Friday, April 26, 2013

War College Paper: Uncivil War in North Carolina's Mountains, 1861-1865

T here...No new experiences or cool photos, so I have elected to go back in time to my days at the Army War College when I took an elective course on lessons learned from fighting an "irregular"  war during the Civil War.  At the AWC, many of the courses are about "lessons learned."  Now whether or not we (the US) actually learns any lessons is another question, but we definitely check the block.  Throw in some thoughts on national strategy and leadership and you have the makings of nearly every AWC course.

Back to the subject matter, an irregular war during the Civil War.  Irregular you say?  What irregular war?  So, you think America's experiences fighting an irregular war (ie counterinsurgency) only began with Iraq or maybe Vietnam?  Think again.  We've had experiences like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam long before (and over and over again going back to the Colonial Period), but we Americans have some short memories. That is precisely why I enjoyed the class and writing the paper below.  It took me into an area of the Civil War I had not previously read much about, the irregular (guerrilla) war in the Confederacy.  And no, not the Confederate citizens resisting against Yankee invaders, but Southerners fighting fellow Southerners.  Brutally I might add.  Few people seem to know of or understand the depth, breath, and shocking violence of this war within a war.

I was first introduced to it by John Barrett in his classic, The Civil War in North Carolina (1963), but it was a book I read in graduate school that first stirred my interest.  In fact, I still recommend it to friends who are interested in the Civil War and want to read something off-the-beaten-track so to speak:  Philip Paludan's Victims:  A True Story of the Civil War (1981), an account of a little-known (outside of the mountains of western North Carolina) story about the execution of 13 men and boys by a Confederate Army unit during a counter-insurgency mission in 1862.  Notice I said counter-insurgency, which is a relatively new term.  The Confederate unit could have been a US Army unit in 2004 Iraq and the executions parallel those of My Lai in 1968 or a number of other such incidents in our history (or other countries who have fought "irregular" wars or insurgencies).  Paludan's study of the social fabric of western North Carolina is very illuminating and provide valuable lessons to military forces intruding into cultures different from their own.  Scholarship of the issue has since moved on and become very rich and interesting (see my bibliography), but Paludan is a good place to start.  If fiction is your thing, try Daniel Woodrell's superb novel Woe to Live On (1987).  It is about the guerrilla war in Missouri, rather than western North Carolina, but portrays some of the same sentiments and dynamics.  Yes, there is Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, which is set in the mountains of NC during the war and hits on some of the issues, but I think Woodrell's writing, story, dialogue, and authenticity are better.  Director Ang Lee's movie, Ride with the Devil, is based on Woodrell's novel, and in my view, probably one of the best films about the Civil War out there.

On with the paper.  It is a little long, which was the chief complaint from my instructor (he was superb by the way), although he did call it one of the best papers he'd read all year and used it in some of his lectures to the Civil War community.  Maybe I should have charged him a fee.  I'd give it a B.  It is a little on the dull side unless you are really into the subject matter, but considering it was written in a couple weeks--far too short a time to adequately address a truly complex story--and had to draw out Army-style lessons, I should not complain.  Besides, perhaps some young college student might find it useful (just remember where you got it from!).

Examining the Challenges of Confederate Counter-Irregular Warfare in Western North Carolina, 1861-1865

The western border is . . . subject to constant raids and the situation of the inhabitants is distressing to the extreme.  Bands of lawless men, many of them our own citizens, acting or pretending to act under the commission of the enemy, swarm into the mountain frontier, murdering, burning, and destroying.  Totally regardless of the laws of civilized warfare, they have inaugurated a system of cruelty at which humanity suffers.
North Carolina Governor to the State Assembly, 1864[i]
We did the best we could.
            Officer and official historian of the 64th North Carolina Regiment[ii]

The Confederacy faced a set of daunting challenges in its unsuccessful attempt to quell an irregular war in the mountains of western North Carolina from 1861-1865.[iii] The environment the Confederates encountered was complex, and while it does not fully conform to today’s concepts of “hybrid” or “compound” wars, it was multi-dimensional and comparable to the “undefined and intangible character” of the insurgency the Union Army fought in Missouri.[iv] Within this isolated, rugged, and picturesque region, the Confederate Army and local militia units fought an ugly counter-irregular war against a large body of homegrown Unionist guerrillas and bushwhackers, as well as armed Army deserters, draft-dodgers, and outlaws taking advantage of the chaos of war. In addition, the Confederates were forced to defend against Union partisan and Army cavalry raids from eastern Tennessee during the war’s last two years. The Confederates proved unequal to the challenge of what author William Trotter appropriately called this “quilt of violence” because of poor policy coordination between local authorities and those in Richmond, the absence of a coherent strategy, resource shortages, and inadequate leadership.[v] Indeed, by 1864, the region had descended into a state of anarchy. An examination of the Confederacy’s approach to counter-irregular warfare in western North Carolina provides the modern day practitioner with useful lessons for future conflicts that involve insurgencies or stability components.

