Guerrilla Warfare and Guerrilla War

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Guerrilla Warfare History

Guerrilla Warfare and Guerrilla War

"Definition, History, Tactics and Strategy, Objectives and Goals"

What is the difference between Guerrilla War and Guerrilla Warfare? While new terms and words are continually being coined to define and describe Guerrilla War and Guerrilla Warfare, there is technically a difference between the two terms. Guerrilla War is also known as an Unconventional War, while Guerrilla Warfare is the conduct and tactics used to prosecute a war, usually, but not always, during a Guerrilla War. During the American Civil War (1861-1865), while large armies fought in Napoleonic formations using lines of battle, there were units such as partisans and irregulars, which operated as guerrillas or bushwhackers by engaging in Guerrilla Warfare.
This lesson covers Guerrilla Warfare in American history, the tactics and strategy used, and the common objectives and goals of the Guerrilla War. The primary objective of the lesson is to enable the reader to have a basic understanding of the subject with examples from American history.

Guerrilla Warfare and Guerrilla War Map
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Map showing two different war strategies, but exigencies of conflict required radical tactics

Guerrilla Definition
  • Guerrilla means small war, the diminutive of the Spanish word Guerra, meaning war. The Spanish word derives from the Old High German word werra and from the middle Dutch word warre, and adopted by the Visigoths in A.D. 5th century Hispania.
The difference between Guerrilla War and Guerrilla Warfare
  • Guerrilla War is defined as an armed conflict, while Guerrilla Warfare is defined as the activities involved in the Guerilla War
  • Guerrilla War is an unconventional war, and Guerrilla Warfare is the conduct used to prosecute the Guerrilla War
Insurgency Definition
  • The Department of Defense defines an insurgency as an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict. Insurgency is often interchanged with the terms rebellion and insurrection. Not all rebellions are insurgencies, however, as a state of belligerency may exist between one or more sovereign states and rebel forces. For instance, during the American Civil War, the Confederate States of America was not recognized as a sovereign state, but it was recognized as a belligerent power, and thus Confederate warships were given the same rights as United States warships in foreign ports.
Belligerent Definition
  • A Belligerent is an individual, group, country, or other entity that acts in a hostile manner, such as engaging in combat. Unlike the use of belligerent as an adjective to mean aggressive, its use as a noun does not necessarily imply that a belligerent country is an aggressor.
Belligerency Definition
  • Belligerency is a term used in international law to indicate the status of two or more entities, generally sovereign states, being engaged in a war.
Guerrilla Warfare Definition and Tactics
  • Guerrilla Warfare is unconventional warfare, also known as irregular warfare, in which a small group of combatants such as armed civilians or irregulars use military tactics including ambushes, sabotage, raids, petty warfare, hit-and-run tactics, and mobility to fight a larger and less-mobile traditional military. In United States doctrine, Guerrilla Warfare is interchanged with the term unconventional warfare (UW) and is one aspect of the broader term insurgency.
Guerrilla Warfare Strategy Objective
  • Guerrilla Warfare consists of activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow an occupying power or government by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary and guerrilla force in a denied area.

Civil War Guerrillas & Cherokee Guerrilla Unit
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Cherokee Indians (Guerrillas) of Thomas Legion at

(About) Cherokee veteran soldiers of Thomas' Legion at 1903 New Orleans Confederate Reunion. The Thomas Legion, which resembled an army brigade, was a Roman-style fighting unit consisting of Confederate infantry, cavalry, and artillery, and it initially fielded some 2,500 troops. The legion was composed of one infantry regiment, one cavalry battalion, one battalion of Cherokee infantry, one artillery battery, one company of sappers, and personal guards for Colonel William Thomas. While the soldiers of the command were raised primarily from the North Carolina mountains and the area known as East Tennessee, the men served as a line of defense in the Smoky Mountains while operating as guerrillas for most of the Civil War. Whereas the legion was the last Confederate force east of the Mississippi River to surrender, it concluded its military service by applying guerrilla tactics and capturing a Union occupied city, and then, after presenting its own surrender terms to Federal commanders, quit the war and returned to their homes.

