Book Review: We Shall Conquer or Die: Partisan Warfare in 1862 Western Kentucky

We Shall Conquer or Die: Partisan Warfare in 1862 Western Kentucky. By Derrick Lindow. El Dorado Hills, CA.: Savas Beatie, 2024. Hardcover, 222 pp. $32.95.

Reviewed by James M. Prichard

Passed by the Confederate Congress in the spring of 1862, the Partisan Ranger Act sought to inaugurate a “people’s war” in Union occupied territory led by men emulating the hit-and-run tactics of Francis Marion, the legendary “Swamp Fox” of the Revolution. By early 1864, the experiment was widely criticized by high-ranking Confederate officers who regarded Ranger units as little better than brigands and a haven for deserters from front line commands. While the Act was repealed, some Ranger organizations with outstanding records, such as the partisan commands of Colonel John S. Mosby and Captain John Hanson McNeil, were permitted to continue their operations in Virginia.

In his We Shall Conquer or Die: Partisan Warfare in 1862 Western Kentucky, author Derrick Lindow, a Kentucky educator, has produced an excellent study of another successful partisan leader, Colonel Adam Rankin Johnson. Setting out for western Kentucky in the early summer of 1862, Johnson and his able lieutenant, Robert Martin, boldly began to raise a Partisan Ranger command in Union controlled territory. The daring youths, both former scouts for Nathan Bedford Forrest, eventually raised, armed and equipped, an entire regiment, the 10th Kentucky Partisan Rangers.

Throughout the summer and early fall of 1862, Johnson and Martin fought numerous sharp actions with Union forces and captured six Union controlled towns. On July 18, 1862, with just 40 men, they captured Newburg, Indiana, and carried away numerous small arms from the arsenal of the local militia. These operations were textbook examples of how the Partisan Ranger Act was expected to work. However, with the failure of the Confederate offensive in Kentucky in the fall of 1862, Johnson’s command was ordered to report to Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee and attached to Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s regular cavalry.

Lindow’s work is well written and solidly based on numerous primary and secondary sources, wartime recollections, and contemporary newspapers. One structural quibble stems from the fact that there is no mention of the 1862 Confederate offensive in Kentucky until the book’s closing pages. This begs the question as to whether more Union troops could have operated against the Rangers if they were not needed for the defense of the state.

It should also be noted that the spirits of the ill-fated Colonel Gabriel Netter and other Kentuckians who wore the blue undoubtedly cry out at being described more than once as Yankees.

These minor points aside, Conquer or Die is a long overdue contribution to Kentucky Civil War studies as well as works on partisan and guerrilla warfare. Unlike Missouri and East Tennessee, Kentucky has not been the subject of many studies on partisan warfare. To this date, General John Hunt Morgan’s raids and the minor forays of petty guerrilla chieftains like Marcellus Jerome Clarke, the “Sue Mundy” of legend, have been the primary focus of attention. It should also be noted that Lindow’s work also serves as a much-needed regional study of the conflict in the Bluegrass state.

A fast-paced narrative, Conquer or Die, would be a welcome addition to the Civil War libraries of both serious students of the conflict and the general reader.


The author of Embattled Capital: Frankfort, Kentucky in the Civil War, James M. Prichard is an independent scholar who resides in Louisville, Kentucky.


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