A Challenging Operational Environment

A strongly Unionist population, driven by a complex set of pre-war factors such as anti-secession sentiment and deep socio-economic divisions, created an internal rebellion in western North Carolina. Prior to the war, the majority of the population—more than 60 percent in most counties—opposed secession and many of them took up arms as bushwhackers or guerrillas when war came.[vi] It is not known how many fought against the Confederate government, but some 4,000 North Carolinians joined the Union Army and several thousand more probably stayed in the mountains to fight a guerrilla war.[vii] Many were subsistence farmers with few ties to the slave economy that were resentful of the “hateful aristocracy” that drove secession.[viii] Historians, including Trotter, Philip Shaw Paludan, and Sean Michael O’Brien, note the region’s socio-economic divisions provided the ingredients for an ugly class war, reflected in one contemporary North Carolina politician’s comment that this was a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”[ix]

Others became guerrillas because they wanted to be left alone and resented government intrusion. Mountaineers combined a tradition of “fierce” independence with a culture where “everybody owned a gun” and wrongs were righted through private retaliation and a “code of retribution.”[x] Confederate nationalism, argues O’Brien, “ran counter to the independence of the mountains, where people preferred to be left alone.”[xi] While not a guarantee for insurgent recruitment, intrusive Confederate government actions were more likely to push them into resistance.

Beginning in 1862, the Richmond government implemented several tough policies that greatly increased resistance to Confederate rule, including conscription, impressment, and a tax-in-kind law.[xii] While all three were considered unduly harsh by the mountaineers, conscription was the most hated. Trotter says conscription, which subjected all males 18 to 35—later 45—to the draft, was possibly the “single greatest cause of unrest in the mountains.”[xiii] It generated “widespread hostile reaction,” and convinced more Unionists and “fence sitters” to actively resist Confederate rule and even undermined the loyalty of some secessionists.[xiv]

Conscription also produced or contributed to thousands of draft dodgers and Army deserters, many of whom hid out in the mountains and joined Unionist guerrilla bands or armed gangs of outlaws that preyed on local communities.[xv] North Carolina governor Zebulon Vance estimated there were 1,200 such men in the mountains by early 1863, but this number is likely understated as other sources report deserters at the time “virtually ran” at least two counties and as many as 500 men in a third county had established a paramilitary force.[xvi] Indeed, North Carolina led the Confederacy with 24,000 deserters, and units comprised of men from the mountains were especially susceptible.[xvii]

Nearby eastern Tennessee provided a steady source of Unionist sentiment. As early as March 1862, Confederate officials labeled the region “enemy territory,” while North Carolina politicians warned about the danger of “infection” from east Tennessee Unionism.[xviii] The Army committed 5,000-10,000 troops to the region to keep disaffection at a “tolerable” level and protect key points, such as railroads and bridges.[xix]

After its occupation by Union forces in the fall of 1863, eastern Tennessee became a “catalyst” for heightening the level of Unionist guerrilla activity in North Carolina and a sanctuary for partisan and Union Army cavalry raiders.[xx] Well-armed partisan units comprised of North Carolina Unionists, called “Home Yankees” or “Tories,” conducted numerous raids into the mountains, further highlighting the vulnerability of the region.[xxi] There were several such units, but the most effective were under George Kirk, who in late 1863 began conducting destructive cross-border raids with as many as 800 men.[xxii] Concurrently, the Union Army launched its own cavalry raids from bases in Tennessee. Although most were small regimental-sized affairs, George Stoneman conducted a raid in March-April 1865 with 6,000 cavalry troopers that “ripped open” western North Carolina and “devastated” its war-making capacity.[xxiii] Partisan raiders following in the wake of Stoneman’s regulars, labeled “Cossacks,” wreaked further havoc.[xxiv]

