Guerrillas And The Civilian Populations

No guerrilla force can survive for long without the active support of at least a part of the civilian population, on whom they rely for food, information, and


This was a prime example of the employment of large numbers of partisan rangers in a pitched battle. Concerned about MajGen Nathan Bedford Forrest's regular attacks on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad in Tennessee, Gen Sherman ordered BrigGen Samuel Sturgisinto northern Mississippi to distract and hopefully defeat Forrest while Sherman made an advance into Georgia. Sturgis had 5,200 infantry, 3,300 cavalry, 22 cannon and 200 wagons, Forrest commanded 4,900 veteran cavalry.

On June 10, 1864, Forrest decided to attack Sturgis at Brice's Crossroads about 15 miles east of Tupelo. Forrest knew the Union cavalry rode far ahead of their infantry; the muddy roads would hamper infantry movement, and since that day dawned hot the infantry would be tired out before they got into the fight. Tishomingo Creek lay not far to the west, crossed by a single bridge, and patches of thick woodland would screen his movements. Forrest intended to defeat Sturgis in detail, first beating his cavalry and then his infantry.


1: The Union vanguard of 1,500 cavalry under Grierson arrived at Brice's Crossroads at 9.30am, and a Union patrol a mile east along the Baldwyn Road skirmished with Forrest's 7th Kentucky vanguard before withdrawing to the main body. The Union 3rd and 9th Illinois and 2nd Mew Jersey cavalry halted at the edge of an open field a half-mile east of the crossroads on either side of Baldwyn Road, and formed up behind a rail fence backed by trees.

la: Forrest's 1,300 strong vanguard - 3rd, 7th and 8th Kentucky - formed up a quarter-mile away on the other side of the field. The Confederates charged at 10am, but were repulsed - note that the cavalry of both sides fought dismounted, with horse-holders to the rear.

2: As the Union vanguard sent word back for the infantry to hurry up, the rest of the Union cavalry arrived, making a wide arc of 3,300 dismounted troopers, with four howitzers, astride the Baldwyn Road.

2a & 2b: From 10.45am, Forrest attacked the Union center twice more while his reinforcements began to arrive, being driven back but keeping the Union troops on the defensive. 3: From 11am, the arrival of Confederate reinforcements increased Forrest's strength to 2,100 and extended the Rebel flanks, with the 4th Alabama on the right wing and the 7th Tennessee, 18th andsth Mississippi south to theGuntown Road. 4 & 4a: At about noon, Forrest ordered an all-out attack along his entire line. The Union right center and left flank broke, forcing the whole Union line to fall back shortly before 1 pm. The Union cavalry crowded back to about a quarter-mile east of the crossroads. Simultaneously, the Union infantry began to arrive, to find ambulances and horses jamming the crossroads and cavalrymen falling back in disorder. The troopers were exhausted, nearly out of ammunition, and demoralized, and the infantry quickly moved up to take their place in a shortened front line. Forrest now held the fenced field between the Old Carrolton and Baldwyn roads, (Continued on page 50)

The draft was widely unpopular on both sides, as this cartoon shows: a man has just had his wife cut off his finger, while another man assures him it won't hurt long and he'll soon get a medical certificate. Taking to the woods as a guerrilla was a much more popular way of avoiding conscription than self-mutilation. (Lot)

sometimes shelter. In bad weather guerrillas often lodged at the homes of sympathizers, but this could be perilous. Arkansas guerrilla Joseph Bailey noted in his memoirs: "1 preferred the shadows of the deep woods to the shelter of a house, regardless of the weather. A house was liable to be surrounded or waylaid at any time, and many lives were lost in that way...". Both Anderson and Quantrill had to fight their way out of several such situations; Quantrill never learned his lesson, and was killed when he was tracked down to a secessionist farm in Kentucky.

In some areas civilians developed an elaborate network of guides and spies, usually old men and even women who would draw less suspicion. Each guide would be responsible for only a short stage of a rapid relay system so that they would not attract attention by being too far from home. They identified each other through signs and passwords that changed regularly. The Kansas City Journal for 17 June 1862 complained: "Their spys |sic] may frequently be seen upon high points going through such gyrations as to leave no doubt that they have a perfect system of signals among them, by which the approach of troops is instantly communicated over a large tract of country,"

Sometimes civilians helped fight, joining up for brief periods or sniping at Union troops on their own initiative. In one remarkable case, Capt Albert Peabody and 65 men of the 1st Missouri Cavalry surprised Quantrill's band camped at a farm. They managed to cut the guerrillas off from their horses, forcing Quantrill and his men to flee on foot. In the meantime, however, locals

Quantrill And His Men


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Heavy-handed brutality in Union-occupied areas sometimes led to spontaneous violence by local residents, as is recorded in this 1862 drawing in which a group of farmers fire on a pair of unsuspecting, and unarmed. Union soldiers. (LoC)

had begun to converge from the surrounding countryside; they fired on the Union troops, and Peabody found himself battling a hundred civilians. While this caused few Union casualties, it did give the Bushwhackers time to escape.

