the bushwhackers

Review of ‘The Bushwhackers’

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During the American Civil War, Confederate irregulars, known as Bushwhackers, operated in all theaters. Striking sometimes behind Union lines, they destroyed supplies, railroad hubs, and other strategic targets in lightning raids that struck terror into their opponents. Some, on the other hand, were little more than roving snipers or assassins, killing Union-sympathizing civilians as well as soldiers, and sometimes using the cover of the war to settle grievances.

The Bushwhackers: Fighting for and Against the Confederate Guerrilla in the American Civil War is an introductory history of these controversial fighters, using primary sources on both sides to explain who they were and why they fought the way they did. Some of the accounts, such as the history of John McCorkle, a soldier who served as a scout for William Quantrill along the Missouri-Kansas border, or the final entry which gives a history of the Younger brothers, two among those who, after the war took to banditry, seem to romanticize these vicious fighters. On the other hand, accounts of some who were on the receiving end of the bushwhackers’ attentions, show that they could also be completely ruthless.

Wherever your sympathies lie on the issue, this is a valuable volume to read, for it lays bare the horrors of the war of brother against brother in the words of participants like no other history book in my memory has done. Think of them as romantic behind-the-lines heroes or bloodthirsty killers, but these men were an integral part of the Civil War, and in many ways, they not only changed the nature of modern warfare, but put an indelible stamp on the American character.

I received a free copy of this book. I give it four stars.