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.

 

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.