Guerrilla War and "Defensive Guerrilla Warfare Strategy"
Defensive Guerrilla Warfare is a good example of an oxymoron. At initial glance it appears to be a misleading phrase, since Guerrilla Warfare is an offensive action, but the term does have merit. Prior to the American Civil War most soldiers had no military training, so they coined terms which explained a military action other than those they had been taught in camp, e.g. "left oblique, march."
Since the word counterinsurgency wasn't used by the military until ca. 1950, the phrase Defensive Guerrilla Warfare, meaning Guerrilla Warfare Strategy as a Defense, was used in the southern United States by common soldiers of the Civil War (1861-1865). During the conflict, guerrilla activities were generally viewed by Washington as cowardly acts performed by bushwhackers, and in today's military the nouns guerrilla and bushwhacker remain interchangeable terms.

What is Defensive Guerrilla Warfare Strategy?

  • Defensive strategy means to defend, while Guerrilla Warfare refers to the tactics used.  
  • Guerrilla Warfare strategy as a Defense is employed by a group or unit in defense of an area or region it claims or controls against a military force engaging in counterinsurgency operations.
Defensive Guerrilla Warfare Strategy Examples
  • Defensive Guerrilla Warfare was conducted by some Partisan units in the South by aggressively defending the home terrain with guerrilla tactics against Union incursions.
  • Defensive Guerrilla Warfare is an offensive defense of an area or region claimed or controlled by the defending group or force.

Defensive Guerrilla Warfare, meaning Guerrilla Warfare as a Defense Strategy

A common Defensive Guerrilla Warfare goal is to convince the enemy that the war is futile, and consequently the enemy's political and civilian elements become demoralized and seek a resolution to end the conflict, e.g. Vietnam War. During the U.S. Civil War, the South did not need to win, it only needed a draw or stalemate.
Defensive Guerrilla Warfare tactics are based on intelligence, ambush, psychological warfare, psychological operations, sabotage, espionage, friendly civilian populace, strong and localized logistical support, and undermining an enemy through long, low-intensity confrontation. These tactics are useful in demoralizing an enemy, while raising the morale of the guerrillas. In many protracted conflicts, guerrilla tactics allow a small force to resist a much larger and better equipped enemy. It can be very successful as demonstrated during the American Revolutionary War, Vietnam War, Soviet-Afghan War, Russia’s Second Chechen War, and the Iraq War (2nd Gulf War).

During the Civil War, since the Union army typically outnumbered the Confederate army by more than two-to-one, Defensive Guerrilla Warfare proved to be effective for the Confederacy, particularly in the Appalachian Mountains.

Morgan's Famous Raid of the North
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Map showing route of famous Guerrilla raid during the U.S. Civil War

(Right) Map showing the route of Morgan's Raid of 1,000 Miles. Morgan's Raid was a highly publicized guerrilla incursion by Confederate cavalry into the Northern states of Indiana and Ohio during the American Civil War. The raid occurred from June 11–July 26, 1863, and is named for the commander of the Confederates, Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan. During his daring raid, Morgan and his men captured and paroled approximately 6,000 Union soldiers and militia, destroyed 34 bridges, disrupted the railroads at more than 60 places, and diverted tens of thousands of troops from other duties. He spread terror throughout the region, and seized thousands of dollars worth of supplies, food, and other items from local stores, houses, and farms. In Ohio alone, approximately 2,500 horses were stolen and nearly 4,375 homes and businesses were raided. Morgan's Raid cost Ohio taxpayers nearly $600,000 in damages and over $200,000 in wages paid to the 49,357 Ohioans called up to man 587 companies of local militia. To Morgan's men, the long raid had accomplished much, despite their military defeat and high casualties. Col. Basil Duke later wrote, "The objects of the raid were accomplished. General Bragg's retreat was unmolested by any flanking forces of the enemy, and I think that military men, who will review all the facts, will pronounce that this expedition delayed for weeks the fall of East Tennessee, and prevented the timely reinforcement of Rosecrans by troops that would otherwise have participated in the Battle of Chickamauga."
Offensive Guerrilla Warfare Strategy definition
  • Offensive Guerrilla Warfare Strategy is used by a group or command which initiates and employs guerrilla tactics in areas or regions that it does not claim nor control.
  • Offensive Guerrilla Warfare Strategy consists of armed incursions and guerrilla tactics by a group or force into an area or region it does not claim nor control.
Offensive Guerrilla Warfare Strategy Example
  • When the Southern units conducted Offensive Guerrilla Warfare operations in the Northern states, it had limited supplies and was met by an unfriendly civilian populace.
Offensive Guerrilla Warfare Strategy
A common Offensive Guerrilla Warfare goal is to overthrow a government. Although similar to Defensive Guerrilla Warfare, Offensive Guerrilla Warfare, however, often exposes the guerrillas to an unfriendly and uncooperative civilian populace, greatly extends and stretches its logistics and supplies, and it loses familiarity of terrain (home field advantage). It can, however, be very successful against an unpopular regime.
Native Americans and 250 years of Guerrilla War

