Daily Archives: July 6, 2015

Primordial Hatred: Insurgency in the Civil War

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Sometime we look aghast at atrocities committed by people in other nations fighting civil wars or nations fighting various insurgents. Sadly, we usually fail to appreciate the nature of war, which in our sanitized brains we cannot comprehend. In all of our romanticism, especially that of the nobility of the Confederacy, and the Myth of the Lost Cause we forget the the American Civil War was profoundly ideological, heavily religious and fought with a ferocity that we cannot imagine. British military historian and theorist J.F.C. Fuller noted that “was preceded by years of violent propaganda, which long before the war had obliterated all sense of moderation, and awakened in the contending parties the primitive spirit of tribal fanaticism.”  Clausewitz said it best when he noted that war “As a total phenomenon its dominant tendencies always make war a paradoxical trinity–composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity…”

The American Civil War teaches us about this, and it shows us that we as Americans can be just as vicious, bloodthirsty and savage in our methods of war as anyone else.

As a side note I expect to be writing some about the Confederate Flag and something that I saw yesterday, a church that held a ceremony hoisting the “Christian Flag” over the American flag. I have very strong feelings about both of these subjects but those will wait.

Have a great day, and think on these things.


Padre Steve+


The Destruction of Lawrence Kansas by Quantrill’s Raiders 1863


Perhaps the most vicious and bloodthirsty part of the American Civil War as the part played by the men leading irregular campaigns in the border states and on the peripheries of the major campaigns. In the South these units were called “partisan rangers” and “With a guerrilla tradition dating from the Revolution and an exaggerated notion of the romanticism associated with guerrilla operations, southerners formed dozens of ranger units.” [1] The guerrilla and counter-guerrilla campaigns of these units prefigured the insurgencies and counter insurgencies of future wars including those in fought by the French in Indochina and Algeria, the United States in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. These actions actually began before the war, as early as 1854 in Kansas and continued on into the war. Sadly, these campaigns are ignored in all recent major works on counterinsurgency, including the American Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual.

These irregular campaigns in the Border States, especially Missouri were “ugly, vicious, no-holds-barred bushwhacking that came close to total war” [2] and they “came to epitomize and carry to some of the worst excesses of violence of the Civil War mainly because of the failure of rational strategy and control was even more marked there than elsewhere.[3] At the beginning of the War the Union lacked the troops to maintain peace in the area and as such Confederate guerrillas and insurgents gained a large foothold in Missouri. Union troops under the command of Major General David Hunter and John Schofield, the later commander of American Forces in Cuba during the Cuba campaign of the Spanish American War “nearly ruined their careers with repeated failures.” In operations much like later operations of the French and Americans in Indochina, Algeria and Iraq “They tried building forts in guerrilla infested areas, but local partisans struck when they discovered the soldiers at a disadvantage.” [4]

The Confederate insurgency campaigns in Missouri and Kansas were by men like William Clarke Quantrill, “Bloody” Bill Anderson, and other pathological killers. Anderson “rode with enemy scalps dangling from his horse’s bridle, and Coleman Younger and Frank and Jesse James displayed the thuggery that made them postwar outlaws.” [5] James McPherson wrote:

“In contrapuntal disharmony the guerrillas and Jayhawkers plundered and pillaged their way across the state, taking no prisoners, killing in cold blood, terrorizing the civilian population, and leaving large parts of Missouri a scorched earth. In August 1863 Quantrill’s band rode into Lawrence, Kansas, and killed all the adult males they found there – more than 150 in all. A year later Bloody Bill Anderson’s gang took twenty four unarmed Union soldiers travelling home on furlough train, shot them in the head, then turned on a posse of pursuing militia and slaughtered 127 of them, including the wounded and captured.” [6]

At Lawrence, Quantrill issued orders to kill “every man big enough to carry a gun.” The brutality and atrocities committed by Quantrill’s gang were perhaps some of the worst seen during the war. On their trek to Lawrence, Quantrill “force Kansas farmers to act as guides and then executed them.” [7] They arrived under the cover of night and devastated the town, when they departed they left behind “80 new widows and 250 fatherless children weeping in the ruins of the town. Nearly 200 buildings had been wrecked or burned, including all three newspaper offices and most of the business district, for a property loss amounting to two million dollars.” [8] After the raid Quantrill directed his men to resume their disguises as farmers, merchants and professed Unionists.

