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  • Bushwhackers: Guerrilla Warfare, Manhood, and the Household in Civil War Missouri by Joseph M. Beilein Jr
  • Matthew M. Stith
Bushwhackers: Guerrilla Warfare, Manhood, and the Household in Civil War Missouri. Joseph M. Beilein Jr. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-60635-270-0. 306 pp., cloth, $34.95.

Just as Confederate guerrillas proved a mysterious and elusive foe for their Union pursuers, so too have they long eluded historians. This is changing. An explosion of scholarly work on guerrilla warfare in the past quarter century has brought guerrillas and their war out of the margins of the Civil War narrative. Yet, while their war is better understood than ever before, the fighters attached to the moniker remain in the shadows. Joseph M. Beilein Jr's Bushwhackers provides an intriguing and provocative lens through which modern scholars might begin to get a better view of these men and their motivations. Beilein uses Missouri as his laboratory to explore the nexus between the culture of masculinity, calculated violence, and sophisticated logistic networks that together help explain the otherwise enigmatic Confederate guerrilla. In short, Beilein seeks to fully define the guerrilla and to redefine our scholarly perception of the war they waged. By employing a blend of cultural, gender, and military history, he promises to "restore proportion and clarity to the conflict" and, in surprisingly strong language, to "destroy the existing paradigm" regarding Missouri's guerrilla war and "replace it with one that is true to form" (8). The result is an unusually sympathetic account of guerrillas and a challenge to many existing notions of guerrilla warfare.

Beilein starts by chronicling the tumultuous evolution of guerrilla historiography—a narrative that casts guerrillas along a wide spectrum from virtuous to demonic. Beilein places them closer to the former, at times uncomfortably close, and challenges the persuasive guerrilla-as-villain school of thought made most relevant by Michael Fellman and confirmed by a generation of scholars. He also questions the contention that guerrilla-fueled chaos directly or indirectly wrought destruction of the very Confederate communities the guerrillas claimed to protect. For Beilein, too many scholars have focused on disorder and anarchy and have consequently muddied the narrative so much as to render the guerrilla "unknowable as a man" (4).

Beilein devotes the bulk of his study to making the guerrilla knowable, and here he provides interesting and valuable perspectives on masculinity in the frontier South. Horses, guns, and honor permeated communities from which Missouri guerrillas emerged during the war, and these cultural threads influenced the manner in and intensity with which guerrillas fought. Driven by an intense sense of manhood fueled by gun culture and horsemanship, the guerrilla style of fighting, for Beilein, served more as an expression of a deep-seated sense of honor and protectionist-infused masculinity than it did a bloodthirsty desire for chaos and personal gain. Beilein is right that Confederate guerrillas in Missouri and elsewhere often did have [End Page 94] a method to their violence, and many guerrillas benefited from elaborate logistic networks in a "household war" to right what they perceived as wrongs committed against their families, friends, and communities. Not all men who joined the guerrilla ranks did so out of a lust for killing or theft, just as not all regular soldiers fought in accordance to the accepted laws of war. But, while Beilein's effort to reveal the guerrilla as something more than a shadowy criminal is important and persuasive, Bushwhackers approaches a sympathetic, even apologetic, tone with respect to guerrilla methods and identity. Even "Bloody" Bill Anderson seems to receive some small acquittal. By Beilein's reckoning, Anderson's gory violence was born from an apparently thoughtful if "desperate effort to repair the cracks in the tumbling edifice that was once his world" (11). Indeed, Beilein attempts to humanize, if not rationalize, guerrillas and their actions. In at times uncomfortably idealized prose, he concludes that guerrillas were "men on a different path, a path of their own discovery" who "pushed on through the shadows in the hopes that they would once again see the faraway flicker of light from the hearth fire and hear the faint but...


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pp. 94-95
Launched on MUSE
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