Guerrillas in Arkansas

1 January 2017

During the American Civil War, there were such things called guerrillas. No, I am not talking about the muscular black creatures that hide in the jungle. Though that is exactly how the Confederate independent companies got there name. Where and when did guerrilla warfare begin? Who did it involve? Who were these so called guerrillas and what was there strategy? Did certain Military commanders in Arkansas make an impact on the use of guerrillas? What were the strategies that Federals and Unionists used to stop guerrilla warfare?

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Daniel Sutherland’s Guerrillas: The Real War In Arkansas explains how partisan fighters helped shape the strategic and tactical patterns of the war. Shows us the reasons men became guerrillas, their roles in the Confederate service, and the guerrilla operations effectiveness. First off, guerrilla warfare began in February 1862 after Federal forces infiltrated as far south as Fayetteville and Batesville. In self-defense, Arkansans became guerrillas and started skirmishes.

Guerrillas were formed with men who had been serving outside Arkansas in Confederate units or away from their family and homes. Not to be a traitor or do what they pleased but men often left the paper army to fight near their homes, where it matter most! Federal soldiers easily outnumbered and overpowered local defenses because Confederate government did not commit nearly enough troops to Arkansas. These guerrillas were shadow warriors and ghosts who struck Federal soldiers and Unionist flanks and rears.

Guerrilla ambushes and midnight raids in Arkansas was how the Civil War was fought. Not a war within the war, but THE WAR. Secondly, General Earl Van Dorn became the first Confederate commander to endorse the use of Arkansas guerrillas in May 1862. After Van Dorn’s retreat from Pea Ridge, he has little choice for hundreds of men deserted to fight in isolated bands in northwest Arkansas. In June 1862, General Thomas C. Hindman, commander of the Confederacy’s Trans-Mississippi District, gave his final blessing to the formal organization of independent companies or “guerrillas.

In theory, companies were to be governed by the same regulations as other regular troops, and elect their own officers. Arkansas’s terrain of mountains and deep rivers favored guerrilla actions in the north, and swamps in the south. The most costly economic factors and the most annoying of all guerrilla strategies were the suffering of river traffic and confiscation of its cargo. Guerrillas would hold the boats, take the cargo, and serve as commissaries to the interior. Last, what were the Federal soldiers and Unionist going to do to stop guerrilla warfare?

Because up until the end of the war the United States government were basically supplying the Confederates and fighting them at the same time. In 1863, the Federals had released their counter-guerrilla campaign. A campaign that would have several regiments of good troops be raised in Arkansas for a short time to put down guerrillas. The counter-guerrilla acts were successful by reducing the power of Confederate guerrillas. An extensive variety of strategies were played by Federal forces to defeat irregulars in Arkansas. Arkansas Unionist forces were used as anti-guerrilla troops.

Forces which used gunboats to control the waterways throughout rivers, and the head marshal’s military system that spied on alleged guerrillas and imprison those caught. By reinforcing that system, the Federal army developed an effective force themselves and defended Confederate raiders strategic targets. In conclusion, guerrilla warfare started because the Federal soldiers and Unionist outnumbered the structured Confederate Army. Protecting those they care about by remaining near their homes while settling family feuds.

These guerrillas used tactics such as night raids, bushwhacks, and attacking the flanks and rears of Federal soldiers. General Van Horn and General Hindman backed the idea of forming an independent company called guerrillas after the losing both battles at Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove. Both Generals knew that the Arkansas terrain could give the Confederates an advantage to stop forces moving further south. The United States government basically supplied the Confederate as the same time of fighting. After realization, a counter-guerrilla campaign was put into action to stop Confederate raiders.

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