Friday, April 12, 2024

Book Review: We Shall Conquer or Die: Partisan Warfare in 1862 Western Kentucky

By Derrick Lindow 
Copyright 2024
Savas Beatie

The Civil War provides many avenues for discussion and study - battles, generals, politics, technology, and social issues, among numerous topics frequently explored.

One which I have never particularly thought of often was partisan warfare, particularly in western Kentucky.


In this fine book, still hot off the press, Derrick Lindow weaves a fascinating tale of this lesser-discussed style of war in an area not widely known for its role in the war. He describes this type of fighting and what a "partisan ranger" is, comparing it to the more well-known and popular term (especially among Union officials at the time), "guerilla.” He also introduces the readers to some of the Confederate irregular warriors, including a man with one of the more unusual nicknames of the war, Adam "Stovepipe" Johnson, as well as his partner-in-war Robert Martin, and some of their opponents, such as John Crooks and Gabriel Netter.

This type of fighting was much smaller in scope than the most famous battles associated with the Civil War, but even these smaller fights and skirmishes resulted in a number of deaths, men whose demise did make the news back home and affected their comrades-in-arms and families. This fighting and its effects were just as real as any “major battle,” as this book so ably shows.

As Lindow describes how this type of fighting in this area played out, it became reminiscent of ow cavalry usage and fighting in the war overall developed. The partisan war began with the Confederates having a significant advantage at first, as their forces attacked the enemy in ways (and places) the Federals did not expect or fully understand, and the Federals struggled to adapt to this style of war, to have enough men in the right places to meet the enemy, and even, at times, to find leadership courageous and skillful enough to combat the Confederates. As time went by, however, Union leadership and strategy improved, more troops were employed, and the understanding of both this style of fighting and the enemy progressed, all of which naturally led to better fighting by the bluecoats. Confederate victory was no longer as certain a result as it had been earlier in 1862.

This is simply a terrific book. 

More specifically, it is a terrific book for those who enjoy reading about the Civil War or this style of fighting, but especially so for people studying Kentucky’s role in the war. In a state in which politics and the general sentiments of the people were often divided, unclear, confusing, and frequently changing, this style of warfare - fairly described with similar adjectives - symbolized the state’s situation, and the author addresses that, showing how such uncertainty filtered through that region of the Commonwealth, especially for Union leaders trying to defend Union loyalists in a  state that included so many Confederate supporters who were more than willing to help the Confederate fighters. Which people in which towns or counties were on which side, and even on which day? Those were not easy questions to answer, yet the Union leaders (and even the southern forces) needed to understand the people they were dealing with and could or could not trust. 

The writing style is clear, easy to read and understand, and the length of both the book and the several chapters is suitable. It is a quick read, is based on research from many primary and secondary sources and uses well-thought-out analysis of those sources to bring this story together. The several maps and photographs are also helpful and appropriate. 

I gladly recommend this book.

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