Infamous guerilla fighter visits Danville – Part II: Quantrill and his men meet their end

Published 9:12 am Thursday, September 28, 2023

Bryan Bush

Contributing writer

While in Danville, where he had been since January 1865, William Quantrill was still dressed as a captain in the Union cavalry and his men were also dressed in Union uniforms. The few armed federals that were in Danville paid no attention to Quantrill and his men. A federal lieutenant, who had heard some of the woman’s conversation with Quantrill earlier in the day, soon came to the realization that the newly arrived Union detachment was Quantrill and his men. The lieutenant obtained a Mississippi rifle, loaded the weapon, and strapped on four Colt Navy revolvers on his body and went to look for Quantrill. Quantrill noticed the Union lieutenant. For about an hour, Quantrill walked the town and saw the lieutenant. The dinner bell sounded at the hotel and Quantrill entered the saloon for a drink and while standing at the bar, he saw in the glass of the mirror at the bar the lieutenant who had entered the doorway with the rifle in his hand. Just as Quantrill turned around, he was faced with a rifle three feet from his chest, with an eye staring down the end of the barrel. Quantrill’s guns were under his overcoat, which was buttoned to the collar and had no access to his revolvers. Quantrill leaned back against the bar, held up his whiskey glass, and he spoke to the federal: “How now, comrade? What are you going to do with that gun?” The lieutenant said: “Shoot you like a dog if you stir! You are Quantrill. You have played it for a long time, but you have about played the farce out at last. March into that room to the right of you there!”

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Quantrill looked to his right and saw the barkeeper, who held the door open for the lieutenant. Quantrill said: “You take me for Quantrill, but you do wrong. Permit me to call my orderly sergeant, who has all my papers and a glance at them will convince you in a moment that I am as true to the cause of the Union as you are. I have heard, perhaps, the same stories you have heard about the whereabouts of the famous Missouri guerilla, and if I had not been officially informed to the contrary, equally with yourself I might have believed them. He is not in Kentucky, to my certain knowledge and you are making a damn fool of yourself. Put down that gun, pull off your pistols, and as long as we are comrades let us be friends.”

The lieutenant stepped away from the door and told Quantrill to call for his orderly sergeant, while still holding his rifle on him.

The hotel was only a short distance from the saloon and Quantrill’s men were waiting for the second ring of the dinner bell. Quantrill called for John Barker. His men started to walk toward the saloon. He told them to go back, except Barker. Barker entered the saloon and saw the lieutenant’s rifle aimed at his commander and he drew his pistol. The lieutenant turned his rifle toward Barker.

Quantrill yelled: “Stop, sergeant. You are too fast. Put back your pistol. There need to be no killing here. Our friend, the Lieutenant yonder, has heard much of Quantrill of late, has made up his mind to the fact that I am Quantrill, has armed himself like an arsenal to capture Quantrill, has followed me here and got the drop on me here, and to convince him of his mistake and to show him how absurd and ungenerous he has been, I have called you here as my orderly sergeant to show him our special orders, and put into his hands the authority of no less a person than the Secretary of War himself, Edwin M. Stanton, per A. J. Smith. Show him these papers, Barker, and then we will go to dinner.”

Barker stepped closer to the lieutenant, reached in his coat pocket, rattled something like a package, than sprang for the lieutenant and cast aside the rifle with his left hand, and thrust into the lieutenant’s face the muzzle of his Colt dragoon revolver and said: “These are the papers, I reckon, you was expecting. I just keep just such things for people like you. They carry a fellow a long way, and the officer you show them the further they carry you. Say the word Captain, and I’ll put the old mark on him between the eyes.” The lieutenant surrendered. While in Danville, Quantrill’s men plundered a store, robbed some residents and destroyed the telegraph office. After dinner, Quantrill marched northwest from Danville with about 30 men and halted eight miles from Harrodsburg.

After the men halted, Quantrill sent Barker with 10 men to ride ahead and secure rations. Lt. Chatham Renick and the balance of the company, along with Quantrill, marched for a mile further up the road, halted at the mansion of Widow Vanarsdall, and made plans to camp for the night. The guerillas were finishing their evening meal when a volley came from the direction of the mansion. Renick mounted his horse and galloped off. Quantrill ordered Parmer, Payne Jones, William Hulse and Frank James to move forward and determine where the shots were coming from. Half a mile out on the road, James’s horse swerved to one side, and brought him to a violent stop. A dead man was in the road, where the horse had swerved. Over him stood his horse. Hulse dismounted and lifted the body only to discover the dead man was Renick.

Sgt. Barker’s detachment had 11 men, which included Ves Acres, Richard Burnes, Richard Glasscock, George Roberson, James Evans, James Williams, Andy McGuire, William Gaugh, William and Henry Noland. They unsaddled and fed their horses and were about to eat dinner, when Union Capt. James Bridgewater’s 180-strong federal cavalry rode to the mansion, surrounded the home, cut off the men from their horses and opened fire on the doors and the windows of the home. The residents of the home gathered in the safest room of the mansion. The Federals took positions against a fence, a tree, a barn, a pile of lumber, and an outbuilding. Bridgewater did not assault the mansion directly, because of the pro-Union family inside the mansion. During the firefight, Bridgewater lost 32 killed and 18 wounded. Barker was killed. Henry Noland fell, killed at a window in the house. William Noland was killed standing face to face with Glasscock and was talking to him. Acres went down. The remaining guerillas rushed out of the mansion, seven in all, and leaped the fence. The federals fired and when the smoke cleared Glasscock was down, McGuire was down, Burnes was shot twice, while Roberson, Evans and Gaugh were surrounded, and surrendered to Bridgewater.

The four men sent back by Quantrill to ascertain the firing, fired into the Federals gathered around the guerillas and rode up to the fence that surrounded the mansion. Frank James and his three fellow guerillas, were able to escape the Federal fire and returned to Quantrill and reported that Barker and all his men were either killed, captured, or wounded. Glasscock died.

Bridgewater chased Quantrill all that night and all the next day. During the night, a small squad under Barker, 11 of Bridgewater’s men were lost. After the battle, Henry, James and William Noland, John Barker, Chat Renick, Foster Key, were buried in the Oakland Church cemetery four miles outside of Harrodsburg. Later, the bodies were reinterred in the early 1900s at the Spring Hill Cemetery, Confederate Lot, Section E.

Quantrill’s bloody career as a guerilla finally came to an end on May 10, 1865. He was surrounded in the Wakefield’s barn in Spencer County, by Union guerilla hunter Capt. Ed Terrill’s 30 federal cavalry riders. Quantrill tried to escape but was mortally wounded and taken to the Louisville military prison hospital. He died on June 6, 1865, from his wounds.