Today, we’re going to deal with the history behind why we have Confederate memorials and what they mean, but also talk about something fun: guerrilla warfare – the irregular forms of war that took place largely in the Western reaches of the war’s borders.
We invite you to listen to our podcast, read the transcript below or watch the YouTube video at the bottom of this post.

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Transcript of Guerrilla Warfare and the Civil War:

Written and researched by Sarah Handley-Cousins, PhD

Produced and Recorded by Sarah Handley-Cousins, PhD and Averill Earls, PhD

Sarah: As many of you know, I … love the Civil War. It’s been a difficult summer to be a Civil War historian, with the intense debates over the ways we remember the Civil War in public spaces. The meanings of Confederate statues and other memorials is suddenly being fought out on Facebook and Fox News. It’s been, frankly, exhausting. So when we decided to do a series on War, I felt really torn. I wanted to talk about this thing that I love, and I feel a professional duty to do that, but I also sort of wanted to escape it. So today, we’re going to deal with the history behind why we have Confederate memorials and what they mean, but also talk about something fun: guerrilla warfare – the irregular forms of war that took place largely in the Western reaches of the Civil War’s borders.

So, with that said, I’m Sarah Handley-Cousins

And I’m Averill Earls

And we are your historians for this episode of DIG.

Sarah: We should probably start off here with a little context. I won’t get into the actual start of the Civil War, or what caused it – cough, cough, slavery – but I do want to offer a little background. A really critical part of understanding the irregular warfare during the Civil War is understanding what set the precedent for it – the conflict for Kansas during the 1850s. [Note: I’ll explain why we call it ‘irregular’ warfare shortly, though you can probably figure it out yourself!] In 1854, as part of the ongoing battle over the extension of slavery, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Kansas, which was at the time a territory, wanted to enter the Union as a state. This would be fine, but it had the potential to tip the careful balances between slave to free states. The Kansas-Nebraska Act determined that Kansans themselves would choose whether to be a slave state or free state through a process called popular sovereignty, essentially a popular vote. Now, the problem that quickly arose was that both pro-slavery and anti-slavery people, both Northerners and Southerners, came flocking into Kansas to try to influence the vote.

Map of Missouri, 1861. Bleeding Kansas and the American Civil War.

Lloyd’s Official Map of Missouri, 1861 | Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Washington, DC

Averill: Most of the pro-slavery folks that came into Kansas were from neighboring Missouri, which was a slave state, albeit not one with a particularly huge population. These men became known as “Border Ruffians,” or sometimes “pukes,” a perjorative term for poor, pro-slavery whites. Pukes were not slaveholders, for the most part – they were too poor. They were impoverished, stupid, uncivilized – at least according to Northern newspapers. The New York Tribune reported: “Imagine a fellow, tall, slim, but athletic, with yellow complexion, hairy faced, with a dirty flannel shirt, red or blue, or green, a pair of commonplace, but dark-colored pants, tucked into an uncertain altitude by a leather belt, in which a dirty-handled bowie-knife is stuck, rather ostentatiously, an eye slightly whiskey-red, and teeth the color of a walnut. Such is your border ruffian of the lowest type. His body might be a compound of gutta percha (a sort of 19th c. plastic), Johnny cake, and badly smoked bacon, his spirit, the refined part, old bourbon, double-rectified.” These “pukes” were described as the opposite of controlled, genteel middle-class Northerners. On the other hand, the anti-slavery people who rushed to Kansas were described as fine, upstanding, Puritan stock from New England, armed with their “Beecher Bibles,” or rifles that were purchase by religious leaders back East. Of course, this isn’t quite how Southern or pro-slavery forces interpreted things – instead, they saw the Northerners/anti-slavery forces as hopelessly perverted, obsessed with blacks (though they didn’t quite phrase it like that) and dedicated to overthrowing all proper human hierarchies in terms of gender and race. In Kansas, this ideological conflict exploded into real, vigilante violence in 1855, most famously with the massacre at Pottawattomie Creek, led by radical abolitionist John Brown, who hacked 5 pro-slavery men to death with broadswords. Later that summer, Brown helped to lead small-scale raids against pro-slavery homestead, causing property damage and generally terrorizing settlers. Sometimes the violence escalated into full “battles,” such as the Battle of Ossawattomie, where proslavery forces clashed with Brown’s anti-slavery men, resulting in several deaths, including John Brown’s own son.

