Battlefield Dispatches No. 212: 'Bushwhackers in Yankee Blue!'

Friday, April 30, 2010

During the Civil War, it did not take long for Confederate Guerrillas / Bushwhackers in Missouri to learn that a successful way to deceive the "Blue Bellied Billy Yanks" was to wear the Yankee's trousers and jacket and appear to be "Yanks." This, of course, gave the guerrillas an added element of surprise when they attacked their enemy. This was a very dangerous thing to do, because according to the Articles of War on both sides, if any enemy combatants were captured wearing any portion of our uniform, they were not to be accorded any treatment as prisoners of war, but, were to be considered as "SPIES" and were to be EXECUTED IMMEDIATELY! However, the possibility of immediate execution did not stop the guerrillas from disguising themselves as "Union" troops because if they were caught, it did not matter what they were wearing, they could be classified as warring belligerents and executed immediately which they often were.

The following after-action reports describe some skirmishes in Johnson County, Missouri in which some of the Confederate guerrillas were in fact in Federal uniform / "Yankee Blue"! The nice thing about these reports is that they are in chronological sequence which indicates how an after action report becomes briefer as it was transmitted up the "Military Chain of Command." All of these reports are located on Pages 902-904 in Series I, Vol. 34, Part I, Reports in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.

"No. 1. Report of Brigadier General Egbert B. Brown, U. S. Army, Commanding

District of Central Missouri.

Warrensburg, April 30, 1864.

The First Missouri State Militia skirmished with the guerrillas Thursday afternoon; drove them onto the Second Colorado, who had a warm chase all day yesterday. We had 1 man killed, 1 wounded, several guerrillas fell. The band is broken and scattered. Particulars by mail. [Note: This report was probably sent by the "talking wire" or telegraph with the following longer reports sent via the "Military Mail."]


Brigadier General of Volunteers, Commanding.

[To:] Major 0. D. Greene,

Assistant Adjutant General, Department of Missouri, Saint Louis."

"No. 2. Report of Col. James McFerran, First Missouri State Militia Cavalry.

Headquarters, First Cavalry, Missouri State Militia,

Warrensburg, Missouri, May 2, 1864.

Captain, I have the honor to state that First Lieut. James E. Couch, Company C, 1st Cavalry, Missouri State Militia and Francis N. Kelly, Bugler & Joseph T. Mason, Private, of the same Company were killed by Quantrill's guerrillas in Johnson County, Missouri on the 28th untimo and Jacob Spake, Private, in same Company, was dangerously wounded. These guerrillas had just arrived from the south and took Lieutenant Couch and his party by surprise. The band is supposed to number 80 to 100 men well mounted, armed & equipped and are reported to be in FEDERAL UNIFORM.

Afterward on the same day, detachments of Companies D & M, first Cavalry, Missouri State Militia attacked the guerrillas and after several sharp skirmishes dispersed them in small parties, capturing the regimental flag of the 5th Indiana Infantry Volunteers from them. The pursuit was kept up until dark. Whether any of the guerrillas were killed or wounded is unknown. Since then several companies of my regiment have been scouring the country in search of them without success. They are supposed to have gone west.

Lieutenant Couch was a very promising young officer and well qualified for the position he held.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

JAMES McFERRAN, Colonel First Cavalry, Missouri State Militia Commanding.

[To:] Capt. James H. Steger

Assistant Adjutant General."

"No. 3. Report of Major Jesse L. Pritchard, Second Colorado Cavalry.

Harrisonville, Missouri, May 2, 1864.

Sir: I have the honor to make the following report: On the 27th ultimo I received information at 6 p.m., from the station at Dayton, Mo., that a party of 80 men, supposed to be guerrillas, had crossed the Grand River at that point (Dayton) at 3 p.m., going toward Rose Hill, Mo., taking with them Sergt. P. Russell, Company L, 2nd Colorado Cavalry, commanding the station at Dayton, as a prisoner. I immediately sent an express to Pleasant Hill, Mo., informing the commanding officer there of the fact & also sent an order to Lieutenant Spencer, at Morristown, Mo., to report with all his available force to me at Harrisonville immediately. At 12 o'clock that night Lieutenant Spencer reported to me with 35 men, mounted and equipped. The night was dark and raining hard. At daylight I left Harrisonville with Lieutenant Spencer's command & 14 men of Company C, total 49 men, for Rose Hill: arriving at that place, found the trail of the guerrillas. They had partially destroyed the bridge across Big Creek. I soon repaired it so that I could cross and proceeded on the trail. I followed it to Holden and found that they had passed that place just before daylight that morning. I arrived at Holden about 12m [noon]. I fed my horses and started on, following the trail north & west until I arrived within 3 miles of Chapel Hill, where I learned of the massacre of Lieutenant Couch and men of the 1st Cavalry, Missouri State Militia. At this point the trail was so broken up & covered by the trail of Federal troops crossing and re-crossing that I could not follow it any longer, it being night. I started for Chapel Hill, arriving there after dark. I remained there till morning and then started for Lone Jack, Mo., where I met Lieut. Col. Theodore H. Dodd with Companies A, B, D, E, F & K, Second Colorado Cavalry. I reported to him and received orders to take my former command and Company K., Lieutenant Stanton, 2nd Colorado Cavalry and proceed north toward Napoleon, Mo., on the Missouri River.

About 4 miles from Lone Jack I found the trail of 10 guerrillas, which I followed until it left the road and went into the brush.

I sent my advance guard into the brush, who soon returned and reported a camp of guerrillas near. I sent Lieutenant Spencer with 20 men to get in the rear of the camp. He found that they had left their camp and started in pursuit. After following them some 2 miles he came upon them in the thick brush and commenced firing upon them. They ran, he following about 1 mile farther; 2 men of Company G & 1 of company K left the command and running down a road came upon the BUSHWHACKERS (10 in number) and supposing them to be OUR OWN MEN rode in among them, when the guerrillas fired upon them, killing Private G. Wells, Company K and his horse and wounding Private J. Freestone, Company G. The GUERRILLAS WERE DRESSED IN FEDERAL UNIFORM and it was almost impossible to tell them from the Federals. Lieutenant Spencer followed until they took a trail made by a scout in the morning of the same day and lost the trial. His horse being completely jaded [exhausted] he could not follow any farther and he was obliged to camp without rations or forage and at daylight went to Snibar Station and reported to lieut. Col. T. H. Dodd. With my command I followed Lieutenant Spencer as fast as possible to the spot were Private Wells (was killed) to effect a junction with Lieutenant Spencer, but did not find him and camped. The next morning hearing firing in the direction of the Snibar Station, went there and found that the firing proceeded from the troops at that station discharging their pieces. [Note: The "pieces" or guns were probably being fired by soldiers coming off of Guard Duty to empty or clear their weapons]. There I found Colonel Dodd, who ordered me to Lone Jack, Mo. I was joined at that place by Major J. N. Smith with Companies A, B, E, H & M of the 2nd Colorado Cavalry. In the morning Major Smith started northeast and I started for Pleasant Hill. Camped that night at Pleasant Hill, M., and the next day (May 2) marched to Harrisonville, Mo., having marched about 140 miles.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Major, Second Colorado Cavalry.

[To:] Lieut. Col. Theodore H. Dodd,

Commanding, Second Colorado Cavalry."

Now then, was the use of the "Yankee Blue" uniforms as a disguise successful? Yes it was, however, on occasion the "Blue Bellied Billy Yanks" would often disguise themselves by wearing the "Guerrillas / Bushwhackers" uniform and utilize the same tactics successfully and of course the WAR WENT ON!