The True Story of Captain Quantrill
TOM WATSON, HISTORIAN
This is the true story of
|Capt. William Clarke Quantrill (c) Thomas Shelby Watson, 1972.
Quantrill's last stand near the village of Smiley in Spencer
County. It is an excerpt from the book "Sue Mundy and other Guerrillas of the
American Civil War."
Many years ago, a documentary called "The
Silent Riders" was broadcast on WAKY Radio in Louisville, then was heard on
stations in Kentucky and Missouri. The documentary won several awards,
including a Freedom's Foundation Award. Since then, Perry Brantley of Glasgow,
Ky. and yours truly have been working on an all-inclusive book on Civil War
guerrilla activity in Kentucky. The soon-to-be published book is entitled "Sue
Mundy and other Guerrillas of the American Civil War."
following excerpt concerns the last fight of Confederate guerrilla leader, Capt.
William Clarke Quantrill on James Heady Wakefield's farm near the town of
Smiley, later called Smileytown, between present day Wakefield and the
Spencer-Nelson County line. During the Civil War, there was no village called
This excerpt is being offered in an effort to clear up
some misconceptions about Quantrill's last battle, right here in Spencer County. It
is this county's most important historical event.
Quantrill was born in
Dover, then Canal Dover, Ohio, and taught school at his father's academy when
still a teenager. He later taught in one-room school houses in Indiana and
When the Civil War broke out, Quantrill used riding skills
he'd learned from the Delaware Indians to lead a band of southern sympathizers
against the Jayhawkers on the Kansas-Missouri border in what has been termed
the "Border War." His most infamous raid was on Lawrence, Kan., when just over
140 men and boys old enough to handle a gun were killed. Quantrill led a
massive force of horsemen into the town, killed and pillaged, then left Lawrence,
Kan. in flames.
After the documentary was broadcast, the scripts
and about 40 photos were published into a small book by Beechmont Press of
Louisville. It is no longer available and has become a rarity. Perry Brantley and I
hope our book will cover Quantrill sufficiently as well as other soldiers of
From our book, footnotes excluded, here's what really
happened at present day Wakefield.
"On the morning of May 10,
1865, storm clouds began to spread over Kentucky. Quantrill had been at John
Bedford Russell's home on Ashes Creek in Spencer County at the
Spencer-Nelson County line. While there, Russell's daughter, Betty, 18,
presented Quantrill with a beautiful saddlebred horse. McClaskey family tradition
says Quantrill and his men, numbering between 15 and 20, rode out that
Wednesday morning toward Chaplin, to the southeast and stopped at the home
of Newell McClaskey, then proceeded northward in the direction of
The horsemen turned in at the gate of farmer James
Heady Wakefield where a Negro blacksmith, Almstead Jacobs, operated a shop.
Jacobs said later that he counted 21 riders. James Heady Wakefield reported
Quantrill had 15 men with him, and that was nearly the same total heard most
often in local recollections by old timers.
In his Noted Guerrillas, or
the Warfare of the Border, John Newman Edwards had a partial list of the men
with Quantrill that day: John Ross, Allen Palmer, William Hulse, Lee McMurtry,
Bud and Donnie Pence, Dick Glasscock, Clark Hockensmith, Isaac Hall and
David Helton. A Bloomfield-area guerrilla, Eliphilet "Babe" Hunter was there,
according to his son, Phil Hunter, interviewed by the author many years ago when
he was in his 90s. Others present may have included: Jackie Graham, Ran
Venable, Andy McGuire, Jim Lilly, Tucker Basham and Slyvester Akers. That
would be 17.
It had been raining and as Quantrill and his men
approached Wakefield's barn, the rain became a deluge. The horsemen,
dripping wet, dismounted and took cover under the barn's sheds that projected
out 15 feet on three sides of the structure. Babe Hunter, 25, spoke with Quantrill
just before the guerrilla chief took a nap in the mow. Quantrill had told the
Missourians he had known the South was losing the war and wanted to get the
men to Virginia so they could surrender with Gen. Robert E. Lee and be paroled.