Sarah: Even though President Franklin Pierce did sent a small contingent of US Army into Kansas, it was never a real war, but nevertheless, something like 56 people died in violent clashes between pro- and anti- slave forces, neither of whom were officially sanctioned military. So really, bleeding Kansas was the first wave of Civil War era guerilla violence, and it set the stage for the kind of small-scale, non-sanctioned, ad-hoc violence to occur when large-scale violence broke out on a national scale. Even more, it set the ideological groundwork for more violence. Missourians saw Northerners/Easterners as elitist, greedy, and holier-than-thou invaders, who wanted to destroy their way of life. Northerners saw Missourians as Pukes – essentially redneck, poor white trash, who refused to become educated or civilized. (Side note: We’re going to start by focusing on Missouri, because it’s sort of an epicenter of guerilla violence – but it’s not the only place where it takes place. We’ll expand our focus later on.)

Averill: So what happened when war actually broke out? Others supported the Union. Missouri never chose sides, and remained a border state during the Civil War. Missourians felt themselves both disconnected and internally divided. Some Missourians were deeply invested and wanted to protect slavery. They were Westerners, and didn’t feel particularly connected to either the deep South or the North. How would they fit in to the conflicts brewing between North and South? What would become of in-between places like Missouri in such a conflict?

Sarah: So how does Missouri end up devolving into guerilla violence? Well, I think we need a little bit of context about what the “real” military looks like. The United States had an army – like we do now – in 1861, one that was made up of people who enlisted to serve in a professional capacity. For the most part, these men served out their careers in forts around the US, but after the Mexican War in the 1840s, few saw much action, except in clashes with Native Americans. There were also officers, many who attended military academies, like West Point or the Citadel, who had more thorough training in leadership and tactics. But even they had fairly little military experience, except those who were old enough to have seen service in the Mexican War. The “regular” army, as it was called, was pretty small.

Ave: In April 1861, when the tensions between North and South became a shooting war at Fort Sumter, one of the first things that President Abraham Lincoln did was call for troops. This “regular” army was going to be suffering before they even got on the battlefield, because Southern servicemen – and there were a lot of them – abandoned the army and flocked to the brand-new Confederate armed services. There was zero chance that the “regular” army could win anything with more soldiers. Men volunteered to serve what was then referred to as the Union Army, or to the Confederate Army. They received uniforms, paychecks, rations, supplies, and training, and were held to the same standards of regular army soldiers – except that they only signed up for short-term enlistments, ranging from 30-days, 3 years, or the duration of the Civil War. This is the army that we all learn about in elementary school or on class trips to battlefields like Gettysburg or Antietam, dressed in blue and gray uniforms, marching in straight lines, and doing their fighting in big pitched battles. Both Confederate and Union soldiers were considered the most dutiful, brave, manly, best men in the country – of course some of them were real jerks, but when viewed through idealized, patriotic, rose-colored glasses way, they were all heroes.

Sarah: The armies were huge – the estimated number of men who served in the Union Army is something like 2.2 million – right now, just as a point of comparison, the estimated number of people in all American armed forces is 1.2 million, with a few hundred thousand more in reserve units. But almost all of those people served in pretty concentrated locations. The armies were largely divided between two geographic regions that we call “theaters,” the Eastern Theater and the Western Theater. The Eastern theater is the one most of us are most familiar with – the big battles like Gettysburg and Antietam took place there. It was largely located in Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, Georgia, and a teensy bit in Pennsylvania, and of course the troops stationed around Washington, DC. The Western Theater was further inland, in states like Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. The armies spent most of their time on campaigns – or a long-term, sort of plan for military action – in these areas. So what this meant was that large swathes of contested territory – like borderlands in states that had populations of people sympathetic to the Union and those sympathetic to the Confederate cause, such as Missouri or Kentucky – were left without real armies on the ground.

