Animosity, Division and Hatred in Civil War America - Part 4

Updated on March 3, 2016
John Lincoln Clem was a United States Army general who served as a drummer boy in the Union Army in the American Civil War. He gained fame for his bravery on the battlefield, becoming the youngest noncommissioned officer in Army history
John Lincoln Clem was a United States Army general who served as a drummer boy in the Union Army in the American Civil War. He gained fame for his bravery on the battlefield, becoming the youngest noncommissioned officer in Army history | Source

The Civil War brought out many sides to a vast and varied people. Some men marched off and joined regular military units. Teenagers gripped by adventure and glory followed as well. Some were forced to fight, and even women disguised themselves as men and went off to fight. The struggles in Missouri and Kansas and the reasons people went off to fight were no different, they only came to the breaking point sooner than the rest of the nation. Nevertheless, all the reasons men fought as guerrillas were very much at the heart of why the rest of the nation marched off to war in 1861. Most of the guerrilla fighters did so as a form of nationalism. They usually did not have slaves or care about the exporting of cotton, but they did feel bonded to their home state, more so than the Union soldiers, who clearly held a stronger affinity to the United States as a whole. This went side by side with their counterparts in the southern states who also choose state over the Union. Ultimately, it was, on both sides, a struggle for power.1

Southerners as well as guerrillas felt they were the living proof of the legacy of the American Revolution and held to the ideal that would “buckle on the armor of our patriotic sires.”2 Those men rarely fought in organized units and guerrilla tactics is one of the reasons they were able to defeat a more organized and powerful British army.3 Northerners, however, viewed this nationalistic pride in terms of the entire Union, and that by the actions of the South they were rendering the great American experiment a failure. For the people in Missouri and Kansas, there existed a very fine line between patriotism and revenge. A veteran of the border war in Kansas in the 1850’s, anti-slavery irregular Charles Ransford Jennison was a famous Jayhawker before he became the commissioned commander of the Seventh Kansas Cavalry. He was order to oversee supply lines along the border and Jennison used his position to enact violence on anyone who supported slavery in the border region, sometimes even singling out people simply on the face of being from Missouri. In a letter to the people of the border counties in Missouri he wrote,

We march to enforce the laws and sustain the Government… your professed friendship has been a fraud; your oaths of allegiance have been shams and perjuries… We do not care about your past political opinions; no man will be persecuted because he differs from us. But neutrality is ended. If you are patriots you must fight; if you are traitors you will be punished.4

As with the rest of the nation, Southerners many times chose guerrilla bands or local home guards as a means of staying close to home to protect their families while still preserving their honor. Honor was important to people of southern heritage. Missourians felt no different and believed that by their choice to fight as guerrillas, honor had been served. Guerrillas from the South and in Missouri believed that they could justify their choice of warfare in the same vein of the Native American, the noble savage. Turner Ashby of Virginia led the seventh Virginia Cavalry, but even as a member of the organized regular Confederate Army, he still employed guerrilla tactics, and considered their conduct that of the natural man as well as the bearer of a chivalrous South.5

Colonel Turner Ashby
Colonel Turner Ashby

One of the major points to understand is that during the Antebellum and Civil War era, slavery existed and had existed for some time. Regardless, neither the North nor the South, especially those guerrillas fighting in Missouri and Kansas, marched off to war with slavery as the cause for the fight. Northerners went to preserve the Union, and some soldiers even deserted from the Union Army after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamations. They believed they went to save the Union, not to free the slaves. Had slavery been to reason for marching into the southern states, many Union soldiers would never had signed up or had they enlisted and discovered slavery as the motivating factor, quite possibly would have deserted.6

Southerners equally did not go to war over slavery as the cause. They went to protect their way of life, their Constitutional rights and to battle against coerced occupation and unfair federal laws that in essence “picked on” the South. Slavery for the South was just a sub-set of the other causes. Southerners believed that a sectional political party would rule them, that they would wind up footing the bill for at least three fourths of the country’s taxes, and that they had the right to follow the lead of the Declaration of Independence and be the consenting governed who provided the just powers to the government.7

