Union Precautions Confederate Raids

The year 1863 saw a rise in guerrilla activity in the Trans-Mississippi. In response, the Union command in Missouri and northern Arkansas created a

A Union foraging party returns to camp. While the artist has depicted a rich plunder of produce and animals, in reality forage became increasingly scarce as the war dragged on and the civilian population in contested areas were looted into destitution by both sides. (Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper)

system of defense in depth. Each county got its own garrison, generally centered on the county seat, where the large brick courthouse could be fortified. Detachments of cavalry were assigned to all major towns and scoured their local areas; any sighting of Bushwhackers would be communicated to all other posts, and the cavalry would try to converge on them. Large numbers of blockhouses were built to protect vulnerable targets; considering the Bushwhackers' lack of artillery and the numerous examples of their inability to take fortified positions, it is perhaps surprising that such comprehensive precautions were not taken earlier.

The system did have its weaknesses, however. Post commanders had to be careful how many men they sent out on patrol: if the party was too small, it might be overcome, but if too big, the post itself might be dangerously undermanned. Keeping the scattered posts supplied also became a dangerous and expensive commitment. Nevertheless, reports from the last two years of the war show an increasing number of engagements in which Union troops either won or at least forced the Bushwhackers to retreat. While some bands made foolish and costly attacks on Union courthouses and blockhouses, most concentrated on hitting supply trains, robbing and killing Unionist civilians, attacking small and undefended towns, destroying railroads and telegraph lines, and shooting at steamboats. The attacks on riverboats became so bad that shipping costs rose to nearly unaffordable levels, and all steamboats had to be armored; at some times and places rail and river traffic stopped altogether.

As in the Western theater, the Trans-Mississippi Confederates conducted several raids in 1863. Brigadier-General John Sappington Marmaduke twice launched raids from Arkansas into Missouri in futile attempts to keep the Federal army from advancing and taking Little Rock. While his two raids did y r- \

Missouri Guerillas Partisan Rangers

Runaway slaves drained the Souths always critical labor pool and provided the Federals with valuable workmen. They eagerly attached themselves to the Union troops they encountered, but if guerrillas caught them straying from the main column they generally shot them on the spot. The Federal government was at first hesitant to use African Americans as soldiers, and it was against President Lincoln's express orders That Jayhawker leader Jim Lane raised the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers among free blacks from Kansas as well as runaways from Missouri and Arkansas, some of whom had been liberated during his many raids. The 1st Kansas Colored defeated a group of Missouri Bushwhackers at Island Mound on October 29,1862, becoming the first black regiment of the US Army to see combat. (Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper)

Clothing Missouri Partisan Rangers

much damage to infrastructure, Marmaduke had a tendency to get bogged down in pitched battles and assaults on forts. More successful was BrigGen Joseph Orville Shelby's Missouri raid, which rode without supply wagons, avoided major engagements, and sent scouts ahead to gather intelligence about road conditions and Union troop positions. Shelby destroyed nearly two million dollars' worth of infrastructure and supplies and captured 1,200 small arms, at a time when many Arkansas Confederates were unarmed or went into the firing line with squirrel-guns.

A harsh winter stopped any major raiding in the Western theater until spring 1863, and gave the Union army time to complete its antiraiding precautions. The addition of several more regiments gave the Union greater ability to protect its rear areas, and fortifications were completed and provided with artillery. Rosecrans also created a large cavalry corps, well armed and separate from the infantry, to chase down raiders. Regular patrols by gunboats along the region's many rivers provided additional firepower.

The Union cavalry had now grown strong enough to conduct deep raids of their own, both to destroy Southern infrastructure and to distract Confederate cavairy. In April 1863 Col Abel Streight led 1,700 men into Alabama; these raiders were poorly supplied, riding mules rather than horses, but they got deep into the state, destroying infrastructure and trying to arouse the Unionist population in the northern hills. Forrest hunted Streight's command down, trapped them and forced them to surrender, but the exhausting chase wore down his mounts and kept him from raiding for the rest of that spring. His victory also earned him a promotion that attached him to the regular army. The South had temporarily lost the special services of one of its most daring raiders, and would soon lose another.

Despite not having Forrest to conduct raids in his support, BrigGen Morgan decided to strike into the heart of the North, cutting through Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. He feared the Confederate high command would forbid such a risky venture, so he obtained permission only for a raid against Louisville, Kentucky, revealing his true plans to only a few close associates. On July 1, 1863 he set out with 2,460 men, mostly mounted on Kentucky thoroughbreds, and four cannon. As soon as he entered Ohio he found the Union defense vastly improved. Rather than fleeing at the sight of him, Home Guard units put up a dogged resistance from fortified bridges and stone buildings. Union cavalry pursued him tirelessly, showing a new tenacity and skill, while gunboats prowled every river. Morgan's troopers fought well and rode hard, and his telegraph operator George Ellsworth worked overtime sending misleading signals to the Union forces, but the entire countryside was on the alert; riders carried news to every town and hamlet, while Home Guard units blared on conch shells to warn


A typical tactic of Mosby's partisan rangers was "the skedaddle," used against a numerically superior force to disorient them and delay pursuit. Mosby's cavalrymen would charge the enemy line in a loose group as fast as their individual horses could carry them, creating a large mass of riders kicking up dust and clouding the air with gunsmoke from their rapidly-fired revolvers. This gave the impression that they had more men than they did, assuring a psychological advantage over the enemy, and the fusillade of pistol shots at close range inflicted heavy casualties. When the Union troops reorganized or realized that they outnumbered their attackers, the Rebel cavalry would "skedaddle," galloping away individually in all directions. Each man would proceed to a predetermined rendezvous, where they would regroup to either attack again or withdraw. Interestingly, one of Mosby's men wrote that the skedaddle was never actually given as a command; the riders were well-trained enough that everyone knew instinctively when to break off.

their men. Morgan managed to avoid many Union detachments and defeated others, hut what started as a raid quickly became a chase.

When he tried to cross the Ohio River to the safety of western Virginia on July 19 he was surrounded by Federal forces, and lost nearly 600 men killed or captured before the rest could fight their way out. Morgan led his men northwards in search of another crossing-place, but parts of his exhausted command were defeated and captured one by one until, on July 29, Morgan himself surrendered the remnants of his force. Although it destroyed huge amounts of property Morgan's "Great Raid" had achieved little real damage to the Federal war effort. Major-General Ambrose Burnside had to divert some men to help with the chase, thus delaying the start of his campaign in eastern Tennessee, but the annihilation of Morgan's command meant that Burnside had no need to commit many troops to protect his rear once he did set out. For the Confederates, the raid made great newspaper copy but cost them one of their best raiders and nearly 2,500 of their best cavalry. Morgan and some of his officers managed to escape from prison and make their way back to the South, but he was never again trusted with an important command.

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