- Financial Fraud and Guerrilla Violence in Missouri's Civil War, 1861-1865
This volume by Mark Geiger provides a bold new interpretation of the guerrilla conflict that plagued Missouri during the Civil War. In a pithy work, Geiger argues that in 1861 Confederate bankers and pro-Confederate elites created a massive financial scheme that used the nascent banking system of Missouri to fund the mobilization of the Missouri State Guard. Bankers loaned $3 million in unsecured funds to pro-Confederate families, who were desperately searching for private money to fund their war effort. Wealthy slaveholding elites, who owned large plantations and constituted the state's antebellum aristocracy, were assured by the new pro-Confederate Missouri government that Confederate officials would back their debt and repay it once the war was over. By mid-1862 many Confederates all over Missouri, including the pro-Confederate government, were forced into exile, giving up control of the banks. Union military authorities quickly discovered the fraud.
Geiger, a former financial auditor, utilizes county court records, specifically defaulted-debt court cases filed by Union military authorities to recover money lost in the massive "check-kiting" conspiracy launched by Confederates (2). From Phillip Shaw Paludan's classic Victims (1981) to Victoria E. Bynum's recently published The Long Shadow of the Civil War (2010), scholars of the guerrilla war have pioneered the use of local county records in their work. Geiger's careful research into county circuit court records confirms that careful research in county and local records can uncover a more complicated Civil War narrative. Geiger's research provides an alternative perspective on wartime mobilization, a bottom-up view of funding and organization. His work is a reminder that new types of [End Page 102] sources are still leading us to a better understanding of the internal conflict within southern states.
According to Geiger, the 2,900 loans that constituted the fraud were spread across forty counties in central and west Missouri. At a time when forty-two banks controlled the entire state's money supply and credit system, this massive fraud, perpetrated by the bankers who were frequently closely related to pro-Confederate elites to whom they made the loans, brought the entire financial system in the state to its knees by the middle of the war. Once they gained control of the state's banks, Union military authorities used the court system to recover the lost funds, which led to mass insolvency and land confiscation among the wealthy Confederate elite.
Geiger's work addresses one of the most important debates that scholars of the guerrilla war have considered: the question of Missouri guerrilla motivations. The land confiscation effected by the defaulted-debt case rulings resulted in an unlikely cross-class alliance between the young and now landless men of elite Confederate families and the lower-class men already serving in the irregular war in the state. While many Confederate guerrillas continued to be motivated by the Union army occupation of their home communities, Geiger argues that the loss of land and wealth among the elite had two major long-term effects. First, it created a region where the traditional elite leadership was decapitated. Second, this lack of leadership and the collapse of Missouri's antebellum power structure led to the nearly two decades of lawlessness in Missouri that followed the war.
Geiger's work wrestles with some of the key problems of the Missouri guerrilla conflict and thus deserves a wide readership. With its innovative research and novel interpretation, the book is the most important work on Missouri's regional guerrilla war since Michael Fellman's landmark study Inside War (1989). Fellman's work analyzes the meaning of guerrilla violence and its social impact, and Geiger provides a helpful new lens through which scholars can view a chaotic war. Financial Fraud and Guerrilla Violence in Missouri's Civil War, 1861-1865 moves us closer to understanding why Missouri's local guerrilla conflict was worse than those in other states. Geiger's...