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

In Part I we looked at the motives for fighting as a guerrilla instead of a regular soldier during the Civil War. Author Bruce Nichols explained that there were five motivations for adopting the role of a guerrilla – bitterness, anger, hope, desperation and excitement. We covered bitterness and anger and we now move on to hope, desperation and excitement.

Nichols points out that many Missourians were hopeful that Federal carelessness would result in a victory for the southern sympathizers. This was actual a real and relevant hope, as there were plenty of mistakes made by the Union commanders in the West. As the war began to have an eastern focus, many of the talented leadership headed that direction, leaving behind less than stellar leadership. For those not in Missouri, the idea of needing top-notch leadership there seemed a waste. Why waste good officers and men in an area that they had considered “won” and where the guerrillas presented nothing more than occasional inconveniences that would aid in relieving boredom of the soldiers assigned there. Nothing was further from the truth.

Hope was also a motivator for southern sympathizers to free Missouri from it’s Union strangle. This is a major reason why men fought as guerrillas. Confederate Major General Theophilus Holmes wrote that

…we cannot be expected to allow our enemies to decide for us whether we shall fight them in masses of individually, in uniform, without uniform, openly or from ambush. Our forefathers and yours conceded no such right to the British in the first Revolution…

Guerrillas were  a part of the grand scheme for the Confederates and more than the outlaws the North branded them as.

Another motive was desperation, and this is one that most fail to consider or do not understand. Missourians were forced from all viewpoints to participate in the fight. There was no such thing as neutrality. Guerrillas would sometimes force men to join their bands, with the threat of death if they refused.  Some tried to move away, but realized that in doing so it meant forever, as coming back left them marked as a traitor. The Union drafting men and forcing them to either side with the Union or with the Confederates. As Nichols points out it separated the “sheep from the goats.” There were plenty examples of who bushwhackers, donning Union uniforms, would be able to ascertain the loyalties of a man, leaving the man however in a position never knowing how to answer – if he chooses Union because of the uniform, he is shot. If he chooses rebel and they are Union soldiers, he is arrested and then shot. Desperation led many people in Missouri to do things they never would have contemplated outside of war. And it left it’s scar on everything and turned simple men, women and children into a hardened, desolate people.

The last motive is excitement, and while you would think this to be a minute portion of the motives, it clearly was as equal a factor as the rest.  Young men, pumped by patriotism, family and the sheer thrill of that lifestyle, sought out to join guerrilla bands. Harrison Trow, a member of William Quantrill’s band, wrote after the war that

As strange as it may seem, the perilous fascination of fight under a black flag – where the wounded could have neither surgeon or hospital, and were all that remained to the prisoners was the absolute certainty of speedy death – attracted a number of young men to the various guerrilla bands…

The bravado of these men was clear; men such as William T. “Bloody Bill” Anderson, Jesse and Frank James, Coleman Younger, Archie Clements, Dave Poole, and William Gregg, lived hard, fast lives. Their exploits of daring, and even recklessness, exemplified the nature of the Missouri guerrilla.

 

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