American Civil War Guerrillas

Changing the Rules of Warfare

by Daniel E. Sutherland


It is an image etched into the American consciousness by painters and cinematographers alike. Opposing armies clad in blue and gray man a vast battlefield. Flags whipping in the wind, they prepare to charge past the cannons to engage in ferocious hand-to-hand combat. Yet contrary to popular belief, the Civil War had another face, less showy, but equally deadly—and of equal importance to the ultimate result.

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Cover image for American Civil War Guerrillas

August 2013


Pages 162
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics American History/Conflict

Focusing on a little-known yet critical aspect of the American Civil War, this must-read history illustrates how guerrilla warfare shaped the course of the war and, to a surprisingly large extent, determined its outcome.

The Civil War is generally regarded as a contest of pitched battles waged by large armies on battlefields such as Gettysburg. However, as American Civil War Guerrillas: Changing the Rules of Warfare makes clear, that is far from the whole story. Both the Union and Confederate armies waged extensive guerrilla campaigns—against each other and against civilian noncombatants.

Exposing an aspect of the War Between the States many readers will find unfamiliar, this book demonstrates how the unbridled and unexpectedly brutal nature of guerrilla fighting profoundly affected the tactics and strategies of the larger, conventional war. The reasons for the rise and popularity of guerrilla warfare, particularly in the South and lower Midwest, are examined, as is the way each side dealt with its consequences. Guerrilla warfare's impact on the outcome of the conflict is analyzed as well. Finally, the role of memory in shaping history is touched on in an epilogue that explores how veteran Civil War guerrillas recalled their role in the war.


  • An epilogue that shares the recollections of Civil War guerrillas, showing how the memory of historical events may be shaped by the passage of time
  • A dozen black and white illustrations provide glimpses into history


  • Reveals a little-understood, yet vital dimension of the American Civil War
  • Showcases the brutality of war away from the battlefield
  • Features a colorful cast of historical characters who lived the events discussed
  • Suggests an intriguing connection between the "irregular" wars of the 19th century and those of the 21st century
Author Info

Daniel E. Sutherland is distinguished professor of history at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He has written 13 books on 19th-century U. S. history, including A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War; Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front; and Seasons of War: The Ordeal of a Confederate Community, 1861–1865.



"This book effectively succeeds in serving the author's broader crusade of bringing irregular warfare into the consciousness of Civil War readers, in order to share equal value with the more traditional conventional battles and leaders of that conflict. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries."—Choice

"This monograph is a primer unsurpassed both in scope and clarity of presentation."—America's Civil War


"More than any other historian, Daniel Sutherland has made guerrilla warfare an important aspect of Civil War military, political, and social history. American Civil War Guerrillas shows in a concise and incisive way how these irregular warriors helped change the rules and nature of combat. Sutherland's book will lead readers to rethink their understanding of the war from start to finish. This is a thought-provoking work by one of our finest Civil War historians."—George C. Rable, Charles Summersell Chair in Southern History, University of Alabama

"Dan Sutherland makes a bold claim when he asserts that guerrilla warfare on the fringes of the Civil War had a decisive influence on that conflict’s outcome. After reading American Civil War Guerrillas: Changing the Rules of Warfare, however, many will conclude that his claim is not a stretch too far. Sutherland has already established himself as the leading authority in the field of guerrilla studies, and here he presents the most comprehensive study and analysis yet. In the process he firmly establishes that the guerrilla conflict of the 1860s also had a decisive impact on how partisan warfare would be conducted and judged down to the conflicts of our own generation. This is a vital work for anyone interested in the terrifying war in the shadows."—William C. Davis, Virginia Center for Civil War Studies, Virginia Tech

"This path-breaking book is the first to describe the entire panorama of guerrilla warfare in the Civil War. With impressive research and lively writing, Dan Sutherland demonstrates that guerrilla activity was more widespread and deadly than believed and the devastating impact on communities on the border and throughout the South contributed decisively to Union victory."—James A. Ramage, Regents Professor of History, Northern Kentucky University

"The Civil War is all different now. We think about it differently, talk about it differently, understand it differently. And that’s because Daniel Sutherland has been a leader in the very small band of historians whose insurgency over the last generation has made the guerrilla war essential. This book isn’t just the place to start to understand the decisive impact of guerrilla warfare on the Civil War. It’s a place to begin understanding the War itself—the very nature of the thing—anew."—Paul Christopher Anderson, Associate Professor, Clemson University

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Other Titles of Interest

The Civil War in the Border South cover imageCivil War Journalism cover imageThe Civil War in the East cover image
The Black Experience in the Civil War South cover imagePolitics and America in Crisis cover imageThe Confederacy cover image

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