Leadership

Guerrilla bands ranged in strength from a handful to hundreds of men, but each was a loose conglomeration unified by a charismatic leader. A guerrilla leader had to be brave, tough, successful, but most of all a hero to the mostly young farm boys who followed him. Leading, not to mention controlling, a rough group of guerrillas took a man who led from the front and fought at least as well as the average member of his group. Since he did not enjoy membership of the officer class of the organized army, his authority was not automatic but entirely personal.

Thomas C. Reynolds, Confederate Governor-in-exile of Missouri, advised Quantrill in February 1864 that both sides had lost their patience with guerrilla warfare and that if he wanted to further his career he should enter the regular Confederate service. He warned him that "All authority over undisciplined bands is short-lived. The history of every guerrilla chief has been the same. He either becomes the slave of his men, or if he attempts to control them, some officer or some private rises up, disputes his authority, gains the men, and puts him down." That May, Reynolds' prediction came true. George Todd, one of Quantrill's officers who felt he deserved more authority than he had been given, drew a gun on Quantrill in front of his men and asked if he feared him. Facing humiliation or death, Quantrill chose humiliation and replied that he did. That night he slunk away from camp, leading only a small fraction of his band; he would never have a sizable following again.

In fact, Quantrill's authority had been eroding ever since the Lawrence massacre. Some guerrillas were shocked at the brutality of the attack, while others wanted to carry out more such expeditions and rankled under what little discipline Quantrill imposed. The showdown with Todd only made plain Quantrill's lack of true authority. Another of his captains, "Bloody Bill" Anderson, also left Quantrill and took the most savage elements of the group with him. They would descend further into barbarity by taking scalps, routinely killing helpless civilians, and even assaulting women - something considered beyond the pale by most Bushwhackers.

While guerrillas operated under the rule of a single leader with one or two trusted captains, partisan ranger units tended to be larger and organized more or less along military lines. Unlike guerrilla captains, who tended to be working men or from the middle

Dave Poole and two others of Quantrill's guerrillas, well supplied with pistols and a bottle of liquor, pose for a photograph while wintering in Texas. The drunken Bushwhackers did not like this picture and proceeded to destroy the photographer's equipment. Quantrill forced them to pay damages, but even this light taste of discipline was too much for the unruly guerrillas, and contributed to the breakup of Quantrill's command. (Courtesy State Historical Society of Missouri)

Quantrill Flag

When MajGen Kirby Smith took over command of the Confederacy's Trans-Mississippi Department in March 1863 he felt that "no good can result" from guerrilla warfare, but -faced with a chronic shortage of men and supplies - he soon supported it as the only way to challenge the Union army west of the river. (LoC)

Nathan Bedford Forrest

class, many leading partisans and cavalry raiders came from the wealthy elite. Nathan Bedford Forrest was a self-made millionaire, while Morgan inherited a prosperous business; Mosby was a successful lawyer, and Shelby and Porter were both wealthy landowners. Being from the cream of Southern society lent their organizations an air of chivalry that the guerrillas lackcd. Most of these leaders looked at war in old-fashioned terms of honor and glory, thereby capturing the imagination of the Southern press. Forrest, the self-made man, was made of rougher stuff and commanded his men accordingly. A member of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry remembered: "When our movement was too slow to suit Forrest, he would curse, then praise, and then threaten to shoot us himself if we were so afraid the Yanks might hit us,"

Partisan ranger leaders had the advantage of being able to handpick their men. Mosby in particular was careful whom he chose, turning away deserters and others he thought unreliable. Since his command acted in small detachments he needed men capable of independent thought; many came from the upper classes, or had prior military experience or special skills. His close relationship with J.E.B. Stuart meant that he had his pick from among Stuart's experienced cavalrymen, while guerrillas generally took whoever came along (although Quantrill turned away Jesse James for being too young.)

Both types of leader had a major advantage over officers in the regular army

- they could distribute captured booty to their men. Theoretically partisan rangers had to sell arms and mounts to the Confederate Quartermaster at market value, while keeping enough to equip themselves, but otherwise they were free to take what they liked. The more honorable leaders forbade the outright robbery of civilians - Mosby strove to protect Unionist civilians in his territory - but joining a partisan ranger group offered the chance for considerable financial gain. On the famous "Greenback Raid" of October 13, 1 864, Mosby's men stopped a passenger express out of Baltimore and netted $168,000 from the cash box, which was quickly divided among the 80 men present. Guerrillas took robbery to even greater extremes, and the motivation of many of them - especially in the Ozarks, Appalachians, and Louisiana bayou

- seems to have been primarily financial.

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Responses

  • bella
    Who were the leaders of Partisan Rangers?
    2 years ago

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