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A True Story of Chas. W. Quantrell And His Guerrilla Band    

By J. P. Burch     As Told By Captain Harrison Trow

 

Death of Quantrell

   Quantrell, with forty-eight of the most daring of his old band, accompanied Shepherd as far south as White River, Arkansas. He left them there to go to his old home in Maryland. He passed all Federal camps, had no trouble staying in Federal camps, eating with Federal soldiers, playing Federal himself until he reached Upton Station, in Hart County, Kentucky, where he crossed the Louisiana & Nashville Railroad, still representing himself and his men as Federal soldiers.
   Near Marion County he entered the Lebanon and Campbellville turnpike at Rolling Fork and traveled north to New Market, thence east to Bradford, and from Bradford towards Hustonville, camping for the night preceding the entrance into this place at Major Dray's, on Rolling Fork. Thirty Federal soldiers were at garrison at Hustonville, possessed of as many horses in splendid condition, and these Quantrell determined to appropriate. No opposition was made to his entrance into the town. No one imagined him to be other than a Union officer on a scout.
   He dismounted quietly at a hotel in the place and entered at once into a pleasant conversation with the commander of the post. Authorized by their chieftain, however, to remount themselves as speedily as possible and as thoroughly as possible, the Guerrillas spread quickly over the town in search for horses, appropriating first what could be found in the public stables and later on those that were still needed to supply the deficiency, from private places.
   As Quantrell conversed with the commander, a federal private made haste to inform him of the kind of work the newcomers were doing, and to complain loudly of the unwarranted and outrageous appropriation.
   Enraged and excited, the commander snatched up a brace of revolvers as he left his headquarters and buckled them about him and hurried to the nearest livery stable where the best among the animals of his men had been kept. Just as he arrived, Allen Parmer was riding out mounted on a splendid horse. The Federal major laid hands upon the bridle and bade Parmer dismount. It was as the grappling of a wave with a rock.
   No Guerrilla in the service of the South was cooler or deadlier; none less given to the emotion of fear. He looked at the Federal major a little curiously when he first barred the passageway of his horse and even smiled pleasantly as he took the trouble to explain to him the nature of the instructions under which he was operating.
   "D——n you and d——n your instructions," the major replied fiercely. "Dismount!"           "Ah," ejaculated Parmer, "has it really come to this?" and then the two men began to draw. Unquestionably there could be but one result. The right hand of the Federal major had hardly reached the flap of his revolver, before Parmer's pistol was against his forehead, and Parmer's bullet had torn half the top of his head off.
   In June, 1865, Quantrell started from Bedford Russell's, in Nelson County, with John Ross, William Hulse, Payne Jones, Clark Hockinsmith, Isaac Hall, Richard Glasscock, Robert Hall, Bud Spence, Allen Parmer, Dave Helton and Lee McMurtry. His destination was Salt River.
   At Newel McClaskey's the turnpike was gained and traveled several miles, when a singularly severe and penetrating rain storm began. Quantrell, to escape this, turned from the road on the left and into a woods pasture near a postoffice called Smiley. Through this pasture and for half a mile further he rode until he reached the residence of a Mr. Wakefield, in whose barn the Guerrillas took shelter.    Unsuspicious of danger and of the belief that the nearest enemy was at least twenty miles away, the men dismounted, unbridled their horses, and fed them at the racks ranged about the shed embracing two sides of the barn.
   While the horses were eating the Guerrillas amused themselves with a sham battle, choosing sides and using corncobs for ammunition. In the midst of much hilarity and boisterousness, Glasscock's keen eye saw through the blinding rain a column of cavalry, one hundred and twenty strong, approaching the barn at a trot.
He cried out instantly, and loud enough to be heard at Wakefield'a house sixty yards away: "Here they are! Here they are." Instantly all the men were in motion and rushing to their horses.
   Captain Edward Terrill, known well to Quantrell and fought stubbornly once before, had been traveling the turnpike from the direction of Taylorsville, as completely ignorant of Quantrell's proximity as Quantrell had been of his, and would have passed on undoubtedly without a combat if the trail left by the Guerrillas in passing; from the road to the pasture had not attracted attention. This he followed to within sight of the barn, understood in a moment the character of the men sheltered there, and closed upon it rapidly, firing as he came on.
