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15th September 2003 | Uncompleted

Bushwhackers / Bushwackers

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This is an exploration of the degree of equivalence between the current actions of "Al-Qaida" and those of the "Bushwackers" during the period around the American Civil War. The focus is on how these groups were, and are, respectively perceived and portrayed. The purpose of this review is to examine the ambiguities in assessing their role as "terrorists" in situations in which different groups frame their actions as either horrific, unjustified or heroic. A further reason is the use of the term "Bushwacker" in relation to the actions of the coterie of people surrounding George Bush -- who again may be perceived as engaged in actions which are horrific, unjustified or heroic.

Some history

For the five years before the American Civil War, residents of the neighboring states of Confederate Missouri and pro-Union Kansas waged their own civil conflict, one that was characterized by unrelenting and unparalleled brutality. Both sides were lined up along the border, ready to fight for race. War is about armies on the battlefield, but this was personal. More than anywhere else in the nation, the conflict raging in Missouri and Kansas was truly a civil war, whose wounds were a long time in healing.

Some distinctions

One of the difficulties, as with any discussion of modern terrorism, is the perspective from which distinctions are made. It was a characteristic of the Civil War period that guerilla activity and milita groups were formed in defence of areas and in revenge for depredations exacted upon them. The subtleties of how "official" or "legitimate" were these activities would have been considered theoretical in that context. According to their actions, and the allegiances which they may have successfully or unsuccessfully fomed with more bodies percieved to be more legitimate, their own status and legitimacy might be reframed either positively or negatively.

Some useful distinctions are made in Partisans, Guerillas, Irregulars and Bushwhackers "The Truth Behind The Names". (The Missouri Partisan Ranger, 1995) which notes: "Through the course of time, media articles, novels, and even personal conversations, has there been a huge lack of understanding of these terms. Many of which are used interchangeably and tossed about with abandon":

Glorification and misrepresentation

At first, most of the Bushwhackers were young farm boys, volunteers who wanted to defend their homes and take revenge for things done to them and their families. Later on, a more restless breed flocked to Quantrill's black silk banner....If anything, plundering and murder were more important to them than were states' rights....Attempts have been made to see the Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers as latter-day Robin Hoods. They weren't. --Mike Wright

War against terrorism compared to American Civil War

American Civil War

War against Terrorism








Intelligence services            
Pillaged homesteaders            
Ideological Anti-slavery Pro-slavery Self-interest
Democracy (Christianity) Democracy (self-***)
Regular military Union
Confederate forces   Coalition forces    
Militia (regular)   Partisan Rangers        
Militia (irregular) Jayhawkers Bushwackers        
Independent Vigilantes Vigilantes Vigilantes      

Undigested notes

Jennison's closest Southern counterpart, sometime schoolteacher, farmer, and gambler, William Clarke Quantrill, was a strange young man with blue eyes. Undeniably intelligent, he formed his band of guerrilla troops around Christmas in 1861. His was the largest and best-known band of guerrillas in the state of Missouri. Anyone who wanted to join his band was asked just one question: "Will you follow orders, be true to your comrades, and kill those who serve and support the Union?" It was mustered into Confederate service in 1862, but the groups continued to operate independently. Quantrill was 26 years old when he and his followers sacked Lawrence, Kansas, on August 21, 1863. That dramatic attack was so deliberate, cold and brutal that it caught the horrified imagination of the public and made more of Quantrill than there was really was. Revenge for Union atrocities, real or imagined, was one stimulus for the Lawrence raid. A 3-story brick building in Kansas City was used by the Federals as a temporary prison for some women alleged to have aided Bushwhackers.

TERRORIST THREAT ( atdl.dll/accp/it0468/lsn1.htm )

