Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Erwin: "GUERRILLA HUNTERS IN CIVIL WAR MISSOURI"

[Guerrilla Hunters in Civil War Missouri by James W. Erwin (The History Press, 2013) Softcover, maps, photos, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:128/141. ISBN:978-1-60949-745-3 $19.99]

From the 1861-62 winter period onward, the federally funded Missouri State Militia (MSM) was the primary counter-guerrilla force in the state. Fourteen regiments were raised, composing something under 15,000 men, as well as a small number of battalions, artillery batteries, and independent companies (although subsequent reorganizations and consolidations reduced these numbers).

In confronting Confederate cavalry forces, several units, such as the 3rd, 7th, and 8th MSM, performed on a level belying the typical dismissive attitude most observers held regarding the reliability of Civil War militia organizations.  On the other hand, in terms of treatment of civilians and enemy prisoners, the reputation of the MSM was not a spotless one, with atrocities committed on both sides. Unfortunately, their significant service remains almost entirely overshadowed by the vast and still rapidly growing literature devoted to the guerrillas themselves. Not a single full MSM regimental history has been published. If nothing else, James Erwin's Guerrilla Hunters in Civil War Missouri brings some much deserved attention to these militiamen and their units.

Erwin's book is neither a comprehensive treatment of the organization and operations of the MSM nor an attempt at a social and demographic analysis of its membership. Instead, it is a selective (but geographically inclusive) narrative history of units and individuals. Brief accounts of battles fought by MSM units against guerrillas, Confederate recruitment expeditions, and cavalry raids are present, as well as profiles of prominent leaders like Odon Guitar and Bazel Lazear. In addition to these, Erwin also offers readers glimpses into the ranks, following the stories of a half dozen or so enlisted men. The 3rd MSM's George Wolz, especially, is present throughout the book. Other organizations, like the Enrolled Missouri Militia (EMM)*, are also briefly mentioned. The book's photography is strong, and includes some rarely seen images, an example of which is an excellent group photo of a blockhouse garrison of EMM with their distinctive strips of white cloth secured around their hats (necessary to identify the otherwise non-uniformed combatants).

On the downside, the bibliography is thin and the text is undocumented. There are a few noticeable errors spread about, including the author's unfortunate decision to present both sides of the fictional Pulliam's Farm Massacre, as if the thoroughly discredited claims of a mass killing of pro-Confederate civilians at that location remain open to debate. While Guerrilla Hunters in Civil War Missouri doesn't offer new information for seasoned readers, author James Erwin deserves credit for bringing the subject of the Missouri State Militia to a potentially wider audience. No other book length publication has done this, in popular or scholarly format, and there's real value in that.

* - if you find the array of Civil War Missouri militia formations bewildering, I would suggest Kirby Ross's Missouri Militias as an excellent introduction.

3 comments:

  1. Oh dear, Ponder's Neoconfederate fantasies are still circulating through the literature? I thought the Pulliam's Farm Massacre was buried along with his atrocious books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They should be, but I still encounter them in bibliographies.

      Delete
    2. Historian Kirby Ross does a thorough skewering of Ponder's "evidence" on page 214 and 215 in his end notes to the Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand.

      Ponder's sources were:

      1. An unpublished essay by his aunt that, upon study, makes no mention of civilians being killed at the skirmish at Pulliam's Farm.

      2. A high school term paper from the 1920s that cites no sources.

      3. Divorce proceedings against the Union officer involved, which upon study make no mention of the supposed massacre. In fact, the proceedings were initiated by the officer himself, months before the skirmish.

      No military reports, memoirs, letters, or newspapers mention the massacre.

      Sadly, this sort of "history" is all too common among Neoconfederates like Ponder.

      Delete

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