Further complicating the environment was the region’s size, terrain, and isolation, which provided ideal conditions for guerrillas and a particularly difficult challenge for countering them. The 10,000 square mile area was sparsely populated with villages and towns few and far between.[xxv] No railroad penetrated it, the road network was severely limited, and the terrain was some of the Confederacy’s most rugged. Confederate officers described it as a “tumultuous mass of steep hills…with execrable roads winding through ravines,” or as “a wild section [of] almost a pathless wilderness.”[xxvi] Counter-irregular operations were difficult at best and deadly at worst where the heavily wooded mountains, deep valleys, and brush-filled ravines offered superb hideouts and ambush sites for guerrillas. In just one example of several, an officer from an infantry regiment reported an incident where guerrillas ambushed a 10-man patrol in a defile inflicting 100 percent casualties.[xxvii]

Disjointed, Under-Resourced Confederate Countermeasures

The Confederacy’s counter to the conflict in western North Carolina was marred by disagreements between local and national officials over policy, the absence of a coherent strategy, harsh tactics, resource shortages, and inadequate leadership. Cumulatively, they not only crippled the counter-irregular effort, but further inflamed resistance, so that by 1864, Daniel Sutherland writes that the conflict was “shredding the [state’s] social fabric” and threatening “to dissolve into the anarchy that defined Missouri.”[xxviii]

Confederate problems started with policy, particularly conscription. Department of East Tennessee commanders who controlled western North Carolina constantly disagreed with Richmond over the enforcement of conscription, “the greatest irritant in Confederate policy,” according to Noel Fisher.[xxix] Local commanders bemoaned the law’s impact and pressed for its suspension, as did local elected officials. Richmond, however, rejected their requests, arguing Confederate manpower demands trumped local interests, and that they could not grant special exemptions for specific regions without repercussions elsewhere.[xxx] There would be no changes to ease the act’s burden until 1864, but by then it had “generated too much ill will,” according to O’Brien.[xxxi]

Closely related to issues over policy was the Confederacy’s failure to develop a comprehensive counter-irregular strategy to aid local commanders against both Unionist guerrillas and partisan raiders. Richmond left strategy to local leaders, but limited their options by dictating they conform to national priorities.[xxxii] One department commander who asked for guidance in 1862 was told by the Secretary of War, it “must be determined on by someone thoroughly acquainted with the state of things in the region.”[xxxiii] Another who was sympathetic to the department’s Unionist population was told his “chief duty [was] the execution of the conscript law.”[xxxiv]

Without strategic guidance, the Confederates never achieved a balanced operational approach to the conflict in the mountains, resulting in a constant tension between conciliation and coercion with insurgents. Troops were ordered to maintain discipline and not to make war on civilians, but also to “take whatever steps they deemed necessary to destroy the guerrilla threat,” according to O’Brien.[xxxv] General Edmund Smith, for example, pressed for reconciliation and progressive policies with mountain Unionists in 1862, but also told a subordinate, “I give you carte blanche and will sustain you in any course you find necessary to adopt” to squelch guerrilla bands.[xxxvi] Governor Vance went so far as to issue a blanket pardon for men hiding out from the Army in the mountains in 1862 and again in early 1863, but the appeals had little effect.[xxxvii] By 1864, Vance grew so frustrated with the anarchy in the mountains that he told the militia to “use every means” to “destroy” deserter bands.[xxxviii]

Indeed, by 1863 and 1864, growing frustrations with Unionist intransigence and the region’s violence led to the increased use of punitive measures against suspected guerrillas, deserters, and civilians suspected of harboring them. These methods “only made Unionists more determined to seek vengeance in return,” according to Sutherland, and ultimately proved self-defeating.[xxxix] Troops conducted ruthless “search and destroy” or “cordon and search” missions, destroyed and plundered property, took hostages, and sometimes tortured and executed captives.[xl] Soldiers described such operations in terms of “hunting,” while Unionist enclaves and communities with deserters were treated “like enemy territory,” according to O’Brien and Sutherland.[xli]

The most notorious operation came in 1863 when Brigadier General Henry Heth approved a punitive expedition by the 64th North Carolina Regiment (NCR) against Unionists and deserters in the Shelton Laurel Valley following a guerrilla raid on a local town. Heth told its commander, “I want no reports from you about your course at Laurel. I do not want to be troubled with any prisoners, and the last one of them should be killed.”[1][xlii] The 64th cleared the valley, killing and capturing dozens of guerrillas, but in the process tortured female civilians for information and executed 13 prisoners.[xliii] Governor Vance was outraged and feared considerable backlash from the Unionist population, but little action was taken against the 64th or Heth.