During the American Revolution there were isolated acts of terrorism. Some of the groups involved included: the Torys and the American colonists who used hostile Indian tribes against the civilian population; the "Liberty Boys" of Georgia; Francis Marion, "The Swamp Fox" (South Carolina); and Ethan Allan and the "Green Mountain Boys" of Vermont. A point to remember is that neither General Washington nor the Continental Congress advocated nor condoned the use of terrorism by the Continental Army. This is an important fact to remember, for many modern day terrorist groups link their actions to those of the American Revolution. In his speech of November 13, 1974, at the United Nations Assembly, Yasir Arafat, head of the PLO terrorist group, tried to equate his murderous organization to the American people in their struggle for liberation from the British colonists. "If these Arabs are now being called terrorists," he said, "those 18th Century Americans should also be classified as terrorists." He compared himself to George Washington, the "heroic Washington whose purpose was his nation's freedom and independence." Answering Arafat on November 21 at the same forum, the chief American delegate, John A. Scali, rejected this equation of the historic American Revolution with the Arabs' "indiscriminate terror." Said Scali: "There were instances during the American Revolution where innocent people suffered, but there were no instances where the revolutionary leadership boasted of or condoned such crimes. There were victims on both sides but no deliberate policy of terrorism. Those who molded our nation and fought for our freedom never succumbed to the easy excuse that the "end justifies the means." The use of organized guerrilla and partisan groups during the war between the States was widespread. Although not sanctioned by their respective governments, a number of terrorist acts were committed. Groups such as the Jayhawkers, Regulators, and Redlegs on one side and the Bushwackers and Border Ruffians on the other side practiced terror tactics. Men such as J. H. Lane, C. R. Jennision, W. C. Quantrell, and others, gained a great deal of notoriety for their acts; and, in some cases, paradoxically, respectability as well.

Thomas Chittum, author of the patriotic best-selling book "Civil War 2"

The wheels are coming off the Glorious Imperial War Machine in Iraq. Our guys are being hunted down for sport by roving bands of Iraqi bushwackers.

Terrence Daniels. Revolutionaries Oppose Terrorism 17, September 01, (text)

Edward Spannaus. This article appears in the . Military Tribunals Are Dangerous in Ashcroft's Hands. Executive Intelligence Review, 7 December 2001 (text)

The proper conception of a military tribunal, as based in natural law, was elaborated by Abraham Lincoln's Attorney General, James Speed, in his July 1865 "Opinion On The Constitutional Power Of The Military To Try And Execute The Assassins Of The President." Speed stressed that "tribunals are constituted by the army in the interest of justice and mercy, and to the effect of mitigating the horrors of war." Speed described two categories of combatants: open, active participants in hostilities, who wear the uniform, move under the flag, and hold the appropriate commission from their government, and who are entitled to all belligerent rights; and "secret, but active participants, as spies, brigands, bushwackers, jayhawkers, war rebels, and assassins," who are subject to military tribunals, which may try, condemn, and execute them, without a breach of the Constitution.

Noe, Kenneth W., "Who Were the Bushwackers? Age, Class, Kin, and Western Virginia's Confederate Guerrillas, 1861-1862," Civil War History, 49 (March 2003), 5-31.

Brophy, Patrick. Bushwackers of the Border. Nevada, MO: Vernon County Historical Society, 1980.

McCorkle, John. Three Years with Quantrill. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma, 1992.

Trotter, William R. - Bushwackers: The Civil War in North Carolina - The Mountains 12.95 pb

Breihan, Carl W. Quantrill and his Civil War Guerrillas. Promontory Press, 1959.

Brant, Marley. The Outlaw Youngers, a Confederate Brotherhood. Madison Books, 1992.

Fellman, Michael. Inside War, the Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri During the American Civil War. Oxford University Press, 1989.

SPIES, SCOUTS, AND RAIDERS: IRREGULAR OPERATIONS. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1985. (Good source of information on "Jayhawkers" and "Bushwackers." )

Guerillas-a member of a band of persons engaged in warfare not as part of a regular army but as an independent unit making surprise raids behind enemy lines. Bushwacker-see Guerilla

Missouri's pro-slavery guerillas confronted free state troopers often, to preserve their vision of the good life. Also known as guerillas or bushwackers, the best known pro-slavery band was led by William Quantrill. Ordinary farmers joined Quantrill to defend their homes and their families' honor. Quantrill and his men made many raids and participated in violent skirmishes and other fights. A supporter of Quantrill was John McCorkle. He said,


Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War Book by: T. J. Stiles Manufacturer: Knopf List Price: $27.50 - Our Price: $19.25 Media: Hardcover Release Date: 17 September, 2002

