Mountain Partisans: Guerrilla Warfare in the Southern Appalachians, 1861-1865

Article excerpt

Mountain Partisans: Guerrilla Warfare in the Southern Appalachians, 1861-1865. By Sean Michael O'Brien. (Westport, Conn., and London: Praeger, c. 1999. Pp. xxiv, 221. $35.00, ISBN 0-275-96430-2.)

Irregular warfare in the southern mountains is an important topic for specialists in Civil War and Appalachian studies, but Sean Michael O'Brien has written the first comprehensive investigation of this often overlooked element of Confederate weakness. In addition to his discussion of the raids and confrontations of this internecine warfare, O'Brien sketches the major features of Appalachian society during this period. In this study he wisely considers actions of regular military units, both Confederate and Union, and state troops, as well as unaffiliated groups. O'Brien concentrates his narrative on specific leaders, groups, and incidents in northern Georgia, northern Alabama, western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and the new state of West Virginia. The author does not offer any explanation, however, for not including southwestern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley in this account.

O'Brien presents a convincing catalogue of horrors that turned the southern mountains into social chaos by the middle of 1863. He is commendably evenhanded in his treatment of these horrors and leaves the reader with a real feeling of sympathy for the civilian population caught in this maelstrom. The most unsettling of the individuals and groups to the local mountain people were those who had little or no direct connection to either a government or an army. O'Brien describes one of the terrorists of northern Georgia, John P. …