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Three Years with Quantrill;
A True Story Told By His Scout, John McCorkle


    As in many of the Civil War border states, the years before, during and after the official hostilities were filled with strife and turmoil. The newly formed states of Missouri and Kansas were no exception. Here, armed gangs of ruffians and bushwhackers roamed the countryside.  Some of these bands were loosely aligned with the causes of the North or the South but many, if not most, were motivated by greed, political power and revenge. The Union government supported the "Jayhawkers" and the Confederate government supported the guerrillas and "Partisan Rangers". The Jayhawkers were mostly abolitionists and these units were later organized into a semiformal military organization know as the "Redlegs". Even though the Rangers were not under Army command, the Confederates hoped that the Ranger units would disrupt the Union Army's supply lines and communications.  One of the more well know Confederate Rangers was William Clarke Quantrill , who is best remembered for his raid on Lawrence Kansas where over 150 civilian men and boys were killed and much of the town was destroyed. In 1897, the Rev. H. D. Fisher, one of the survivors of the Lawrence attack, wrote a moving description of the events in Gun and the Gospel.

    The counties of northwest Missouri had been mostly populated by natives of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, thus the sympathies of many of the residents were aligned with the Confederacy. Although most did not actively participate in guerrilla warfare, many must have aided and abetted the Rangers. This activity resulted in one of most controversial acts of the Union government; General Order No. 11.  Because of this order, many of the residents of Jackson, Cass and Bates Counties were forcibly evicted, their property was stolen and many of their homes were burned. Some citizens lost their right to vote because they would not sign oaths of allegiance supporting the Union.

    In this area, there were dozens, if not hundreds of McCorkles; however, only a handful have been identified as members of Ranger bands, but others must have surely provided sustenance to these groups. One of the men that rode with Quantrill was John McCorkle, great great grandson of Samuel and Sarah McCorkle of Augusta County, Virginia. John related his experiences to a professional writer, O. S. Barton (Oswald Swinney), who basically transformed the tale into a book without doing much further research. Three Years with Quantrell; A True Story Told By His Scout, John McCorkle was published in 1914. This book was republished in 1992 with notes by historian Albert E. Castel and commentary by Herman Hattaway. Other McCorkles were also part of Quantrill's band. John's brother Jabez was a scout and sniper who came to an peculiar and untimely end. John's sister Charity McCorkle Kerr is said to have been a Quantrill spy and, along with several other women associated with the Quantrill group, died in the Kansas City Union Jail "collapse" that some believe was engineered by the Union authorities.  There is evidence supporting the view that some of the motivation for Quantrill's savage attack on Lawrence Kansas was in retaliation for the deaths and injuries suffered at the jail. Joshua and Lon V. McCorkle have also been identified as members of Quantrill's Rangers.


John McCorkle
John McCorkle c. 1912
John McCorkle and Thomas B. Harris c. 1864
Charity McCorkle Kerr and Nannie Harris McCorkle

    After the war, many of the followers of Quantrill and other the raiders went on to join the infamous outlaw gangs of the James and Younger Brothers.

    There is much more to this interesting story and, in keeping with one of the themes of McCorkle Family Roots, the following links focus on the McCorkle connections to the historical events described above:

A Cry for Revenge (The Union Jail Collapse in Kansas City)
Roster of Quantrill's, Anderson's & Todd's Guerrillas
Members of Quantrill's Guerrillas in the Civil War
Women In the Lives of the Outlaws

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Revised Jan 12, 2011