On Monday night, February 10, the Meade County Historical and Archaeological Preservation Society (MCHAPS) had their monthly meeting in the banquet hall adjacent to the Meade County History Museum. Following a short business meeting conducted by MCHAPS president Gerry Fischer, there was a special presentation by guest speaker Dr. Tom Sabetta. Dr. Sabetta is a retired professor of Communications from the University of Kentucky. He graduated from Western Kentucky University and got his PhD at Wayne State University. He is currently the Lt. Commander of the Kentucky Division of the Sons of the Confederacy.
Dr. Sabetta related the history of Quantrill’s Raiders, most specifically the founder, William Clarke Quantrill, and how he ended up in Kentucky. William Clarke Quantrill was born in Ohio in 1837. At the age of 16 he became a school teacher in order to help his widowed mother provide for her and his younger siblings. As a teacher he did not make very much money, so he tried several other occupations, including working at a lumber yard in Illinois, but there he supposedly killed a man in self defense and was asked to leave. From there he moved to Kansas, Colorado, and Utah, working various jobs, but found he was best at teaching. So at age 19 he went back to teaching and he taught at a schoolhouse in Lawrence, Kansas. When the school closed in 1860 he turned to hanging out with a gang of plunderers, who rustled cattle and did anything else where they could get their hands on money.
When the Civil War began, Quantrill joined the Confederate Army and was commissioned a Captain by General Robert E. Lee. He fought in a few battles in Texas, but then he deserted and formed his own army near the Kansas and Missouri border. Quantrill’s men were very young, most under 21 years of age, and included Frank and Jesse James, and Jim, Bob and for a while Coleman Younger (who later formed the James-Younger Gang of outlaws). At one point Quantrill commanded about 400 men.
On April 21, 1862, the Congress of the Confederate States of America passed the Partisan Ranger Act. President Jefferson Davis reluctantly approved the Act because while many Confederate soldiers were away from home fighting in different states, their home front was unprotected. This Act allowed Confederate guerilla groups such as Quantrill’s Raiders to conduct raids upon the Union Army behind their line to disrupt infrastructure and communications in the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware and Maryland.
In the spring of 1865, William Clarke Quantrill and his then small group of men came to western Kentucky. There he met with Sue Mundy, Bill Marion, Sam Berry, and Billy Magruder, who had been fighting as guerillas in Kentucky for some time. They joined forces for several raids, and Quantrill and his men also conducted separate raids. They traveled through such counties as Nelson, Spencer, Woodford, and Marion, and were involved in raids throughout.
On May 10, 1865, Quantrill and several of his men were taking shelter from a heavy rain in a barn belonging to James Heady Wakefield. Wakefield was a Southern sympathizer who had allowed Quantrill to take refuge on his farm before. The farm was located in Spencer County near the Taylorsville-Bloomfield Pike. Unbeknownst to them, 20 year old Edwin “Bad Ed” Terrell, a captain of the Shelby County Home Guards and an avowed Confederate guerrilla hunter, had been tracking Quantrill and his men. He and his men followed fresh muddy hoof prints to the Wakefield farm and a fight ensued. Some of Quantrill’s men were able to mount their horses and get away, but Quantrill had a skittish horse that he could not mount. He was shot twice, once in the collarbone where the bullet traveled down his spine and paralyzed him, and another bullet that tore off one of the fingers on his left hand. He was taken into Mr. Wakefield’s home and was cared for there for a few days, and later he was moved by wagon to the Louisville Military Prison. Quantrill died from his wounds in Louisville on June 6, 1865 at the age of 27. Some of Quantrill’s men were able to escape into the woods during the Wakefield farm shootout. A couple of others, Isaac Hall and Payne Jones, jumped into a nearby pond on the Wakefield property and using reeds kept nearly submerged and undetected until the conflict was over and they were able to safely get out.
At the close of Dr. Sabetta’s presentation he told of a trip that he and Gerry Fischer had taken on January 13, 2020 to see the site of Quantrill’s last stand. Years ago, in 1993, Gerry, his wife Fran, and Gerry’s Mother visited the area with 94 year-old James Wakefield, who had not been there for years. He directed Gerry to a place north of the site and told how to access the site by a back road that he couldn’t locate. In 1995 Gerry and Fran found the back road and a woman and her husband who said they owned the land. She took Fran and Gerry to the site of a silo and pond, and she pointed out where the house stood and the silo evidenced the barn. They were sincere, but wrong. Dr. Harold Peach of Georgetown College sent Gerry aerial photographs of the property which could reference the site on either a northerly or southerly direction. Since heretofore, all treks were to the north, Fischer and Sabetta took a southerly course and found in the woods the house and barn, in a deteriorated state. There was also a nearby pond (which Quantrill’s men may have hid in). All these geographical features made the two men believe that they had now found the correct site of the Wakefield farm where Quantrill’s raiders had their last fight. Gerry plans to do more research of courthouse documents and deeds and do other leg work to ascertain if this is indeed the correct historical spot. Everyone at the MCHAPS meeting was excited to learn of the new discoveries.