Guerrillas And The Regular Armies

Many guerrillas actively aided the campaigns of the regular armies. Their local knowledge and contacts made them excellent scouts, and at times they joined regular forces to fight pitched battles. Even unruly figures such as Quantrill and Ferguson on the Confederate and Beaty on the Union side did this on numerous occasions.

Regular officers tended to take a dim view of guerrillas, who generally ignored orders even when they could be found and given them. Many guerrillas in the Trans-Mississippi theater would leave their areas of operation in the autumn, when the cover of foliage disappeared, and spend the winter resting in Texas. Brigadier-General Henry McCulloch, whose Northern Sub-District of Texas was a popular wintering spot, became frustrated with these hardened fighters avoiding military duty while getting drunk and shooting up local towns, and his office was flooded with reports of citizens being robbed and even killed. To be sure, not all guerrillas acted in this fashion, but many had become little better than bandits operating under the veneer of Confederate service.

One commander who never lost his respect for guerrillas was MajGen Sterling Price. In a notable incident during his 1864 invasion of Missouri, he met with "Bloody Bill" Anderson and his group. Noticing human scalps dangling from their saddles, he became enraged and ordered the men out of his sight. The Bushwhackers returned later, sans scalps, and presented Price with

Quantrills Partisan Rangers

Refugees driven from their homes in areas of heavy guerrilla activity became a major burden to both armies. The problem was especially acute in Missouri and Arkansas, where large swaths of the countryside were all but depopulated. (Frank Leslie's illustrated Newspaper)

William Mcwaters Missouri GuerrillaMissouri Partisan Ranger Pictures

'Contrabands" - the term used in the North for all Southern blacks, whether runaways or free - were employed in large numbers by Union MajGen Herman Haupt's US Military Railroad Construction Corps. Here they are demonstrating, with ropes, hooks and heavy beam levers, a technique for popping rails off theirties and twisting them. Rails that were only bent could be repaired in the field surprisingly often, but those that were twisted had to be sent back to rolling mills. These workers wear civilian clothing, but SO me have US Army forage caps, (LoQ

a pair of silver-mounted revolvers. Price treated them to a laudatory speech and said if he had 50,000 such men he could hold Missouri forever. He then sent them off to destroy railroads to slow Union pursuit, and a detachment of Anderson's group stayed with Price's army as scouts and cavalry.

Confederate frustration with the guerrillas reached its height in the Trans-Mississippi. In southern Arkansas, the autumn of 1863 found Confederate forces distracted by an attempt to stop plundering by their own guerrillas. In a sweep through northern Arkansas in early 1864, BrigGen J.O. Shelby hoped to gather recruits behind Union lines in territory ruled by the guerrillas, most of whom were paroled Confederate prisoners or deserters. He was soon disappointed, finding them to be "Confederate soldiers in nothing save the name, robbers and ¬°ayhawkers |who| have vied with the Federals in plundering, devouring and wasting the subsistence of Loyal Southerners... the condition of the so-called Confederate forces here was horrible in the extreme. No organization, no concentration, no discipline, no law, no anything," By the last year of the war the remnants of the Arkansas Confederate army were so busy hunting self-styled guerrillas that they had little time for fighting Federals.


There were several techniques for sabotaging tracks, depending on available time, equipment, and manpower. These were typically employed during cavalry raids such as that led by Union Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson into Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana between April 17 and May 2,1863, Is If their numbers were sufficient, raiders would pry a rail loose, hammer it at one point to weaken it, and use a large group of men to bend it.

2: Pried-up rails would be put atop a large bonfire made of railroad tiesandfence posts. The heat made the rails so malleable that, in time, they would bend under their own weight, 3: If time allowed, heat-softened rails could be bent around trees.

4: Rails might be loosened at two points with picks and crowbars, and a whole section, still spiked to its ties, would be pushed over into a stream or gully.

S: The most vulnerable points on a railroad were bridges, whose wooden trestle supports could be cut, set on fire, or blown down with charges inserted in holes drilled into the timbers at vital points. If they had the time raiders often preferred to chop through supports in order to avoid a telltale column of smoke, but burning obviously destroyed a bridge more completely.

During Grierson's Raid, his 1,700 cavalry men rode 800 miles and destroyed long stretches of two railroad lines, as well as supplies and locomotives.

Home Guards patrolled local neighborhoods in both the North and South, hunting irregular forces and acting as police. Here a Southern Home Guard unit checks the passes of slaves near Vicksburg, Mississippi. [Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper)

Southern Independent Rangers

Louisiana faced a similar problem. The Union army controlled the portion of the state east of the Mississippi, and the swampland just to the west of the river was a no-go area full of irregulars. Confederate authorities in western Louisiana actually cooperated with Federal forces on several occasions to hunt down the worst gangs. This was an interesting reversal of their initial policy, when they had sent a troop of partisan rangers under Capt James McWaters to keep civilians in the borderland Lafourche district from trading sugar and cotton with Union-occupied New Orleans. McWaters arrested

The 9th Missouri State Militia Cavalry muster before departing on an antiguerrilla operation. Note the variety of uniforms, which include items of civilian clothing; local militia tended to be poorly trained and eguipped. Ttiey sometimes fared well against guerrillas when they could manage to run them to ground, but they were no match for partisan rangers and cavalry raiders. (Courtesy State Historical Society of Missouri)

Missouri State Guard ReenactorMissouri State Militia Cavalry Uniforms

a prominent sugar planter for trading with the enemy, and also seized stagecoaches and boats coming from New Orleans. While such plundering had been a part of military strategy earlier in the war, it later got far out of hand and needed to be stopped.

In the first year of the war in western Virginia and eastern Tennessee, the Union army relied on Unionist irregulars to fight for these regions until they could move in. While the Union guerrillas' efforts failed in Tennessee they did draw Confederate troops away from other campaigns, and the guerrilla war in western Virginia helped keep that region out of the Confederacy.

While most army officers found guerrillas unsavory, they afforded more respect to partisan rangers because of their official status, better discipline, and closer ties to the chain of command. Throughout his career Mosby worked as Stuart's and Lee's eyes, ears, and swordarm behind Federal lines. He acted independently and often on his own initiative, but always with the wider strategy in mind. As the Confederate army fell back in the last year of the war Mosby's men became the Confederacy's only sizable force in northern Virginia. Forrest, too, was always conscious of the larger picture, and was actually more of a regular cavalry officer than a partisan, although his independent fighting style led to him being perceived as the latter. When a successful partisan strayed too far from the overall plan the consequences could be fatal - as already described, Morgan's daring thrust into Indiana and Ohio, contrary to orders, led to the destruction of his command.

Morgan was not the only partisan leader who passed freely between independent command and the structure of the regular army, in Missouri and Arkansas, "Swamp Fox" Thompson spent much of the war conducting independent raids but would concentrate his forces to fight pitched battles (he even served for a time as commander of several rams in the Confederacy's Mississippi fleet.) Larger groups of partisans often acted as mobile Confederate brigades, not simply as irregular forces aiding the main army.

Some raids were spur-of-the-moment actions by regular soldiers, such as this cattle raid in an 1864 drawing. The original accompanying text reads: "GenI Wade Hampden [sic] suddenly appeared at Cogglns point in the rear of the army, on the James river, and carried off the entire beef supply, about 2500 head of cattle. The rebel soldiers were much inclined to joke with the pickets on the loss of their meat rations; the Union men, on the other hand, thanked them heartily for removing the tough remnants of herds that had been driven behind the army all summer and which were at once replaced by a fresh stock much fitter for the table." (LoC)

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