Civil War Partisan Rangers

At the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861 the Confederacy faced serious strategic problems. The North had a greater landmass, a larger population, more industry, more railroads, and more munitions factories. The populations in Border States such as Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia had divided loyalties, and even in the deepest South there were "Tories" who wanted to remain in the Union. Every single state in the Confederacy contributed troops to the Union army. Given this situation, it is no surprise that in the Border States an extensive and bitter guerrilla war between Unionists and Secessionists paralleled - and indeed anticipated - the major operations of the regular armies, while Southern Tories fought to keep the flame of Unionism alive far from the battlefront. Americans had a deep-rooted tradition of hit-and-run irregular warfare stretching back long before the American Revolution, and the independent spirit and distrust of authority that typifies American culture prompted many individuals to fight for their cause outside the ranks of regular armies.

Quantrill's attack on Lawrence, Kansas, on August 21,1863 horrified Northerners and many Southerners. This abolitionist town had already been looted by Missourians in May 1856, but in 1863 Quantrill's guerrillas virtually destroyed It, killing nearly 200 men and boys. While on this occasion the Southern ethos of chivalry prevented them from directly harming women, such restraint was far from universal among irregular fighters. (LoC)

Women Helping Civil War GuerrillasWar Pictures Bleeding Kansas
"Bleeding Kansas": a band of Missouri "border ruffians" depicted in a Northern publication as drunk, disorderly, and armed. This is no exaggeration, but the Kan sans who raided Missouri farms were no better, (Kansas State Historical Society)

Some definition of terms is immediately necessary. "Guerrilla" has been used to describe a wide range of warriors both then and since; in this book the term refers to those fighters on either side who did not join (or had deserted from) the regular army, yet continued to fight. "Bushwhackers" refers to Rebel guerrillas in Missouri, who acted somewhat differently to their comrades in other states. "Jayhawkers" denotes their Unionist counterparts in Kansas. "Partisan rangers" were distinct from guerrillas in that they enjoyed some level of recognition from the army or government. In the case of Southern partisan rangers, they might have been organized under the Partisan Ranger Act of 1862, or by one of the state governments; the Union passed no such act, but the US Army and sometimes even the Federal government recognized independent units.

A third type of fighter, the cavalry raider, fits into the definition of irregular warfare only by virtue of his tactics. Some, such as Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan, occasionally acted as partisans while actually being part of the Confederate Army. Union commanders and later historians often referred to these two famous generals as guerrillas or partisans, but in fact they were regular soldiers using irregular tactics.

All three types of irregular fighter - guerrilla, partisan ranger, and cavalry raider — became essential parts of the Confederate, and to a lesser extent of the Union war effort. The Confederate irregular forces would develop over time into a serious problem for the Union army, which would respond with a range of antignerrilla tactics. In this it was never fully successful, and irregular warfare only came to an end after the regular armies of the Confederacy surrendered.

Thousands of armed pros la very Missourians crossed the state line into Kansas to vote for pro-slavery candidates in the 1854 territorial elections. This greatly increased tensions along the border, and soon both sides resorted to guerrilla warfare. The pre-Civil War fighting was mostly by small bands of armed riders raiding the farms of the other side, but it gave the men combat experience that would be useful when the real war started, (Kansas State Historical Society)

Free State Batteries Bleeding Kansas

The training ground: "Bleeding Kansas"

While formal hostilities opened with the first cannonade against Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, low-level fighting actually began seven years earlier along the border of Missouri and Kansas. At that time Missouri's population came predominantly from the South; feeling that their agricultural economy, based on slaveholding, had to expand to survive, they looked to the plains of the Kansas Territory as the new frontier. But in 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act ruled that the residents of these areas would decide the legal status of slavery. Northern abolitionist leaders encouraged the like-minded to move to the territories, and Emigrant Aid Societies helped hundreds of families to settle there.

While more northerly Nebraska would clearly end up as a "free state," Kansas' status remained a divisive issue, and Missouriatis started moving into the territory to tip the balance in favor of slavery. A war of words, fought through the press and at street corners and taverns, painted all Missourians as avid slaveholders and all Northern immigrants as rabid abolitionists. Missourians complained that Northern settlers were not bringing their womenfolk or farm tools with them, but only guns. This was an exaggeration, but many settlers did come heavily armed, for fear of the Missourians that Northern newspapers had told them would swamp the territory with slaveholders.

Matters came to a head in the 1854 Kansas territorial elections, when thousands of armed Missourians crossed over the state line to vote for proslavery candidates. Because there were no rules as to what constituted residency, their votes counted; their candidates won by a considerable margin, and did so again in elections the following year. Intimidation soon led to violence. Bands of abolitionist "Jayhawkers" rode into Missouri to raid farms and free slaves, while proslavery "border ruffians" or "Bushwhackers" attacked Kansan farms and wrecked the offices of abolitionist newspapers. The death toll began to mount, and the undermanned Federal garrisons could do little to stop the spreading anarchy. On May 21, 1856, a group

Civil War Partisan Rangers
As the fight for the political future of the Kansas Territory heated up, both sides became heavily armed. This 1856 reversed image shows one of the first "Free State batteries" formed by Kansas abolitionists. [Kansas State Historical Society)

of Missourians occupied the abolitionist town of Lawrence, Kansas, seizing weapons, looting homes, and destroying the offices of two newspapers. In reprisal, the abolitionist John Brown and his sons hacked five proslavery men to death in what became known as the Pottawatomie Massacre.

By 1858 power had shifted in favor of the abolitionists because of an increased Federal presence, a continuing influx of Northern immigrants, and large shipments of Sharps rifles from Northern activists. But the raids continued hack and forth, growing in strength and skill. Americans on the frontier were getting a field lesson in guerrilla warfare.

Southern and border states and territories, 1860. The numbers indicate the order in which the Confederate states seceded from the Union.

Southern and border states and territories, 1860. The numbers indicate the order in which the Confederate states seceded from the Union.

Union Territories Civil War

This poster, dating from a month before the attack on Fort Sumter, shows that the Southerners of Macon City, Missouri, did not feel like waiting for the Start of the war, [Courtesy State Historical Society of Missouri)

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Responses

  • EDILIO
    What were the border states during the civil war?
    6 years ago
  • cerdic whitfoot
    What are the northern border of the confederacy?
    6 years ago
  • tove heinonen
    What did the border ruffians do?
    6 years ago
  • RUGGERO
    What was a partisan ranger in the civil war?
    5 years ago
  • luca herman
    How did southerners feel about bleeding kansas?
    5 years ago
  • Pirkko
    What gear did partisan rangers in the american civil war carry?
    2 years ago

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