Chronic resource shortages compounded the problems faced by commanders in western North Carolina. The region was a strategic backwater, and no more than a few thousand regular Army troops were assigned for anti-guerrilla operations or to defend the many mountain passes against Union partisan and cavalry raids.[xliv] Many of these troops were used by Department commanders to guard key bridges along the strategically important East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad prior to its capture by Union forces in 1863. Others were sent elsewhere for conventional operations.[xlv] By 1864, only 500-1,500 regular troops were available for all of western North Carolina, and there were “more deserters in the mountain counties than there were troops on duty,” while Union raiders moved “unmolested” through some mountain counties.[xlvi] By way of comparison, the Union deployed 50,000 troops to hunt down 3-4,000 guerrillas in Missouri.[xlvii] Troops from the Army of Northern Virginia were sent to assist in anti-guerrilla operations in the fall of 1863, but the guerrillas returned once they left.[xlviii]

The quality of the troops assigned to the region, many of them recruited or drafted locally, was generally poor. The 64th NCR, for example, was notorious for low morale and desertions, including 300 in mass on one occasion.[xlix] It also was poorly led. The 64th’s commander was seen as “brave and fearless,” but was investigated for drunkenness and court-martialed for extortion.[l] Some contemporaries considered a mixed infantry-cavalry unit known as Thomas’ Legion to be a more effective fighting force, but even it suffered from high rates of desertion.[li]

A combination of issues also reduced the ability of local commanders to counter Unionist partisan and Federal cavalry raids. Thomas’ Legion, thought to be the most suitable unit for the mission, was used largely in static defensive operations because commanders feared risking heavy losses.[lii] North Carolina raised six regiments of partisan rangers under the 1862 Ranger Act to act as anti-raider forces, but they proved ineffective.[liii] Poorly disciplined and unreliable, they “excited more odium and done more damage with friends than enemies,” according to a contemporary account.[liv] Richmond, never very supportive of having “two independent systems of warfare in the same field,” scaled back the program in 1863 and ended it the next year.[lv] Vance then commissioned “special service” companies for the mission, but they also demonstrated little effectiveness.[lvi]

In the absence of regular troops and an effective anti-partisan force, local security relied heavily on weak Home Guard forces. These units were often of very low quality, consisting of young boys, old men, the infirm, and men exempted from the draft; one, for example, was known as the “One-Eyed Battalion.”[lvii] Poorly armed, they struggled to suppress local guerrillas and were no match for Union partisan and cavalry raiders. In addition, some units were accused of torture, executions, and terrorism, while others were cowed or infiltrated by Unionists.[lviii]

Because of its low priority and the difficulty of the mission, the region also suffered from ineffective leadership. There were nine commanders assigned to the Department of East Tennessee during its 18 months in existence. Few were capable officers, and Trotter argues “it was an assignment no Confederate officer wanted.”[lix] Henry Heth, for example, found the assignment “frustrating and unrewarding” and longed for a posting to the main Confederate army in Virginia. Similarly, there were three different district commanders for the mountains during a critical 12-month period in 1864. Vance called one of them “worse than useless,” while another was captured, and the third was thought to be physically worn out from three years of war.[lx]

Some Modern Day Lessons for Today’s Leaders

While the conflict in the mountains of North Carolina is not entirely analogous to the insurgencies and stabilization operations that have consumed the US military in the past decade, the Confederacy’s struggles do provide lessons for today. Some are self-evident, and this in itself illuminates the enduring nature of irregular warfare. It is often ugly and almost always difficult to solve, but irregular war can be managed and perhaps the following points gleaned from the past find resonance today.

Understand the environment. Prior understanding and acceptance of the depth and combustible nature of Unionist sentiment might have enabled Confederate leaders to develop alternatives to harsh policies and heavy-handed military tactics. Fisher and O’Brien assess that Confederate leaders thought any “reasonable Southerner” would rally around the flag once the war started, but clearly this was not the case, and when their assumptions proved false, they dug in their heels and were forced to learn another lesson of the mountains; that independence and violent retribution were a way of life.[lxi] Parallels might be drawn to the United States’ misunderstanding—or refusal to understand—the depth of Iraqi nationalism, the intensity of the Shia-Sunni divide, or the scope of Iranian strategic interests during the invasion and occupation Iraq.

National priorities trump local concerns. Local political and military leaders kept Richmond informed of the serious security situation in the mountains, but their problems were secondary to national needs. Conscription was the most obvious case in point. The Confederacy “needed every available soldier and could not afford to jeopardize the war effort,” according to Fisher.[lxii] At the same time, Richmond officials were focused on the conventional campaigns, particularly in Virginia, believing the war would be decided on the battlefield, and therefore limited troop deployments to address internal issues. The takeaway for modern-day practitioners of irregular war is that often national policy and thus resource priorities may conflict with a commander’s views on the ground and the resources he or she may think is required. Thus, patience, negotiating skills, compromise, and flexibility may be necessary.

