Greatest Guerrilla Fighters in American History
Since the American Revolution, our country has had some seriously wily fighters. Here are the top guerrilla fighters in American history.
Whether we want to admit it or not, our country was founded on people who thought differently. This is true when it comes to the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and even to the methods our forefathers used when they fought the American Revolution.
Guerrilla fighting was seen as a bad move by most European generals, but Americans definitely brought it back into focus. Over the years, guerrilla fighters in the US Armed Forces have helped turn entire wars in our favor and repeatedly changed the course of history.
If you don't believe it, take a look at the wild warriors who are regularly called the best guerrilla fighters in American history.
Prior to being the first president of the United States, George Washington was a general who became known for his guerrilla warfare tactics. While the "redcoats" went into America and fought in an orderly, linear fashion, Washington would tell his troops to use more roundabout tactics.
Washington was known for sending small sets of troops to raid British groups, using small scale battles to break up larger groups of Brits as they tried to build up for a traditional battle.
His tactics were what helped America win the war, and quickly were copied by other revolutionaries in the mix. As such, Washington definitely earned the right to be called one of the greatest guerrilla fighters in American history.
Francis “The Swamp Fox” Marion
Perhaps the only person who was as known for being as good as Washington was Francis Marion. Also known as the "Swamp Fox," he was one of the few guerrilla fighters in American history to fight against local Cherokee Indians in the 1760s and then join the Revolutionary War a decade later.
Marion's strength was throwing wrenches in opposing troops' plans and freeing captives. His work ended up having a major impact in the American Revolution and became folkloric for decades after the battles ended.
John "The Gray Ghost" Mosby
John Mosby was the Confederate commander who was in charge of a group that later became known as "Mosby's Rangers." Few guerrilla fighters in American history have as strong a rep for brutality as he did.
Ardently loyal to the Confederacy, Mosby and his Ranger troops were known for launching a series of devastating attacks on Union troops. After they would launch lightning-fast raids, he and his Rangers would retreat and blend into local crowds.
No one on the Union side was ever able to capture him. It was as if he'd disappear into thin air—which is what gave him his "Grey Ghost" nickname. By 1864, Mosby and his men were all listed as criminals wanted for the death penalty by the Union.
What's kind of crazy about Mosby is that he and his soldiers continued to try to fight the Union after surrenders had been made. Mosby himself was a wanted criminal until Ulysses S. Grant and other bigwigs stepped in on his behalf and rescinded the arrest warrant.
General George Patton may have had the fanbase, but if you want to be real, he wasn't the most dangerous general of World War II. It was Carl Eifler who earned that right—as well as the honor of being one of the best guerrilla fighters in American history.
Eifler brought American trainers into Burma and recruited locals from the Kachin people to fight against the Japanese troops. He and his ragtag group of people used guerrilla war tactics to take down over 5,000 Japanese soldiers through the duration of the war.
What's even more impressive is that his sneaky tactics helped 500 differed Allied prisoners escape from Axis prison camps. The Kachin people also offered spy work and would give intelligence to Allied forces on where to strike.
Maj. Peter J. Ortiz
Imagine being a World War II American sent into a Nazi-occupied battlefield via parachute with your four fellow comrades. Imagine one dies being shot while landing. What would you do?
If you were one of the best guerrilla fighters in American history like Major Peter Ortiz, you'd team up with the other soldiers and make the Nazis' lives hell. He was the kind of guy who could wreck a lot of the most notorious leaders of WWII—and he totally did, too.
Ortiz and his trio of buddies joined with the Maquis resistance. Together, they stole Nazi supplies, would regularly raid German troops, and sabotaged their goods.
The losses were so big that Germans allegedly thought that an entire battalion came in. Eventually, they were captured, but Germans believed they were lying about the number of people in the troop. You'd think this was the end, but it wasn't.
Ortiz survived after the war, became an actor, and even had multiple movies that were based off his exploits during World War II. His son enlisted, showing that military life definitely does run in your blood.
