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  • The Guerrilla Hunters: Irregular Conflicts During the Civil War ed. by Brian D. McKnight and Barton A. Myers
  • Brian Matthew Jordan
Brian D. McKnight and Barton A. Myers, eds. The Guerrilla Hunters: Irregular Conflicts During the Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2017. 399 pp. ISBN: 9780807165003 (cloth), $49.95.

In their introduction to this volume, editors Brian D. McKnight and Barton A. Myers make some ambitious claims: "Taken as a whole," they argue, "the pieces presented here offer a redefinition of Civil War soldiering and the boundaries of military history in studying the war" (2). And the fifteen essays assembled here—from the pens of the best and brightest scholars working on irregular conflicts during the Civil War—do precisely that. Teeming with fresh insights and methodological innovations, tracking the irregular war on land and on water, from the Trans-Mississippi to Appalachia, The Guerrilla Hunters makes an appeal for a "new synthesis" of the "regular" war and the "unconventional" battlefield (2). Refreshingly, the book is not principally (or myopically) concerned with defining the subfield of guerrilla studies; rather, it aims to illuminate the myriad ways that irregular conflicts might contribute to [End Page 79] a much needed and long overdue rethinking of the Civil War's cadence, chronology, and essential character (11).

Together, the editors and essayists establish that "there was not one irregular war, easy to compartmentalize and forget"; that exponents of the Lost Cause effaced the vexing history of the guerrilla war by peddling "the idea of a united white Confederate South"; that military historians write about the "war they believe they know" and are "reluctant to examine different forms of combat"; and that the war did not obey a "linear" plotline (4–5).

Given the aims of the volume, it should come as no surprise that many of the essays are concerned with analyzing the lexicon used to describe irregular belligerents and their violence. Brian Steel Wills reminds readers that Nathan Bedford Forrest "did not waver concerning his status as a regular" and "operated throughout the war in a conventional fashion" (55, 71), while McKnight reviews the "chameleon-like and fluid qualities" of irregulars in Appalachia, men who mock most attempts at categorization (38). The Partisan Ranger Act, made law by the Confederate Congress in April of 1862, is the point of departure for Myers's essay. Seeking "to regulate and control who could use guerrilla warfare" and to defend those regions where the regular armies maintained only a minor footprint, the measure permitted the formation of "petite guerre units" (15–16). Myers mines dozens of petitions submitted to the Confederate War Department by men eager to form "authorized" partisan ranger units, exposing "a complex relationship connecting the individual, community, and government in the white South" (17, 21). He concludes that the partisan ranger policy "was ultimately a failed experiment" and a "self-inflicted wound on the Confederate body politic," inviting "the proliferation of military atrocity by both sides" (30). His essay also serves as a reminder that the irregular conflict confounded civil and military policy makers—a matter that, as he points out, merits further study (5).

Several contributors tackle the question of guerrilla motivation; in the process, they divulge the "often hazy boundaries between irregular, counter-irregular, and conventional warfare" (142). Aaron Astor's important essay on "Tinker Dave" Beatty suggests how digital military history databases, the tool of GIS, and "social network analysis" can recover the dynamics of guerrilla bands and their motives. Scott Thompson argues that the "unconventional troops" of Loudoun County, Virginia, fought "because of both an ideological allegiance to their republic and a sense of [End Page 80] duty to protect their homes, neighbors, and families from enemy occupation" (124). In a splendid essay, Adam H. Domby contends that John Gatewood swore allegiance to the Confederate cause only "when it suited him" (158). By the last year of the conflict, Gatewood's dominion in northern Georgia constituted "a 'fragmented area' of a failing state"; the irregulars who operated there "often cared little about the national conflict except for how it affected their own private war" (160). Andrew Fialka proposes that by asking "where and when...


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