Strategy/Strategic vision is critical, and it must be flexible (especially where irregular warfare is involved). The Confederates failed to develop a national or military strategy to battle its homegrown insurgency.  Richmond's solution was to cobble together a series of counter-irregular tactics and operations under a hodgepodge of leaders with inadequate resources. Sun-Tzu allegedly wrote that “tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat,” which for the mountains of North Carolina meant anarchy by 1864. [lxiii] Each irregular war is different, but as the US discovered in Iraq, a comprehensive strategy with realistic assessments of the ends, ways, and means is the foundation for achieving any success in quelling an insurgency.

Counter-irregular warfare is not for second-stringers. The Confederacy viewed its internal insurgency as an anomaly to be dealt with by whomever and whatever was available. The result was often weak leaders and poor units, and their performance directly affected the Confederacy’s inability to quell the violence. The Union Army, on the other hand, considered the irregular war an integral part of operations and produced several leaders competent in its conduct, including William Rosecrans and Samuel Curtis.[lxiv] These leaders, in turn, recognized the value of giving counter-irregular operations a high priority, including assigning quality troops. Similarly, recent US experiences at counterinsurgency revealed the importance of high-quality leadership and well-trained units as keys to success on the irregular battlefield where operations are conducted under difficult and constantly changing conditions.[lxv]

Drawing from lessons learned. While the Confederacy lacked a comprehensive counter-irregular strategy, it did have a considerable amount of history to draw lessons from, just as we do today. Numerous Confederate officers, including some assigned to the mountains, served in the Mexican War and observed first-hand both successful and problematic counter-irregular operations.[lxvi] Successful Union Army tactics, such as establishing small posts and blockhouses in disorderly regions and making better use of cavalry as counter-raiding forces, also could have been used.[lxvii] While such actions probably were more resource-intensive, even limited use in the heavily Unionist counties might have reduced the level of violence and lawlessness.

Plight of the soldier. Counter-irregular warfare is a difficult and often ugly business. Enemies are usually ill-defined, multi-dimensional, have an unknown level of local support, and frequently do not follow the rules of war. Ultimately, the burden of this environment falls on soldiers and junior officers at the small unit level, and the psychological impact can be immense. Even under the best circumstances, the temptation to take their frustrations out on the local population is hard to overcome. Confederate soldiers recounted their frustrations with chasing guerrillas through the mountains and how they at times turned on local citizens—in some cases their own neighbors. The 64th NCR spent nearly the entire war conducting such operations, suggesting an incident like Shelton Laurel probably was inevitable. The following account from an officer of the 64th sounds eerily familiar to what soldiers fighting insurgencies today face:
When an officer finds himself and men bushwhacked from behind every shrub, tree, or projection on all sides of the road, only severe measures will stop it. No one except those who have tried it can realize what those who do this kind of service have to endure…Our enemies were at home—knew all the roads, byways and trails…we slashed them every time we had a chance at them [but] They never gave us a fair fight, square-up, face-to-face, man-to-man . . . .[lxviii]
Understand the enemy. Educating soldiers on the cultures and cultural priorities of their opponents can help mitigate the ugliness of irregular war. Even before the war, many Confederate soldiers considered mountaineers “backward, ignorant, and lazy,” and their views only hardened as the war dragged on.[lxix] Such attitudes often led to unnecessarily harsh tactics, particularly against civilians, and contributed to a vicious cycle of violence in the mountains. A similar dynamic certainly existed for US troops during the Iraq occupation and continues to challenge us in Afghanistan today.[lxx]

Have a plan for atrocities. An information operations (IO) plan and a commitment to justice can help mitigate the fallout of an extra-legal killing. The Confederates had no IO plan for an incident like Shelton Laurel and, despite Governor Vance’s outrage, did not charge any officers with crimes because “the Army feared a scandal,” according to O’Brien.[lxxi] In fact, Heth, a favorite of General Robert E. Lee, was later promoted. Paludan’s comment that “[the Shelton Laurel incident] smelled of cover up” could easily be taken from media coverage of recent incidents involving the US in counter-insurgency efforts.[lxxii]

Protect the populace. Civilians often end up suffering the most in irregular warfare. The Confederacy’s inability to protect loyal citizens from the depredations of guerrillas and partisan raiders undermined faith in both the local and national governments. It also encouraged citizens to take measures to defend themselves, thus contributing to a cycle of retribution and a hardening of the populace. Sutherland writes that by 1864, the violence in the mountains “stunned” the governor and “people had become immune to scattered incidents of thievery and lynching. Nothing shocked them anymore.”[lxxiii] Parallels again can be drawn to the extreme and often brutal violence that shook Iraq from 2004 to 2008 when neither US nor Iraqi troops could protect the population from terrorists, insurgents, and criminal gangs.

