Partisans, Guerillas, Irregulars
and Bushwhackers

"The Truth Behind The Names"

© MPR Virtual Museum Collection
Tintype - Partisan Family In Front Of Their Log Cabin

Through the course of time, media articles, novels, and even personal conversations, has there been a huge lack of understanding of these terms. Many of which are used interchangeably and tossed about with abandon.

It has come time to let the people know the differences between these names and peoples, who they were, and what they represented.


A Partisan was any person loyal to the State of Missouri's Confederate status. And, a lot of the time, they were of civilian status, and helped the Partisan Rangers with food, clothing, aid, etc.

*Note - See photo of a Missouri Partisan family at top of page. Important to note is that the man of the house is gone, off riding with the Partisan Rangers and battling fiercely against the Federal occupation Army.

These Partisans were also very instrumental in observations of troop movements, positions, obtaining information and supplies, feeding and sheltering the Partisan Ranger & Guerrilla, as well as a variety of other assistance and help. Of very great importance and help to the Missouri Partisan Rangers.

Missouri Partisan Rangers

The Missouri Partisan Rangers were men that usually had suffered through their family being murdered, raped, stolen from as well as their farms & food crops stolen or destroyed by the Federal Occupational Armies.

Some just decided "enough was enough" and rallied to take a stand against King Lincoln and his assassins and hired marauders.

These were men such as William C. Quantrill, William T. Anderson, George Todd, John Thrailkill, etc., that formed companies of men to combat the occupational forces (especially the Red Legs and Jayhawkers) that infested the State of Missouri.

Sometimes applicable, an appropriate reference to the Missouri Partisan Ranger may also be "Missouri Irregular Cavalry."


Used by the historical purist, the term "Guerrilla" covers a wide, yet quite basic theory and practice of a specific genre of warfare. Without doubt, the most accurate definition is quite simple, yet very finite. As a start, let us begin with a standard definition via Wikipedia, who defines a Guerrilla / Guerrilla warfare as:

"Guerrilla warfare (also guerilla) is the unconventional warfare and combat with which small group combatants (usually civilians) use mobile tactics (ambushes, raids, etc) to combat a larger, less mobile formal army. The guerrilla army uses defence (draw enemy forces to terrain unsuited to them) and mobility (advantage and surprise) in attacking vulnerable targets in enemy territory."

Guerrilla warfare came to play a major role in The Missouri Partisan Rangers. During the War Of Northern Agression, the Missouri Partisan Ranger employed this ancient guerrilla style of warfare still used today with great effectiveness. i.e. the "Guerrilla" fighter.

They were masters of stealthing, reconnaissance, disguise (many dressed as Federals or women and snuck right into enemy territory, camps and towns), using massive firepower and unparalleled mastery of horsemanship to overcome overwhelming enemy odds. The Guerrilla also emplyed the tactics of surprise and entrapment, etc.

Some of their style was patterned from what had been taught by Native Americans to many of these settlers, and some of the Guerrillas were of actual Native American descent.

They were definitely ahead of their time, and sent many a Blue Belly to their final reward.

As an added insight, here is Captain William T. Anderson's oath of allegiance:

"I swear to defend the Constitution of the Confederate States, obey orders and kill Yankees."


Bushwackers and Bushwacking are some of the most misunderstood terms of the war.

For the most part, a Bushwacker was NOT a Missouri Partisan Ranger or a Missouri Irregular Cavalry unit. This misnomer has been strewn about with wanton abandon.

Although many writers and authors in the past mistakenly (intentional or not) wrote (and continue to write today) that Missouri Partisan Rangers were Bushwackers, the vast majority were not.

Many, many times this was done to villify the Missouri Partisan Ranger and attribute attrocity, murder and violence to them by the newsparers and journalists of the time.

It is a sometimes confusing term to those that have not studied the Border War in depth, and was oft used erringly as a generic term for Missouri Guerrillas. But be advised, it is NOT an all encompassing term, and should be used with extreme caution.