Missourians and Kansans just like the rest of the nation were fighting a culture war with two colliding and vastly different cultures. The influx of immigrants into the United States only added to the problems. In northern cities, these immigrants settled there because the jobs were available without competition from slaves, but with any sort of emancipation, these immigrants and blacks would all would all be vying for already low-wage jobs.8 With the idea of emancipating the slaves, both North and South found economic needs vastly shifting and neither in either one’s favor. The North would be taking on even more people and the South would be losing its labor force. In Missouri and Kansas, southern ideals were being replaced with northern ones. For those who actually did own slaves, the prospect of being surrounded on three sides by free states again proved to be a problem with their labor force. If a slave ran away, it had plenty of assistance north, east and west of Missouri to prevent the slave owner from retrieving his property. For the most part, Missouri citizens felt attached to the southern heritage and certain principles applied to Missourians as well as southerners. Nichols uses examples from Confederate General Sterling Price in his 1861 and 1862 proclamations to Missouri southern men and referred to, struggling with causeless and cruel despotism, Federals polluting Missouri soil, subjection, winning their “glorious inheritance from their oppressors, and invaders who have desecrated their homes.9

Confederate General Sterling Price (photographed in his U.S. uniform before the war)
Confederate General Sterling Price (photographed in his U.S. uniform before the war) | Source

Regardless of any motives the people had for fighting as guerrillas, after 1865 they were meaningless. Not only had the commander of the Confederate Army Robert E. Lee surrendered, but Confederate President Jefferson Davis also resigned to end hostilities. However, of most importance was that the southern people were tired of war and dragging it on believing that guerrilla warfare “would entail far more suffering on our own people than it would cause damage to the enemy.”10 In Missouri, the mood had shifted from guerrilla warfare into a degradation of the men into nothing more than outlaws. William T. “Bloody Bill” Anderson began killing Anderson made it clear how many of the men fighting as guerrillas felt near the end of the conflict by stating that “if I cared for my life I would have lost it long ago; wanting to lose it I cannot throw it away.”11 Union soldiers, southern sympathizers, and anyone he felt was not worthy to live. His followers such as Archie Clements and Jesse James took his examples to heart after the war and went on excel in murderous criminal activities. It is clear however, that when the war began the motives of bitterness, anger, hope, desperation and excitement played out in all areas of the nation.

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Missouri however took the lead in savagery prior to the events at Ft. Sumter. The animosity and hatred that had been brewing since the ratification of the Constitution ignited in Kansas and Missouri was indicative of the mood of the entire nation in that culturally, economically and politically, men in the west as well as in the rest of the nation, fought for the same reasons based on their perspectives of the issues. A Union man would tell you he was fighting to save the Union from traitors while an anti-southern Kansas Jayhawk would tell you he was fighting for the end of slavery. A Confederate soldier would say his fighting to protect his God-given rights and way of life, a Missouri bushwhacker would say he was fighting to protect his family and home. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was a captain during the war, wrote afterwards of what we might consider to be a fundamental understanding of the overall motivation of men in the North, South, in Missouri and Kansas, and across the nation to fight against each other by stating,

I do not know the meaning of the universe. But in the midst of doubt, in the collapse of creed, there is one thing I do not doubt and that is that the faith is true and adorable which leads a soldier to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands, in a plan or campaign of which he has no notion, under tactics of which he does not see the use.12

In the end, whatever lessons we learn from this bloody chapter in American history, the citizens of the United States, regardless of their culture, economic status or political affiliation, must remember how many people died at the hands of their own compatriots and vow never to repeat it again.

Confederate dead by a fence at the Hagerstown Turnpike, looking north; the Turnpike is to the right of the fence, the dirt lane on the left leads to the farm of David Miller.
Confederate dead by a fence at the Hagerstown Turnpike, looking north; the Turnpike is to the right of the fence, the dirt lane on the left leads to the farm of David Miller. | Source


[1] Potter, The Impending Crisis 1848-1861, 33.

[2] Fellman, Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri During the American Civil War, 20.

[3] James C. Bradford International Encyclopedia of Military History.( New York: Routledge, 2004), 567.

[4] Charles R. Jennison, “Proclamation to the People of Eastern Missouri,” November 26, 1861, Vol. III, in The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, with Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, Etc., by Frank Moore, edited by Frank Moore, (New York: G.P. Putnam, 1869), 432-433.

[5] Daniel E. Sutherland, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009), Chapter 2.

[6] Kizer, Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States:The Irrefutable Argument, Chapter 2.

[7] Ibid.

[8] James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 91.

[9] Nichols, Guerrilla Warfare in Civil War Missouri, Volume 1, 1862, chapter 5.

[10] Sutherland, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War, Epilogue.

[11] John N. Edwards, Noted Guerrillas, or the Warfare on the Border. (St. Louis: Bryan, Brand & Company, 1877), 326.

[12] Marvin R. Cain, "A "Face of Battle" Needed: An Assessment of Motives and Men in Civil War Historiography," Civil War History 28 (1982), 27.


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