On this day in 1863, Confederate guerilla leader William Clarke Quantrill continues his bloody rampage through Kansas when he attacks Baxter Springs. Although he failed to capture the Union stronghold, his men massacred a Federal detachment that happened to be traveling nearby.
Some of the bloodiest chapters of the Civil War were written in Kansas and Missouri, where irregular combatants fought. In August 1863, Quantrill and 450 Confederate partisans sacked the abolitionist town of Lawrence, Kansas. They murdered 150 men and set the town on fire before escaping the pursuing Union cavalry. After destroying Lawrence, Quantrill and his men noticed that the area around northwestern Missouri and northeastern Kansas was becoming more crowded with Yankee troops. Quantrill started to drift south, intent on wintering within the friendly confines of Confederate Texas.
On October 6, Quantrill and his men happened upon a Federal post at Baxter Springs, near the Missouri and Indian Territory borders. Defending the post were parts of the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry and the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry. Quantrill attacked suddenly, surprising the Yankees, who suffered heavy casualties before barricading themselves inside the earth-and-timber fortress. While Quantrill’s men debated the merits of another attack on the post, a Union force appeared from the north. It was General James G. Blunt, commander of the forces in Kansas, who was in the process of moving his headquarters from Fort Scott, Kansas, to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Blunt spotted Quantrill’s men but mistook them for Union troops because many were dressed in captured Yankee uniforms. A large portion of Blunt’s 100 men were clerks and office staffers. Quantrill attacked, and the scene turned into a massacre. The Yankees quickly scattered, and Quantrill’s partisans hunted them down.
Seventy Union troops were killed, but Blunt escaped to the safety of Fort Smith. He was removed from command shortly thereafter. Quantrill and his men continued south to Texas, raiding homesteads and attacking Native American communities along the way.