California Literary Review

The Uncivil War: Irregular Warfare in the Upper South 1861-1865 by Robert R. Mackey


April 24th, 2007 at 6:23 am

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The Uncivil War: Irregular Warfare in the Upper South 1861-1865
by Robert R. Mackey
University of Oklahoma Press, 304 pp.
CLR Rating: ★★★★☆


Army Major Robert R. Mackey, currently assigned to the Pentagon, has written a much-needed study of irregular warfare during the “late unpleasantness.” However, before we begin a review of his excellent work, I must take, just a moment, to comment on a certain annoyance.

That is, the proper name for the hostilities that erupted when President Abraham Lincoln chose to break his word to the Confederate government and re-supply Fort Sumter in 1861. That war was not the “Civil War,” or the “American Civil War,” rather it was the “War Between the States” or the “War of Secession.” In a moment of high dudgeon I might even accept the “War for Southern Independence,” thus gratifying certain “Copperhead” inclinations, on my part.

At no time was that war a civil war, because, by definition the outcome of a civil war would leave the victorious belligerent in control of the central government. And, at no time, did President Jefferson Davis, or any member of his cabinet, hope to subdue and conquer the United States. The Confederate States of America merely wished to be allowed to exercise their age old right of “free association,” and peacefully withdraw from a constitutional compact they found no longer tenable.

Major Mackey has engaged in serious scholarship. His conclusions are both interesting and provocative. This is the type of book both academicians and enthusiasts will find delightful, though it may not be suitable for those students encountering the crack of musketry or roar of twenty pound Parrot guns for the first time.

Mackey’s thesis seeks to examine and define “irregular warfare” in the upper South during the war. He concludes, rightly, I think, that the South, for reasons he provides, projected three categories of irregular engagement: guerilla (bushwhackers and outlaws), partisan (Moseby’s Rangers would be the best example), and cavalry raiders (here he examines the various campaigns of Forrest and Morgan). In lucid, clear, and concise prose, devoid of hyperbole, the Major reviews the historical record (his sources and notes are impeccable) and submits his conclusions predicated on the available evidence.

There are a few minor errors in the text, such as page twenty-six, where the author is referring to “March 8, 1962,” rather than 1862. It’s a mere irritant, surely, but one I’d hope that a copy editor at such a prestigious university press might catch. Also, the good Major habitually applies the enervating noun-turned-verb, “tasked,” to the body of his text, which is a clear indication he’s spent way too much time in the bowels of the Pentagon’s bureaucracy.

I was particularly engrossed in Major Mackey’s description of General Morgan’s capture near New Lisbon, Ohio on July 26, 1863 because I live but a mile from that hallowed ground and not many years ago took some pleasure in writing a short monograph. My source, which the author doesn’t cite- probably because it is rather rare- was a delightful and moving little book titled, The Last Day and Night of General John Hunt Morgan.

In his conclusion, the author details the reasons why General Lee refused to order his soldiers into the mountains to carry on a guerrilla war and provides a probing analysis of why the South failed in its efforts at irregular warfare. However, his comment that “Theirs was a conservative revolution, aimed a maintaining the status quo and guaranteeing additional rights and privileges to the upper classes,” requires the question; What additional rights and privileges for the upper classes? The South was a agrarian/hierarchical society that functioned very well, its constitution mirrored the one written in 1787, they chose to withdraw from the United States in order to establish a federated republic, so I’m at a loss to understand the “additional right and privileges” the planter class hoped to obtain.

Never the less, Major Mackey has done good service in writing this important and erudite book. It is a must read for any student of the “late unpleasantness,” because of his obvious scholarship, thoughtful conclusions, and mastery of prose. One hopes Major Mackey has sufficient notes and data to continue his examination of this interesting subject.

  • Chip

    The majority of the American population laugh at annoying morons who get their panties in a bind over calling it the Civil War. Your opinions aren’t taken seriously when you start out with that worthless whining. I stopped after the first few sentences as I imagine you are ignorant.

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