Paid Advertisement
Historynet/feed historynet feedback facebook link World History Group RSS feed World History Group Subscriptions Historynet Home page

Bitter Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers - Sidebar: March '99 America's Civil War Feature

Originally published by America's Civil War magazine. Published Online: September 23, 1999 
Print Friendly
0 comments FONT +  FONT -

Guerrilla Mythmaker Exraordinaire

As the years passed by and Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War lost their immediate hold on people's hearts and minds, a professional journalist and former Confederate cavalryman named John N. Edwards waged a one-man war to refurbish the image of the Missouri guerrillas. How well he succeeded can be seen in his extraordinary influence on subsequent historians of the war in the West.

Edwards, who had served under Brig. Gen. Jo Shelby during the war, set about in the mid-1870s to change the public's perception of wartimes Bushwhackers from wanton killers to noble–if improbable–knights of a gallant brotherhood. In his book Noted Guerrillas, Edwards concentrated on the much-maligned historical figure of William Clarke Quantrill, portraying his as a "bashful and timid" youth who "knew nothing of the tiger that was in him until death had been dashed against his eyes in numberless and brutal ways, and until the blood of his own kith and kin had been sprinkled plentifully upon things that his hands touched."

Subscribe Today

Subscribe to America's Civil War magazine

Disregarding Quantrill's rather unsavory prewar life, Edwards excused the guerrilla leader's undoubted excesses as mere self-defense and acts of honor. "He lifted the black flag in self-defense," wrote Edwards, "and fought as became a free man and a hero."

Other guerrillas also found themselves recast in the heroic mold. Fletch Taylor, a Clay County Bushwhacker, was depicted as "a low massive Hercules…built like a quarterhorse, knowing nature well, seeing equally in darkness and light, rapacious for exercise, having an anatomy like a steam engine, impervious to fatigue like a Cossack, and to hunger like an Apache, he always hunted a fight and always fought for a funeral."

Quantrill, in Edwards' recounting, was "a living, breathing, aggressive, all-powerful reality…viligant, merciless, a terror by day and a superhuman if not a supernatural thing when there was upon the earth blackness and darkness." But even Edwards could not totally refurbish Quantrill's image. With a notable lack of apology, the writer noted that Quantrill and his men, when faced with captured Union soldiers who "begged for mercy upon their knees, heeded the prayer as a wolf might the bleating of a lamb."

Despite such lapses, however, Edwards' book proved influential, making Quantrill the focal point of nearly all subsequent historical accounts of the Kansas-Missouri fighting, at the expense of other, often times more successful guerrillas like "Bloody Bill" Anderson and George Todd. And the whitewashed image of Missouri Bushwhackers as Southern cavaliers, whatever the true historical facts, had proved irresistible to a certain segment of writers and apologists in the 115 years since Edwards' book.

Cowan Brew

[ Top | Cover Page ]

Leave a Reply

Human Verification: In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.

Related Articles

History Net Images Spacer
Paid Advertisement
Paid Advertisement
History Net Daily Activities
History net Spacer
History net Spacer
Historynet Spacer

Which of these wars resulted in the most surprising underdog upset?

View Results | See previous polls

Loading ... Loading ...
History net Spacer
RSS Feed Daily Email Update
History net Spacer
Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement
What is HistoryNet? is brought to you by World History Group, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines.

If you are interested in a specific history subject, try searching our archives, you are bound to find something to pique your interest.

From Our Magazines
World History Group

World History Group Network:  HistoryNet | Armchair General | Achtung Panzer!
Today in History | Ask Mr. History | Picture of the Day | Daily History Quiz | Contact Us

Copyright © 2015 World History Group. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
Advertise With Us | Subscription Help | Privacy Policy