For example, the term was used widely during the War Of Northen Agression, though it came to be errantly associated with the guerrillas of Missouri, where such warfare was the most intense. Many people are unaware that Guerrilla warfare also wracked Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and northern Virginia, among other locations.

Suprisingly to many, in some areas, particularly the Appalachian regions of Tennessee and North Carolina, the term bushwhackers was used for Union partisans who attacked Confederate forces. During the Gettysburg Campaign, Pennsylvanian civilians at times bushwhacked stragglers from the Army of Northern Virginia.

While some units of the Missouri Partisan Rangers were very adept at using the "brush" or "bush" for camoflage, survelliance, and tactical manuevers and suprise attack, it is in this scenario that the term "Bushwacker" may be applicable.

BUT... In actuality, the vast majority of so-called Bushwackers were the dregs of Northern & Eastern society and were vicious predators. A sort of 1850 - 1860's "land pirate".

This type of "Bushwacker" were not from Missouri. And for the most part, actually were of Federal extraction from Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, etc. Coming to prey on the helpless civilians of Missouri, using the brush for ambush and cover.

*Note - Interesting that the abolitionist town of Lawrence, Kansas was built mainly with money from Massachusetts. Yet, Massachusetts was among the the leading slave importation states, and had an ample supply of slaves ships! And back in the 1850's even until today, the major portion of the oldest part of Lawrence, Kansas is built upon a street named "Massachusetts."

These Bushwacker monsters had absolutely no loyalty to North or South. They blended in the brush (bush), and "ambushed" their prey. They came only to Missouri under the guise of being unrecognized and hoped to be confused with Partisan Rangers.

And they did accomplish their goal in causing confusion as to who they actually were. Many acts of murder, robbery, rape and pillaging were attributed to "Missouri Bushwhackers", while in fact, these attrocities were commited by Federal people of absolutely no loyalty, North or South.

An interesting "sidenote" is why Missouri is called the "Show Me" state.

When you encountered someone in the brush, you asked (or were asked) where your loyalty lay (North or South). And were asked to "Show Me" to prove your allegiance! As a result, many times a bloody fight ensued if you did not give the correct answer!

Anyway, the Bushwackers only aim was to rape, pillage, plunder, rob, burn and destroy all they could here. They came to have fun and enrich themselves and their sinful lusts. And they did exponentially. The elderly, women, children and defensless people were their favorite target.

And it did not make a difference if the family they preyed upon was neutral, North or South.

They were much like the Commencheros of the 1880' & 90's American Southwest who roamed and preyed upon the defenseless individulas, and robbed and killed at will.

If you moved, you were fair game for these predators, and life was seldom spared by the Bushwackers. They were only interested in self gain, such as money, jewelry, valuables, etc.

The term "Bushwacking" should ALWAYS be used in with extreme caution so as to perpetuate correct history. To use inappropriately in place for the more appropriate term for the Missouri Patisan Ranger and Missouri Irregular Cavalry units is an injustice to history and these proud Missouri men.

There was a huge difference between a Missouri Partisan Ranger and a Northern Bushwacking land pirate.

Border Ruffians

The so called "Border Ruffian" is a generic term that is actually used for both Kansans and Missourians during the bloody Border War.

BUT, the term is usually used by ill-educated historians (exponentially of Northern / Yankee extraction) to apply to Missourians solely as part of their "spin" and demonization of Missourians.

Also is used by confused historians and authors (again mainly of Northern / Yankee extraction) to describe events and people they can't otherwise explain

In other words, for the most part, a historical faux pas.

Red Legs

A Red Leg is a specific term, not a generalized or generic one.

It pertains to a group of men who were from the Atchison, Kansas area. They were organized by General James G. Blunt at the behest of Kansas Governor Thomas Carney and Kansas Senator Jim Lane. Governor Carney personally financed this armed group of Red Legs.