Use indigenous auxiliary units . . . with caveats. Indigenous counter-irregular forces may likely have an axe to grind and their loyalties are not guaranteed. They need to be properly trained and closely-supervised. Not surprisingly, Confederate authorities found that locally-recruited auxiliary units were hard to control and often created more problems than they solved. O’Brien notes, “in the mountain counties, remote from central state authority, there was little supervision and very little accountability.”[lxxiv] Better communications capabilities today certainly helps, but control continues to be a factor with auxiliary forces and is recognized in the US Army’s counter-insurgency Field Manual 3-24: “Local forces should organize, equip, and move like the insurgents, but, they must be under the firm control of the host-nation government and have access to U.S. support.”[lxxv]


The scale and complexity of the irregular war in western North Carolina cast considerable doubt as to whether the Confederacy could have resolved it. The war in the mountains was just one of several similar homegrown insurgencies—compounded by partisan and Union Army raids—the Confederacy faced in eastern Tennessee, northern Georgia, and northern Alabama. All were handicapped by the same problems, and as in western North Carolina, they could have been managed better. Most importantly, the Confederacy lacked a clear strategy and the qualified leaders to implement it. Even with serious resource constraints, the presence of these two key drivers would have helped local commanders and state governors significantly. Simply put, Confederate leadership never put the necessary emphasis on the internal insurgency, and by not doing so, it helped sow the seeds of defeat through what historian Daniel Sutherland summarizes in A Savage Conflict as the erosion of national unity, public confidence in the government, and the seceded country’s very legitimacy.[lxxvi]


[1] Heth denied making the statement at a post-war trial for the executions, but admitted telling the 64th’s commander that if he fought a battle with the guerrillas in the valley, he did not have to take prisoners because they had forfeited the right to be treated according to the code of war.

[i] Sean Michael O’Brien, Mountain Partisans: Guerrilla Warfare in the Southern Appalachians, 1861-1865 (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1999), 28.

[ii] William R. Trotter, Bushwhackers: The Civil War in North Carolina; The Mountains (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair Publisher, 1988), 216. Quoted from Captain B. T. Morris in William Clark’s Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War, 1861-1865.

[iii] While East Tennessee, northern Georgia, and northern Alabama were also areas of considerable Unionist sentiment and bear similarities with the conditions in western North Carolina, I have limited the paper’s focus to this region.

[iv] Frank G. Hoffman, “Hybrid War vs. Compound War,” Armed Forces Journal (October 2009), (accessed 4 April 2012). Robert Mackey, The Uncivil War: Irregular Warfare in the Upper South, 1861-1865 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004), 10. Clay Mountcastle, Punitive War: Confederate Guerrillas and Union Reprisals (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2009), 22.

[v] Trotter, Bushwhackers,165.

[vi] Ibid., 26, 76. O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, xiv, xv.

[vii] Daniel E. Sutherland, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 188.

[viii] Trotter, Bushwhackers, 26, 76. O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, xiv, xv.

[ix] Trotter, Bushwackers, 21. O’Brien, xv. Philip Shaw Paludan, Victims: A True Story of the Civil War (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1981), 56.

[x] Trotter, Bushwackers, 5. O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, xiii. Paludan, Victims, 4, 20.

[xi] O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, xv.

[xii] Impressment allowed government agents to seize anything deemed necessary for war, including provisions, horses, mules, slaves, etc. Compensation was a matter of judgment by the agent. Tax-in-kind required farmers to give up 10 percent of everything produced to the Confederate government.

[xiii] Trotter, Bushwhackers, 39.

[xiv] O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, xvi.

[xv] Ibid. Sutherland, A Savage Conflict, 125.

[xvi] Paludan, Victims, 71. Trotter, Bushwhackers, 139. O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, 17.

[xvii] O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, xv. Paludan, Victims, 69-70. Trotter, Bushwhackers, 138.