Probably no American outlaw has attracted more attention--much of it flattering--than Jesse James. This revisionist biography by T.J. Stiles delves into the exciting life James led--"a tale of ambushes, gun battles, and daring raids, of narrow escapes, betrayals, and revenge." Yet it also places James within a specific political context, showing why it was possible for this murderous bandit to emerge as a folk hero among Southern sympathizers following the Civil War (in which he fought as a teenager). James is often grouped with famous frontier criminals like Billy the Kidd and Butch Cassidy, but he's best understood as a Southerner who forged partisan alliances in postwar Missouri and promoted himself as a latter-day Robin Hood. Stiles describes James as "a foul-mouthed killer who hated as fiercely as anyone on the planet" and places his life in the context of "the struggle for--or rather, against--black freedom." Stiles's fundamental point about James is as startling as it is convincing: "In his political consciousness and close alliance with a propagandist and power broker, in his efforts to win media attention with his crimes ... Jesse James was a forerunner of the modern terrorist." Tough words, but also deserved. --John J. Miller Violentization? JESSE JAMES, LAST REBEL OF THE CIVIL WAR takes its subject seriously. There are sixty-nine pages of footnotes, sixteen pages of bibliography. This is not your conventional biography. Stiles theorizes that James was not the Robin Hood kind of brigand, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, he's been made out to be by innumerable Hollywood movies and TV shows. Rather he was a product of the bushwacker guerrillas who ravaged Missouri during the Civil War and he kept at it right up until his death in 1882. Stiles also maintains that James was a political outlaw in that part of his purpose was to unseat the Radical Republicans who governed Missouri after the Civil War. Stiles equates James to the modern terrorist. Quite a bit of the book is devoted to Jesse's relationship with John Newman Edwards, a newspaper editor and "voice of the Confederate wing of the Democratic Party in Missouri." Edwards extolled the James gang as rebel heroes, compares them to "men who might have sat with Arthur at the Round Table, ridden at tourney with Sir Launcelot or worn the colors of Guinevere." He also edited and published Jesse's letters ridiculing the Radical Republicans and President Grant.

Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers: Uncivil Missouri and Kansas (text)

For the five years before the Civil War, residents of the neighboring states of Missouri and Kansas waged their own civil conflict, one that was characterized by unrelenting and unparalleled brutality. Both sides were lined up along the border, ready to fight for race. War is about armies on the battlefield, but this was personal. More than anywhere else in the nation, the conflict raging in Missouri and Kansas was truly a civil war, whose wounds were a long time in healing.

Partisans, Guerillas, Irregulars and Bushwhackers "The Truth Behind The Names". The Missouri Partisan Ranger, 1995 (text)

Bloody Bill Anderson-His Impact on the Civil War in Johnson County, Missouri. (text)

During the Civil War, Johnson County was a very bloody place. Confederate men who got mad when somebody disagreed with them would quickly join a gang of bushwackers to intimidate people into agreeing with them. These bushwackers would rob, burn and trash whole neighborhoods and towns. They would then proceed to rob, kill, mutilate and even scalp innocent men andwomen. Some bushwackers weren't that ferocious, but a couple of bushwackers stand out in history as being particularly blood-thirsty. One of those men was Bloody Bill Anderson.

Beatty, Patricia. Jayhawker.

Cordley, Richard. The Lawrence Massacre.

Schultz, Duane. Quantrill's War : The Life and Times of William Clarke Quantrill 1837-1865.

Wright, Mike. What They Didn't Teach You About the Civil War.

Brownlee, Richard S. Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy, Guerrilla Warfare in the West, 1861-1865. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1958.

Edwards, John N. Noted Guerrillas, or the Warfare of the Border. Dayton, OH: Morningside Bookshop, 1877, 1976.

Bushwackers of the Border Vernon Co. Historical Society

In justification of the destruction of the property of ex-Governor Letcher, it is said, whether truly or falsely I can not say, that the form of a hand-bill was found in a printing (end of page 597) establishment in Lexington, bearing Letcher's name, and urging the bushwhacking of Federal soldiers; and, further, that his house was occupied by concealed sharpshooters, who fired upon some of General Hunter's men.

