Matthew Christopher Hulbert

Associate Professor
Hampden-Sydney College
About the Speaker

Matthew Christopher Hulbert is an assistant professor of history at Hampden-Sydney College with expertise in Civil War America, irregular violence in the western borderlands, and social memory. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia where his dissertation won the Lewis Eldon Atherton Dissertation Prize from the State Historical Society of Missouri and the C. Vann Woodward Prize from the Southern Historical Association. Hulbert is the author or editor of four books, including The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory (UGA Press, 2016) which won the 2017 Wiley-Silver Prize. His biography of Major John Newman Edwards is currently under contract with Bison Books.

Killing Quantrill: The Hunt for Missouri’s Most Notorious Civil War Guerrilla

On May 10, 1865, famed Confederate guerrilla captain William Clarke Quantrill and about two-dozen of his most loyal Missouri bushwhackers were camped in the barn of James Wakefield, a Spencer County farmer (Bloomington). In a pouring rain, they watched as a large body of armed men thundered down on their position. For once, Union men had caught the guerrillas–famous for their deadly ambushes–off guard; they’d been sent specifically by Union General John M. Palmer to eliminate Quantrill before he could gain a foothold in the Bluegrass. Within a few weeks of the Wakefield Raid, Quantrill would be dead.

This lecture–which is based on primary research, firsthand exploration of important sites, and interviews with descendants of involved parties–narrates Quantrill’s career as a guerrilla chieftain, his flight into Kentucky, and his eventual death. It illustrates the end of Missouri’s guerrilla war (which necessitated the move into Kentucky); how the two states dealt differently with their “guerrilla problems”; what happened to the rest of Quantrill’s band in Kentucky; and, ultimately, what it means for Civil War memory in Missouri that the Show-Me State’s most infamous/famous Civil War export was hunted down and killed by Union agents in Kentucky.

The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory: Remembering the Civil War in the Missouri-Kansas Borderlands

In the annals of American frontier mythology, no two figures have been more celebrated than Billy the Kid and Jesse James. According to film, fiction, and popular memory, these six-shooting badmen of the plains occupied the same abstracted geographic space–the “West”–during an equally abstracted period of time: when that West was particularly “Wild.” But on one hand, Billy had immigrated to the Far West, worked cattle, fought in range wars, and intermingled regularly with Mexicans and Indians. On the other hand, Jesse did none of those things.

This talk, “The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory: Remembering the Civil War in the Missouri-Kansas Borderlands,” addresses how it was that we came to remember Jesse James as a Mexican-fighting, Indian-killing cowboy icon of the Wild West, rather than as a southerner from a slave-owning family and a diehard Confederate guerrilla. To answer that question, this heavily illustrated lecture takes stock of how we have been programmed to remember our national bloodletting through outlaw histories, dime novels, stage shows, guerrilla reunions, radio serials, television programs, and feature films–but also how, through those pop culture mediums, memories involving irregular violence have been very effectively elided from the mainstream “Civil War experience.”