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Quantrell’s First Battle in the Civil War
QUANTRELL, together with Captain Blunt, returned from Richmond, Virginia, in the fall of 1861, with his commission from under the hand of Jeff Davis, to operate at will along the Kansas border. He began to organize his band of Guerrillas. His first exploits were confined to but eight men. These eight men were William Haller, James and John Little, Edward Koger, Andrew Walker, son of Morgan Walker, at whose farm Quantrell got rid of the last but two of the band that murdered his brother at Cottonwood River, Kansas, and left himself to die; John Hampton James Kelley and Solomon Bashman.
This little band knew nothing whatever of war, and knew only how to fight and shoot. They lived on the border and had some old scores to settle with the Jayhawkers.
These eight men, or rather nine—for Quantrell commanded—encountered their first hereditary enemies, the Jayhawkers. Lane entered Missouri only on grand occasions; Jennison only once in a while as on a frolic. One was a collossal thief; the other a picayune one. Lane dealt in mules by herds, horses by droves, wagons by parks, negroes by neighborhoods, household effects by the ton, and miscellaneous plunder by the cityful; Jennison contented himself with the pocketbooks of his prisoners, the pin money of the30 women, and the wearing apparel of the children. Lane was a real prophet of demagogism, with insanity latent in his blood; Jennison a sans coulotte, who, looking upon himself as a bastard, sought to become legitimate by becoming brutal.
It was in the vicinity of Morgan Walker’s that Quantrell, with his little command, ambushed a portion of Jennison’s regiment and killed five of his thieves, getting some good horses, saddles and bridles and revolvers. The next fight occurred upon the premises of Volney Ryan, a citizen of Jackson County, with a company of Missouri militia, a company of militia notorious for three things—robbing hen roosts, stealing horses, and running away from the enemy. The eight Guerrillas struck them just at daylight, charged through it, charged back again, and when they returned from the pursuit they counted fifteen dead, the fruits of a running battle.
An old man by the name of Searcy, claiming to be a Southern man, was stealing all over Jackson County and using violence here and there when he could not succeed through persuasion. Quantrell swooped down upon him one afternoon, tried him that night and hanged him the next morning, four Guerrillas dragging on the rope. Seventy-five head of horses were found in the dead man’s possession, all belonging to the citizens of the county, and any number of deeds to small tracts of land, notes and mortgages, and private31 accounts. All were returned. The execution acted as a thunder-storm. It restored the equilibrium of the moral atmosphere. The border warfare had found a chief.
The eight Guerrillas had now grown to fifty. Among the new recruits were David Poole, John Jarrette, William Coger, Richard Burns, George Todd, George Shephers, Coleman Younger, myself and several others of like enterprise and daring. An organization was at once effected, and Quantrell was made captain; William Haller, first lieutenant; William Gregg, second; George Todd, third, and John Jarrette, orderly sergeant. The eagles were beginning to congregate.
Poole, an unschooled Aristophanes of the Civil War, laughed at calamity, and mocked when any man’s fear came. But for its picturesqueness, his speech would have been comedy personified. He laughed loudest when he was deadliest, and treated fortune with no more dignity in one extreme than in another. Gregg, a grim Saul among the Guerrillas, made of the Confederacy a mistress, and like the Douglass of old, was ever tender and true to her. Jarrette, the man who never knew fear, added to fearlessness and immense activity an indomitable will. He was a soldier in the saddle par excellence. John Coger never missed a battle nor a bullet. Wounded thirteen times, he lived as an exemplification of what a Guerrilla could endure—the amount of lead he could comfortably get along32 with and keep fat. Steadfastness was his test of merit—comradeship his point of honor. He who had John Coger at his back had a mountain. Todd was the incarnate devil of battle. He thought of fighting when awake, dreamed of it at night, mingled talk of it in laxation, and went hungry many a day and shelterless many a night that he might find his enemy and have his fill of fight. Quantrell always had to hold him back, and yet he was his thunderbolt. He discussed nothing in the shape of orders. A soldier who discusses is like a hand which would think. He only charged. Were he attacked in front—a charge; were he attacked in the rear—a charge; on either flank—a charge. Finally, in a desperate charge, and doing a hero’s work upon the stricken rear of the Second Colorado, he was killed. This was George Todd. Shepherd, a patient, cool, vigilant leader, knew all the roads and streams, all the fords and passes, all modes of egress and ingress, all safe and dangerous places, all the treacherous non-combatants, and all the trustworthy ones—everything indeed that the few needed to know who were fighting the many. In addition, there were few among the Guerrillas who were better pistol shots. It used to do Quantrell good to see him in the skirmish line. Coleman Younger, a boy having still about his neck the purple marks of a rope made the night when the Jayhawkers shot down his old father and strung him up to a blackjack, spoke rarely, and33 was away a great deal in the woods. “What was he doing?” his companions began to ask one of another. He had a mission to perform—he was pistol practicing. Soon he was perfect, and then he laughed often and talked a good deal. There had come to him now that intrepid gaiety that plays with death. He changed devotion to his family into devotion to his country, and he fought and killed with the conscience of a hero.

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