Averill: But just because they didn’t always have boots on the ground did not mean that all was well in those states. In states like Kansas and Missouri, entire communities were divided. You could be a strict Unionist, living next door to your neighbors, who were Confederate supporters. [This would be a good place to chat a bit about Trump supporters living next door, etc.] You know how we always hear this trope of the Civil War being brother-against-brother? It was never more true than in border states like Missouri, Kansas, and Kentucky. Often, the tension between disagreeing neighbors broke out into small-scale violence – actually, a great deal of the violence that took place in border states was random and opportunistic and only vaguely connected to the greater struggle. One example that the late historian Michael Fellman described happened in February 1863 in Missouri. Three men broke into the home of Obadiah and Nancy Leavitt, shot Obadiah in the back, and threatened Nancy – actually in an interesting call-back to our Marquis de Sade episode, they held a pistol to her head, pulled the trigger, only to have it misfire and fail to kill her. Obadiah survived the shot, and Nancy pulled him up on the bed to keep him safe, but the men wouldn’t leave. She asked them why they were doing this, and they responded they “had enough against him to kill him” and they knew he “reported to the Federals.” The men shot Obadiah again, this time through the head, stole the couple’s horses and tack, and took off.

Sarah: That’s what much of the violence looked like in western states like Kansas and Missouri – scattershot, disorganized, random, senseless, and brutal. Guerrillas identified with both Union and Confederate causes. In broad terms, Confederate guerrillas were called “bushwhackers,” and Union guerrillas were called “jayhawkers.” They threatened and terrorized people for their political leanings, but they also were just opportunistic jerks – stealing horses, forcing farmers to hand over their stores of cash and goods, raping women. In some cases, they were just joyriding, enjoying the thrill that came with intimidating people and cutting a dashing figure on horseback. Sometimes, guerrillas were well-known community members, even former friends. In one case, the four Carty brothers terrorized their own former friends, causing confusion and pain. Their former friend, Andrew Love, testified that one of the Cartys robbed him at gunpoint and stole his horse, and that later, another Carty brother came to say that he would remain Love’s friend and had tried to stop his brother from robbing him. Guerrilla warfare muddled, strained, and broke relationships and societal order.

Averill: Guerrilla warfare also broke the laws of war. Nineteenth century wars were horrific and brutal in their own right, but they were also, at least in idealized terms, gentleman’s affairs. Soldiers were held to the codes of military law, which set strict standards for behavior both on and off the battlefield. The military was held to the Articles of War, initially instituted in 1775 by the Continental Congress and then updated periodically until through the Civil War era. The Articles regulated everything from how officers should act in church (and yes, it did strongly suggest that all soldiers and officers attend worship services), to how they spoke (no swearing!) to not drinking to not going absent without leave or sleeping at your post. In 1863, they were amended by General Order 100, also called the Lieber Code, which sort of expanded the rules of war to reach beyond the day-in and day-out activities of life in the ranks. It gave specific regulations on things like how to institute martial law in occupied territories, but also things that we might consider war crimes today. For example, Article 16 of the Lieber code reads, “Military necessity does not admit of cruelty – that is, the infliction of suffering for the sake of suffering or for revenge, nor of maiming or wounding except in fight, nor of torture to extort confessions. It does not admit the use of poison in any way, nor the wanton devastation of a district. It admits of deception, but disclaims acts of perfidy; and in general, military does not include an act of hostility which makes the return to peace unnecessarily difficult.” So it’s regulating how you actually conduct a war: you can’t wantonly slaughter people, you must torture people; you can’t be overly deceptive, you can’t commit atrocities. It actually does say that citizens of hostile countries are enemies, but also makes a more nuanced argument that we have progressed to a point of modernity where we don’t murder unarmed civilians, we don’t rape and terrorize.