   Before a single Guerrilla had put a bridle upon a horse, Terrill was at the main gate of the lot, a distance of some fifty feet from the barn, and pouring such a storm of carbine bullets among them that their horses ran furiously about the lot, difficult to approach and impossible to restrain.
   Fighting desperately and deliberately, and driving away from the main gate a dozen or more Federals stationed there, John Ross, William Hulse, Allen Parmer, Lee McMurtry, and Bud Pence, cut their way through, mounted and defiant. The entire combat did not last ten minutes. It was a fight in which every man had to do for himself and do what was done speedily.
   Once above the rattling of musketry, the neighing of horses and the shouting of combatants, Quantrell's voice rang out loud and clear: ''Cut thorugh, boys, cut through somehow! Dont' surrender while there is a chance to get out,"
   The fire upon the Guerrillas was furious. Quantrell's horse, a thoroughbred animal of great spirit and speed, could not be caught. His master, anxious to secure him, followed him composedly about the lot for several minutes, trying under showers of bullets to get hands upon his favorite.
   At this moment Clark Hockinsmith, who was mounted and free to go away at a run, saw the peril of his chief, and galloped to his rescue. Quantrell, touched by this act of devotion, recognized it by a smile, and held out his hand to his comrade without speaking. Hockingsmith dismounted until Quantrell took his own place in the saddle, and then sprang up behind him.
   Another furious volley from Terrell's men lining all the fence about the great gate, killed Hockingsmith and killed the horse he and Quantrell were upon. The second hero now gave his life to Quantrell. Richard Glasscock also hurl secured his own horse as Hockinsmith had done and was free too ride away in safely as he had been.
   Opposite the main entrance to the barn lot there was an exit uncovered by the enemy and beyond this exit a stretch of heavy timber. Those who gained the timber were safe. Hockingsmith knew it when he deliberately laid down his life for his chief, and Glass-cock knew it when he also turned about and hurried up to the two men struggling there—Quantrell to drag himself out from under the horse and Hockingsmith in the agonies of death.
   The second volley from the gate mortally wounded Quantrell and killed Glasscock's horse. Then a charge of fifty shouting, shooting men swept over the barn lot. Robert Hall, Payne Jones, David Helton, and Isaac Hall had gone out some time before on foot. J. B. Tooley, A. B. Southwick and C. H. Southwick, wounded badly, escaped fighting. Only the dead man lying by his wounded chief, and Glasscock, erect, splendid, and fighting to the last, remained as trophies of the desperate combat.    Two balls struck Quantrell. The first, the heavy ball of a Spencer carbine, entered close to the right collar bone, ranged down along the spine, injuring it severely, and hid itself somewhere in the body. The second ball cut off the finger next to the little finger of the left hand, tearing it from its socket, and lacerating the hand itself badly. The shoulder wound did its work, however, for it was a mortal wound. All the lower portion of Quantrell's body was paralyzed and as he waa lifted and carried to Wakefield's house his legs were limp and his extremities cold and totally without sensation.
   At no time did he either make complaint or moan. His wonderful endurance remained unimpaired to the end. His mind, always clear in danger, seemed to recognize that his last battle bad been fought and his last encounter finished. He talked very little. Terrill came to him and asked if there was any good service he might do that would be acceptable.
   "Yes," said Quantrell quietly, "have Clark Hockingsmith buried like a soldier."
   After he had been carried to the house of Wakefield and deposited upon a pallet, he spoke once more to Terrell:
   "While I live let me stay here. It is useless to haul a dying man about in a wagon, jolting out what little life there is left in him."
   "Terrell pledged his word that he should not be removed, and rode away in pursuit of those who had escaped.
   Some of the fugitive Guerrillas soon reached the well known rendezvous at the house of Alexander Sayers, twenty-three miles from Wakefield's, with tidings of the fight.
   Frank James heard the story through with a set face, strangely white and sorrowful, and then he arose and cried out: "Volunteers to go back. Who will follow me to see our chief, living or dead?"
   "I will go back," said Allen Parmer, "and I," said John Ross, and "I," said William Hulse.
   "Let us ride, then," rejoined James, and in twenty minutes more—John Ross having exchanged his jaded horse for a fresh one—these four devoted men were galloping away to Wakefield's.
   At two o'clock in the morning they were there. Frank James dismounted and knocked low upon the door. There was the trailing of a woman's garments, the circumspect tread of a watching woman's feet, the noiseless work of a woman's hand upon the latch and Mrs. Wakefield, cool and courtly, bade the strange firmed men upon the threshold to enter.
