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Quantrill's Flag

Quantrill's flag

Raiders under the command of the notorious Confederate guerrilla William Quantrill dropped this flag in Olathe during an attack.

Just after midnight on September 7, 1862, the town of Olathe, Kansas, was overrun by Confederate guerrillas.

In the hours before dawn the raiders killed several men and looted businesses and private homes. This flag apparently was carried by one of the raiders and dropped in the public square.

The flag's existence raises many questions. Quantrill is not known to have carried any sort of flag; this is supported by some of his men in post-war accounts. Claims that he carried a black flag with the misspelled name "Quantrell" in red originated in popular writings of the 1880s and have no basis in fact.

The flag's small size—just seven by 13 inches—also is unusual. One possible reason for the flag's small size is offered in Alan Sumrall's Battle Flags of Texans in the Confederacy, which cites a flag from the First Texas Infantry Regiment at approximately the same dimensions. It is referred to as a "streamer" flag, placed on the staff above the regimental flag. But if Quantrill carried no large flag, a companion "streamer" flag would not seem to be justified.

Another explanation may be found in the traditional use of "Bible" flags by both northern and southern families. These textiles were placed in the large family Bibles of the time to mark passages of scripture. Perhaps one of the raiders carried the flag as a keepsake, only to lose it in Olathe.

Bleeding Kansas

The Olathe raid was just one of many incidents that occurred along the Kansas-Missouri border from 1854 to 1865. "Bleeding Kansas" erupted over a debate on whether the territory should be admitted to the Union as a free or slave state. Raids by both sides continued after both Kansas achieved statehood and the Civil War broke out in 1861, resulting in the plundering of communities and the murder of many citizens.

Kansans engaged in these activities included Charles "Doc" Jennison, whose "Jayhawkers" of the Seventh Kansas Cavalry included plundering as part of their soldierly duties, often without regard as to citizens' anti- or proslavery leanings. U.S. Senator James Lane led a brigade against Osceola, Missouri, looting and burning the town.

William QuantrillQuantrill

But the best known guerrilla on the Missouri side (and perhaps of the entire war) was William Clarke Quantrill. Born at Canal Dover, Ohio, in 1837, Quantrill had come to Kansas in 1857 to farm. When this effort failed, he traveled west to the Rockies to seek adventure. Back in Kansas just before the outbreak of the war, he cast his lot with the south and joined the Missouri Confederate troops led by Sterling Price. Dissatisfied with a lack of aggressiveness after the Battle of Lexington, he left the army to take a more active role--bringing guerrilla warfare to Kansas.

Quantrill first raided the Kansas town of Aubry in March, 1862, with 30 men in his command. Raids continued throughout the year, including the one at Olathe.

But Quantrill's most famous--or infamous--successes came the following year. At dawn on August 21, 1863, he led over 300 men in a raid against the city of Lawrence. When they were done, over 150 men were dead and over 200 homes and businesses destroyed. This illustration of the raid (bottom, right) appeared in Harper's Weekly, a popular 19th-century magazine.

Illustration of Quantrill's Lawrence raid

In early October Quantrill struck at Baxter Springs, first attacking a fortification, then a column which included Major General James Blunt, eight wagons, a brass band, and 100 soldiers as an escort. Blunt escaped, but 90 soldiers were killed.

Quantrill left Kansas and headed east in 1864. On May 10, 1865, one month after Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Virginia, he was mortally wounded in a skirmish with Union soldiers in Kentucky. William Quantrill died at Louisville, a month short of his 28th birthday.

This flag was found in the Olathe square after the raid by town resident Jonathan Millikan. His son, Orion, donated the flag to the Kansas Historical Society in 1930. It is in the collections of the Society's Kansas Museum of History.

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Entry: Quantrill's Flag

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: May 2001

Date Modified: September 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.