Sarah: The Lieber Code is actually really beautifully written and surprisingly wise – it even delves into how armies should deal with libraries and works of art. In general, the main thrust of both the Articles of War and Lieber Code is that war is not chaos: it needs to be done with intention and discipline. And this seems really disingenuous and naïve to us today, knowing what we know about war crimes and atrocities that do take place – the immense civilian deaths in WWI, for example, or the massacre at My Lai. But nineteenth century military officers and soldiers, for the most part, really believed in this, and believed that there was a difference – and had to be a difference – between civilized warfare and senseless chaos. Why are we talking about this? Because guerrilla warfare turned the order of war on its head. Guerrillas destroyed property, stole goods for the hell of it, terrorized and killed civilians, and generally answered to no higher authority. They refused to be gentlemen. A good example of this is the James boys, Frank and Jesse – who go on to be very famous outlaws after the Civil War – who at one point in 1864 had a strategy of going to homes in northwest Missouri dressed in Union uniforms, calling out that they were Union soldiers and asking for directions. When the farmer came out of the house, they would shoot him dead. Why? Who knows. Either way, stories like this show us a couple of things. First, it shows how little bushwhackers like the James boys cared for the ethics of war – gentlemen citizen-soldiers would have found dressing up in the enemy’s uniform inappropriate – it was actually against the Articles of War. It also shows us just how random and senseless much guerrilla violence was. It was impossible for Missouri homesteaders to know what they were getting when those Union men came to the door. Were they actual, lost Union soldiers? Were they Union soldiers or jayhawkers coming to pillage? Were they bushwhackers in disguise? There was no way to know.

Jesse James, roughly 16 years old, when he was riding with Bloody Bill Anderson. American Civil War and guerrilla warfare on the western front. #civilwar #americanhistory

Jesse James, roughly 16 years old, when he was riding with Bill Anderson. | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Averill: One of the biggest differences between “regular” and “irregular” war had to do with the role of women. In regular warfare, women were often not present, or present only on the margins – camp followers like laundresses and prostitutes, women in neighboring towns and villages, nurses. They weren’t typically at the center of violence. In the chaotic, irregular warfare like that taking place in Missouri, however, women were both combatants and victims. Women cared for guerilla bands by cooking for them and doing their laundry. In some cases, this was because they were deeply invested in the fighters – they were lovers or kin, for example, or they felt strongly about the cause. In many more cases, it was simply survival tactics – women tried to appease both sides by feeding those who came to their door and telling them what they wanted to hear in order to make it to the next day. There was real tension between women and soldiers – sometimes Confederate-leaning Missouri women would give Union soldiers a hard time, and they would be protected by most (not all!!) soldiers’ adherence to military codes of conduct. Women were also used by guerillas specifically for this reason. Because most Union soldiers were reluctant to hurt or abuse women, guerrillas used women to provide them food and shelter, knowing that they wouldn’t be hurt. Union soldiers did not necessarily treat Southern sympathizing women like ladies, either – they felt real contempt for these women. Union soldiers burned down barns, stole livestock, and trashed homes. Sometimes this took some fancy ideological footwork. Guerrillas might terrorize a woman – entering her home, searching it, brandishing weapons, threatening to kill her kin – but all the while believing themselves to still be good men because they didn’t specifically threaten her. It would seem like this environment would be a prime location and situation for a lot of rape, but there actually isn’t a lot documented. Rape did happen – Michael Fellman recounts one powerful story of guerrillas raping two women in the presence of one of the women’s husbands. But men did terrorize women, often doing everything but rape and kill them.

Sarah: But women weren’t simply victims. Women, as Ave mentioned, played a critical role in supplying guerrillas. They also played a role in keeping them going ideologically and spiritually. My favorite example of this comes from the work of a historian named Joseph Beilein, who describes the clothing that Confederate guerrillas wore. They did not wear Confederate uniforms. They wore their hair long and loose, wore rings and rakish hats – not necessarily things that were the height of style, but things that they made their own, if that makes sense. In photographs, they project a sort of half-dandy half-pirate image. They also wore these totally crazy, flashy shirts that were handmade by their lovers. They were covered in decorations like ruffles, beads, rosettes, and covered with designs. They were designed to be useful – they had large breast pockets to hold ammunition and gunpowder – but they were also designed to individualized and to represent the relationship between the shirt’s female creator and the fighter. The example that Beilein gives is a photograph taken of the pro-Confederate guerilla known as Bloody Bill Anderson – I will share it so you can get an idea of what we’re talking about.