[xviii] Trotter, Bushwhackers, 43. Noel C. Fisher, War at Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerrilla Violence in East Tennessee, 1860-1869 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 103.

[xix] Trotter, Bushwhackers, 43.

[xx] O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, xxi.

[xxi] Ibid., xxi , 20-22.

[xxii] Trotter, Bushwhackers, 98.

[xxiii] Ibid., 276.

[xxiv] O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, 39.

[xxv] Trotter says the white population of western North Carolina in 1861 was 68,000. The total free population of North Carolina, according to the 1860 census, was 661,500. There were 331,000 slaves. Population of the United States, (accessed 23 March 2012)

[xxvi] Paludan, Victims, 28. Trotter, Bushwhackers, 125.

xxvii] Trotter, Bushwhackers, 218.

[xxviii] Sutherland, A Savage Conflict, 248, 251.

[xxix] Fisher, War at Every Door, 115. Paludan, Victims, 80.

[xxx] Fisher, War at Every Door, 115.

[xxxi] O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, xvi.

[xxxii] Fisher, War at Every Door, 119.

[xxxiii] Ibid., 110.

[xxxiv] Ibid., 111.

[xxxv] O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, 10.

[xxxvi] Ibid., 43.

[xxxvii] Sutherland, A Savage Conflict, 190. Paludan, Victims, 71.

[xxxviii] Sutherland, A Savage Conflict, 249.

[xxxix] Ibid., 189.

[xl] Historians Paludan (Victims, xv, 92, 95-96) and Trotter (Bushwhackers, 217) draw close comparisons between anti-guerrilla operations in western North Carolina with those conducted by US troops in Vietnam over 100 years later.

[xli] O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, 40. Sutherland, A Savage Conflict, 249.

[xlii] O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, 7-8. Paludan, Victims, 53. Trotter, Bushwhackers, 223.

[xliii] For the most comprehensive account of the Shelton Laurel Incident, see Paludan, Victims,88-98.

[xliv] Trotter, Bushwhackers, 13. O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, 29.

[xlv] Units normally assigned to the mountains were deployed to defend salt works in southwestern Virginia and to fight in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

[xlvi] O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, 33. John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina, (Chapel Hill:  The University of North Carolina Press, 1963), 232, 233. Trotter, Bushwhackers, 122.

[xlvii] Mountcastle, Punitive War, 47.

[xlviii] Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina, 194.

[xlix] Trotter, Bushwhackers, 216.

[l] Ibid., 218-219. O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, 11.

[li] O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, 30.

[lii] Ibid.

[liii] Sutherland, A Savage Conflict, 187.

[liv] Ibid., 162.

[lv] Ibid., 94, 164.

[lvi] Ibid., 250.

[lvii] O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, 29.

[lviii] Trotter, Bushwhackers, 106-107. Barrett, Civil War in North Carolina, 192. O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, xviii.

[lix] Trotter, Bushwhackers, 223.

[lx] Ibid., 126. O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, 31.

[lxi] Fisher, War at Every Door, 119.

[lxii] Ibid., 120.

[lxiii] (accessed 11 April 2012). The quote, while often used, is disputed because it is not found in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

[lxiv] See Robert R. Mackey, The Uncivil War, Chapters 2, 6.

[lxv] US Marine Corps University Symposium, “Counterinsurgency Leadership in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Beyond,” National Press Club, Washington, DC, 23 September 2009, (accessed 14 April 2012).

[lxvi] Trotter, Bushwhackers, 223. Fisher, War at Every Door, 102.

[lxvii] Andrew J. Birtle, U.S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Operations Doctrine, 1860-1941 (Washington, DC: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2004), 41. Mackey, The Uncivil War, 165-166.

[lxviii] Trotter, Bushwhackers, 217.

[lxix] O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, 40.

[lxx] For an extreme example of one such incident in Iraq where both soldier mindset and poor leadership led to extra-legal killings, see Jim Frederick, Black Hearts: One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death (New York: Broadway Publishers, 2011).

[lxxi] O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, 11.

[lxxii] Paludan, Victims, 104.

[lxxiii] Sutherland, A Savage Conflict, 251.

[lxxiv] O’Brien, Mountain Partisans, xix.

[lxxv] Robert Cassidy, “Indigenous Forces and Sanctuary Denial: Enduring Counterinsurgency Imperatives,” Small Wars Journal, 7, (accessed 11 April 2012).

