Richmond did not have an overall guerrilla strategy for the national liberation of the Confederacy in 1861. Several newspapers in leading articles had proposed guerrilla warfare to meet the Yankee invaders. Also private citizens wrote to the Secretary of War and proposed arming bands of citizen for warfare behind Federal lines. (1) The result was the creation of the Confederate Partisan Corps, a half hearted measure that was not enough followed up by Confederate military authorities.
In December 1862 Missouri Confederate guerrilla leader William C. Quantrill disappeared from the war scene in Missouri. It has been debated if he really went to Richmond, Virginia, in search of a commission as colonel in the Confederate States Army.
Underneath are two versions of the “possible” visit to Richmond.(2)
Professor Albert Castel in his book on Quantrill (3) claims that in the middle of December 1862 the Missouri guerrilla leader left his command in Arkansas and traveled with Andy Blunt (4) to the Confederate capital. There Quantrill obtained an interview with Secretary of War James A. Seddon. There is according to Professor Castel only one source for what took place during the meeting: Major John N. Edwards. He in turn is to have received the information from Texas Senator Louis T. Wigfall, who was present during the interview.
Underneath are excerpts from Edward’s account: “Quantrell asked to be commissioned as a Colonel under the Partisan Ranger Act, and to be so recognized by theDepartment…Never mind the question of men, he would have the complement required in a month after he reached Western Missouri. The warfare was desperate, he knew, the service desperate, everything connected with it was a desperate fight.” (5)
To structure the conversation I have made a few changes in the original manuscript in dialogue fashion:
Seddon (S): “War had its amenities and its refinements. In the nineteenth century it was simple barbarism to talk of a black flag.”
Quantrill (Q): “Barbarism ! Barbarism, Mr. Secretary, means war and war means barbarism. Since you have touched on this subject, let us discuss it a little. Times have their crimes as well as men. For twenty years this cloud has been gathering; for twenty years…hates have been engendered and wrathful things laid up against the day of wrath. The cloud has burst. Do not condemn the thunderbolt.” (Seddon just bowed his head).
“Who are these people you call Confederates ? Rebels, unless they succeed, outcasts, traitors, food for hemp and gunpowder. There were no great statesmen in the South, or this war would have happened ten years ago; no inspired men, or it would have happened fifteen years ago. Today the odds are desperate…The ocean belongs to the
Union navy. There is a recruiting officer in every foreign port. I have captured and killed many who did not know the English tongue. Mile by mile the cordon is being drawn about the granaries of the south, Missouri will go first, next Kentucky, next Tennessee, by and by Mississippi and Arkansas, and then what ? That we must put gloves on our hands, and honey in our mouths, and fight this war as Christ fought the wickedness of the world ?…”
S: “What would you do, Captain Quantrell, were yours the power and opportunity ?”
Q: “Do, Mr. Secretary ? Why I would wage such a war and have such a war waged by land and sea as to make surrender forever impossible. I would cover the armies of the Confederacy all over with blood. I would break up foreign enlistments… I would win the independence of my people or I would find them graves.
S: “And our prisoners, what of them ?
Q: “Nothing of them; there would be no prisoners. Do they take any prisoners from me: Surrounded, I do not surrender; surprised, I do not give way to panic; outnumbered, I rely on common sense and stubborn fighting; proscribed, I answer proclamation with proclamation; outlawed, I feel through it my power; hunted, I hunt my hunters in turn; hated and made blacker than a dozen devils, I add to my hoofs the swiftness of the horse, and to my horns the terrors of a savage following….Meet the torch with the torch, pillage with pillage, slaughter with slaughter, subjugation with extermination. You have my ideas of war, Mr. Secretary, and I am sorry that they do not accord with your own, nor the ideas of the government you have the honor to represent so well.”
Edwards states that Quantrill did not receive a colonel’s commission. But Quantrill claimed he received a commission and signed dispatches with the title. He also had himself photographed in a Confederate colonel’s uniform. (6) But there is no documentary evidence of a promotion to colonel in the rolls.
William E. Connelley
There is a very negative book on Quantrill but Connelley. (7) According to Connelley Quantrill left the unit behind the Confederate lines in northwestern Arkansas and handed over command to his 1st lieutenant, William H. Gregg. He wanted to be a colonel in the Confederate army, and, as Connelley puts it “rise in the Confederate world”. He even dreamed of leading the Confederacy. Connelley calls Quantrill blood-mad, insane, a monster, a degenerate and depraved. The book is full of such invectives. According to Connelley Quantrill took with him Andy Blunt and Charles Higbee but accomplished little in Richmond. His call for a black flag for the Confederacy was rejected. Some say that he received a colonel’s commission, others that he did not but anyway bought a colonel’s uniform and had himself photographed with it on. His Blue Springs report was signed “Colonel”. But it is a fact that Quantrill’s men fought in the conventional campaigns in northwestern Arkansas and southwestern Missouri during the winter of 1862 – 1863.
Connelley claims that Quantrill returned from Richmond via Mississippi. He stopped there two or three days at the camp of some Missouri troops on Black River twelve miles east of Vicksburg. Quantrill came to his men, so Connelley, crestfallen and discouraged. He had hoped for promotions and honours and that he had well earned them. He was surprised that the eyes of the Confederacy were not fixed on him and his achievements. He wanted to be a hero and it hurt to think he was not so regarded. He should have been wined and dined in Richmond. But one must remember that Connelley was a harsh critic of Quantrill, and this seems to be part of the efforts to portray Quantrill as negatively as possible. One aspect of the material on Quantrill’s visit to Richmond is the question of the reliability of Senator Wigfall as a witness.