"Bloody" Bill Anderson, ca. 1863 or 1864. Guerrilla warfare on the western front in the American Civil War. #civilwar #americanhistory #history

“Bloody” Bill Anderson, ca. 1863 or 1864 | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Averill: Before we come back to this wacky shirt, we should to give a little bit of a background on who Anderson was. Bloody Bill Anderson was born in Kentucky, raised in Missouri, and then lived in Kansas as a child during the Bleeding Kansas conflict – his family was very proslavery even though they themselves were too poor to be slave owners themselves. So he was very steeped in that culture of vigilante justice and violence that permeated Kansas in the 1850s. Anderson became a guerrilla when his father was killed by a friend of the family. Anderson murdered his father’s killer and burned down the man’s home, then ran off to eventually join forces with other pro-Confederate guerrillas. Anderson joined a band of guerrillas under the leadership of William Quantrill, who remains one of the most famous participants in the Civil War. Together, they participated in the raid on Lawrence, Kansas, which had been an anti-slavery, Unionist stronghold since the days of Bleeding Kansas.

Sarah: Lawrence was known for being a sort of home base for Unionist jayhawkers. In late August 1863, Quantrill lead over 400 raiders into Lawrence, where they caused immense destruction, burning buildings, looting, and killing something like 150 men. After the attack on Lawrence, the Union army cracked down severely on pro-Confederate guerillas like Quantrill and Anderson. To make it easier to escape capture, Quantrill’s men broke up into smaller bands, one led by Anderson. Now in charge of his own band of raiders, starting wreaking havoc on Missouri. In September 1864, Anderson led his men – disguised in Union uniforms – against the town of Centralia, Missouri. They then turned on a train carrying Union soldiers who were on leave. They ordered the soldiers off the train, shot them and then mutilated their bodies, even scalping them. Afterward, the one lone Union soldier who survived described it as the “most monstrous and inhuman atrocities ever perpetuated by beings wearing the form of man.” As a side note: with Anderson that day were the James brothers, Jesse and Frank, and Cole Younger, who went on to become very notorious, violent bandits in the “wild wild west.”

Averill: So Anderson was pretty infamous, and the Union army really really wanted him dead. This was just not how soldiers were supposed to behave themselves – torturing, mutilating bodies, scalping? Those were all acts associated with Native Americans, who often performed such acts of the bodies of killed white soldiers in the West. So they’re really flipping the script on how white men behave in a civil society. Or perhaps trying to emphasize that this is not a civil society, this is war, and in the words of William Tecumseh Sherman, “War is war.” Anyway, about a month after Centralia, Anderson was pinned down by Union forces and Anderson was shot in the head and killed. Killing Anderson was a major coup for the Union army, and they really wanted to drive home that they had defeated this man who, for many, was a popular hero and legend. So they propped him up and had his photograph taken in his guerrilla shirt. And this in a way fit into a sort of culture of gender and death that rose up in guerrilla bands. It was dangerous, risky work – that’s sort of what made it fun – and men wanted to know that if that happened, their shirt would help to cement their legacy. As Beilein says, they might harbor fantasies that their lovers would someday be holding a photograph of their body, dressed in the guerilla shirt and wielding weapons used protecting her from attackers. In Anderson’s case, this was literally true: the photograph we have of him in his guerrilla shirt is of his dead body.

