Reasons for Fighting as a Guerrilla in the Civil War – Part I

Marais Des Cynges Massacre in Kansas, May 19, 1858 from Harpers Weekly

In the American Civil War, most notably in Missouri, the use of standard military tactics as a method of fighting was a far second place to that of guerrilla fighting. Why was this method of fighting preferred and what was the real reason behind it? Guerrilla warfare was actually the method used by the American patriots in the Revolutionary War. Few battles were fought in standard military fashion, and this was a major reason for the American victory – the British troops simply were not prepared to handle this type of warfare and believed the Americans to be fighting in and “ungentlemanly’ manner.

Author Bruce Nichols believes, in the case of the Civil War, that there were five primary motives – bitterness, anger, hope, desperation and excitement.

The first reason, bitterness, was probably the one that was primarily the main motivator, but is overlooked as a military reason and viewed more as the actions of criminals, which in many cases was true. Union Major General John M. Schofield stated that “…the bitter feelings between the border people, which feeling is the result of old feuds, and involves very little, if at all, the question of Union or disunion…” and there were plenty of examples of wrongdoings, or the notions of wrong doing, to push many men to care less about the state of the Union, but rather, how to enact retribution on this perceived wrong doing.

The perfect example is the collapse of the makeshift prison in Kansas City that housed female family members of Missouri bushwhackers. The prison collapsed under questionable circumstances, killing and maiming some of the women housed there. William T. “Bloody Bill” Anderson lost one sister and had another one maimed and it is said this single event pushed him over the edge. He wrote in 1864, “I have chosen guerrilla warfare to revenge myself for wrongs I could not honorably avenge otherwise.” There was also instances of Union troops, some made up of Kansan “Red-Legs” who were enacting their own vengeance on the Missourians, burning, killing, and destroying farms and families that drove some Confederate soldiers to desert in order to return for vengeance as a guerrilla.

The second reason, anger, Nichols points out as being from some “tyranny real or imagined” and points to things such as the suspension of civil rights, occupation of the state, extremism of abolitionists, the emotional issue of slavery, raids on Missourians by Kansas Jayhawkers, the use of German immigrants, the Federal government calling for a draft, and finally, sensational southern press and it’s censoring by the Union authorities.

In Part II, we’ll continue with the other three motivating reasons: hope, desperation and excitement.

Missouri and the Civil War

Grant Statue in Ironton, MO.

By the spring of 1861 the people of Missouri were already familiar with the strife and sectionalism that plagued the country when the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Ft Sumter on April 12, 1861. Since the mid-1850’s1850s and the events now known as “Bleeding Kansas“, Missourians, far from the east, had fought and suffered over the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Missouri Compromise and the Dred Scott case and yes, slavery. Guerrilla warfare ravaged the state and it’s people all during the war and even afterwards.

There many things about Missouri during the Civil War that made it significant. Some were vital events, some, well, bragging rights. But it is beyond a doubt that this border state played a huge role in the conflict that would define our nation.

Missouri sent more men to war, in proportion to population, than any other state. Missouri had 199,111 volunteers. Approximately 27,000 Missouri civilians and soldiers were killed during the Civil War.

Missouri also saw many firsts: the first land battle of the Civil War which took place in Boonville Missouri on June 17, 1861. Ulysses S. Grant found his first battle of the war in Belmont, MO on November 7, 1861. The first Union general of the war, Nathaniel Lyon, was killed at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. In Greene County Missouri, Private Joseph W. Cole of Co. O 1st Kansas Volunteer Infantry Regiment would become the first Civil War soldier to be executed on July 14, 1861.

Other interesting facts about Missouri: Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to Brigadier General while serving in Ironton, MO. and Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) served a whole two weeks with Hannibal Missouri Confederates before tiring of the whole things and “retiring”. Missouri was the only state to have representatives in both the United States Congress and the Confederate Congress.

Not counting undocumented skirmishes, Missouri saw what is considered to be 27 battles within her borders. Missouri ranks third in the number of battles within her borders only behind Virginia and Tennessee. Some of the battles were little more than 20 minute skirmishes. Some, like Wilson’s Creek, Westport and Fort Davidson, were bloody and horrific and saw a huge loss of life.

