October 25, 2009

Quantrill by Any Name....

I received an email the other day from AbeBooks that promoted what they termed “Military History – The Forgotten Books.” It went on to suggest that the reader should “For a second, put aside Antony Beevor, John Keegan, Stephen Ambrose and the other popular writers in today’s military history genre and delve into the past. Countless books about conflicts, soldiering and warfare have slipped into obscurity” and that “Long after the combatants have gone, the books remain. Forgotten memoirs, biographies, and regimental histories offer memorable stories of soldiering.”

Their list featured twenty books, only one of which involved the Civil War. That lone, highlighted book is Charles W. Quantrell: A True History of His Guerrilla Warfare on the Missouri and Kansas Border During the Civil War of 1861 to 1865, by John P. Burch as told by Captain Harrison Trow. It seems odd that this book was chosen because from what I can gather, its reputation is not high, though the book appears to be routinely cited in numerous modern books pertaining to the west in general and Quantrill in particular. Ramon F. Adams writes of this title (#323) is his bibliography of western outlaws, Six Guns and Saddle Leather, that "Somehow one loses confidence in a biographer who does not know how to spell his subject's name correctly. His name was spelled Quantrill and his Christian names were William Clarke, not Charles W. The text of this book is just as unreliable. It has some material on Cole Younger and Jesse James as guerrillas." The book is essentially Trow’s recollections, given when he was a very elderly man, of his days riding with Quantrill and is clearly sympathetic to the guerilla side of things. I know little about Quantrill and even less about this book so reader commentary is welcomed, as usual.

William Clarke Quantrill (July 31, 1837 – June 6, 1865) was an infamous Confederate bushwhacker/guerrilla during the Civil War. His command operated along the Missouri-Kansas border throughout the early 1860’s and part of of his infamy includes the 1863 raid and sacking of Lawrence, Kansas. Quantrill ended up in Kentucky where he was killed in a Union ambush in 1865.

The first edition of this book was self-published by the author in Vega, Texas in 1923. Back in the day before POD technology, such “vanity press” publications sometimes suggested that the work lacked the quality that a mainstream publishing house would seek, though it must be stressed that this was not always the case. Copies seem reasonably plentiful, though of course, those in jacket will command an extra premium. A print-on-demand reprint is currently available from Kessinger Publishing. Pictured copy offered here.

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