Confederate raider William C. Quantrill, a self-titled colonel (a rank not sanctioned by the Confederate government), led his band of about 400 partisans southward through Kansas to avoid Federal patrols in search of them. They captured two Federal teamsters who told them that there was a small Federal garrison at Fort Baxter, near the town of Baxter Springs in southeastern Kansas. Quantrill killed the teamsters and decided to attack the garrison, which consisted of about 90 men from the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry and the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry under the command of Lieutenant James B. Pond.
The raiders arrived near Fort Baxter on October 6. Quantrill’s plan called for dividing his force and attacking the garrison from different directions. The first prong swept forward with a force that, according to Pond, was “so sudden and impetuous that he was inside the rude breastworks, and firing pistol shots into the tents before our forces recovered from the surprise into which they were thrown by the onset.” The Federals were nearly annihilated, but a company of the 2nd Kansas and a howitzer finally drove Quantrill’s raiders off. “The darkies fought like devils,” wrote Pond.
The second prong of Quantrill’s attack focused on a wagon train and band on the other side of a ridge at Baxter Springs. The train belonged to Major-General James G. Blunt, commanding the Army of the Frontier. Blunt was in the process of transferring his headquarters from Fort Scott to Fort Smith. The train was guarded by just 100 Federals who were scattered by what Blunt called a “disorderly and disgraceful retreat.”
Quantrill wrote that “we found they had left us 9 six-mule wagons, well loaded; 1 buggy (General Blunt’s); 1 fine ambulance; 1 fine brass band and wagon, fully rigged.” Blunt managed to escape, but the Confederates made off with all his official correspondence, his sword, and his commission. Other Federals were not so lucky, as Quantrill’s raiders took no prisoners. Among those killed was a correspondent for Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and the son of Major-General Samuel R. Curtis.
An officer who later arrived on the scene reported: “The members of the band were shot as they sat in the band-wagon, and it was then set on fire. They rifled all the trunks, boxes, &c., in the different wagons, and then set them on fire, with the bodies of the teamsters in them, and all others who happened to be in them when taken.” Quantrill was apparently proud of his work, as he exclaimed, “By God, Shelby could not whip Blunt, neither could Marmaduke, but I whipped him!”
Near month’s end, Quantrill and his partisans arrived in Texas to report to Brigadier-General Henry E. McCulloch, district commander at Bonham. Though Quantrill proved a formidable partisan fighter, McCulloch deplored his methods, writing that his “mode of warfare is but little, if any, above the uncivilized Indian. We cannot, as a Christian people, sanction a savage, inhuman warfare, in which men are to be shot down like dogs, after throwing down their arms and holding up their hands supplicating for mercy.”
- Castel, Albert (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
- Cutrer, Thomas W., Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River. The University of North Carolina Press, (Kindle Edition), 2017.
- Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian. New York: Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (Kindle Edition), 2011.
- Longacre, Edward G. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.