Rebel guerrillas almost never wore Confederate uniforms. If they wore any uniform at all, they preferred captured Union ones, which allowed them to get the jump on Union soldiers or move in close to towns and depots unchallenged. As a countermeasure, local Union commanders created an elaborate set of hand signals to identify blue-clad men from a distance. An example from the Central District of Missouri instructed:
The following signals and pass words for July, 1864, will be transmitted by sub-district commanders to the commanding officer of each scout, detachment, or escort detailed from their respective commands, every precaution being taken to prevent their being known to unauthorized persons:
During the daytime the commanding officer of a scout, detachment, or escort, upon observing the approach of a party or body of men, will ride a few paces in advance of his command and raising his hat or cap, with arm extended at full height, will lower it slowly and place it upon his head. The commanding officer of the party thus challenged will immediately answer the same by raising the hat or cap from the head and extending the arm horizontally, bringing the arm back slowly and replacing the hat or cap upon the head. The signal to be given and answered, where the nature of the ground will permit, before the parties have approached nearer than from 300 to 350 yards.
At night the party who first discovers the approach of another, when within challenging distance, will cry out loud and distinctly, "Halt!" and the party thus challenged will immediately answer, "Lyon," to be followed by a counter challenge of "Who comes there?" to which the party last challenged will answer "Reno." The failure of either party to answer promptly and correctly will be the signal to commence firing.
The badges to be worn during the month of Ju!y will be as follows: on the odd days, as the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, &c., a red strip of cloth fastened around the hat or cap, and on the even days of the month, as the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, &c., a white strip will be worn in the same manner, the colors alternating each day. Special care will be taken to avoid mishaps through negligence or the failure on the part of the men to change the badges as herein directed.
Guerrillas fascinated period artists with their fierce appearance and even fiercer reputation. Here one is shown in tattered clothing armed with a musket and saber. The drawing Is titled both "a jerlfla" and "a deserter," reflecting the fact that they were often both, (LoC)
Despite such elaborate precautions, guerrillas often discovered the signals thanks to observant civilians or Confederate sympathizers serving in the militia.
When not wearing Union blue, Missouri Bushwhackers favored a peculiar piece of clothing called the "guerrilla shirt," a variation of the coat worn by hunters on the Great Plains. It was a pullover item open, sometimes deeply, down the front. Four large pockets, two in the breast and two on the sides, were big enough to hold cartridges, preloaded spare revolver cylinders or even small pistols. They came in a variety of colors, and the shawl-coliar front, cuffs and pockets were often decorated with elaborate ribbonwork and needlework by a female relative or sweetheart. The Bushwhackers favored wide-brimmed slouch hats ranging in color from buff to dark brown and black, and often wore their hair shoulder-length. The guerrilla's whole ensemble was meant to create the image of a jaunty, brave, independent cavalier.
Fashion aside, what made the greatest impression was the small arsenal carried by Bushwhackers. Each armed himself with revolvers carried on a gunbelt, in pockets and saddle holsters; some carried as many as six, and their instant firepower against soldiers carrying single-shot, muzzle-loading rifle-muskets gave them a considerable edge. The favorite pistol was the Colt, especially the lighter .36cal Colt Navy, which was considered better for firing from horseback. A Bowie knife or even a tomahawk would be carried for hand-to-hand fighting. The favorite longarm was the breech-loading .52cal Sharps rifle, both for its accuracy and its speed in reloading; a trained marksman could fire this rifle up to ten times a minute. It had a maximum range of 800 yards and an effective range of about half that. Because the Sharps was a breech-loader, it could be reloaded while on horseback or lying down - a clumsy task with a standard muzzle-loader. A carbine version was also produced for cavalry work.
Not all guerrillas went into battle so well armed. In poorer areas such as western Virginia, Louisiana, or the Ozarks, they might be armed only with a shotgun or captured musket. Not surprisingly, these groups tended to avoid fights with large detachments of Federals, preferring to ambush stragglers or loot civilians. Because this meant fewer opportunities to capture weapons, they stayed poorly armed and peripheral to the main struggle.
jayhawkers sometimes sported Union uniforms in an attempt to suggest official sanction for their actions, but most wore civilian clothing. Jennison's Kansas "Redlegs" got their name from their distinctive red pants, which served as a sort of uniform. Their choice of weapons was similar to that of Rebel guerrillas, although they were more likely to get Union equipment from the Quartermaster's department.
Both sides were generally well mounted, having ample opportunity to acquire the best horses from the civilian population.
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