Civil War Talk Radio: March 6, 2009

by Brett Schulte on March 7, 2009 · 0 comments

Air Date: 030609
Subject: Champ Ferguson: Guerilla Soldier
Book: Cumberland Blood: Champ Ferguson’s Civil War & Saltville Massacre
Guest: Dr. Thomas D. Mays

Summary: Thomas D. Mays discusses Confederate guerilla Champ Ferguson.

Brett’s Summary: Civil War Talk Radio has a new home for information on the episodes, http://www.cwtr.org.  Gerry plans to put up a description of how to find past shows in the archives at this site soon.

Dr. Mays is Chair of the Department of History at Humboldt State University.  Gerry starts the discussion by proclaiming Champ Ferguson as the most disagreeable Civil War personality he ever met.  Dr. Mays comes from old Confederate families on both sides.  He attended Virginia Tech under James I. Roberson.

Champ Ferguson came from eastern Kentucky along the Cumberland River.  Ferguson had a murder charge against him even prior to the war, enjoyed drinking, and had a bad temper.  Two of Ferguson’s brothers remained loyal to the Union while Champ went with the Confederacy.  Dr. Mays comments that the more well-off people in border areas tended to side with the South while poorer members stayed loyal.

Early in the war, he was captured and escaped.  Mays says Ferguson swore he’d never be taken alive again and started his own personal guerilla war against local Unionists.  The discussion then turned to the ferocity and personal nature of guerilla warfare in border areas.

As the second portion of the episode got underway, Gerry pointed out that early in the war southern Kentucky was really a no man’s land as far as functioning government went.  This was part of the reason Ferguson started on his killing spree.

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One of the stories circulated about Ferguson’s reason for killing Unionists (even during the war) was that the local Union home guard had caused his wife and daughter to strip naked and walk around the house and then raped them.  Interestingly, says Mays, Ferguson was asked about this before his execution and he denied it ever took place.  There was another story about a Union soldier killing his son, but his son died before the Civil War.  The real reason Ferguson started killing, according to Mays, was due to what he calls “a gang war” between the two sides.  Mays says pre-war feuds did not carry over, but rather pre-war politics which caused people to choose sides.

In this type of warfare, you can kill a direct enemy, but by doing so you create numerous new enemies among his family and friends.  This type of thing snowballed for Ferguson during the war.  Mays talked about interesting documentation of people asking for retribution against Ferguson from the authorities on both sides!  Mays says Ferguson created many more enemies than he ever vanquished.

Ferguson’s motivation was not to be a Southern patriot.  Instead he was fighting for himself, his home, family, and neighbors.  Dr. Mays pointed out he was extremely loyal to his friends.  Ferguson even killed the brother of his first wife for killing one of his friends shortly after the battle of Saltville.  He did this while the man was in a Confederate hospital while guarded by Confederate troops.

Ferguson did have a muster roll for his group but there were no names higher than Ferguson, who was listed as a captain, and no regiment listed.  Mays explains that he held a semi-official role as a scout for Morgan’s cavalry.  Ferguson claimed he had been authorized to raise an independent company.

As the second portion of the show came to an end, Gerry talked about a town which had tried to call a truce among the warring factions.  Ferguson ignored this truce and continued his killing ways.

As the third segment started, Gerry asked Dr. Mays about the battle of Saltville and its aftermath.  The battle was fought in 1864.  The town was the home of salt brine wells and hence was a target of Union troops.  In this Union expedition, African-American troops were present.  After the battle, captured African-Americans were “mostly put to death” according to Dr. Mays.  Witnesses reported Ferguson also walked around killing white soldiers who had fought alongside black troops.

Ferguson’s killing of the man in a Confederate hospital was the beginning of the end.  In 1865 he engaged in a personal war against a Tennessee Unionist family, almost killing the leader.  This led to his capture, trial, and execution.  The Union leaders tricked Ferguson by telling him he could go home and they would peacefully talk to him if they needed to.  Instead, he was arrested and was put on trial in Nashville in the summer and fall of 1865.  He was eventually executed.

Civil War Talk Radio airs most Fridays at 12 PM Pacific on World Talk Radio Studio A. Host Gerry Prokopowicz, the History Chair at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, interviews a guest each week and discusses their interest in the Civil War. Most interviews center around a book or books if the guest is an author. Other guests over the years have included public historians such as park rangers and museum curators, wargamers, bloggers, and even a member of an American Civil War Round Table located in London, England.

In this series of blog entries, I will be posting air dates, subjects, and guests, and if I have time, I’ll provide a brief summary of the program. You can find all of the past episodes I’ve entered into the blog by clicking on the Civil War Talk Radio category. Each program should appear either on or near the date it was first broadcast.

Check out more summaries of Civil War Talk Radio at TOCWOC.

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