Confederate Guerrillas and Union Reprisals
Through widespread and relentless surprise attacks and ambushes, Confederate guerrillas drove Union soldiers and their leaders to desperation. Confederate cavalrymen engaged in hit-and-run tactics; autonomous partisan rangers preyed on Federal railroads, telegraph lines, and supply wagons; and civilian bushwhackers waylaid Union pickets. Together, all of these actions persuaded the Union to wage an increasingly punitive war.
Clay Mountcastle presents a new look at the complex nature of guerrilla warfare in the Civil War and the Union Army's calculated response to it. He examines guerrilla attacks and Federal responses in a number of operational theaters to show how the problem grew throughout the South and ultimately convinced the Union to adopt retaliatory measures that challenged the sensibilities of even the most hardened soldiers.
“Mountcastle argues persuasively for the inclusion of ‘punitive war,’ alongside hard and total war, as a distinct mode of Union war-making against the Confederacy. . . . There is no question that he offers an important concept that at once broadens and deepens our understanding of the multitude of conflicts unleashed between 1861 and 1865. . . . [The book is] a wonderful reflection on the limitations of military retaliation against civilian populations in either quelling insurgencies or providing for a lasting peace post-bellum.”
“Mountcastle’s book makes an important contribution to recent debates over the physical destructiveness and social impact of the Civil War. . . . [He] makes a persuasive case that the ‘guerrilla problem’ was not a sideshow of the conflict, but rather a central factor in its evolution from conciliation to hard war. . . . This is a book that all students of the American Civil War will read with great profit,. Engaging a central issue in the historical interpretation of the conflict, it does so with clarity and fresh evidence.”
—Army HistorySee all reviews...
“This valuable, well-organized, and well-written book strengthens the revision under way that guerrilla warfare contributed vitally to Union victory in the Civil War. ”
—Journal of the Civil War Era
“Mountcastle wades into one of the most important and furious debates in Civil War military history. . . . In a pithy work, Mountcastle has produced a worthy addition to a vital debate in Civil War literature. ”
—Journal of American History
“This interesting and persuasively argued new book will force readers to reconsider the severity of the Civil War, especially Union responses to Confederate guerrillas. Highly recommended. ”
—TOCWOC - A Civil War Blog
“Demonstrates how creative scholarship can bring new clarity to old historical questions while also demonstrating the potential for the new military history that situates military events within wider social and cultural contexts. . . . This impressive book brings clarity to a previously muddled topic. ”
—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
“An excellent analysis of Union counterinsurgency activities and their devastating effects in war-torn Dixie. Highly recommended. ”
“Mountcastle offers a powerful challenge to those who would minimize the war’s comparable destructiveness and cruelty. Too, he turns up incidents that otherwise have slipped through the cracks of history while pushing irregular warfare, as a whole, closer to the center of the conflict. ... Another important addition to the literature on the topic, signaling as it does a discussion that will continue.”
—Civil War Book Review
“A fascinating look at guerrilla warfare in the Civil War. . . . Thought provoking and sure to kindle the reader’s interest. A welcome addition to the shelf of volumes on the Civil War.”
“A solid account and a reasonable interpretation. . . . Recommended.”
—Civil War News
“A scrupulously researched, deftly organized, and compellingly written history of Rebel guerrilla warfare and the Union’s escalating tactics of ever-harsher punitive reprisals. . . . Mountcastle’s book sheds a penetrating light on an often elusive aspect of Civil War history and serves as a much-needed addition to a topic still in need of scholarly investigation.”
“Provides an up-to-date and scholarly overview of the role and consequences of guerrilla warfare during the Civil War. It is highly recommended.”
—Civil War Books and Authors
“In his new look at a complex problem, U.S. Major Mountcastle contends that Confederate guerrilla warfare during the Civil War grew from the bottom up; that Union reprisals to it began in the ranks not as an order from higher headquarters in the western theater, specifically in Missouri, as early as 1861. Nominally a Union state, Missouri was divided from the start, so much so that its new governor was appointed, not elected. It was soon under martial law and a succession of commanders, including Grant and Sherman, were soon convinced that retaliatory punitive action against Confederate tactics was justified and that it must extend to civilians and their property. Hence the total war that resulted. This is a valuable close-up study of the ugly side of war, best appreciated by specialists.”
“Mountcastle demonstrates, with powerful insight, deep archival research, and crisp writing, the central role of guerilla warfare during the Civil War. . . . This is a close-up view of the real Civil War, unrelentingly savage and utterly inhumane.”
—Michael Fellman, author of In the Name of God: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History
“This excellent combination of storytelling and analysis explains better than any previous work how the Confederacy’s guerrilla war influenced Union military policy.”
—Daniel E. Sutherland, author of Seasons of War: The Ordeal of a Confederate Community, 1861–1865
“Packs as much punch as the Unions punitive war itself.”
—Brian S. Wills, author of The War Hits Home
“Most historians merely lay out facts in chronological order, relying on good research. Clay Mountcastle goes several steps further. He repeatedly states his central premise—that Confederate guerrilla activity was the proximate cause of the development of Union ‘hard war’ policy. He supports that premise with solid archival research and then adds great historiographical research to point out that previous historians have not taken their analysis far enough to connect the two dots. This book is military analysis at its best.”
—S. Waite Rawls III, President and CEO, Museum of the ConfederacySee fewer reviews...
In revealing the impact that Confederate guerrilla activity had on the Union's prosecution of the war, Mountcastle reveals how the character of the war was shaped every bit as much by the troops on the ground as by their Union leaders. He draws on primary sources that vividly convey their reaction to the guerrilla problem and their justification for punitive action-with guerrillas described by one angry soldier as "thieves and murderers by occupation, rebels by pretense, soldiers only in name, and cowards by nature." Showing how much of the impetus for retaliation originated from the bottom up, starting in the western theater in 1861, he describes how it became the most influential factor in convincing Union generals, especially Grant and Sherman, that the war needed to be extended to include civilians and their property. The result was a level of destructiveness that has been downplayed by other scholars-despite the evidence of executions and incidents of entire towns being burned to the ground.
By 1864, punitive action had evolved into such a powerful and decisive force that it produced what has been called "a warfare of frightfulness." And although guerrilla activity deviled the Union until the end, the Union's response ultimately proved a significant factor in persuading leaders like General Lee to call a halt to such actions and, ultimately, to surrender. Mountcastle's book offers the most revealing look yet at this incompletely understood dimension of the Civil War and also raises provocative questions about the relationship between guerrilla and conventional warfare in any conflict.