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Punitive War: Confederate Guerrillas and Union Reprisals
     

Punitive War: Confederate Guerrillas and Union Reprisals

by Clay Mountcastle
 

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

Overview

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.

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.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780700616688
Publisher:
University Press of Kansas
Publication date:
08/04/2009
Series:
Modern War Studies Series
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
467,603
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Clay Mountcastle, a major in the U.S. Army, has taught military history at West Point and is currently Battalion Executive Officer with Air Defense Artillery, stationed in Korea.

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