The Apaches and Navajos shared the Southwest, where their proximity to Mexico put them in contact with the Spanish. Like the Comanches, the Apaches were divided into many small bands, but they were able to fend off the Spanish through 250 years of guerrilla warfare. The Navajos, on the other hand, adopted some aspects of Spanish culture and learned to farm and raise livestock. In the East, the Indigenous Americans employed guerrilla tactics while battling superior numbers of what seemed to be an ever increasing number of arriving French and British. As the new arrivals pushed inland in hopes of settling new territory, it served only to provoke the area's local inhabitants. Eventually the American Indians were forced onto reservations, but some remained relentless guerrillas before fading into the history books.
American Revolutionary War and Southern Guerrillas

Believing the loyalists were strongest in the South and hoping to enlist the slaves in their cause--an objective that seems incompatible with a focus on Southern loyalists--the British turned their efforts from the North and to the South. In fact, the British had some important military successes in the South. They occupied Savannah, Georgia, in late 1778 and Charleston, South Carolina, in May 1779. They also struck a disastrous blow on General Horatio Gates' forces at Camden, South Carolina, in August 1780.
Although the British were successful in most conventional battles, the fighting in the South, under the leadership of Generals Nathanael Greene and Daniel Morgan, turned toward guerrilla and hit-and-run warfare. Moreover, the British had overestimated loyalist sentiment in the South; their presence actually forced many, who had been sitting out the war, to take sides, most in favor of the Patriots. At the same time, the British underestimated the logistical problems they would encounter, especially when their army was in the interior away from the supplies offered by their fleet. Patriot forces, on the other hand, were supplied and could hide among the local population. As a result, the British southern strategy was a dismal failure and it led to the defeat and withdraw of its military forces.

Civil War Guerrillas and Guerrilla Warfare
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Civil War Guerrilla Leader "Bloody" Bill Anderson

