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On April 21, 1862, the Congress of the Confederate States of America passed the Partisan Ranger Act. The law was intended as a stimulus for recruitment of irregulars for service into the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. The Confederate leadership, like the Union leadership, later opposed the use of irregular warfare, fearing that the lack of discipline among rival guerrilla groups could spiral out of control. On February 17, 1864 the Partisan Ranger Act was repealed after pressure from Robert E. Lee and other Confederate regulars persuaded Congress to repeal the act. Only two partisan rangers groups were exempt and allowed to continue to operate to the very end of the war: Mosby's Raiders and McNeill's Rangers. Both of these independent partisan rangers operated in the western counties of Virginia and were known to exercise military discipline when conducting raids.
Irregular warfare is warfare in which one or both of the sides use irregular military tactics. Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, did not approve of irregular warfare. It was due to the fact that guerillas, a group that were a part of irregular warfare, were too hard to control with their many violent actions and were also diminishing the number of soldiers trying out in the regular army. In 1862, a general had to run all the guerilla recruiters in his camp out. Unfortunately after, there were still not enough soldiers left in the army and irregular warfare was still going on. The result was the Confederate Congress creating the Partisan Ranger Act, which was passed on April 21, 1862.
Partisan Ranger Act
There were two purposes of the Partisan Ranger Act. The first purpose was to take control over guerilla warfare and decide who would and would not be able to use it. This proved useful to Confederate military raiding. The second purpose was to promote the use of guerilla warfare to help protect areas where there was little protection from the army. The Partisan Ranger Act resulted in many Southerners believing that any form of guerilla warfare was now being approved. The Partisan Ranger Act allowed Davis to form groups of partisan rangers. This also led to the recruitment of irregular soldiers into the Confederate army. This meant that partisan rangers would have the same rules, supplies, and pay as the regular soldiers of the army, but they would be acting independently and were going to be detached from the rest of the army. The partisan ranger's job would gather intelligence and take supplies away from the Union army. Anything they brought back, they would give to the quartermaster, a military officer who was in charge of providing food, clothing, and other necessities, and in return, they would get paid. The Partisan Ranger Act drew many Southern men who were interested by this opportunity.
According to Document 94 of the Congress of the Confederate States the Partisan Ranger Act reads as follows:
Section 1. The congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That the president be, and he is hereby authorized to commission such officers as he may deem proper with authority to form bands of Partisan rangers, in companies, battalions, or regiments, to be composed of such members as the President may approve.
Section 2. Be it further enacted, that such partisan rangers, after being regularly received in the service, shall be entitled to the same pay, rations, and quarters during the term of service, and be subject to the same regulations as other soldiers.
Section 3. Be its further enacted, That for any arms and munitions of war captured from the enemy by any body of partisan rangers and delivered to any quartermaster at such place or places may be designated by a commanding general, the rangers shall be paid their full value in such manner as the Secretary of War may prescribe.
By early 1864, Partisan Ranger Act had completely fallen off track. Because of the Partisan Ranger Act, the use of guerilla warfare continued throughout the Civil War. Unfortunately, this caused a major change in the Confederate government as well as the people’s views of irregular warfare. The result of this change was more violence during Confederate guerilla activity. After twenty-two months of the Partisan Ranger Act in effect, it finally ended. The Partisan Ranger Act was repealed on February 17, 1864, after Robert E. Lee persuaded the Congress to do so. This did not mean the end of guerilla warfare entirely, but it meant the end of the Confederate government trying out their new military tactics and strategies. Their experiment had failed in trying to make guerilla warfare a benefit for the Civil War.
Even though the Partisan Ranger Act may have failed in the very end, it did help play important roles in the Civil War. The partisan rangers helped defense and strategy during the war. Multiple partisan rangers groups proved to be useful during battle when collecting information from the Union army.
- Frank Moore, The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, with Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, Etc, Volume 8 New York: G. P. Putnam, 1865 p. 422
- Neil Hunter Raiford, "The 4th North Carolina Cavalry in the Civil War", McFarland & Company, 2003, ISBN 0-7864-1468-5, page 5.
- Robert R. Mackey, "The UnCivil War: Irregular Warfare in the Upper South, 1861-1865," University of Oklahoma Press, 2004, ISBN 978-0-8061-3736-0.
- Inc Ebrary, "Modern Insurgencies and Counter-Insurgencies: Guerrillas and Their Opponents Since 1750", Routledge(UK), 2001, ISBN 0-415-23934-6, page 10.
- McKnight, Brian D., and Barton A. Myers, eds. "The Guerrilla Hunters: Irregular Conflicts During the Civil War.", 2017
- Rutherfurd, Winthrop, The Partisan Ranger Act: The Confederacy and the Laws of War Louisiana Law Review, Volume 79, Number 3, Spring 2019