It goes to show that some celebrities who were WWII veterans weren't just there to look good, doesn't it?
James H. Lane
Among historians, Senator James H. Lane is a bit of a controversy. Prior to the Civil War, he became known as one of the greatest guerrilla fighters in American history for his work with the Free State group—an activist group that did what they could to keep slavery out of Kansas.
By the time the Civil War broke out, Lane recruited over 2,000 men for the Union and launched massive ambushes that protected Union groups from Confederate attacks. They were called "Lane's Brigade," and were known for being a bit wild.
Unfortunately, Lane went off the deep end around September of 1861. Lane's controversy began when he ended up going to Missouri and burned Osceola to a crisp as an act of revenge.
It was only because he was a senator and closely tied to Lincoln that his bloodbath was forgiven.
John McNeill remains one of the most vicious guerrilla fighters in American history, especially when it comes to the Civil War. His claim to fame was wrecking Union solder supply lines by setting fires to the railroads carrying shipments and even going so far as to destroy a bridge to cut off supplies.
Many Union troops starved as a result of his actions. While he was killed during the war, the Confederate troop loyalty to his name kept his soldiers fighting on after his death.
Only 200 men were in McNeill's troops. They were able to divert over 25,000 Union soldiers from their paths. That's impressive, no matter who you are.
William "Bloody Bill" Anderson
Now, part of being adept at guerrilla warfare is learning how to strike fear in the hearts of the enemies around you. Bloody Bill was one of the best guerrilla fighters in American history precisely because he did this so well.
Along with doing the regular raid and supply line destruction tactics of a typical Confederate guerrilla soldier, Bill was known for making examples of the Union soldiers he captured. (This makes sense, since Union soldiers had killed one of his sisters.)
His tactics included scalping captives, chopping off their ears, and butchering them at the drop of a hat. He and his dozens of friends, all of whom were confirmed outlaws like himself, had ended up killing over 120 soldiers in total.
Fun Fact: Bloody Bill and the legendary outlaw Jesse James teamed up during the Civil War and served alongside each other.
One of the most unsung heroes of World War II was Russell Volckmann—and truly, he was one of the greatest guerrilla fighters in American history. General MacArthur may have officially left the Philippines, but US soldier Russell Volckmann refused to stop the fight.
He ended up recruiting over 20,000 Filipino soldiers. Together, they led a massive guerrilla war against the Japanese troops and ended up slaying over 50,000 Axis members during their campaign.
The massive losses the Axis experienced at his hands made it impossible for them to fight back against the Allied powers in Asia. Had Volckmann not fought, Japan might not have surrendered after the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
One of the little-known facts about World War II is that Volckmann was the one Japanese forces were most afraid of; not MacArthur. His tactics and recruitment techniques were later included in books he wrote that continue to educate soldiers today.
To a point, it's obvious that Native Americans ranked highly among the greatest guerrilla fighters in American history. They were often the ones who taught Revolutionary War soldiers how to fight, and to a point, also exemplified how dangerous these tactics could be.
Crazy Horse was known for taking a very psychological approach to war, and would often do what he could to distract generals until they were cornered. He once led George Crook on a wild goose chase that ended when he surrounded the troops' flanks.
Crook didn't make it out alive.
Of course, he also was a fan of subtle communications to lead his men. He was famous for using mirrors to send signals during the Battle of Little Bighorn, and for having troops signal one another with loud whoops.
Forbes is not a name that most people recognize, but he's still one of the best guerrilla fighters in American history. He was George Washington's commander, and was one of the first to recognize the deadliness of guerrilla tactics after witnessing them firsthand from a skirmish with Native American forces.
He was the first to acknowledge the brilliance of the tactics and wrote:
"We must comply and learn the Art of War, from Enemy Indians."
His study of Native American guerrilla tactics paid off after his underling, George Washington, ended up using them to annihilate British troops later on.