The Great Invasion of 1863; or, General Lee in Pennsylvania (Excerpts) By: Jacob Hoke (text)

The policy of the commanders of the Federal armies operating in the Shenandoah Valley had been humane and lenient, notwithstanding the evils complained of, but when General Hunter succeeded to the command in that place, he adopted a different policy. From the time he assumed command in that department he gave evidence that he had decided convictions as to how to deal with such inveterate haters of the Union. He was convinced that the mild and lenient course pursued by his predecessors had only em- (end of page 598) boldened them in their unwarranted methods, and he determined to adopt a retaliatory policy. Guerrillas and bushwhackers, whose depredations had heretofore gone unpunished, were now notified that their claim to be in the regular Confederate service, under which they claimed exemption from the summary punishment inflicted upon irregular and unorganized soldiers, would no longer avail them. He accordingly issued and circulated the following circular:

HEAD-QUARTERS OF WEST VIRGINIA, - IN THE FIELD. Valley of the Shenandoah, May 24th, 1864.

Sir - Your name has been reported to me with evidence that you are one of the leading secessionist sympathizers in the valley, and that you countenance and abet the bush-whackers and guerillas who infest the woods and mountains of this region, swooping out on the roads to plunder and outrage loyal residents, falling upon them and firing into defenseless wagon-trains and assassinating soldiers of this command, who may chance to be placed in exposed positions. These practices are not recognized by the laws of war of any civilized nation, nor are the persons engaged therein entitled to any other treatment than that done by the universal code of justice to pirates, murderers, and other outlaws.

But from the difficulties of the country, the secret aid and information given to these bush-whackers by persons of your class, and the more important occupation of the troops under my command, it is impossible to chase, arrest, and punish these marauders as they deserve. Without the countenance and help given to them by the Confederate residents of the valley, they could not support themselves for a week. You are spies upon our movements, abusing the clemency which has protected your persons and property, while loyal citizens of the United States, residing within the Confederate lines, are invariably plundered of all they may possess, imprisoned, and in some cases put to death. It is from you and your families and neighbors, that these bandits receive food, clothing, ammunition and information, and it is from their secret hiding-places in your houses, barns and woods, that they issue on their missions of pillage and murder.

You are therefore hereby notified, that for every train fired upon, or soldier of the Union wounded or assassinated by bush-whackers in any neighborhood within the reach of my command, the houses and other property of every secession sympathizer residing within a circuit of five miles from the place of the outrage, shall be destroyed by fire, and that for all public property jayhawked or destroyed by these marauders, an assessment of five times the valve of such property will be made upon the secession sympathizers residing within the circuit of ten miles around the point at which the offense was committed. The payment of this assessment will be enforced by the troops of this department, who will sieze [sic] and hold in close military custody the persons assessed, until such payment shall have been made. This provision will also be applied to make good from the secessionists in the neighborhood five times the amount of any loss suffered by loyal citizens of the United States, from the action of the bush-whackers whom you may encourage.

If you desire to avoid the consequences herein set forth, you will notify your (end of page 599) guerilla and bush-whacking friends to withdraw from that portion of the valley within my lines, and to join, if they desire to fight for the rebellion, the regular forces of the secession army in my front or elsewhere. You will have none but yourselves to blame for the consequences that will certainly ensue if these evils are permitted to continue. This circular is not sent to you for the reason that you have been singled out as peculiarly obnoxious, but because you are believed to furnish the readiest means of communication with the prominent secession sympathizers of your neighborhood. It will be for their benefit that you communicate to them the tenor of this circular.

D. HUNTER, Major-General Commanding.

In 1857 Marion County residents bore witness to the Mountain Meadow Massacre, the horror of which was merely a forerunner to the events which followed the 1 June 1861 adoption by the State Legislature (by a 1-vote majority) of he Constitution of The Confederate States - the Civil War. This was probably the very worst time in the entire history of the area. For four long years, Marion County was a "divided" place - brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor. Although there were no actual battles fought in Marion County, there were many war-related deaths. At one time or another, either a Union or a Confederate Post was located in Yellville - both with hospitals, enlistment centers, and regimental headquarters. Simultaneously Bushwackers, Jayhawkers, and just plain renegades ran rampant throughout the area, threatening, stealing, burning, terrorizing, murdering, and torturing everyone and everything. Many families left Marion County, most traveling to Missouri, seeking both food and safety. Before the Civil War there were 922 families in Marion County; by 1870 there were only 750. By 1880 the population had grown slightly, but there was no major increase until the mining era of 1890 through 1920.