A South Carolinian, born in 1816, Wigfall entered the College of South Carolina but left to enlist at the outbreak of the Seminole War. Returning as a lieutenant he enrolled at the University of Virginia and studied law. Being admitted to the bar he moved to Texas and was elected to the house of representatives of the state and served 1849 – 1850. Later he was a state senator. When serving a second period he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1860. When the War Between the States started he became a member of the staff of General Beauregard and commanded the forces on Morris Island outside Fort Sumter. Wigfall was later instrumental in persuading the commander of Fort Sumter to surrender. In April 1861 Wigfall was commissioned colonel of the 2nd Confederate Texas Infantry and in October the same year made brigadier general.
His service ended in February 1862, when he resigned to take a seat in the Confederate Congress representing Texas. Wigfall served in the Confederate Senate until the close of the war, when he moved to England and remained there for several years. When returning in 1873 he settled in Baltimore, Maryland. While on a lecture tour he died in Galveston, Texas, on February 18, 1874. (8) There is in my opinion in the biography of Senator Wigfall nothing to indicate that he would not be trustworthy as a witness. There was in all probability a Quantrill visit to Richmond.It is then another matter if maybe John N. Edwards made some additions or changes when he wrote his account of the interview with Secretary Seddon. It is generally believed that Edwards used a flowery and romantic style and it is safe to assume that Quantrill did not use the phrasing suggested in the account.
Quantrill’s words might seem very tough, but compared to modern 20th century struggles for independence his views do not seem extreme. A nation and its people really wanting independence must be prepared to fight a bitter struggle accepting large losses in dead (even greater then the actual losses of the Confederacy on the battle field). The Confederate decision to fight as a de-facto nation-state waging conventional war might well have been a critical decision. Richmond could perhaps rather have waged the contest along the lines of national liberation movements of our century. A protracted irregular war could have sapped the strength out of the Union so superior in men, weapons and material. But perhaps Quantrill was a 100 years before his time. His recommendation of a policy of taking no prisoners would have been a breach of the laws of war in the eyes not only of the Union but also of the civilized gentlemen in Richmond.
Such a policy would also most likely had complicated the efforts of the Confederate government for recognition by European powers. The leaders of the South were probably not prepared for a struggle more revolutionary in context. It might, in their view, have hurt the stability of Southern society. The Southern constitutional model did not allow for widespread all-out irregular warfare across all of the widespread territory of the Confederate States of America.
But in reality, in some states the struggle against Federal occupation did take on the structure of a popular war of resistance which could almost be compared to European armed resistance against Nazi occupation during World War II: western Missouri, parts of Arkansas, and the state of Kentucky in 1864. At least parts of the strategy recommended by Quantrill during his legendary visit to Richmond in December 1862 did in effect become reality, but it would have been needed a much larger effort to turn the tide.
Perhaps it would have been possible to achieve peace negotiations. Perhaps not. It would have been a matter of how many dead the North would have find acceptable in ambushes, sneak assassinations, and small engagements, in sabotage and how much destruction of property.
1) See my URL “Confederate Irregular Warfare 1861 – 1865”, http://www.algonet.se/~jman/csa/
2) I have not had access to any of the books published in the 1990s on Quantrill.
3) Albert Castel, William Clark Quantrill: His Life and Times, New York: Frederick Fell Inc., Publishers, 1962.
4) Andrew “Andy” Blunt (Blount) was killed on 5 April, 1864, by Kansas cavalry. He was left unburied. Blunt, in their view, was not worthy of burial.
5) Castel, p. 101.
6) A copy of the photo was published, when another version of this article was published in “The Vanguard”, Newsletter of the North Texas Brigade, SCV.
7) William E. Conelley, Quantrill and the Border Wars, New York: Pageant Book Co., 1956. Chapter XXII, “Quantrill Goes to Richmond, Virginia”.
8) For more on Senator Louis T. Wigfall see: Manuscripts The collection of Wigfall Family Papers in the Library of Congress for letters to and from the Senator, his wife, and children during the period 1859 – 1874.
The War Department Collection of Confederate Records contain the Staff Officer’s File of Brigadier General Louis T. Wigfall. The Compiled Service Record of Colonel Wigall is also in the National Archives, Washington D.C.
Official Records and Documents
Senator Wigfall’s career in the Confederate Congress can be followed in the Journal of the Confederate Congress and “Proceedings of the Confederate Congress”. The latter has been published by the Southern Historical Society, Papers, XLIV – LII (1923 – 59).
Louise Wigfall Wright, A Southern Girl in ´61 (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1905).
John T. Trezevant, The Trezevant Family in the United States, Columbia, South Carolina, 1914 (with information about Wigfall’s family, 1685 – 1914).
Wilfred B. Yearns, Confederate Congress, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1960.
Sarah A. Wallace, editor, “Confederate Exiles in London, 1865 – 1870: The Wigfalls”, South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, LII (Apriol, 1952, pp. 74 – 87.
Alvy I. King, “Emergence of a Fire-eater: Louis T. Wigfall”, Louisiana studies, VII (Spring, 1968), pp. 73 – 82.
Clyde W. Lord, “Young Louis Wigfall: South Carolina Politician and Duelist”, South Carolina Historical Magazine, LIX, April, 1958.
Clyde W. Lord, “Louis T. Wigfall”, M.A. Thesis, University of Texas, 1925 (does not go beyond Wigfall’s election to the U.S. Senate).
A search for a mention of Quantrill’s interview with Secretary Seddon in December 1862 in Wigfall material was in vain..