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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tracking rebel guerrillas in the Civil War

In Missouri and Arkansas during the Civil War, the thick underbrush was the Confederate guerrillas' greatest ally. Anyone who has hiked in those states knows the foliage gets so thick you can't see ten feet. This meant the Union troops trying to hunt down the rebels had to get good at tracking, using the same techniques they'd used to hunt deer in peacetime.

In 1863, Captain William Kemper of the Ninth Cavalry Regiment, Missouri State Militia, was having trouble with guerrillas in Clay County in western Missouri, especially a band under the command of Fletch Taylor.

Kemper had his men lie beside a road for a while in ambush but the guerrillas never passed, so he turned to tracking. He scouted along the Fishing River and came to the farm of John Eaton, a known secessionist. Kemper reported: "I noticed at the yard fence a path made, both by horses and men. . .I took the  track at once, and followed it through a pasture adjoining the yard into a densely brushy pasture, where I came upon the party of bushwhackers."

The guerrillas were only surprised for a moment. They were used to hasty exits, whether from camp or from the house of some friendly rebel woman cooking them dinner. Covering their retreat with a hail of bullets from their six shooters, they soon disappeared into the brush. Kemper would have to hunt for Taylor's group again.

In that crowd of retreating bushwhackers was a certain Jesse James and his brother Frank James. They were known to authorities as rebel guerrillas. It wouldn't be many years before they were known to the whole world

2 comments:

  1. The James brothers were there? Too bad Kemper didn't get them then.

    ReplyDelete

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