The following battles all took place in Missouri:

1. Booneville
2. Carthage
3. Liberty
4. Cole Camp
5. Wilson’s Creek
6. Dry Wood Creek
7. Lexington (#7 and #24)
8. Fredericktown
9. Springfield (#9 and #19)
10. Belmont
11. Mt. Zion Church
12. Roans Tan Yard
13. New Madrid/Island 10
14. Kirksville
15. Independence (#15 and #26)
16. Lone Jack
17. Newtonia
18. Clark’s Mill
20. Hartville
21. Cape Girardeau
22. Fort Davidson (Pilot Knob)
23. Glasgow
25. Little Blue River
27. Byram’s Ford
28. Westport
29. Marmiton River

Tensions in Confederate Leadership in the West

Battle of Wilsons Creek

It was always clear that Confederate Missouri Militia General Sterling Price and Confederate Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch rarely, if ever, saw eye to eye on matters. Strategic differences and the simple fact that McCulloch was, more or less, forced to cooperate with Price by President Jefferson Davis.

The Confederate victory at Wilson’s Creek in August of 1861, southern forces in Missouri under the command of both Price and  McCulloch, was a moral booster for Southern sympathizing Missourians, who found a renewed spirit and hope for their cause in Missouri. This lead to the Militia making it’s way northward through Missouri and ended in the town of Lexington along the Missouri River. “The Battle of the Hemp Bales” as it was also called was a temporary victory for Price and his Militia, bur General McCulloch decided to not follow his southern sympathizing brethren and held to the southwestern portion of Missouri. By November, McCulloch had secured that portion of the state. He makes it clear in his dispatch to Confederate General Samuel Cooper, that the rift between himself and Price was ever far from being resolved when he wrote,

November 19, 1861.

General S. COOPER,
Adjt. and Isp. General, C. S. Army, Richmond, Va.:

GENERAL: I have the honor to report that on the night of the 15th instant I received information at my headquarters, 72 miles from here, that the Federal troops had started back toward Saint Louis from this place. On the 16th I started with all my available mounted troops, without wagons, and after a rapid march arrived near here last night. I was in hopes before arriving that I might be able to overtake some of the trains of the enemy, but on my arrival I found that they were too far to attempt even a pursuit, they being at least 100 miles ahead.

From all the information I can obtain the enemy’s strength was at least 30,000, with an abundance of artillery. There was evidently considerable disaffection in their ranks, and on leaving here Lane, with his Kansas troops, carried off 500 or 600 negroes, belonging to Union men as well as secessionists. From what I can learn they intend to fortify Rolla, Sedalia, and Jefferson City, and to garrison each of those places. The Union men have nearly all fled with the Federal troops, leaving this place almost deserted. From all the information I can get of General Price’s movements he seems to be making his way in the direction of the Missouri River. An attempt of the kind, in my opinion, can only terminate as did his previous expedition to that country. Considering it inexpedient to attempt a winter campaign in this country, I shall return to the borders of Arkansas, and put my command in winter quarters by the 15th of December. As there will be much to do to make the many arrangements necessary for an early spring campaign, I respectfully request the authority of the Department for me to visit Richmond for that purpose. As soon as the troops are in winter quarters my presence here could be dispensed with for a few weeks.

Hoping my views may meet the approval of the Department, I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
BEN. McCULLOCH, Brigadier-General, Commanding.

McCulloch also wrote to CSA Secretery of War J. P. Benjamin on the same day with the following account:

HEADQUARTERS, Springfield, Mo.,
November 19, 1861.

Honorable J. P. BENJAMIN,
Secretary of War:

SIR: I shall return to Arkansas, put my troops in winter quarters soon, and ask permission to come immediately to Richmond, so as to give the administration correct information regarding affairs in this region before it acts on matters here. The Federals left eighth days since with 30,000 men, quarreled among themselves, and greatly injured their cause by taking negroes belonging to Union men. General Lane went to Kansas, General Hunter to Sedalia, and General Sigel to Rolla.

I have the honor to be, with respect, your obedient servant,

Brigadier-General, Commanding.

It’s obvious that McCulloch did not agree with Price’s actions and began preparations to move his command out of Missouri to be used elsewhere for the Confederacy. With the rift turning into rivalry, the overall command of the Trans-Mississippi district was turned over to Major General Earl Van Dorn. Price was commissioned a Major General in the Confederate Army and combined Price’s militia and McCulloch’s soldiers together to form the Army of the West and would engage Union General Samuel Curtis at the Battle of Pea Ridge (or Elkhorn Tavern) in Arkansas in March 1862.

Price and McCulloch never mended their fences and at Pea Ridge, General McCulloch was killed in combat, shot out of his saddle and killed instantly by a Union sharpshooter.

With the regular and most of the pro-southern militia pulled out of Missouri, the pro-southern cause was left instead in the hands of guerillas like William Clarke Quantrill, William “Bloody Bill” Anderson, George Todd, Dave Poole, Cole Younger, William Gregg and John McCorkle to defend the southern and Missouri cause, which was fought with an entirely different style than that of the regular army.

