Meet the prolific Confederate spy nicknamed the “Mermaid of the South”


During the American Civil War, people on both sides of the conflict decided that their best contribution would come in the form of “irregular resistance” rather than fighting in uniform, but the Southerners joined the gangs in greater numbers and came out. provided a more material contribution to the war. war effort.

Here’s a quick primer on who these men were and how they fought.


Confederate horsemen attacked Union cattle in the west in 1864. Guerrilla forces could often conduct missions like this, but had to be safe and disband before Union forces caught them.

(AR Waud, Harper’s Weekly)

First, we need to define exactly who we are talking about: the guerrillas and gangs who have taken up arms to defend Confederation and its values, not the criminal gangs and bands of deserters who have used guns to fight the law. While these groups sometimes overlap, we will ignore (for now) those who did not provide material support for secession.

But that still leaves a lot of people and groups, some with famous names, like Mosby Rangers, McNeill Rangers and William C. Quantrill.

Guerrilla operations varied from state to state and combat to combat, but generally combined elements of filtering, espionage and sabotage.

Keep in mind that these were usually disorganized bands of men, often with even less formality than a state or local militia. They knew they had little chance of fighting trained Union companies, so they didn’t fight that way. Instead, they would attack targets of opportunity and melt.

This has sometimes been useful to Confederate leaders. For example, John McNeill and his rangers sometimes protected the movements of Confederate troops. Basically, McNeill would position his force at the edge of where Confederate troops marched or made river crossings, interrupting Union columns approaching the Southerners and giving them a chance to form appropriate defensive lines.

But, they wouldn’t stay for the full fight. They would blend into the trees after a few shots, forcing the Union troops to separate and pursue or reform to face the regular Confederate troops.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy nicknamed the

John S. Mosby and his men were a terror to Union forces, but they generally fought within the rules.

(Library of Congress)

But, best of all, the guerrillas could move into areas where the Union exercised control and either suffocate the federal belly or spy on them and report back. This was the mission where John Mosby and his men made their mark. They were known for their hit-and-run battles, inflicting casualties on Union forces, then moving away before the enemy could form.

Sometimes they would steal supplies or even take over buildings and infrastructure for a short time, often disabling bridges and railways that were essential to federal supply.

Mosby even captured once the general was sent to hunt him down, allegedly woke the general in his bed with a pat on the back.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy nicknamed the

In August 1863, in Lawrence, Kansas, the Quantrill Raiders attacked and destroyed the city because of its support for abolitionist policies and pro-Union sentiments.

(Harper’s Weekly)

So why has the Confederation seen so many guerrillas join its ranks as the Union? Well, the main reason was probably that most of the irregular forces were fighting locally, where their networks of friends and supporters could hide and supply them.

Union gangs fighting locally would only have happened when Confederate troops crossed the northern border, which was quite rare during the war.

In addition, the Union had a much larger training apparatus and the ability to equip more men, making it less necessary for its supporters to find unconventional means of combat. And the North did not have such a strong tradition of border control, which meant that much of the population was less apt to move deep into woods and swamps.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy nicknamed the

Guerrilla leader Captain William C. Quantrill was said to have been a brutal murderer who sometimes targeted Confederate sympathizers.

(PBS)

Of course, there were exceptions to this. Some northerners, especially those living in the west, were quite skilled with horses and would have done well as guerrilla fighters. Some even fought as pro-Union guerrillas, mostly in border states, often clashing with Confederate guerrillas.

So how did all of this play out for the South? Well of course they lost the war. And there is an argument to be made that they lost in part because of the support of the guerrilla forces rather than in spite of it.

While forces like Mosby and McNeill’s made measurable and concrete contributions to the war, most were little more than violent gangs. William C. Quantrill is said to have been an animal mugger in his youth and a bloody murderer as a guerrilla fighter for the South.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy nicknamed the

“A rebel guerrilla raid in a western town” (1862)

(Thomas Nast)

He and his men committed massacres of Union troops but also of men and boys they suspected of being Union sympathizers. They and other groups have stolen supplies from farms, destroyed fences, and burned farms whenever they felt like it.

And they often would have felt that way. Combine the actions of these guerrillas with those of defector gangs and pro-Union southerners gangs, and often state governments found they needed armies at home just to instill law and order, limiting the forces they could send to the front. In some cases, former secession-friendly Confederate citizens hailed their nation’s surrender simply because they wanted something normal.

So while the efforts of men like Jesse James and Jack Hinson awakened Confederate minds, the actions of their contemporaries undermined the national effort and galvanized Union support for the war, undoubtedly contributing to the destruction of the South.


About Richard Chandler

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