The Confederates did not have a monopoly on this type of behavior, “Unionist “Jayhawkers” such as James H. Lane, Charles R. Jennison, and James Montgomery matched them atrocity for atrocity.” [9] The admission of West Virginia as a Free State “threw up yet another guerrilla conflict wracking West Virginia as much as the similar guerrilla conflict, similarly precipitated, devastated Missouri.” [10] A Union Captain from Ohio “serving with West Virginia soldiers was astonished by this “passion, this desire for revenge….Hate rankled in their breasts.” [11] Many West Virginia Unionists in the interior of the State were forced to flee their homes to cities along the Ohio where they could be protected by Union troops.

In light of the fact that many civilians were actively aiding Quantrill’s Confederate insurgents Brigadier General Thomas Ewing Jr. to evacuate the worst offenders, men and unmarried women alike to a colony in Arkansas, though he made allowance for them to be provisioned by Union forces and to take clothing and household goods as necessary. After Quantrill’s massacre of the men of Lawrence General Ewing issued General Orders number 11. The order directed “the forcible removal of all persons, male or female, child or adult, loyal or disloyal, who lived more than a mile from a Federal post in the in the four Missouri counties south of the Missouri River and adjacent to the border.” [12]

The evacuation involved to carry out the order affected an estimated 20,000 inhabitants of “Bates, Cass, and Jackson Counties and the northern half of Vernon County, which were supposed to have sustained Quantrill’s raiders…. Those who could persuade the commander of the nearest military post of their Unionism might be issued certificates permitting them to remain in the state if they moved to military posts. The rest had to go. Hay and grain found in the area after evacuation would be destroyed or taken to military posts and credited to Unionists.” [13] In a sense the order prefigured future counterinsurgency or anti-partisan strategies employed by the Germans, the French and later the Americans in the Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries.

While these campaigns often were part of local hatred “Confederate irregular forces were intended to be an adjunct to the conventional field armies” and they “developed into a powerful tool for the Confederate war effort.” [14] The best and most disciplined of these forces were those commanded by John Singleton Mosby who operated in conjunction with Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Nicknamed the “Gray Ghost” by his Union opponents, Mosby “kept his men under military discipline and bedeviled the Yankee invaders.” [15] His troops would accompany J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry during the Gettysburg campaign conducting reconnaissance operations behind the Union lines during the opening phases of the campaign.

The violence and the problems caused by Confederate guerrillas and irregulars brought about changes to the rules of warfare. Lincoln approved the orders of Major General John Pope “to hold civilians responsible for shooting at Union soldiers from their houses, to execute captured guerrillas who fired on Union troops, to expel from occupied territory any civilians who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the United States, and to treat them as spies if they returned.” [16] General Order 100 written by Franz Lieber for the War Department and signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Several articles of this document specifically addressed the guerrilla threat, beginning with Article 82, which stated:

“Men, or squads of men, who commit hostilities, whether by fighting, or inroads for destruction or plunder, or by raids of any kind, without commission, without being part and portion of the organized hostile army, and without sharing continuously in the war, but who do so with intermitting returns to their homes and avocations, or with the occasional assumption of the semblance of peaceful pursuits, divesting themselves of the character or appearance of soldiers – such men, or squads of men, are not public enemies, and, therefore, if captured, are not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war, but shall be treated summarily as highway robbers or pirates.” [17]

Despite the efforts of the Confederate guerrillas and insurgents who tied down many Union troops, the vigorous action of Union leaders, political as well as military kept the key Border States in the Union. The heavy handed but necessary actions of General Ewing and others deprived Quantrill and other insurgent leaders of safe havens and helped to secure the region from further attacks and the insurgents were forced to move to other areas. These Union measures deprived the Confederates of the chance to become independent by controlling the Ohio Valley and the Mississippi.


[1] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski Peter For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States, Revised and Expanded Edition The Free Press, New York 1994 p.180

[2] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 50

[3] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.44

[4] Gallagher, Gary, Engle, Stephen, Krick, Robert K. and Glatthaar The American Civil War: The Mighty Scourge of War Osprey Publishing, Oxford UK 2003 p.251

[5] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski Peter For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States, Revised and Expanded Edition p.181

[6] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 52

[7] Ibid. Gallagher et al The American Civil War: The Mighty Scourge of War p.252

[8] Ibid. Foote The Civil War: A Narrative Volume Two p.705

[9] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States, Revised and Expanded Edition p.181

[10] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.55

[11] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 50

[12] Ibid. Foote The Civil War: A Narrative Volume Two p.705

[13] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.45

[14] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 52

[15] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States, Revised and Expanded Edition p.181

[16] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation pp.36-37

[17] Lieber, Francis Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, prepared by Francis Lieber, LL.D., Originally Issued as General Orders No. 100, Adjutant General’s Office, 1863, Washington 1898: Government Printing Office. Retrieved from http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lieber.asp 6 May 2014


Filed under civil war, History, Military