That goal having been lost because of Lee's surrender in April, 1865, he was
now asking them to follow him to Mexico.
Others also talked in the
barn, sampled whisky supplied by Wakefield, and a few were involved in a sham
battle, using corncobs as weapons. At the same time federal decoy guerrilla Ed
Terrell of Shelby County and 20 of his men were arriving at the blacksmith shop
where Terrell saw horse tracks in the mud, leading up the rough farm road to
Wakefield's place. Blacksmith Almstead Jacobs confirmed that riders had gone
toward Wakefield's a short time earlier. Had he said anything else, and Terrell
later discover that he lied, Jacobs knew he would be a dead man.
Jacobs' act of directing the federal scouts to Quantrill's location was historic.
Here was what turned out to be one of the last skirmishes of the Civil War, and it
was a black man's information that led to the destruction of a hold-out band of
rebels, led by the most infamous guerrilla leader of the war.
directed his men up the slope and into a pasture leading to the barn lot. They
were drawing their revolvers and unslinging their carbines when Dick Glasscock,
who had been standing under the shed talking to farmer Wakefield, spotted them
coming. "Here they come!" he shouted once and then again.
first indication of trouble, one man grabbed a feed basket, raced from the barn
into an adjacent field and posed as an innocent farmer calling the hogs. When the
attackers ignored him, he fled.
There was a scurry for horses as
bullets began crashing into the barn. The gift horse became wild and Quantrill
could not get mounted. Several guerrillas jumped their horses over a gate in the
southwest corner of the barn lot. Glasscock and Clark Hockensmith were the last
two on horseback and headed toward a grove of sugar maples, Quantrill following
on foot. He yelled to them and waited, firing to check the pursuit.
Quantrill ran alongside Glasscock, trying to mount, but Glasscock's mare was
shot in the hip. Quantrill fired in an effort to hold off Terrell's men, then tried to
mount behind Hockensmith.
Quantrill, running toward a horse trail
that could have been an escape route, was shot in the back. John Langford's
bullet glanced off the right shoulder blade and ranged down, lodging in the right
groin and leaving Quantrill paralyzed below the hips.
Terrell rode up
and fired as Quantrill lay on his left side, the bullet ripping off the trigger finger of
Quantrill's right hand. Both Hockensmith and Glasscock were killed as they tried
to flee the hail of lead.
Quantrill was taken to the Wakefield house
where he claimed to be Capt. Clarke of the Fourth Missouri Cavalry, but Terrell
doubted that to be the case. Terrell's men began ransacking Wakefield's house
until the farmer gave Terrell $20 and Terrell's Shelby County, Ky. buddy Joe
Taylor $10 to stop. The deal was sweetened with a quantity of whisky for
(c) 2005 Thomas Shelby Watson and Perry A. Brantley. No
portion of the following may be used on the Internet, published or otherwise
A Hollywood producer has plans to do a movie about
Quantrill and I have done everything I know to do to persuade him to film it in
Spencer County. Perry and I took Jerry and two vanloads of screenwriters on a
tour of possible shooting sites in Spencer and northeast Nelson counties
sometime back. He really liked what he saw. When will the movie be made?
Whenever he decides to make it. The tour I spoke of was a few years ago!
Remember, the Historic Pathways staff, me, would like to see your old
pictures, before 1920s mostly, and especially 1800s, of places, people and
things. Our immediate needs for the book are pictures of Isaiah Coulter, Babe
Hunter, Betty Russell, Joe Taylor, Almstead Jacobs, diaries, ledgers, letters and
other items relating to the Civil War in Spencer, Nelson, Marion, Jefferson, Bullitt,
Shelby, LaRue and other area counties. Somewhere in Spencer or Nelson
counties, there's a photo of several Civil War soldiers on the porch of a house.
The guys are likely wearing hats and there may be horses hitched nearby. Please
let me know if you've ever seen it or know who has it. Thanks for your help.
Write to: Tom Watson, 5225 Little Union Road, Taylorsville, Ky., 40071.
Phone (502) 252-9991 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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