The New York Draft Riot of 1863 and its social implications

The Ninth Regiment of New York during the Draft Riots

The New York Draft Riots took place from July 13 – 16, 1863 in New York City and were in response to Congress passing laws requiring men to be drafted to fight in the American Civil War. With soldiers dying by the thousands and a huge number deserting, the ranks were thinning in the Union Army. The rich had a way out. They could pay a $300 Commutation Fee to exclude themselves from the draft and have another take their place. The draft and the riots that would result would have huge social implication on not only New York City, but the country as a whole.

First you have immigrants, more specifically Irish immigrants, living in conditions not much better than the slaves of the time lived, citizenship is finally being offered to you at this time but solely on the premise that you will then go fight for your new country; your poor status requires that you go fight since you can’t come up with the $300 commutation fee while the rich are easily sparred from having to go fight.

Most of these immigrants had immigrated to the United States because they were fed up with fighting in their homelands, and now they are being forced to fight, and by this time, for a group of people that they had no desire to fight for (the slaves had by this time been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation). With all of their hardships, the bitter pill that slaves would take away their already meager existence by their freedom AND the fact that they had to go fight and die for this to happen. Top this off with the fact that they couldn’t buy their way out like others could and you have a pot ready to boil over, and it did.

Over the four days the immigrants would take to the streets and buildings would be destroyed and burned, and blacks would be murdered. Eventually the militia would be ordered back, some returning from Gettysburg, and would use force on the rioters who still refused to stay home. By Thursday evening the rioting would end. A New York Times editorial said the writer had never witnessed a more disgusting and humiliating sight than the brutal mob in the streets of the city.

Politically the riots were less impacting than the social implications. The states’ leaving the Union was a far bigger impact on the entire political structure of the time. You would have Mayor Fernando Wood supporting secession and Governor Horatio Seymour running on an anti-war platform as the only real political implications but all in all this was mostly just a Copperhead train of thought and people dismissed it as crazy.

But again, socially it was very significant. The number of killed and injured varies from low (120 killed, 2,000 injured) to very high (2,000 killed and 8,000 injured), but up to that time it was the most deadly riot in America. This is a prime example of the misconception people have that northerners were fighting to free the slaves. They weren’t, and many in the north believed that freeing the slaves was a not only a bad idea because they were considered intellectually inferior but because, as the draft riots proved, the slaves represented competition for the low income working class.

So socially it was very significant and is a perfect study for people today, who don’t really understand the Civil War or slavery, to start to get a real picture of the period outside of the regurgitated, politically correct fluff that has been and still is taught.

The Camp Jackson Affair – Lighting the Fuse of Civil War

Camp Jackson MO.

After the beginning of the Civil War, the arsenal in Liberty, MO had been attacked by pro-Confederates and a large number of rifles and muskets were taken. The arsenal in St. Louis was by far much larger than the one in Liberty, with as much as 40,000 rifles and muskets. Fears that the pro-Confederates would attempt to seize the St Louis arsenal, a militia was raised under the command of Captain Nathaniel Lyon to protect the arsenal. Lyons militia was largely composed of German immigrants and members of the Wide Awakes organization.

Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson ordered the Missouri Militia for maneuvers just outside of the arsenal in what was known as Camp Jackson. The governor at this point was considered neutral, but had strong leanings towards the South.

On May 10, 1861, Lyons would force the surrender of the militia, but the men refused to take the oath of allegiance and Lyons marched the men to the arsenal through the streets of St Louis, guarding them with members of the German Home Guard. This sparked outrage with the citizens and they began to hurl rocks and pavement at the Union soldiers, particularly aiming at the Germans. A shot was fired and then Germans opened fire into the crowd, killing at least 20 civilians and wounding at least 50 more.

Rioting ensued and many more citizens and soldiers were beaten and mistreated. Eventually, Federal regular Army troops arrived and martial law was enacted. The relief of the Germans however, abated the situation and the rioting ended.

The Camp Jackson Affair would be an event that further provided proof of division in the country, and in the state of Missouri. It would also be one of the deciding factors in forcing most Missourian’s to pick a side as issues of the day such as nativism, slavery, and state’s rights were now thrust upon them. It would also be the catalyst in Lyons promotion to Brigadier General and replacing General William S. Harney as commander of Union forces in Missouri and for solidifying Governor Claiborne Jackson’s and former governor Sterling Price’s pro-Confederate position.

Price, Jackson, Lyons and Frank P. Blair Jr. would meet at the Planter House Hotel in St Louis to try and come to terms with the situations in Missouri, but Lyons would basically declare war and would then begin his pursuit of the pro-Confederates across the state, sparking many of the battles that would dot the countryside.