The other side of the coin was the considerable suffering that irregular warfare brought down on civilian populations. Guerrillas might treat civilians of either side harshly, and the chaos of war gave birth to countless gangs of deserters and bandits. The Ozarks, particularly, were rife with thieving bands, who tortured civilians indiscriminately to force them to reveal hidden money - burning their feet was a common method. (One Alf Bolin actually boasted that he had killed 30 Uijion men and an almost equal number of Confederates.)

Government countermeasures caused even more widespread hardships; those suspected of harboring guerrillas were shot or thrown into crowded and disease-ridden prisons, and in areas of high guerrilla activity numerous restrictions were placed on known secessionists. Their businesses were closed down or boycotted, and they were subject to searches, often being robbed in the process. In some areas they had to get permits to travel and were forced to take loyalty oaths, which usually included payment of a hefty bond. Expressing secessionist sympathies could lead to fines or imprisonment, and Union patrols lived off the land by plundering secessionist homes. Nor were the victims entirely secessionists; some dishonest officers took advantage of the situation to steal, and Unionist newspapers found themselves shut down if they criticized the way the government handled the war.

Union soldiers frequently tried to entrap civilians by showing up at their homes pretending to be guerrillas, and then trying to extract information about the whereabouts of real guerrillas or civilian sympathizers. Nor could civilians even be sure of the identity of men in blue; by the middle of the war many guerillas had Union uniforms, plundered from supply trains or stripped from dead bodies. Often guerrillas would show up at a homestead dressed in blue and question the residents about

Union troops dismantling a fence for firewood. Armies left a swath of destruction in their wake; while stealing a farmer's fence may seem minor compared to some depredations practiced by both sides, it meant considerable extra labor for the farmer and increased resentment against the occupying army. (LoC)

Kentucky Partisan Rangers

7 Tenn Cav


Intro Watershed Management


16 Term Cav

20 Tenn Cav

Baldwyn Rd.

Q Miss Cav

19 Tenn Cav



Q Miss Cav


16 Term Cav

19 Tenn Cav

20 Tenn Cav

Ala Cav Ky Mtd Inf Morton

3 Ky Mtd Inf

Baldwyn Rd.

7 Tenn Cav


H yds

100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000

their loyalties, facing them with the hideous dilemma of having to try to guess who they were talking to, at the risk of death if they guessed wrong. The wisest course for unwilling hosts to bands of armed men was to say as little as possible, cook them a good meal, and allow themselves to be robbed without resistance.

Union authorities imposed collective punishments to discourage attacks, fining local inhabitants when guerrillas destroyed railways or telegraph lines. When the town of Keytesville, Missouri, was attacked by Bushwhackers on September 20, 1864, the 35 militiamen cowering in the fortified courthouse surrendered without a fight and seven of them promptly joined the Rebels. The Bushwhackers plundered the town, burned the courthouse, and killed two local Unionists. In retaliation, the Union military government fined local secessionists $50,000 to pay damages to the families of the slain men and to build a new courthouse.

The Ozarks and Appalachians were especially hard hit. Entire counties became virtually depopulated as thousands of people fled to the safety of Union- or Con federate-con trolled territory. Many families were burned out, their menfolk murdered and their crops and animals stolen. Ragged, hungry refugees gathered in the nearest cities and became a burden on the governments of both sides. In March 1865 almost as many rations were issued to refugees in Fort Smith, Van Buren, and Fayetteville, Arkansas, as were issued to Union


1: Some 2,800 more Rebel cavalry arrived; the 2nd, 16th, 19th and 20th Tennessee extended Forrest's arc on the left, while Morton's battery of eight cannon were set up in the field along the Baldwyn Road. The 2nd Tennessee were sent around the Union left to the Farm Road, to take the bridge over the Tishomingo.

2rThere was a short pause while these deployments took place, and while Sturgis' and McMillen's Union infantry replaced the cavalry in the front line, which was now only about 300 yards east of Brice's Crossroads. The 72nd Ohio Infantry and two cannon from the 6th Indiana Battery were placed on a knoll on the Farm Road just east of the bridge. 3: Shortly after 1.30pm Forrest launched an all-out attack before most of the Union infantry could catch their breath. The fighting continued for an hour at close quarters, with the Confederate cavalrymen firing their pistols to great effect. 3a & 3b: A Union counterattack on the right by the 9th Minnesota forced back the 8th Mississipi and 19tb Tennessee Cavalry, but Forrest sent his escort and part of the 12th Kentucky Cavalry around this flank.

