The Guerrilla Hunters
Irregular Conflicts during the Civil War
Edited by Brian McKnight and Barton A. Myers
Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 2017, 416 pages
Book Review published on: July 14, 2017
The irregular war experienced by the Confederacy during the Civil War is unparalleled in American history. In southern Missouri and Arkansas, counties in the Ozark Mountains experienced a reign of terror waged by soldiers from both sides, deserters, and outlaws that would depopulate the region by the war’s end. Union Gen. Thomas Ewing Jr. issued General Order No. 11 that forced the evacuation of rural areas in four counties of western Missouri. Missouri residents who could prove their loyalty to the Union were forced to relocate near military outposts, while others were forced to leave the area immediately. In northern Georgia during the fall of 1864, bands of armed men filled the vacuum left by retreating Confederate forces to prey upon local communities. The violence would continue for several decades following the war.
Historians Brian McKnight and Barton Myers have edited a collection of scholarly articles on irregular warfare during the Civil War. This diverse array of sixteen thought-provoking essays includes topics covering the irregular war in Loudoun County, Virginia, the Union war on women, challenging the Union citizen-soldier idea, and irregular naval warfare along the lower Mississippi. These essays challenge previously held perceptions regarding the nature, motivations, and activities of those who fought as irregulars and those who hunted them. They also encompass areas not previously contemplated by historians or irregular warfare scholars.
Among The Guerrilla Hunters’ many significant observations and reflections, three stand out. First, historians have applied the blanket term “guerrilla” to all irregulars, or have used “guerrilla,” “bushwhacker,” “partisan,” and irregular interchangeably. Such terminology obscures the complexity of irregular warfare and an understanding of the irregular warfare that took place during the Civil War.
Second, the Confederacy’s Partisan Ranger Act of 1862—intended to promote the use of guerrilla warfare to maximize Confederate manpower in areas of limited Confederate military strength or occupied by federal forces—actually hindered it. The act had the unintended consequence of generating severe retaliation by federal forces conducting counterguerrilla operations. It also reduced the availability of military-age males for regular Confederate forces, and it failed to provide any meaningful support to Confederate military operations.
Third, Union counterguerrilla efforts actually were counterproductive. Union soldiers committed widespread acts of terrorism that destabilized local communities, undermined federal authority, and encouraged support to guerrilla groups.
Andrew Fialka’s essay on the impact of General Order No. 11 as an antiguerrilla strategy is thought provoking. Ewing, commander of the (Kansas-Missouri) border, realized the role played by the local community in supporting guerrilla groups that were attacking pro-Union families on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri border. While General Order No. 11 has been viewed by many historians as an uneven application of “hard war” strategy toward Southern citizens, it was successful in significantly reducing guerrilla violence along the border.
These essays go beyond traditional works on irregular warfare in providing a candid look at the brutal nature of irregular warfare during the Civil War. The essays are highly readable and thought provoking. This book is a must read for scholar or student interested in irregular warfare or the Civil War. It would make a great companion to Joseph Beilein’s Bushwackers: Guerrilla Warfare, Manhood, and the Household in Civil War Missouri.
Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas