Master of Arts (MA)


Michael Davis


Bushwhackers, Civil War, Guerrilla warfare, Irregular warfare, Western Virginia, West Virginia


Appalachian Studies | Cultural History | History | Military History | United States History


The American Civil War unleashed great violence and chaos in the western mountains of Virginia. The guerrilla warfare there between Unionists and secessionists remained bitter throughout the war. No historical study has considered the entirety of pre-war western Virginia during the time it underwent a unique civil war within the context of the national struggle from 1861-1865. This study supports findings from studies of other areas of Appalachia that seek to explain the prevalence of such conflict in the mountains, challenges the myth of a Union Appalachia during the war, offers the backdrop for the political wrangling on both state and national levels that culminated in the creation of the state of West Virginia, and fills an important gap in the historiography of Civil War Virginia. Rather than using the traditional approach of studying irregular warfare according to the types of fighters involved, western Virginia guerrillas and their impact on their communities are best considered according to their motives for involvement: military strategy, personal advancement, or self-preservation. Although western Virginia guerrillas did not impact the ultimate direction of the war, they did establish a culture of violence that lingered in the area well after the Civil War ended.