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Posted March 2001
Jayhawkers vs Bushwhackers
Jayhawkers were honorable abolitionists...or lowlife horsethieves. Bushwhackers were patriotic defenders... or murderous bandits. Here are vehemently opposing viewpoints by two of the Civil War's participants. One area they coincide is in their poor opinion of the genetic traits of their opponents. It's easier to fight people you see as less than human.
John N. Edwards
The original Jayhawker was a growth indigenous to the soil of Kansas. There belonged to him as things of course a pre-emption, a chronic case of chills and fevers, one starved cow and seven dogs, a longing for his neighbor’s goods and chattels, a Sharpe’s rifle, when he could get it, and something of a Bible for hypocrisy’s sake—something that savored of the real presence of the book to give backbone to his canting and snuffling. In some respects a mountebank, in others a scoundrel, and in all a thief—he was a character eminently adapted for civil war which produces more adventurers than heroes. His hands were large, hairy, and red—proof of inherited laziness—and a slouching gait added to the ungainliness of his figure when he walked. The type was all of a kind. The mouth generally wore a calculating smile—the only distinguishable gift remaining of a Puritan ancestry—but when he felt that he was looked at the calculating smile became sanctimonious. Slavery concerned him only as the slaveholder was supposed to be rich; and just so long as Beecher presided over emigration aid societies, preached highway robbery, defended political murder, and sent something to the Jayhawkers in the way of real fruits and funds, there surely was a God in Israel and Beecher was his great high priest. Otherwise they all might go to the devil together. The Jayhawker was not brave. He would fight when he had to fight, but he would not stand in the last ditch and shoot away his last cartridge. Born to nothing, and eternally out at the elbows, what else could he do but laugh and be glad when chance kicked a country into war and gave purple and fine linen to a whole lot of bummers and beggars? In the saddle he rode like a sand bag or a sack of meal. The eternal "ager cake" made a trotting horse his abomination, and he had no use for a thoroughbred, save to steal him. When he abandoned John Brown and rallied to the standard of Jim Lane—when he gave up the fanatic and clove unto the thief—he simply changed his leader without changing his principles.
Excerpted and introduced by G. E. Rule, from “Noted Guerrillas or the Warfare of the Border”, by John N. Edwards, 1877
For Edwards' view of the Bushwhackers read Making of a Confederate Guerrilla
Major John N. Edwards, CSA, was General Jo. Shelby’s adjutant and chronicler. At war’s end Edwards chose to share Mexican exile with Shelby as well. When they returned to the U.S. in 1867, Edwards rapidly published three large volumes of wartime experiences. Two dealt specifically with Shelby, “Shelby and his Men”, 1867 and “Shelby’s Expedition to Mexico”, 1872. In 1874 he published “Noted Guerrillas”, a broad handling of the Confederate irregulars in Missouri during the war. Edwards also founded the Kansas City Times and was its editor for many years.
Make no mistake, Major John N. Edwards was a Confederate and proud of it. You will not find more than passing reference to the other side of the coin in his pages. His flamboyantly purple prose is sometimes entertaining and sometimes tiresome, but is always used in defense of Confederate Missouri and its view of the world and “the recent unpleasantness.”
The Missouri Bushwhacker
Next to Slavery, the South had been cursed by the importation of paupers and criminals who had been transported from England for England’s good, in the early history of the Colonies, to work the new lands. The negro proving the better worker in servitude than this class, they had been driven off the plantations to squat on unoccupied lands, where they bred like the beasts of the field, getting a precarious living from hunting the forest, and the bolder eking out this by depredations upon their thriftier neighbors. Their forebears had been paupers and criminals when sent from England, and the descendants continued to be paupers and criminals in the new country, forming a clearly marked social class, so distinct as to warrant the surmise that they belonged to a different race. As the eastern part of the South and the administration of the laws improved, this element was to some extent forced out, and spread in a noisome trail over Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri. While other immigrants went into the unbroken forest with a few rude tools and in the course of several years built up comfortable homes, theirs never rose above abject squalor. The crudest of cabins sufficed them for shelter, beds of beech leaves were all the couches they required; they had more guns in their huts than agricultural or mechanical implements; they scarcely pretended to raise anything more than a scanty patch of corn; and when they could not put on their tables the flesh of the almost wild razorback hog which roamed the woods, they made meat of woodchucks, raccoons, opossums or any other "varmint" their guns could bring down. They did not scorn hawks or owls if hunger demanded and no better meat could be found.
It was this "White Trash" which added so much to the horrors of the war, especially in Missouri, and so little to its real prosecution. Wolf-like in ferocity, when the advantages were on their side, they were wolf-like in cowardice when the terms were at all equal. They were the Croats, Cossacks, Tolpatches, Pandours of the Confederacy—of little value in battle, but terrible as guerrillas and bushwhackers. From this "White Trash" came the gangs of murderers and robbers, like those led by the Youngers, Jameses, Quantrills, and scores of other names of criminal memory.
As has been the case in all times and countries, these dregs of society became the willing tools of the Slaveholding aristocrats. With dog-like fidelity they followed and served the class which despised and overrode them. Somehow, by inherited habits likely, they seemed to avoid the more fertile parts of the State.
Excerpted and introduced by G.E. Rule, from “The Struggle for Missouri”, John McElroy, 1909
In 1863, at the age of sixteen, John McElroy joined an Illinois cavalry regiment. Six months later he was taken prisoner and remained so until the end of the war, spending much of the time at the infamous Andersonville prison. In 1879 he wrote a book about his experiences, “Andersonville: A Story of Rebel Military Prisons. Fifteen Months a Guest of the so-called Southern Confederacy”. In 1909 he was back with “Struggle for Missouri”, with little of his anti-Confederate heat dissipated. “The Struggle for Missouri” is dedicated “To the Union Men of Missouri”, and they get the better end of every argument or controversy in its pages.
©2001 G. E. Rule
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