Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Today in Historical Revisionism

There is, I just discovered, a William Clarke Quantrill Society, aka The Missouri Partisan Rangers,
dedicated to the study of the Border War and the War of Northern Aggression on the Missouri-Kansas border with an emphasis on the lives of Quantrill, his men, his supporters, his adversaries, and the resulting historical record.
On their Facts and Questions Page, I find
Why have historians treated Quantrill's band so unkindly?

One must always remember history is written by the winner. Missouri was truly a divided state. In this instance, many of Quantrill's followers, or their families, had suffered great injustices from overzealous Union men. Many times men were accused of rebel leanings by neighbors. Though the accusations were untrue, their homes were burned or they were expelled from the county with no recourse. At this point they would became rebels if they weren't before.
Which, I don't know, may be true about somebody or even several somebodies, but was certainly not true about former cattle rustler, horse thief and slave hunter William Clarke Quantrill. Quantrill was born in Ohio and he had no family in Missouri or any other personal stake in the border region, but went there after the war broke out because he wanted to kill people. His band had no strategy for liberating the southern-leaning parts or Missouri, or for wearing down the Union, or for anything else but killing northern sympathizers. And not only soft-hearted pacifists like me think so; Robert E. Lee hated all the Confederate partisans, whom he called "savages" on several occasions, and fought throughout the war to have them incorporated into the regular Confederate Army.

Do the victors write the history? When it comes to the Civil War, this is manifestly not true. Southerners have probably written more words about the war than Yankees, and they have been successful in shaping American views of the conflict in many ways. So let me throw out this little tidbit about Quantrill to give people an idea of what he was like:
The attack on Lawrence was carefully planned. . . . Between three and four hundred riders arrived at the summit of Mount Oread, then descended on Lawrence in a fury. Over four hours, the raiders pillaged and set fire to the town and killed most of its male population. Quantrill's men burned to the ground a quarter of the buildings in Lawrence, including all but two businesses. They looted most of the banks and stores and killed between 185 and 200 men and boys. According to an 1897 account, among the dead were 18 of 23 unmustered army recruits. By 9 a.m., the raiders were on their way out of town, evading the few units that came in pursuit, and splitting up so as to avoid Union pursuit of a unified column.
Quantrill was killed in an ambush in Kentucky in 1865 -- or so the version of history written by the victors says. Wikipedia has this weird little item under the heading Claim of Post 1865 Survival:
In August, 1907, news articles appeared in Canada and the United States claiming that J.E. Duffy, a member of a Michigan cavalry troop that dealt with Quantrill's raiders during the Civil War, had met Quantrill at Quatsino Sound, on northern Vancouver Island while investigating timber rights in the area. Duffy claimed to recognize the man, living under the name of John Sharp, as Quantrill. Duffy said that Sharp admitted he was Quantrill and discussed in detail raids in Kansas and elsewhere. Sharp claimed that he had survived the ambush in Kentucky, though receiving a bayonet and bullet wound, making his way to South America where he lived some years in Chile. He returned to the United States, working as a cattleman in Fort Worth, Texas. He then moved to Oregon, acting as a cowpuncher and drover, before reaching British Columbia in the 1890s, where he worked in logging, trapping and finally as a mine caretaker at Coal Harbour at Quatsino.

Within some weeks after the news stories were published, two men came to British Columbia, travelling to Quatsino from Victoria, leaving Quatsino on a return voyage of a coastal steamer the next day. On that day, Sharp was found severely beaten, dying several hours later without giving information about his attackers. The police were unable to solve the murder.
Seems like if John Sharp was just joking, he picked the wrong topic to joke about.

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