Dr. Clay Mountcastle on Punitive War:
Confederate Guerillas and Union Reprisals
In his presentation, Dr. Clay Mountcastle will discuss the subject of his book, Punitive War: Confederate Guerillas and Union Reprisals (University of Kansas Press: 2009) and the story behind it. He will also share his thoughts on the topic of guerrilla warfare as it relates to the Civil War.
Through widespread and relentless surprise attacks and ambushes, Confederate guerrillas drove Union soldiers and their leaders to desperation. Confederate cavalrymen engaged in hit-and-run tactics; autonomous partisan rangers preyed on Federal railroads, telegraph lines, and supply wagons; and civilian bushwhackers waylaid Union pickets. Together, all of these actions persuaded the Union to wage an increasingly punitive war.
Drawing upon the guerilla attacks and Federal responses over a broad range of operational theatres, Dr. Mountcastle presents a new look at the complex nature of guerrilla warfare in the Civil War and the Union Army's calculated response to it. As the problem grew throughout the South, Union commanders were ultimately convinced to adopt retaliatory measures that challenged the sensibilities of even the most hardened soldiers.
Showing how much of the impetus for Federal retaliation originated from the bottom up, starting in the western theater in 1861, he describes how it became the most influential factor in convincing Union generals, especially Grant and Sherman, that the war needed to be extended to include civilians and their property. The result was a level of destructiveness that has been downplayed by other scholars-despite the evidence of executions and incidents of entire towns being burned to the ground. By 1864, punitive action had evolved into such a powerful and decisive force that it produced what has been called "a warfare of frightfulness."
Although guerrilla activity deviled the Union until the end, the Union's response ultimately proved a significant factor in persuading leaders like General R. E. Lee to halt guerilla activities and ultimately to surrender rather than pursue an insurgency. Dr. Mountcastle will also discuss the provocative questions about the relationship between guerrilla and conventional warfare in any conflict.
Dr. Mountcastle is a 1994 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and holds a Masters and PhD in History from Duke University. He served as an officer and historian in the U. S. Army for more than two decades. His military service took him to Germany, South Korea and Iraq and on assignments with the 82nd Airborne Division, US Army 5th Corps and US Army Special Operations Command. He taught military history at West Point and led the development of the military history curriculum at the US Army Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth. More recently, he served as the Professor of Military History at the University of Washington in Seattle and as an Assistant Professor of Military History at the US Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Lee, Virginia. Following his retirement from active duty with the U. S. Army, he returned to the Old Dominion and was appointed Director of the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond in June 2016.
He and his wife, Dr. Sally Mountcastle, and their three children live in Chesterfield County, Virginia.