4a: On the other wing, about 250 men of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry attacked down the Farm Road, widely deployed to conceal their small numbers and with the bugler repeating commands from different locations in the thick woods. The Union defenders repulsed them at about 2pm, but the attack caused panic.

4b: Meanwhile, in the center, Forrest's artillery came up to point-blank range, firing with double-shotted canister into densely packed Union infantry.

4c: On the Confederate far left, the 12th Kentucky and Forrest's escort swept around the Union right wing. All these events were more or less simultaneous. Consequently, the

Union line contracted into an ever-smaller arc until it covered only about 300 yards around the crossroads, which became jammed with men who made easy targets but were unable to maneuver, Forrest, too, shortened and reinforced his battle line. Sturgis ordered a general withdrawal, and by 2.30pm Union troops were falling back in disorder up the Ripley Road and abandoning their cannon and other equipment. 5: The second part of the Union wagon train had halted along the Ripley Road west of the bridge, but other vehicles were jamming the road east of the Tishomingo and the cross roads it self. Some 1,200 US Colored Troops who had been accompanying the wagons reached a position near the bridge and covered the retreat as men poured across it, but a wagon overturned on the bridge, adding to the chaos and forcing many men to wade or swim - some drowned in the attempt. Meanwhile, the Confederate artillery moved to the crossroads and shelled the mass of retreating men, killing many. The Confederates charged the black troops and engaged in hand-to-hand combat, forcing them to join the retreat. 6: The pursuit continued to a ridge a half-mite west of the bridge, where the Union Colored Troops and remnants of other units formed a line, but this too was soon set running.

As darkness fell a detachment of Forrest's cavalry kept up the pressure while the rest looted the abandoned wagons. The rout continued into the next day as Forrest chased Sturgis' shattered army across six counties. The battle cost him 495 casualties, but Sturgis lost 2,610 killed, wounded, captured or missing, as well as most of his artillery and wagons. This tactical masterpiece made Forrest's reputation, and slowed the Union advance into Alabama and Mississippi - although Sherman did achieve his goal of keeping the railroad unmolested during his drive into Georgia.

Provost marshals applied the military taw in their local areas. Dubbed "little dictators" by the Rebels for their absolute power over secessionist civilians, they were hated and feared; they had the authority to execute civilians for rebellious activity. (LoC)

Provost marshals applied the military taw in their local areas. Dubbed "little dictators" by the Rebels for their absolute power over secessionist civilians, they were hated and feared; they had the authority to execute civilians for rebellious activity. (LoC)

56th Alabama Partisan Rangers

troops. This mass exodus hurt the guerrillas in the long run because it undercut their potential base of support.

Civilians had little chance to strike back, since frequent thefts and confiscations by both armies had left most noncombatants without weapons. One of the only real ways to resist was to inform on other civilians, directing the guerrillas' wrath to another doorstep. Amid such widespread lawlessness it was not surprising that civilians often became part-time guerrillas themselves; as one Arkansas man put it, "It was war times and who cared for burning a house when the enemy burns yours?". In an attempt to stop the anarchy Col Marcus La Rue Harrison of the 1st Arkansas Cavalry (Union) created more than a dozen fortified "colonies." A Home Guard of 50 men would be armed and moved with their families to a defensible location, where they built an earthen fort or timber blockhouse. Each man got a parcel of land and regular supplies, and everyone within ten miles of a colony had to join or leave. The colonies helped deal with the refugee problem, denied guerrillas their best source of plunder, and acted as way-stations for patrols. A whole region of northwest Arkansas was denied to the guerrillas as a base of operations; soon the colony system spread throughout the state, and there was even one for freed slaves.

Often the only protection civilians could count on was the Federal army, and this helped to win over a large segment of the populace sick of a life of constant fear. The most lawless guerrillas would even kill Confederate government officials, especially conscription agents; even in Confederate-held areas the government had trouble running mail, raising taxes, enforcing the law, and maintaining other basic services. The end of the war came as a relief to many Southern sympathizers.

However, it must be stressed that the civilian experience of partisan rangers was entirely different. While partisans were not above taking what they needed, they generally did not otherwise molest noncombatants; "Mosby's Confederacy" afforded protection to civilians of either loyalty, essentially acting as a civilian government. During Morgan's raid into Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio his men actually robbed more from Northern secessionist "Copperheads" than loyal Unionists. They considered these so-called Rebels living safely in the North as worse than Unionists, claiming loyalties that they did not have to suffer for.

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