William Monks. A History of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas; Being an Account of the Early Settlements, the Civil War, the Ku-Klux, and Times of Peace. Bradbury Jr. and Lou Wehmer. The Civil War in the West Series. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2003. lxvii + 194 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-55728-753-3; $17.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-55728-832-5.
Reviewed by William Piston (Department of History, Missouri State University)
Published on H-CivWar (June, 2008)
Guerrilla War in the Trans-Mississippi: A Rare Memoir Reprinted
The publication of an edited version of William Monks's rare autobiography is a service to scholars of guerrilla warfare in the Civil War generally, and a particular boon to those interested in the Trans-Mississippi. Monks's memoirs provide a rare Unionist perspective on some of the most vicious fighting of the entire conflict. Through their fine work, editors John F. Bradbury Jr. and Lou Wehmer have made an important contribution to the growing literature on the war west of the river. The book is a significant addition to the Civil War in the West series edited by Daniel E. Sutherland for the University of Arkansas Press.
Monks considered himself an antiguerrilla fighter, but, to some of his contemporaries, he was as deserving of the label guerrilla as those he fought. When the seventy-seven-year-old Monks published his memoirs in 1907, in a limited edition, he was still a controversial figure in the areas of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, which had been the scene of his activities during both the Civil War and Reconstruction. His memory lingered for many years following his death in 1913, but even the most notorious figures may grow obscure over time. Thus, this first-ever reprinting of Monks's vivid tale provides scholars with easy access to a biased but nevertheless important source that has long been difficult to obtain.
Monks was born in Alabama in 1830 and arrived in southern Missouri with his family in 1849. When the Civil War broke out, he was a constable in West Plains. Arrested by those who favored secession and taken to Arkansas, Monks escaped back to Missouri and made his way to Rolla. There, he was reunited with his wife and children, who had become refugees. In the subsequent war years, Monks served federal forces and the Unionist provisional state government in a variety of ways: he acted as a guide and scout for the U.S. Army; was an officer in the state militia; and, late in the war, joined a volunteer regiment, the Sixteenth Missouri Cavalry. During much of the conflict, he found or created opportunities to lead small units against guerrillas and outlaw bands in Missouri and Arkansas. Following the war, Monks served in the state legislature and commanded militia units composed of both former Union and Confederate veterans who combated lawlessness along the Missouri-Arkansas border. His operations directly opposed the Ku Klux Klan in Arkansas. For most of the 1870s, he was a participant in political affairs that often involved violence (he claimed to have survived two assassination attempts). But he withdrew from the fray in 1878 and turned his attention to religion; he was ordained in the Christian Church in 1880. He did not hold a pastorate, but supported his family though various ventures until his death in 1913.
The particularly violent character of the guerrilla war in Missouri and Arkansas has been well documented by historians in various studies, including Michael Fellman's Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri during the American Civil War (1989), Daniel Sutherland's edited collection Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front (1999), and others. Monks's memoirs remind us of the highly personal nature of the guerrilla war and the fact that it did not end in 1865. His history is full of names and the details of personal encounters. The men he hunted down without mercy were often his neighbors. Monks not only sought justice on the field of combat, but also sued individuals after the war to recover the property losses that he suffered.
Monks's determination to hold former Confederates responsible is in line with the themes of his memoir: loyalty and civic order. He wrote at a time when most veterans of blue and gray, and most of the nation generally, embraced what historian David W. Blight has identified in his Race and Reunion; The Civil War in American Memory (2001) as a reconciliationist memory of the Civil War. In this view, all white participants, North and South, were accorded public honor, while slavery as the cause of the war and emancipation as its greatest accomplishment were ignored. Monks was a reconciliationist up to a point; he was willing to forgive but not forget, and he rarely viewed Confederates as men of honor whose valor deserved recognition. Yet, Monks's memoir makes no mention of slaves, slavery, or emancipation. In his memoir, Unionists stand for loyalty and civic order, secessionists for disloyalty and chaos. Union victory brings a return of orderly civil government. He presents the Klan's postwar activities as a challenge to order and legitimate government rather than an attempt to assert white supremacy. Monks makes only the briefest mention of African Americans; while acknowledging their suffering at the hands of the Klan, he presents them as childlike and easily intimidated.
Editors Bradbury and Wehmer provide a superb forty-five page introduction that places Monks's life and activities within the context of local politics, the larger war, and Reconstruction in Missouri and Arkansas. The book's illustrations, from Monks's original edition, include images of the elderly Monks and his comrades posing for photographs that reenact his exploits. Although the editors provide a map depicting Monks's "theater of operations," it does not depict individual counties, a significant failing given the details Monks relates.
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William Piston. Review of Monks, William, A History of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas; Being an Account of the Early Settlements, the Civil War, the Ku-Klux, and Times of Peace.
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