Sarah: We know that the emotional connections between men and women were really important during the Civil War. Other historians, like Stephen Berry, have also pointed out how critical love, romance, and girlfriends were to Civil War soldiers – as positive motivation (gotta get home to bone my wife, or gotta protect my lover) and as negative motivation (if I don’t fight, my girlfriend will break up with me). So that apparently also holds true for guerrillas. Protecting women was a really powerful motivating factor for many Confederate soldiers, but in guerrilla-dominated Missouri, that protection was really immediate. Women were not necessarily safe from terror and violence. This was true for Bloody Bill Anderson – part of the motivation for the attack on Lawrence, at least for Anderson, was to avenge the death and serious injury of his two sisters. His sisters Mary Ellen and Josephine were being held in a women’s prison, arrested as part of an attempt to get guerrillas to surrender. The prison collapsed. Josephine was killed, and Mary Ellen was injured in such a way that left her permanently disabled. They were only teenagers. This attack on women – even though it was actually just a tragic coincidence – affirmed everything that pro-Confederate guerrillas wanted to believe about ruthless, depraved Yankee invaders. I just want to meditate for a moment on this conflagration of gender and violence that existed in guerrilla warfare, and here I want to be clear that I am really just fangirling over Joseph Beilein’s work on this stuff. We mentioned that Anderson and his men scalped men when they attacked Centralia. When Anderson was killed, he was found not only with scalps hanging from the bridle of his horse, but with locks of his wife and sisters’ hair in his pockets, tied up in ribbons. And Beilein weaves this incredible metaphor of feminine ribbons juxtaposed with the bloody flesh of murdered soldiers: guerrillas were these hyper masculine men who were lovers, actors, protectors, murderers. They were vulnerable but violent. As Beilein says, by wearing their guerrilla shirts, they wore their hearts on their sleeve. It just adds such an incredible and fascinating new layer to what we think about the manhood of Civil War soldiers. It just blows my mind! Civilwargasm!

Bloody Bill Anderson, taken after his death on October 27, 1864, in Richmond, Missouri . Guerrilla warfare on the western front in the American Civil War. #civilwar #americanhistory

Bloody Bill Anderson, taken after his death on October 27, 1864, in Richmond, Missouri | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Averill: But even though we’ve focused mostly on Missouri – where guerrilla warfare was certainly at a fever pitch – there were guerrillas in other parts of the Civil War West. In fact, we usually don’t even think about the Southwest, like Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, when we think about the Civil War. But the far West, while maybe not the central concern at all points during the Civil War, was an object of desire for both the Confederate and the Union governments. After all, both regions were at work on imperialist projects as they expanded westward before the war, whether to grow the slaveocracy, or to spread the opportunity for white men through homesteading and business opportunity. The southwest was also littered with federal forts and arsenals, populated with not a heck of a lot of men. So when the war began, a Confederate officer named Henry Sibley hatched a plan – called the Sibley Campaign or the New Mexico Campaign – to seize the southwest from the federals by convincing Texans to enlist, and then work their way across the Southwest to California, where they could use Californian ports to get around the tight blockade the Union forces kept on the South. So even though we think of the Southwest as at best marginal to the conflict, it was actual sort of central to their hopes for the future. In between Richmond and California, however, were a whole lot of Indians of different tribes.

Union Colonel Edward Canby and Confederate Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley, opponents in the Sibley Campaign. #civilwar #americanhistory #history

Union Colonel Edward Canby and Confederate Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley, opponents in the Sibley Campaign | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Sarah: Even though the federal government had had troops in the Southwest at forts and arsenals for decades, they hadn’t established particularly good relationships with the Native people. They never thought that would really be that importnat. Suddenly, it really was. Each side of the divide, North and South, tried to get Natives to work with them rather than the other – ultimately, the Confederacy was more successful. Natives proved to be ideal guerrillas – after all, so many guerrilla tactics were stolen from Native styles of warfare. What Americans perceived as “irregular” warfare was just a natural part of Native culture: raiding, striking quickly and stealing supplies and livestock, surprise attacks. Southwestern Natives were expert horsepeople, and they understood the climate and the landscape far better than whites. Natives also knew that this conflict could be of use to them: they could use it to demonstrate their superior fighting skills, protect their lands, and perhaps, if they chose correctly, win some leverage. Megan Kate Nelson, who writes about this really beautifully, makes this argument that this wasn’t whites incorporating Natives into their civil war as much as it was Natives incorporating whites into their culture of what we would understand as guerrilla warfare – it already existed, they just started using it for, and against, whites. Eventually, the raids from Native guerrillas on both the Confederate and Union campaigns in to the Southwest ended the Sibley campaign, and ended any Southern hopes for a Confederate empire in the desert Southwest. Even though this demonstrated Natives were dangerous opponents, it also meant that without the Confederate threat the Union army had extra men and resources to devote specifically to *their* imperialist project in the west.

