- Bushwhackers: Guerrilla Warfare, Manhood, and the Household in Civil War Missouri by Joseph M. Beilein Jr.
In Bushwhackers, Joseph M. Beilein Jr. joins a vibrant dialogue on what he describes in his introduction as "the most contradictory, contested, and arresting" men to have fought for the Confederacy (1). From Michael Fellman's revolutionary Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri during the American Civil War (1989) to Daniel Sutherland's award-winning A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (2009) and, most recently, Matthew Hulbert's The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory: How Civil War Bushwhackers Became Gunslingers in the American West (2016), historians have returned our attention to the Confederacy's irregular fighters: who they were, how they fought, and the impact they had on the Confederate war effort. Beilein adds another dimension to these studies by trying to "understand the guerrillas on their own terms" (8). Relying on a thorough consumption of his predecessors' work and an unyielding focus on the words of the guerrillas themselves, Beilein explores the roots of guerrilla fighters and attempts to place them within the context of "their" war, not the war. Drawing on works from the field of masculinity studies, including Stephen Berry's All That Makes a Man: Love and Ambition in the Civil War South (2003), Beilein uses gender analysis to observe the guerrilla's "development into manhood" during the war and merges military and social history techniques along with the deep analysis of a community study to paint an intimate and multidimensional portrait of the southern guerrilla in Missouri (4). In so doing, Beilein [End Page 494] challenges the stereotype of the bushwhacker as an amoral, excessively violent outlaw who simply loved to kill and provides an excellent comparison of what made the guerrilla distinct from the conventional soldier.
Beilein organizes his book into three sections. The first examines the household and kinship relations that both motivated and sustained the guerrilla. According to Beilein, "The strategy, tactics, and logistics of guerrilla warfare came about as the result of the roles, relations, and identities that were established within the antebellum household" (16). Although Beilein sees class differences among the guerrillas, he argues that all of them experienced the war as a "household war" in that the conflict challenged their place in the household and their manhood as defined by the household.
While the immediate household was the base of the guerrilla's masculine identity, his place in extended kin networks both real and imagined played a significant role as well. Beilein surmises that, "unlike the conventional system of warfare that was governed by a formal bureaucracy, hierarchy, and logistics, guerrilla warfare was a family enterprise that relied upon organic principles like hospitality and deference to form a complex system of local, popular defense" (40). Whereas other historians have argued that guerrillas divided communities in the border states and contributed to the Confederacy's loss in the war, according to Beilein, the relationship between guerrillas and their communities was not antagonistic but one that was based on reciprocity and support. Beilein's conclusions emanate from his recognition that guerrillas understood community by their "interpersonal relationships grounded primarily in kin and extending to friends as well as those reputed to have Southern sympathies" (41). Community for the guerrillas was defined not by where one lived, but by whom one knew and associated with, be they family, friends, or prosouthern acquaintances.
In the second section of Bushwhackers, Beilein evaluates how guerrilla bands survived. He explores the food they ate, the clothing they wore, the horses they rode, and the firearms they used. Here, again, Beilein emphasizes the guerrillas' understanding of men's and women's roles within the household. Unlike previous historians who have defined guerrillas as pillagers, Beilein argues that they ate much as they would have before the war. Young men ate the foods prepared for them by the female members of their households and communities. Rather than seeing these women as...