   Just across on the other side of the room from the door a man lay on a trundle bed. James stood over the bed, but he could not speak. If one had cared to look into his eyes they might have seen them full of tears,
   Quantrell, by the dim light of a single candle, recognised James, smiled and held out his hand, and said to him very gently, though a little reproachfully: "Why did you come back? The enemy are thick about you here; they are passing every hour."
   "To see if you were alive or dead, Captain. If the first, to save you; if the last, to put you in a grave."
   "I thank you very much, Frank, but why try to take me away?   I am cold below the hips. I can neither ride, walk nor crawl; I am dead and yet I am alive."
   Frank James went to the door and called in Parmer, Ross and Hulse. Quantrell recognized them all in his old, calm, quiet fashion, and bade them wipe away there tears, for they were crying visibly.
   Then Frank James, joined in his entreaties by the entreaties of his comrades, pleaded with Quantrell for permission to carry him away to the mountains of Nelson County by slow and easy stages, each swearing to guard him hour by hour until he recovered or died over his body, defending it to the last. He knew that every pledge made by them would be kept to the death. He felt that every word spoken was a golden word and meant absolute devotion. His faith in their affection was as steadfast and abiding as of old. He listened until they had done talking, with the old staid courtesy of victorious Guerrilla days, and then he silenced them with an answer which, from its resoluteness, they knew to be unalterable.
   "I cannot live. I have run a long time; I have come out unhurt from many desperate places; I have fought to kill and I have killed; I regret nothing. The end is close at hand. I am resting easy here and will die here. You do not know how your devotion has touched my heart, nor can you understand how grateful I am for the love you have shown me. Try and get back to your homes, and avoid if you can the perils that beset you."
   Until 10 o'clock the next day these men remained with Quantrell. He talked with them very freely of the past, but never of the earlier life in Kansas. Many messages were sent to absent friends, and much good advice was given touching the surrender of the remnant of the band. Again and again he returned to the earlier struggles in Missouri and dwelt long over the recollections and the reminscences of the first two years of Guerrilla warfare.
   Finally the parting came, and those who looked first upon Quantrell's face that morning as they stooped to tell him goodbye, looked their last upon it forever.
   Terrill had promised Quantrell positively that he should not be removed from Wakefield's house, but in three days he had either forgotten his promise or had deliberately broken his pledge. He informed General Palmer, commanding the department of Kentucky, of tho facts of the fight, and of the desperate character of the wounded officer left paralyzed behind him, suggesting at the same time the advisability of having him removed to a place of safety.
   General Palmer sent an ambulance under a heavy escort to Wakefield's house and Quantrell, suffering greatly and scarcely more alive than dead, was hauled to the military hospital in Louisville and deposited there.
   Until the question of recovery had been absolutely decided against him, but few friends were permitted into his presence. If any one conversed with him at all, the conversation of necessity was required to be carried on in the presence of an official. Mrs. Ross visited him thus—Christian woman, devoted to the South, and of active and practical patriotism—and took some dying messages to loved and true ones in Missouri.
Mrs. Ross left him at one o'clock in the afternoon and at four the next afternoon the great Guerrilla died.
   His passing away, after a life so singularly fitful and tempestuous, was as the passing of a summer cloud. He had been asleep, and as he awoke he called for water. A Sister of Charity at the bedside put a glass of water to his lips, but he did not drink. She heard him murmur once audibly—"Boys, get ready." Then a long pause, then one word more—"Steady!" and then when she drew back from bending over the murmuring man, she fell upon her knees and prayed. Quantrell was dead.
   Before his death he had become a Catholic and had been visited daily by two old priests. To one of these he made confession, and such a confession! He told everything. He was too serious and earnest a man to do less. He kept nothing back, not even the least justifiable of his many homicides.
   As the priest listened and listened, and as year after year of the wild war work was made to give up its secrets, what manner of a man must the priest have imagined lay dying there.
