- The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory: How Civil War Bushwhackers Became Gunslingers in the American West by Matthew Christopher Hulbert
Over the past few years, Matthew C. Hulbert has established himself as a scholar of the Middle Period by producing works that look at the convergence of two subjects that have become ubiquitous in the field of Civil War studies. The first is irregular warfare, which a decade or so of scholarship by the likes of Clay Mount-castle, Thomas D. Mays, Robert Mackey and, especially, Daniel E. Sutherland has established was a much more extensive and important aspect of the conflict [End Page 95] than historians had previously appreciated. One manifestation of this is a rapidly growing body of scholarship on the war in Missouri and along the state's border with Kansas, where with the conventional war effectively settled by early 1862, the irregular war of terror and atrocity waged by the likes of William Clarke Quantrill became the war for its residents.
The second subfield that Hulbert's work has contributed to is the one that looks at how historical events have been recorded by posterity and the factors that shape the writing and commemoration of them. A generation or so ago, study along these lines was part of the realm of "historiography." Since then, it has been pursued under the more alluring and trendy term "memory," which has enabled it to provide fodder for a near-unfathomable number of published studies and panels at academic conferences.
To anyone familiar with the study of memory—and given its recent pervasiveness, it is rather difficult not to be—many of The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory's major themes and findings will be eminently familiar. The book consists of ten chapters (including the introduction and an epilogue offering an interesting account of Hulbert's search for physical reminders of the guerrilla war in Missouri and Kansas), some of which consist mainly of previously published essays. He first considers five recollections of episodes in the irregular war by residents of the Missouri–Kansas border, then looks at the influential work of John Newman Edwards and how it was informed by a desire to connect Missouri's war to the larger Confederate war as part of the postwar effort to affirm the state's southern character. Hulbert then considers the factors that contributed to former guerrillas' efforts to reboot their experiences in writing and in reunions in order to further assert their place in late nineteenth and early twentieth century southern society.
Next, following the lead of scholars who have documented the centrality of southern women to Civil War commemoration, Hulbert chronicles the role of Missouri women as gatekeepers in the shaping of the history of the guerrilla war. Of course, the good residents of eastern Kansas had a very different take, and Hulbert also provides an interesting account of pro-southern Missourians' efforts to shape how the conflict border would be remembered. In the final two chapters, Hulbert offers an entertaining and perceptive look at the "westernization" of Missouri's guerrillas in popular culture. By downplaying wartime southern guerrilla roots to focus on western "gunslinger" exploits, however exaggerated, Hulbert insightfully notes popular culture gave the likes of Jesse James greater notoriety but did so in a way counter to the efforts by guerrillas and their supporters after the war to emphasize their southern character. Thus, these depictions contributed to a sanitization of the experiences of those who fought and endured the irregular war in Missouri from mainstream American memory of the Civil War. [End Page 96]
Hulbert declares in the introduction that it is his intention to help readers develop a better understanding of "the Civil War's true nature" and the place of the Missouri–Kansas borderlands in the American experience of the nineteenth century (12). Rather than seeing the great campaigns that took place east of the Mississippi River as the central pivot on which the American future...