Marion County Families 1811-1900 (permission by Vicki Roberts and Mysty McPherson)

Ride with the Devil 1999 (2000) - Universal

Based on Daniel Woodrell's 1987 novel Woe to Live On, Ang Lee's Ride with the Devil tells the story of a young man named Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire), growing up on the frontier of America during the Civil War. While the Union and Confederate armies battle fiercely in the East, Missouri seems an unlikely place for conflict. But the war is starting to become personal for a lot of young men like Jake. With no army to join, loyalists on both sides of the issue at hand are forming their own armed militias to fight each other - the Jayhawkers allied with the North and the Bushwackers with the South. Jake and his friend Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich) grew up as Southerners, but have no particularly strong feelings about slavery, right or wrong. Their fear is simply that their friends and neighbors - their people - are coming under attack. That fear is born out when a band of Jayhawkers kills Jack Bull's father in a raid one night. To revenge his death, the two run away and join the Bushwackers. But the thing about these militias, is that anyone can join. So in addition to those who want revenge or believe in the cause, you've got men who just like killing. It doesn't matter who - anyone who gets in the way will do. And once revenge has been had, there's only a hollow feeling left and only so much killing you can witness.

Bushwacker Story Compiled by Arminta Smith (text)

General Halleck, commander in Missouri declared if the Bushwackers were caught, they would not be treated as prisoners of war, but would be hung like robbers and murderers. So Quantrill was declared an outlaw by the Federal authorities, but when the Bushwhackers found out about this order they started shooting every Yankee they could find. Quantrill traveled to Richmond to speak to President Davis about his rank, and he returned as a Colonel, but others say he just called himself a Colonel and was not given an appointment. When he returned the whole Confederate department had been reorganized and general Ewing was now in command. Quantrill said, "Ewing may command the district, but I run the machine." And his Bushwackers raided right under Ewing's nose, and George Todd even took a captive Union man along with him and then sent him to Ewing to be a witness. All this happened as Robert E. Lee crossed into Pennsylvania, sweeping along the road toward Gettysburg. During this winter 1862-3, Quantrill's raiders acted as scouts for the Missouri Brigade, which was part of the Calvary Unit under the command of General John S. Marmaduke. (Marmaduke was a West Point graduate and son of wealthy parents. His father served as governor of Virginia). But he was a man that could not be trusted; he served in Johnston's Army in the Utah expedition, and then resigned his position to follow Johnston into Confederate service. Those Bushwackers were as reckless and picturesque riders as ever cinched a saddle. Most of them grew long hair, had beards, goatees, or mustaches and long sideburns. They favored round-brimmed hats and tucked their baggy pants into high-topped cavalry boots. When not wearing a regular shirt of gray or brown, he sported a "guerilla shirt" knitted by his wife, or sweetheart, decoratively embroidered and had many pockets for bullets. Two or four revolvers were stuck into his holster and wider leather belts, often with another 4 guns on his horse. These men benefited from the support of the citizens. Many of the Missourians looked upon them as saviors and protectors, but not for long. The majority was scared to death of them and lived in constant fear of their appearance. Quantrill fell in love with Sarah (Kate) Kings, who embroidered his shirts. Old timers who knew her said she was pretty beyond question. He surely kept her in diamonds by all his looting. Quantrill called his captains for a conference and outlined plans for the greatest raid of the war. Lawrence, Kansas epitomized everything the south despised in the North. Its New England reformers, its widely circulating newspapers had roused the nation with abolition propaganda for seven years. Quantrill's captains listened sullenly, and they rode away without agreeing on any plans. Then an accident happened and the situation changed; they felt they needed to get some revenge. In the campaign to stamp out bushwhacking, many women had been arrested on their homesteads for sheltering guerillas. The prisoners included three sisters of Bloody Bill Anderson's, the Munday girls, Martha and Sue, and Jesse James's mother and sister had also been taken from their home by the Union soldiers. Most of the disloyal women were incarcerated at Kansas City in an old brick building. The first floor contained stores. The second floor, where the girls were imprisoned, was reached by an outside stairway at the rear. The country girls noticed that some of their fellow prisoners were women of bad character--Quantrill spies, too--and refused to speak to them. When Ewing assumed command, he made it a point to treat them all with consideration, so the prostitutes roomed by themselves. All were allowed playing cards and musical instruments. The Munday and Anderson girls all sent home for their own bedding. Those who would pledge their word not to escape were permitted to go downstairs, under guard, and visit the store.

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