Averill: Something we’ve been dealing with this summer and fall is the memory – or the ways that we remember – the Civil War. Suddenly, the ways that the Civil War was framed and portrayed in monuments to Confederate monuments is under really close scrutiny. The post Civil War project to reframe the Southern war cause emphasized the glory of battle and the tragic genius of Confederate leaders like Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and absolved these heroes of any guilt or error that led to defeat – that was the Yankees fault, and it was unavailable because of the North’s overwhelming wealth and resources. These men were good, genteel Southern gentlemen, they were Christians, but they were also swift and decisive leaders on the battlefield. So how did Southerners try to incorporate and understand men like Quantrill and Blood Bill Anderson, who upended everything Southerners believed about the gloried leaders of the Lost Cause? Guerrila memory was shaped in a number of ways that sometimes fit, and at other times sat apart from, the larger Lost Cause mythology.

Sarah: Yeah, and Matt Hulbert, a historian of Civil War guerrillas, is sort of the king of this – his new book, The Ghosts of Guerilla Memory, deals with the ways that people tried to shift and shape the guerilla experience in the post war. And in some ways, it was similar to the shaping of Lost Cause figures like Lee – who was turned into literally something of a demi-god in Southern literature. Hulbert tells the story of John Newman Edwards, who tries to do sort of the same thing with William Quantrill. He turns Quantrill and his men into black knights. He can’t really turn him into a saint, like Lee, but he can invest him with superhero-like powers and hyper-masculine persona. For instance, Edwards describes Quantrill like this: “a living breathing aggressive all powerful reality – riding through the midnight, laying ambuscades by lonesome roadsides, catching marching columns by the throat, breaking in upon the flanks and tearing a suddenly surprised rear to pieces; vigilant, merciless, a terror by day and a superhuman if not supernatural thing when there was upon the earth blackness and darkness.” Geez. It has this intense fetishization of weapons – Edwards describes guerrillas caressing their pistols as they clean them lovingly. Guerrillas, Edwards tries to explain, were protecting their kin, which they ballooned out to include the entire Southern cause. Murder was justified when dangerous, evil, grasping Yankees were invading their home. But the project had a bigger purpose than just deifying guerillas like Quantrill: Edwards hoped that reshaping the guerilla conflict in this way would get Missourians to reject Republican politics in the same way guerrillas rejected evil Yankee invaders. And of course this is just one slice of this book, which goes on to talk about all the many ways that the memory of Civil War guerrillas was created and debated, but I think it’s a fascinating glimpse into how Americans (humans?) try to grapple with uncomfortable and difficult history.

Three bushwhackers, ca. 1864. The American Civil War and Guerrilla Warfare on the western front of the American Civil War. #civilwar #americanhistory #history

Three bushwhackers, ca. 1864 | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Thanks for joining us for this episode of Dig. Follow us on FacebookTwitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

Show Notes:

Earl J. Hess, The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2015)

Matthew Christopher Hulbert, The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory: How Civil War Bushwhackers Became Gunslingers in the American West (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2016).

Megan Kate Nelson, “Indians Make the Best Guerrillas: Native Americans and the War for the Desert Southwest, 1861-1862,” Joseph Beilein, Jr. and Matthew Hulbert, eds. The Civil War Guerrilla: Unfurling the Black Flag in History, Memory, and Myth (Lawrence: University of Kentucky Press, 2015).

Daniel Sutherland, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (Civil War America) (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2009)

Joseph Beileiln, Jr., “The Guerrilla Shirt: A Labor of Love and the Style of Rebellion in Civil War Missouri,” Civil War History 58 (2012), 151-179.

Matthew Stanley, “Quantrill, William Clarke.” Border War Encyclopia, Civil War on the Western Border, Kanasas City Public Library

Deborah Keating, “James, Frank and Jesse.” Border War Encyclopia, Civil War on the Western Border, Kanasas City Public Library

Matthew Stanley, “Anderson, WIlliam “Bloody Bill.” Border War Encyclopedia, Civil War on the Western Border, Kansas City Public Library

The Guerrilla War on the western front of the American Civil War. Learn about Bloody Bill Anderson, Billy the Kid and others and how they were Civil War veterans turned rogue. #civilwar #guerrillawarfare #history #AmericanCivilWar #CivilWar


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