Review: A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War

A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War
by Daniel E. Sutherland

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 440 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (June 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807832774
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807832776

ASavageConflictTheDecisiveRoleOfGuerrillasInTheCivilWarSutherlandJohn Mosby, William Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson encompass most of our knowledge about guerrillas. The sack of Lawrence and understanding Missouri had a very active guerrilla war completes the picture. If you read a lot of Civil War history, you can discuss the problems caused by deserters and the battles between Unionists and Confederates in the CSA. Pushed, you might talk about guerrillas firing on shipping in the Mississippi River. Really pushed, you might mention North Carolina and/or East Tennessee as “hot spots” of guerrilla activity. After that, we have gone through our knowledge on the subject. After reading this book, you will be able to talk intelligently about this subject across the nation for the entire war.

For one book to pack so much information, be readable and have good historic sources is an accomplishment. This book manages to exceed all expectations by providing a summary with the right level of detail, in an intelligent readable format. The history hangs on a frame covering six to twelve month periods of the war in chronological order. Each part follows the development of the guerrilla war with a section of the nation during this period. The major sections are Kansas/Missouri/Arkansas, Kentucky/Tennessee, West Virginia/Virginia, Mississippi/Alabama and the Carolinas. Texas, Florida and Louisiana appear when they have something to contribute. The author adds sections, as they become part of the story. In Spring-Summer 1861, Kansas/Missouri/Arkansas, Kentucky/Tennessee, West Virginia/Virginia are the major story. This includes problems of guerrillas spilling into Iowa & Illinois from Missouri and into Ohio from Kentucky. As the war progresses, areas are added. By 1864, the entire South is aflame; the problems have escalated into endless theft and murder that has destroyed law in much of the Confederacy.

This is not just a history of military operations. The author details the Confederacy’s early view of “partisan rangers” and the appeal of this service to individuals. From this foundation, we get a solid history of the CSA military and legal actions to establish and control these units. At the same time, the USA struggles to establish polices to deal with guerrillas, maintain the goodwill of the people and protect supply lines. Throw into this mix advancing armies, ill will, avarice and revenge for a witches brew creating endless problems. While logical and almost inevitable this is not a pretty story. As the CSA changes positions and loses territory the guerrilla bands change. Less control creates more foraging, more deserters and internal warfare. This changes the local people’s attitudes. Union frustration and a hardening of reprisal policies add to their misery.

This is a comprehensive survey, well written and very readable. A full set of real footnotes, with a good mix of original and contemporary sources, appear as endnotes. These endnotes have page references, at the bottom of the page, making it easy to find the footnote you are looking for. An index, Bibliography, good regional maps and illustrations from Harpers complete this excellent book. This is a valuable addition to your library. While not covering the major armies or battles, this is a needed view of the war that is seldom seen.


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