[lxxvi] Sutherland, A Savage Conflict, 278.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Korea: Monument to Little-Known Casualties of an Unfinished Conflict

Tucked away in a small park between the main thoroughfare through the US Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul and the 8th Army headquarters building is a rather nondescript monument of two soldiers and several rows of American and Korean names in English and Hangul, respectively.  Few individuals seem to pay attention to this rather simple construct.  Thinking for months that it was simply a tribute to the US-Republic of Korea alliance, I only recently paid any attention to it, stopping by one afternoon after walking up the street to run an errand.  What I discovered, however, was a bit more personal than a simple acknowledgement of the alliance.  It is a tribute to the bond between American soldiers and their Korean Augmentees to the US Army, known as "KATUSAs," and, perhaps more importantly, an interesting history lesson of a conflict that did not end in 1953 when the waring parties of the Korean War signed an Armistice.  You see, each of the names on the monument represent a US or KATUSA soldier killed in action since 1953 and a  look at those names represents a number of vignettes of a conflict that still continues.

Many of the names on the wall were soldiers killed in action during a little known period  (at least to Americans) in the late 1960s when North Korea conducted a low-intensity conflict in South Korea against US and South Korean forces while the US was neck-deep in Vietnam.  From 1966 until 1969, US and South Korean forces battled North Korea special forces in a series of small-scale skirmishes along the DMZ, guerrilla and terrorist attacks (including a brazen attempted attack by commandos on the Blue House--the South Korean version of the White House--in January 1968), and an attempt by the North to foment an insurgency in South Korea.  During the period, the North Koreans also seized a US intelligence collection ship and shot down a US surveillance aircraft.  The times were tense, but widespread conflict did not break out and eventually, US and South Korean forces foiled Pyongyang's campaign and the border returned to the uneasy peace you read about in the newspapers today.

Part of the title to this blog entry is from perhaps the most comprehensive English-language look at the conflict, Daniel Bolger's Scenes from an Unfinished War:  Low-Intensity Conflict in Korea, 1966-1969 (Check it out for free here:  Published by the US Army's Combined Arms Center, Bolger's study is very well-researched and informative, if somewhat dry.  Bolger (a major when he wrote the study, but now a lieutenant general) focused on the efforts of General Charles H. Bonesteel III and his US and South Korean subordinates to craft a plan to defeat the North's campaign, despite operating in a complex and volatile political environment, being forced to use mediocre US and South Korean units (the best US units were in Vietnam, while many South Korean units were ill-trained for counterinsurgency), and operating under the constraint of not expanding the conflict into a major conventional war.

These soldiers were killed in typical actions during the period, such the ambush of a 2nd Infantry Division patrol south of the DMZ in November of 1966, which killed six US soldiers, and another ambush in August of 1967, which killed four and wounded 15 members of a 7th Infantry Division construction team, also well south of the DMZ.

In January of 1968, the USS Pueblo, a ship designed to collect signals (SIGINT) and electronic signals (ELINT) intelligence was boarded and captured by North Korean naval forces in what Pyongyang called its territorial waters.  One US serviceman was killed during the boarding, and the 82 other members of the ship's crew were held in captivity for 11 months.  North Korea still has the Pueblo; it is on display as a museum.  The Wikipedia account of what became known as the Pueblo Incident isn't too bad

In April of 1969, North Korean fighters shot down a US EC-121 surveillance aircraft about 90 miles off the North Korean coast.  All 31 crewmembers were killed. 
The low-intensity conflict officially ended in late 1969, but North Korea continued conducting violent acts against US and (mostly) South Korean personnel through the 1970s and into the 1990s.  Many of these incidents go beyond the scope of the monument and this blog entry, but they included assassination attempts against South Korean leaders in 1974 and 1983, the bombing of an airliner in 1987, numerous incidents along the DMZ, and the sinking of the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) corvette Cheonan in 2010.   The most notorious incident for American troops was the infamous "Axe Murders" in 1976.

In August of 1976, a work party comprised of UN (but actually US) soldiers on a mission to trim a tree within the Joint Security Area was attacked by axe-wielding North Korean soldiers.  Two US servicemen, CPT Arthur Bonifas and LT Mark Barrett, were killed.  The incident led to Operation Paul Bunyon, a combination of a second tree trimming mission and a massive show of military force by US and South Korean forces to intimidate the North Koreans.  Shortly afterwards, Pyongyang  kinda-sorta accepted responsibility for the killings. 

Lest we forget that a significant number of KATUSAs were killed alongside their US counterparts in this undeclared conflict, and they only represent a small percentage of the total number of South Korean troops killed over the period, which by some estimates is well over 500.