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The Civil War in Missouri

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Life of a Guerrilla in Missouri

Gunstock Reputedly from Sam Hildebrand's rifle, "Kill-Devil" (Download 300 KB PDF)
Main Idea
  • Men who opposed the Union army in Missouri for a variety of reasons turned to violence.
  • Their actions and experiences are a unique part of the Civil War, and show why the war was so intense in Missouri.
Background
Highlights
  • The guerillas or Bushwhackers were groups of men who formed armed bands. These bands in Missouri worked to attack Union soldiers and harass pro-Union neighbors.
Experience and Supplies
Highlights
  • The largest bands of guerrillas, like William Quantrill’s band, had 400 members, but most were much smaller.
  • Their supplies were limited to what they owned or could come across.
  • Their weapons were everything from hunting pieces to knives. Eventually, the revolver became the weapon of choice for the Bushwhacker.
  • Guerrillas mostly wore civilian clothing, although a special way of dressing developed over time that included a hunting shirt, which was often decorated, and a plumed hat.
  • The life of a guerrilla was difficult. They relied on sanctuaries to survive. The sanctuaries were the homes or shelters of people sympathetic to their cause. These supporters provided them with shelter, food, and medical care, and even spied for them in some cases.

In-Depth

The guerrilla or Bushwhacker in Missouri came from a variety of backgrounds and fought Union forces for a variety of reasons. Many were simply continuing feuds that already existed between Kansas “Jayhawkers” and Missourians. Others were angry about wrongs that had been committed against them by pro-Union men or unruly Union soldiers. Still others simply feared the tyranny of the government.

The largest bands of guerillas, like William Quantrill’s band, had 400 members, but most were much smaller. Their supplies were limited to what they owned or could come across. Their weapons were everything from hunting pieces to knives. Eventually, the revolver became the weapon of choice for the Bushwhacker. They acquired arms where they could, including taking what was left behind on the battlefield. The rapid rate of fire made the revolver perfect for the quick attacks executed by these men. It is said that “Bloody Bill” Anderson carried six to eight revolvers with him at any point.

Guerrillas mostly wore civilian clothing, although a special way of dress developed over time that included a hunting shirt, which was often decorated, and a plumed hat.

The life of a guerrilla was difficult. They relied on sanctuaries to survive. The sanctuaries were the homes or shelters of people sympathetic to their cause. These supporters provided them with shelter, food, and medical care, and even spied for them in some cases.

Vocabulary
Jayhawker - a plundering raider, especially one of the anti-slavery guerrillas in Kansas, Missouri, and other border states before and during the Civil War.

Primary Sources

Blockhouse Near Railroad Bridge
in Charlton County, MO (Download 1.3 MB PDF)
Assassination of Two Union Pickets by
Rebel Guerillas at Washington, NC (Download 1.3 MB PDF)
Gunstock Reputedly from
Sam Hildebrand's rifle, "Kill-Devil" (Download 300 KB PDF)