American Civil War and Guerrilla Units

Disorder and unrest plagued the Union in a variety of spheres during the conflict that lasted four years. Most vexing were the Border States, which fostered guerrilla warfare at its most vicious. Missouri was contested terrain throughout the war, with two governments—Confederate and Federal—wrestling for control of the population. This state suffered the second largest number of armed encounters (after Virginia) and was a land awash with blood from decades of violence. Union guerrilla leader James H. Lane began by targeting homes that hosted rebel forces but ended with the wholesale plunder of towns and counties. The Southern guerrillas unleashed even greater atrocities. Confederate Captain William C. Quantrill began his career opposing slavery but ended it while leading the well-known guerrilla unit called Quantrill's Raiders. He launched a raid on Lawrence, Kansas, an antislavery stronghold, on August 21, 1863, marching nearly five hundred of his men into the town in the early morning hours. Reputedly, while Quantrill breakfasted, his men butchered nearly 150 men and boys, most unarmed, while women and children were forced to witness the barbaric executions. The town was burned to the ground except the saloon, which they looted and left standing.
The slaughter of civilians led Union General Thomas Ewing to issue Order No. 11, which required the evacuation of four Missouri counties while Union guerrillas, known as Jayhawkers, had their revenge. A sympathetic Union officer condemned the exodus: "It is heart sickening to see what I have seen here." He went on to decry the looting and pillaging, while near naked families stumbled onto the barren prairie. Confederates retaliated with renewed efforts to stage a coup against Union authorities, and Confederate General Sterling Price invaded with 12,000 troops. Rebel forces were turned back at the Battle of Pilot's Knob before being chased all the way from northeastern Missouri back into Arkansas. Many stragglers followed Quantrill to Texas, but the spirit of counterrebellion had been broken.
Missouri guerrillas splintered into bands, none more infamous than "Bloody Bill" Anderson, of Quantrill's Raiders, who was said to ride into battle with a necklace of Union scalps round his neck, encouraging his men to mutilate the bodies of victims. Although a populist uprising against the Union never materialized in Missouri, guerrilla fighters, such as William Clarke Quantrill, and Frank and Jesse James, fought for the Confederate cause, fomenting rebellion in the interior, creating panic among civilians caught in the crossfire of war on the northern frontier. Post war atrocities continued, as the James Gang joined forces with the Younger Brothers, and motivated by both revenge and greed, the James-Younger Gang of veteran guerrillas would blaze the trails with blood. See also The American Civil War and Guerrilla Warfare.

Recommended Reading: On Guerrilla Warfare, by Mao Tse-tung (Author), Samuel B Griffith (Author). Description: On Guerrilla Warfare, by Mao Tse-Tung, has been translated into English by Samuel B. Griffith. Griffith also provides a substantial introduction to the text. The book is written in the context of China's guerrilla war against Japanese occupiers; this conflict is mentioned often by Mao. In this book, Mao discusses the differences between guerrilla and "orthodox" military forces, as well as how such forces can work together for a common goal. Other topics covered include propaganda, psychological operations, psychological warfare, and political concerns, the formation of guerrilla units, the qualities of a good guerrilla officer, discipline in a guerrilla army, and guerrilla bases. Continued below...

Mao stresses the importance of speed, surprise, and initiative in guerrilla war. Among the most interesting sections of the book is a code of conduct for guerrilla fighters. The book also reflects flashes of passion, poetic imagery, and global vision that make this more than just a textbook. Translator Griffith notes that Mao's text was first published in 1937. Despite the passage of time, I believe that this is still a relevant text, and I recommend it in particular to all professional military personnel.

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Recommended Reading: The U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Description: When the U.S. military invaded Iraq it lacked a common understanding of the problems inherent in counterinsurgency campaigns. It had neither studied them, nor developed doctrine and tactics to deal with them. It is fair to say that in 2003, most Army officers knew more about the U.S. Civil War than they did about counterinsurgency. It was initially released as a government document in December 2006, but owing to its enormous popularity . . . it has now been published by a university press, with a provocative, highly readable new foreword and introduction that testify to the manual's `paradigm-shattering' content. Continued below...

The U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual was written to fill that void. The result of unprecedented collaboration among top U.S. military experts, scholars, and practitioners in the field, the manual espouses an approach to combat that emphasizes constant adaptation and learning, the importance of decentralized decision-making, the need to understand local politics and customs, and the key role of intelligence in winning the support of the population. The manual also emphasizes the paradoxical and often counterintuitive nature of counterinsurgency operations: sometimes the more you protect your forces, the less secure you are; sometimes the more force you use, the less effective it is; sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction. The University of Chicago Press will donate a portion of the proceeds from this book to the Fisher House Foundation, a private-public partnership that supports the families of America’s injured servicemen.

