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  • The Guerrilla Shirt:A Labor of Love and the Style of Rebellion in Civil War Missouri
  • Joseph M. Beilein Jr. (bio)

On the afternoon of October 27, 1864, Union soldiers wheeled the dead body of the infamous rebel guerrilla "Bloody" Bill Anderson into the town of Richmond, Missouri. They stuck his wild-haired corpse in a chair and propped him up in front of the courthouse—where a roistering crowd of townspeople, including a dentist who part-timed as the local photographer, gathered to yawp and gape. Here, dead, was the man who over the previous summer had killed untold numbers of Union men; here, cold, was the man—some said murderer—who since June had mutilated soldiers and waylaid civilians too. At some point that afternoon the crowd parted shoulders and elbows long enough for Dr. Robert Kice, Richmond's aforementioned dentist-photographer, to take a famous image. Anderson's likeness is as macabre today as the corpse must have been for the gawking villagers then: bearded, bucktoothed, arch-eyebrowed, and wide-eared, a crazy mane obscuring the two bullet holes in his head, there he is, propped up with a revolver across his stomach, gripping it at his belt, posed, but poised to maim again.1

And there he is: killed, in his guerrilla shirt. The shirt is homemade, and garish for being homemade, hand-stitched in flowers of all shapes and sizes [End Page 151]


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One of the posthumous images of "Bloody" Bill Anderson in his guerrilla shirt, generated by Dr. Robert Kice at Richmond, Missouri, on October 27, 1864. Photograph courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

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and colors. It is an oddly bedazzling garment for any man to wear, let alone a man of notorious repute for mayhem.2

The objectification of Anderson's body points to a conflict deeper than the political dispute between southern-sympathizing Missourians and the Union. This was a clash of divergent concepts of manhood. For the Union men who killed Anderson, stripped his body down to his colorful shirt, and displayed his corpse, he was a different type of man. He was a guerrilla. Demonstrated through his warfare, the guerrilla's nature was woefully out of step with that of "civilized" men. In fact, Union officers, who saw themselves as the enlightened sons of civilization trying to wage a conventional war for their country, described the guerrillas as they did Native Americans during the Indian Wars. The guerrillas were cowards, fiends, and savages, labels that were only confirmed by their exotic and unusual appearance. Yet, for the men who were guerrillas, their seemingly irregular look signified important components of a distinctive manhood born of their slaveholding society west of Mississippi. Through an analysis of the guerrilla's appearance this article will not only reveal that the guerrillas possessed a distinctive form of masculinity, but it will show that their vision of manhood was a guiding force in their particular brand of warfare.3

Several works have suggested the importance of gender in the guerrilla conflict. The most influential work on guerrilla warfare in the Civil War, Michael Fellman's Inside War, is the first work to enter into a discussion of masculinity when discussing the men involved in the guerrilla war. In his chapter "Brother Killers: Guerrillas and Union Troops," Fellman grounds his discussion of men in male-male relationships and sees these men in terms of a Freudian metaphor. Reading the experience of these men at war through the [End Page 153] "language of oedipal rebellion," he posits that the experience of the guerrillas in this conflict was one of rebellious sons. These sons resisted the authority of their symbolic fathers in the form of the Union government, only to be forced to submit to their fathers once again when captured or killed. Keeping with the familial theme, Fellman tweaks the metaphor to describe the period of time in which these rebellious youngsters were running roughshod over the countryside. At a certain point, when both the guerrillas and the Union troopers were caught in the whirlwind of violence that was guerrilla warfare, Fellman sees both groups of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 151-179
Launched on MUSE
2012-05-24
Open Access
No
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