Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Booknotes: A Man by Any Other Name

New Arrival:

A Man by Any Other Name: William Clarke Quantrill and the Search for American Manhood by Joseph M. Beilein, Jr. (UGA Press, 2023).

Finally something came in the mail this month. Infamous guerrilla chieftain William C. Quantrill has been the subject of a number of biographies, the most recent of the sound variety (in my opinion, anyway) being Edward Leslie's The Devil Knows How to Ride (1996). As one can readily recognize from its title, Joseph Beilein's A Man by Any Other Name: William Clarke Quantrill and the Search for American Manhood is a new biography with a new theme.

From the description: Before Quantrill became a terror to pro-Union soldiers and civilians in Missouri and Kansas, he "led a transient life, shifting from one masculine form to another. He played the role of fastidious schoolmaster, rough frontiersman, and even confidence man, developing certain notions and skills on his way to becoming a proslavery bushwhacker. Quantrill remains impossible to categorize, a man whose motivations have been difficult to pin down."

That's certainly true, but Beilein gives it a try. More from the description: "Using new documents and old documents examined in new ways," A Man by Any Other Name "paints the most authentic portrait of Quantrill yet rendered. The detailed study of this man not only explores a one-of-a-kind enigmatic figure but also allows us entry into many representative experiences of the Civil War generation. This picture brings to life a unique vision of antebellum life in the territories and a fresh view of guerrilla warfare on the border. Of even greater consequence, seeing Quantrill in this way allows us to examine the perceived essence of American manhood in the mid-nineteenth century."


  1. SO excited to read this one! Leslie's book was & remains terrific, but I'm very interested to read Beilein's perspective.

    1. Yes, I am similarly interested in finding out what path(s) it will take.


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