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Extreme Civil War

Guerrilla Warfare, Environment, and Race on the Trans-Mississippi Frontier

Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War

232 pages / 5.50 x 8.50 inches / 6 halftones, 1 map

ebook available

Civil War | Southern History

  Hardcover / 9780807163146 / May 2016
During the American Civil War the western Trans-Mississippi frontier was host to harsh environmental conditions, irregular warfare, and intense racial tensions that created extraordinarily difficult conditions for both combatants and civilians. Matthew M. Stith’s Extreme Civil War focuses on Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Indian Territory to examine the physical and cultural frontiers that challenged Confederate and Union forces alike. A disturbing narrative emerges where conflict indiscriminately beset troops and families in a region that continually verged on social and political anarchy. With hundreds of small fights disbursed over the expansive borderland, fought by civilians—even some women and children—as much as by soldiers and guerrillas, this theater of war was especially savage.
Despite connections to the political issues and military campaigns that drove the larger war, the irregular conflict in this border region represented a truly disparate war within a war. The blend of violence, racial unrest, and frontier culture presented distinct challenges to combatants, far from the aid of governmental services. Stith shows how white Confederate and Union civilians faced forces of warfare and the bleak environmental realities east of the Great Plains while barely coexisting with a number of other ethnicities and races, including Native Americans and African Americans. In addition to the brutal fighting and lack of basic infrastructure, the inherent mistrust among these communities intensified the suffering of all citizens on America's frontier.
Extreme Civil War reveals the complex racial, environmental, and military dimensions that fueled the brutal guerrilla warfare and made the Trans-Mississippi frontier one of the most difficult and diverse pockets of violence during the Civil War.
1. “Ripe for the Harvest”: The Border before the War, 1860–1861
2. “Civil War Was Fully Inaugurated”: The Border War, 1861
3. “The Depth of Misfortune and Misery”: Regular and Irregular War, 1862
4. “The Arch Fiend Could Desire Nothing More”: The Devolution of War, 1863
5. “Deplorable Condition of the Country”: Civilization Extirpated, 1864–1865

Matthew M. Stith is assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at Tyler.

Praise for Extreme Civil War

“Despite the vast amount written on the Civil War, imaginative scholars find new aspects of the conflict and sources to explore them. . . . While the area studied is small and seemingly on the fringe of the Civil War, the issues Stith raises have much to say about the nature of the conflict between North and South. Highly recommended.”—CHOICE

“A richly textured account of a region and its people at war . . . . Stith’s chapters deftly integrate conventional military history with cultural, racial, and environmental history--bringing together in fresh ways several key sub-fields in Civil War history. . . . It is hard to imagine that anyone could produce a more exhaustive or compelling account of the guerrilla conflict in the western Trans-Mississippi frontier.”—Journal of Military History

“[Extreme Civil War’s] powerful narrative builds upon a broad range of primary sources. . . .Stith describes the borderland conflict as a ‘war in the margins,’ and that phrase also provides a fitting illustration of how this synthesis reaches across many subfields of historical study. . . . Its sharp focus and splendid execution make it a welcome addition to the scholarship of the border West.”—Jeremy Neely, Missouri Historical Review

Extreme Civil War considerably expands the geographical area under consideration by border war scholars and enhances our understanding of just how frightening and deadly the war could be for civilians. The book also succeeds in making meaningful connections with newer branches of study (like environmental history). . . . Extreme Civil War is highly recommended reading.”—Civil War Books and Authors

“The author writes well, and he has researched scores of primary sources to assemble a compelling account of the miserable existence that many families on both sides were forced to endure during the war. This book is highly recommended for Civil War buffs, especially those who are interested in the Trans-Mississippi Theater.”—Journal of America’s Military Past

“Stith’s book . . . is a timely outgrowth of the fairly open and fertile ground of guerrilla studies. . . . A well-researched study.”—North Carolina Historical Review

“A ground breaking study of the protracted irregular warfare in the Trans-Mississippi. . . . Stith makes his case well, drawing evidence both from official documents and published materials, as well as from an extraordinary number of first-hand accounts by civilians, government officials, and soldiers.”—NYMAS Review

“This well-written and engaging book should become required reading for those who persist in disputing whether the Civil War was a total war or not. For those who lived along the frontier where Missouri and Arkansas meet Kansas and Oklahoma, the war experience was of course total, and devastating. Gender, ethnicity, race--all made no difference to those who took advantage of the absence of civilized authority to wage a personal war on their own horrific terms. This work thus provides an insight not only into the brutality of the war years, but also the lingering bitterness that plagued the region for years to come.”—Richard B. McCaslin, author of Tainted Breeze: The Great Hanging at Gainesville, Texas, 1862

“Matthew Stith’s Extreme Civil War is a concise yet vivid portrayal of the Civil War along the borders of Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, and Indian Territory. In clear, compelling language, Stith reveals that on the Trans-Mississippi frontier, the war took on a unique character, where civilians, guerrillas, and regular armed forces unceasingly fought for control over the land and its resources, leaving the region a literal ‘burned over’ district, largely depopulated and left to nature to reclaim. Easy to read, deeply researched, and filled with first-hand accounts, Stith’s book is a welcome and unique contribution to Civil War studies.”—Lisa M. Brady, author of War upon the Land: Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscapes during the American Civil War

“Here is a book American Civil War scholars have needed for some time. Stith injects the important role of environmental history into one of the Civil War South’s vicious guerrilla wars and establishes this as an important area of exploration for future studies of irregulars. Thanks to Stith, the story of the western Trans-Mississippi region during the war of the 1860s will never be the same.”—Barton A. Myers, author of Rebels against the Confederacy: North Carolina’s Unionists

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