Thursday, July 17, 2014


[Guerrilla Warfare in Civil War Missouri, Volume IV, September 1864 - June 1865 by Bruce Nichols (McFarland 800-253-2187, 2014). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. 464 pp. ISBN:978-0-7864-7584-1 $39.95]

With the publication of Guerrilla Warfare in Civil War Missouri, Volume IV, September 1864 - June 1865 Bruce Nichols completes his quadrilogy, a remarkable feat of research that attempts to catalog all known incidents of irregular conflict in the state between 1862 and 1865. For those unfamiliar with the format, the author organizes the material into geographical quadrants and seasons, with a chapter for each.  Within those are two additional subheading levels that further break down the action into more specific time periods that note event locations as well as individuals and units involved. A good index aids specific inquiries, but the consistent compartmentalized structure of the body of the work significantly enhances the browsing reference value of the series. The text itself consists of highly detailed accounts of guerrilla activities, behind-the-lines Confederate recruiting drives, counterguerrilla operations, and atrocities committed by both sides against the civilian population.

In anticipation of Confederate general Sterling Price's invasion of Missouri, the scale and pace of guerrilla warfare and regular recruitment activities in the state perked up substantially during 1864. Volume IV exhaustively covers the many actions launched both in support and independent of the Price Raid. In the wake of the catastrophic failure of that Confederate cavalry operation, readers may be surprised at how openly belligerent many guerrilla bands remained during the winter of 1864-65 and the following spring. In addition to providing information about bushwhacker chieftains and bands that even many grizzled veterans of the literature will not have previously read about, the study traces the battle and depredation histories of William T. "Bloody Bill" Anderson's command (as well as its many offshoots) at unprecedented levels of detail. The book also follows the eventual winding down of the conflict, as remaining diehards either left the state, were killed, or surrendered, though isolated violence continued into June 1865 and beyond. As with the other works in the quartet, the nature of the content of Volume IV is overwhelmingly descriptive, with scattered bits of analysis throughout.

Ordered to protect commissioned Confederate recruitment officers, wreck transportation infrastructure, and tie down opposing Union army and Missouri militia units, it remains unclear whether the guerrillas helped or hindered the Confederate cause in the state.  In terms of direct assistance, there is some evidence that guerrillas performed scouting duties and fought in a limited fashion alongside regular Confederates. On the other hand, federal forces seemed to experience few hindrances on their way to rapidly concentrating against and nearly destroying Price while, on the Missouri home front, previously sympathetic civilians were becoming increasingly horrified by the actions of their presumed champions. During and after the raid, already shaky discriminatory barriers between the treatment of captured guerrillas and regular Confederate officers and men broke down even further, with bushwhacker killings of Union prisoners leading to the deaths of untold numbers of legitimately surrendered Confederate soldiers from Price's army.

The depth of research that went into this more than decade long project is worthy of repeat praise. Nichols scoured legions of previously underused sources for information and faithfully documented his use of them in impressively expansive endnotes. The books in the series are also heavily illustrated. Photographs and drawings of individuals and events are present throughout, and county and regional area maps abound.

The afterword to Volume IV briefly examines the postwar lives of many of the actors that readers followed throughout the series, but those looking for any kind of concluding grand analysis or acknowledgement of bigger picture issues like those addressed in recent works by Daniel Sutherland, Clay Mountcastle and others will be disappointed. What we do have with this four volume set is the most complete register of persons and events surrounding the brutal guerrilla war in Missouri that we are ever likely to get. Even with much of the meaning and interpretation left to others, it is a massive achievement of research and documentation, a timelessly important encyclopedic tool for future scholars. In comparison to other historical publishing endeavors, creating reference works can be a bit of a thankless enterprise and one sincerely hopes this is not the case for Bruce Nichols.

Other series volumes:
Guerrilla Warfare in Civil War Missouri, 1862 (2004)
Guerrilla Warfare in Civil War Missouri, Volume II, 1863 (2007)
Guerrilla Warfare in Civil War Missouri, Volume III, January - August 1864 (2014)

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