During the Civil War years, the state of Missouri was plunged into the most widespread, prolonged, and destructive guerrilla fighting in American history. Robbery, arson, torture, murder, swift and bloody raids on farms and settlements--these were the ingredients of the conflict. Approaching total war, the fighting engulfed the populace and challenged any notion of civility.
A slave state that rejected secession, Missouri was beset before the war by divisive tensions that exploded into extraordinary violence once the war began. "The guerrilla conflict," Michael Fellman writes, "truly was a spontaneous creation of the people, by the people, for the people, and against the people." It was a "natural," popular war, rather than a planned, disciplined one. Its "rules" grew directly out of local circumstances and bore scant relation to the history and traditions of martial order or to the dreams of a Christian Confederacy or a democratic United States. Little remained under control; little remained forbidden.
Fellman captures the conflict from the "inside," drawing on a wealth of first-hand evidence--letters, diaries, military reports, court-martial transcripts, depositions, and newspaper accounts. We gain a clear picture of the ideological, social, and economic forces that divided the populace and launched the conflict. We witness ordinary civilian men and women struggling to survive amid the random terror perpetuated by both sides. We learn how both Confederate and Union officials, contemptuous of guerrilla fighters and their tactics, nevertheless sought to use them to their own advantage. And we see at close hand what the combatants themselves were like--how they saw themselves, how others saw them, what drove them so often to commit atrocities and brutal acts of vengeance--and we learn about the beginnings of the legend of Jesse James and its origins in guerrilla war.
Vivid, probing, and often horrifying, Inside War illuminates a crucial episode of the American Civil War, shedding light not only on the institutional, strategic, and tactical elements but also the physical, emotional, and moral experiences of a people fully at war with themselves.
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