As a side-note adding to historical fact and actuality - Blunt, was well known to ride the coattails of Senator Lane. Regardless of his so called "accomplishments", his downfall came through acts of corruption and womanizing. Blunt died in an insane asylum due to syphilis, in 1881.

The Kansas Red Legs, gained their name from the knee high, red yarn leggings they wore over their boots. See image of General Thomas Ewing in his "Red Legs" from the legendary painting "General Order Number 11" by artist George Caleb Bingham.

Redlegs were a band of band of militants who refused to join units officially sanctioned by the U.S. Army. These so called "men" terrorized the Kansas-Missouri border, and which in turn incurred the wrath of Quantrill, Anderson, Todd, etc.

Some of the men which comprised the Red Legs were "Wild Bill" Hickok and William S. Tough.

Matter of fact, William Tough was known even around his own men as "He is pure horse thief and murderer."

Something a Red Leg could be proud of !


This is a term applied to Kansan guerrilla fighters opposed to Missouri during the struggle over Kansas in the years prior, as well as directly into to so called the Civil War.

Later, during the war, it was the nickname of part of the Seventh Kansas Cavalry, commanded by Colonel Charles R. Jennison -or- Jennison's Jayhawkers. Which, even later, would officially be designated the 7th Kansas Cavalry, U.S.

The jawhaker bands actually scorned U.S goverment sanction and were typically even more vicious and indiscriminate in their methods than their bureaucratically recognized counterparts. Even within Kansas, the jayhawkers were not always popular because, in the absence of federal support, they supplied themselves by stealing horses and supplies from fellow Kansans and Kansas farmers.

Jayhawker bands waged numerous bloody and gruesome invasions of Missouri and also committed some of the most notorious atrocities of the Civil War, including the Lane-led massacre on September 23, 1861 at Osceola, Missouri, in which the entire town was set aflame and many of it's residents killed. (The sacking of Osceola, Missouri inspired the 1976 film "The Outlaw Josey Wales."

Jayhawkers also engineered and implimented the August 13, 1863 Collapse of yankee jail in Kansas City in which innocent civilian female relatives of The Missouri Partisan Rangers were incarcerated by yankee soldiers because of their connection to the pro-Confederate guerrillas. Supports beams of the jail had been intentionally weakened and sabotaged, and the ensuing collapse of the structure killed four women including 14 year old Josephine Anderson, sister of William T. Anderson. Bill's other sister, Mary Anderson was badly injured (both legs broken).

Also arrested and incarcerated during the collapse were Charity Kerr, sister of John McCorkle (killed), Mrs. Nannie McCorkle, sister-in-law of John McCorkle (uninjured), Susan Vandever, cousin of Cole Younger (killed), Armenia Whitsett Selvey, cousin of Cole Younger (killed).

These two incidents of the Osceola Massacre and the Kansas City Jail Collapse were prior to, and set the stage for the "Pay Back". Also known as the Lawrence Raid in Lawrence, Kansas on August 21, 1863, led by William Quantrill and his men.

The origin of the term Jayhawker is widely believed to signify a mythical bird which is a mongrel cross between a blue jay and a sparrow hawk. Significantly, a bird that ambushes and attacks a weaker prey. Sound familiar ?

The term came to prominence just before the Border War, in Kansas, where it was adopted by militant abolitionist groups known as jayhawkers.

Actually, it is a term that still is used today. Kansans are most often called and proudly boast themselves as jayhawkers.

Even their sports teams at Kansas University in Lawrence are the named Jayhawks.

It takes a lot of pride to name yourselves after a bunch of terrorists, murderers, rapists and child killers. Fine example to set for modern day students.

There are also instances of late war diaries, accounts etc, of troops from Iowa, Illinois, etc. that "set out jayhawking". Items stolen in raids into Missouri were frequently referred to as having been "Jayhawked."

It had became a term to be used to describe terror, robbery, pillaging, destruction and even murder. Much as if it were some type of "sport" or "recreation."

Regardless, it is a heartless term, and one of evil and destruction of Biblical proportions.

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