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  • Bushwhackers: Guerrilla Warfare, Manhood, and the Household in Civil War Missouri by Joseph M. Beilein
  • Jason Phillips
Joseph M. Beilein Jr. Bushwhackers: Guerrilla Warfare, Manhood, and the Household in Civil War Missouri. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2016. 304 pp. ISBN: 9781606352700 (cloth), $34.95.

Joseph Beilein Jr. opens Bushwhackers with the lyrics to "Search and Destroy," the Stooges' 1973 punk rock song about "a street walkin' cheetah with a heart full of napalm" (vi). The cheetah claims to be "the world's forgotten boy / the one who searches and destroys" for "love in the middle of a firefight" (vi). A rakehell who kills without apology, the boy challenges us to penetrate his mind and save his soul. According to biographer Paul Trynka, Iggy Pop wrote the song after reading about search-and-destroy missions in Vietnam. Like Beilein's bushwhackers, the young men who conducted those missions were doomed fighters. So were the Stooges, and they knew it. "Search and Destroy" portends the band's looming demise and expresses their resolve to go down fighting.

Beilein answers the cheetah's call to penetrate the minds of bushwhackers, understand their worldview, and explain their violence. He understands their thoughts, emotions, and actions by placing them within the antebellum Southwest and appreciating how its environment and culture shaped their identities, values, and pursuits. Guerrillas fought a household war beside their kin, and this experience changed [End Page 83] them in contradictory ways. First, it made them killers, a social category that they embraced. Second, it made them empathetic. By defending their families and waging war for and from home, white southern men who flaunted their personal sovereignty gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for their dependence upon kinfolk, friends, and neighbors.

Beilein relies on diverse sources to study Missouri guerrillas. Union provost marshal records and guerrilla writings helped him identify over one hundred households that supported two guerrilla networks, the Fristoe group in western Missouri and the Holtzclaw band in central Missouri. Appendices analyze these households' statistics drawn from the federal manuscript census of 1860. Other Union sources consulted include military records from the District of Central Missouri and popular northern media like Harper's Weekly. For the guerrillas' perspective, Beilein researched their memoirs and early histories. Fighting a household war in their own counties, guerrillas did not write the voluminous wartime correspondence that soldiers penned after they marched hundreds of miles from home. As a result, guerrillas "produced almost no written documents during the war" (114). Beilein overcomes this problem by astutely reading postwar sources for wartime details and supplementing his analysis with excellent maps, illustrations, and photographs that provide more clues into their mindsets and material worlds.

Some of his interpretations from guerrilla reminiscences are debatable. What caused the guerrilla war and motivated individuals to join it are difficult questions to answer when relying on published explanations written after defeat. According to Beilein, "over and over again, the guerrillas described themselves as avengers" in postwar accounts (10). Missouri's Civil War exacerbated its bloody antebellum conflict over slavery's expansion. No doubt some guerrillas joined the fray to right antebellum wrongs, but narratives of southern gentlemen punishing Yankee invaders who outraged peaceful communities betray a familiar Lost Cause drawl. It's plausible, but it's also impossible to know from postwar sources what provoked a guerrilla to hop in the saddle and ride off to war. Trying to understand William Quantrill epitomizes the perils of depending on postwar evidence. Beilein knows that drawing this man out of the shadows is a necessary but "treacherous venture full of pitfalls" (60). He frames Quantrill as a hired hand turned hired gun, a poor outsider who earned the trust of southern patriarchs by doing their dirty work on [End Page 84] the farm and in the war. A Yankee who lacked Missouri property and kin, Quantrill complicates Beilein's thesis that guerrilla warfare was a local, family affair. He stands tauntingly out of range, an anomaly whose most reliable portrait was literally drawn from memory after death and defeat.

Beilein conducts his most innovative work when he shifts his focus from guerrillas' words to their things. At the heart...


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pp. 83-85
Launched on MUSE
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