   Let history be just. On that hospital bed, watched by the calm, colorless face of a Sister of Charity, a dead man lay who, when living, had filled with his deeds four years of terrible war history. A singularly placid look had come with the great change. Alike was praise or censure, reward or punishment. Fate had done its wort and the future stood revealed to the spirit made omniscent by its journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. He had done with summer's heat and winter's cold, with spectral ambuscades and midnight vigils. There would never be any war in the land of the hereafter. The swoop of cavalry, the roar of combat, the agony of defeat, white faces trampled by the iron hoofs of horses, the march—the bivouac, the battle; what remains of these when the transfiguration was done and when the river called Jordan rolled between the shores of the finite and the infinite? Nothing! And yet by those, standing or falling, must the great Guerrilla be judged.
   Quantrell differed in some degree from every Guerrilla who was either a comrade or his contemporary. Not superior to Todd in courage and enterprise, nor to Haller, Poole, Jarrette, Younger, Taylor, Anderson, Frank James, Gregg, Lea, Maddox, Dan Vaughn, or Yager, he yet had one peculiar quality which none of these save Gregg, Frank James, Thrailkill, Lea and Younger possessed to the same pre-eminent decree— extraordinary resource and cunning.
   All the Guerrillas fought. Indeed, at certain times and urider certain conditions fighting might justly have been considered the least of their accomplishments. A successful leader requires coolness, interpridity, rubust health, fine horsemanship, expert pistol practice, quick perception in peril, great rapidity of movement, immense activity, and inexorable fixedness of purpose.
   Those mentioned excelled in these qualities, but at times they were too eager to fight, took too many desperate chances, or rushed too recklessly into combats where they could not win. Quantrell counted the cost of everything; watched every way lest an advantage should be taken of him; sought to shield and save; his men; strove by much strategy to have the odds with rather than against him; traveled a multitude of long roads rather than one short one once too often ; took upon himself many disguises to prevent an embarrassing familiarity; retreat often rather than fight and be worsted; kept scouts everywhere; had the faculty of divination to an almost occult degree; believed in young men; paid attention to small things; listened to every man's advice and then took his own; stood-by his soldiers; obeyed strictly the law of retaliation; preferred the old dispensation to the new—that in to say, the code of Moses to the code of Jesus Christ; inculcated by precept and example the self abnegation and devotion to comrade; fought desperately; carried a black flag; killed everything; made the idea of surrender ridiculous; snapped his fingers at death; was something of a fatalist; rarely drank; trusted few women, but these with his life; played high at cards; believed in religion; respected its ordinances; went at intervals to church; understood human nature thoroughly; never quarreled; was generally taciturn and one of the coolest and deadliest men in a personal combat known to the border. He rode like he was carved from the horse beneath him. In an organization where skill with a pistol was a passport to leadership he shot with a revolver as Leatherstocking shot with a rifle. He drilled his men to fight equally with either hand. Fairly matched, God help the column that came in contact with him.
   As to the kind of warfare Quantrell waged, that is another matter. Like the the war of La Vendee, the Guerrilla war was one rather of hatred than of opinion. The regular Confederates were fighting for a cause and a nationality—the Guerrilla for vengeance. Mementoes of murdered kinsmen mingled with their weapons; vows consecrated the act of enlistment and the cry for blood was heard from homestead to homestead. Quantrell became a Guerrilla because he had been most savagely dealt with, and he became a chief because he had prudence, firmness, courage, audacity and common sense. In personal intrepidity he was inferior to no man. His features were pleasing without being handsome, his eyes were blue and penetrating. He had a Roman nose. In heighth he was five feet, eleven inches, and his form was well knit, graceful and sinewy. His constitution was vigorous, and his physical endurance equal to an Indian. His glance was rapid and unerring. His judgment was clearest and surest when the responsibility was heaviest, and when the difficulties gathered thickest about him. Based upon skill, energy, perspicacity and unusual presence of mind, his fame as a Guerrilla will endure for generations.
   Quantrell died a Catholic and was buried in a Catholic cemetery at Louisville, Kentucky.

 

 
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Transcribed by James R. Baker, Jr. (jrbakerjr)

 
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