Definition of Bushwacker


"Bushwacker" is a variant spelling of the term "bushwhacker." Since the late 19th century, the term in the U.S. has been used as a slang reference to an unsophisticated person or to someone who is considered a cheat or a scoundrel. However, the original meaning of the word was somewhat different.

Earliest Appearance

  • The English-language term, "bushwhacker," is believed to have come from the Dutch term, "bosch-wachter," meaning "forest keeper." In early 19th century America, "bushwhacker" referred to a person who worked or lived in the woods.

U.S. Civil War

  • In the early part of the U.S. Civil War, the term "bushwhacker" referred to either a Union or Confederate soldier who fought independently and without regard for military orders. Soon only Confederate irregulars were called bushwhackers.

Confederate Bushwhackers

  • By the middle of the U.S. Civil War, Confederate soldiers who hid in the woods and then ambushed, attacked, and killed Union soldiers or supporters were the only individuals referred to as bushwhackers. Jayhawkers were Union soldiers who robbed civilians, under the direction of abolitionists.

Individuals and Groups

  • Bushwhackers frequently acted alone, but also worked in bushwhacking groups.

William Clarke Quantrill

  • One of the most famous bushwhackers was William Clarke Quantrill, who led bushwhacking raids against Union soldiers and supporters from 1861-1865. His band of bushwhackers was responsible for the Lawrence Massacre, which left almost 200 dead in Lawrence, Kansas on August 21, 1863.

Modern Usage

  • By the late 19th century, a bushwhacker in the U.S. was seen as either a "hillbilly" or an unsavory person. In Australia, bushwhacker is still used to refer to a person who lives or works in the woods or "bush."


  • Photo Credit Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
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