Langford were dated in the 1890s, as Scott collected facts for a book on Quantrill.

John Langford appeared to be a cautious man. With perhaps a bit of trepidation still in his heart, he delayed releasing much information locally except to family and close friends. The mild-mannered Langford did not consider the much-discussed event worthy of further dialogue and was said to be somewhat careful around regions where Quantrill loyalists still lived.

An earlier letter penned by Langford to Scott on September 8, 1888, from Clarinda, Iowa, is now in the possession of The Filson Historical Society and University of Kentucky Libraries, providing an eyewitness sketch of the last battle of William Clarke Quantrill.

Select quotes from this letter confirm that Langford was with Edwin Terrell’s party pursuing Quantrill’s men in Kentucky in 1865 and that he was the man who killed him. In reply to one of Scott’s letters, Langford wrote, “Col. Terrell’s band consisted of about twenty men, and was organized for the express purpose of driving Quantrill from Kentucky.” His letter also confirms Terrell’s reputation. “Terrell was a bad man,” Langford wrote. “Perhaps as bad as the man he was hunting down.”

According to Langford’s letter, as the Terrell scouting party approached the Wakefield farm that May day in 1865, the Quantrill gang stampeded just as the scouts reached the fence around the barn. One small group of raiders headed across the cow pasture for the timber. Langford, in pursuit, made his selection. He was on a good horse, quick to gain on the footman. Langford described the shooting in few words: “I shot him in the left shoulder—just back of the shoulder blade—the ball ranging downward and lodging in the right groin.” Quantrill was reportedly shot a second time as he fell, the bullet cutting off the trigger finger of his right hand. At least one source claims the second shot was from Captain Terrell’s Colt revolver.

Seeing his target go down, Langford turned to assist the other soldiers of the Kentucky regiment. “After I shot him, I went to help the others get Glasscock and Hockensmith.” Dick Glasscock and Clark Hockensmith were the two bushwhackers who had turned to help Quantrill and were killed by the scouts. “I then came back to him, where he told me who he was,” Langford added.

The guerrilla leader was carried to Wakefield’s farmhouse, paralyzed below the arms from gunshot damage to the spine. A doctor examined him and advised him that his days were numbered and he should settle his business affairs. Although Langford wrote that Quantrill had revealed his identity to him in the pasture soon after he was shot, the farmer in whose house the guerilla was taken has said that the wounded man later denied he was Quantrill. He continued to claim that he was Captain Clarke of the 4th Missouri Cavalry, knowing he would be executed if his earlier confession was discovered.

Initially, Terrell believed the dying man and left him at Wakefield’s farm home while resuming the search, believing Quantrill had eluded them. Two days later, Terrell returned, having concluded that the wounded man was Quantrill. Terrell provided wagon transportation to a military hospital and prison in Louisville.

During the caravan, Quantrill was heavily guarded but treated with respect. He received medical attention in towns along the way when available. He arrived at the prison hospital on May 13, 1865. On June 6, 1865, some twenty-seven days after he was wounded, Quantrill died.

The End of the Raiders

Many guerrillas involved in Quantrill’s last foray into Kentucky met violent ends. At least three of the raiders died during the same assault at which Quantrill was mortally wounded. Other members of the band—including Frank James and Cole Younger’s brother, Jim—dispersed. Almost two years later, Terrell, the Union renegade, was shot by the town marshal of Shelbyville, after fleeing from prosecution for the murder of an Illinois stock merchant. He lived for another two years in great pain from his wound before dying on December 13, 1868.

Quantrill’s executioner met a much more peaceful end, much later in life. “John Langford died at his home, six miles south of Albany, at 7 o’clock last Sat. morning, April 9th of tuberculosis of the bone,” lamented yet another article in the The Albany Ledger, on Friday, April 15, 1910. Compared to most soldiers, renegades, and border ruffians with whom he fought, Langford’s life was long and fruitful, full of his family and friends.

“While Langford had the distinction of shooting Quantrill, the notorious guerrilla leader, he was never boastful,” the newspaper eulogized. “He was a conscientious, unassuming man, and was not one to try to perpetuate a fraud on the public. By comparison, William Clarke Quantrill was one of the most dangerous men of the Border Wars, cutting a swath of atrocities wherever he and the Quantrill Raiders rode.”

Even the remains of the troubled young warrior, William Clarke Quantrill, have found little peace in death. In a twisted set of circumstances, some playing out in more recent years, the guerrilla leader’s bones have been scattered in restless interment at Dover, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; and the old Confederate Soldiers Home cemetery in Higginsville, Missouri.

John Langford rests in peace near his Missouri farm and friends in a beautiful country cemetery south of Albany.