Doubtless “Captain” William Quantrill would have stood trial for the many crimes he and his partisan bands committed during the War, if he had not died on June 6, 1865. In the spring of 1865 he had led a series of bloody raids in Western Kentucky. The man that led to his downfall was Captain Edwin Terrell, in many ways a Union counterpart of Quantrill, who led Federal irregulars in Kentucky. Starting as a Confederate he had switched sides after murdering a superior Confederate officer and established a reputation of plundering and killing Confederate sympathizers. He was described by one of his soldiers as a bad man, perhaps as bad as Quantrill. Quantrill and his few remaining men were ambushed by Terrell and his men at Wakefield Farm on May 10, 1864. Quantrill and his men had sought shelter in a barn. As he attempted to flee on horseback, Quantrill was shot in the back. He was instantly paralyzed from the chest down.
When questioned, Quantrill denied that he was Quantrill. Terrell believed him and rode off. Frank James and four other men of Quantrill’s band attempted to rescue him after the Federals left. Quantrill realized his life was drawing to a close: Boys, it is impossible for me to get well, the war is over, and I am in reality a dying man, so let me alone. Goodbye.
Realizing ultimately that that he had shot Quantrill, Terrell rode back two days later and took Quantrill into custody. Quantrill died at the Federal prison hospital in Louisville, Kentucky on June 6, 1865. Nursed by a Catholic priest, he converted to Catholicism prior to his death and received the Last Rites. He was 27 years old. Terrell did not enjoy his notoriety long. Less than a year later, on May 26, 1866, he was ambushed and partially paralyzed by one of the bullets shot at him by a posse seeking to apprehend him for his misdeeds. He lingered for almost two and a half years in great pain, dying on December 13, 1868 unmourned, the Louisville Journal commenting in his obituary: “No man ever more richly deserved a torturous death.” He was 23 years old.
Though viewed as a villain by most Civil War historians, Quantrill does have his defenders. Go here to visit the website of The William Clarke Quantrill Society.