Recommended Reading: Strategy and Tactics of the Salvadoran FMLN Guerrillas: Last Battle of the Cold War, Blueprint for Future Conflicts (Hardcover). Description: This book examines the military organization, strategy, and tactics of the Salvadoran FMLN guerrillas during their efforts to overthrow the government. It is largely based on the authors' personal collections of guerrilla documents captured in the war, interviews with former and captured guerrillas, and personal combat experience during one of the fiercest wars fought in the Western hemisphere in the 20th century. The book describes the guerrilla tactics from a technical point of view, and their evolution during the war in El Salvador. It includes discussions of such tactical concepts as concentration and deconcentration, urban combat, anti-air defense, the use of mines, and homemade weapons.

It contains a chapter on the FMLN Special Forces--they were responsible for most of the spectacular attacks of the war--and it examines the sophisticated logistical system of the FMLN that made the prolonged war possible. Wherever possible, these concepts are illustrated by actual combat experiences from sources on both sides of the conflict. An important text for all concerned with guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency. Students of Guerrilla War, Latin Americans and students of the developing world will also find this of great interest.
Recommended Reading: Bloody Bill Anderson: The Short, Savage Life of a Civil War Guerrilla. Description: Nowhere was the Civil War as savage as it was in Missouri-and nowhere did it produce a killer more savage than William Anderson. For a brief but dramatic period, "Bloody Bill" played the leading role in the most violent arena of the entire war-and did so with a vicious abandon that spread fear throughout the land. A name associated with William Quantrill and Jesse James, Bloody Bill Anderson was known for never taking prisoners. A former horse thief turned bushwhacker, he became the scourge of Kansas and Missouri with a reputation for unspeakable atrocities. Sometimes he left the bodies of dead Federal soldiers scalped, skinned, and castrated. Sometimes he decapitated them and rearranged their heads. Wherever Bloody Bill rode, the Grim Reaper rode alongside. Continued below...

In telling this story of bitter bloodshed, historians Castel and Goodrich track Bloody Bill's reign of terror over increasingly violent raids. He rode with Quantrill in the infamous sack of Lawrence and killed more victims than any other raider. Then he led the brutal Centralia Massacre, a blood-soaked nightmare recounted here hour-by-hour from firsthand accounts. More than compiling a chronicle of horrors, Castel and Goodrich have produced the first full-fledged account of Anderson's career. They examine his prewar life, explain how he became a guerrilla, and then describe the war that he and his men waged against Union soldiers and defenseless civilians alike. The authors' disagreements on many aspects of Anderson's gruesome career add a fascinating dimension to the book. Bloody Bill--only 26 when he was killed charging an ambush--had already become a legend; that legend continues to this very day… This book takes readers behind the legend and provides a closer look at the man-and at the face of terror.

Recommendedd Reading: Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy: Guerrilla Warfare in the West, 1861-1865. Review: Gray Ghosts is an excellent foray into a chapter of the Civil War that does not always garner attention -- the establishment of a police state in Missouri and the subsequent backlash and ensuing war of sabotage by local guerrillas. "Complexifying" the historical landscape, Missouri and Kansas had shared much animosity in the years leading up to the Civil War, and Kanasas, who was a steadfast Union state, used the War as an opportunity to raid Missouri towns as Union Army representatives. Missouri to this point had been a borderline state. Many of the bands of Guerrillas, while they received aid from the Confederacy, never considered themselves a part of any Civil War cause. As Bill Anderson wrote, "I am a guerrilla. I have never belonged to the Confederate Army, nor do my men...I have chosen guerrilla warfare to revenge myself for wrongs that I could not honorably avenge otherwise" (201). Continued below...

These "wrongs" included the murder of his father and mother and the imprisonment of Anderson's sisters. The book is excellently written with thorough footnotes and documentation. Brownlee applies an array of primary and secondary sources, and also shows himself to be an excellent writer, stringing together the accounts into a vivid portrait of the time. His conversations with such characters as Jessie and Frank James, Bloody Bill Anderson, and William Quantrill represent Lazaras-esque scholastic resurrections... From such a perspective, Brownlee comments on both the contextual factors shaping the guerrillas and the decisions they made that in turn shaped history.

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