Following the Civil War, a military commission met in Nashville on July 11, 1865 for the trial of Champ Ferguson, the most notorious of the many guerilla fighters who fought to control the Upper Cumberland Plateau region during the war.
Two charges were placed against him. The first charge was being a guerilla and organizing and associating with a band of lawless men, and being their leader, without any lawful authority or commission from any military power, and that he continuously carried on a predatory and barbarous guerilla warfare, committing many acts of cruelty and inhumanity, becoming a notorious murderer, robber and freebooter in Clinton County, Kentucky and Fentress County, Tennessee, and in the neighboring counties of these states from the year 1861 to May of 1865.
The second charge was murder. Fifty-three murdered victims were named in the indictment. Who were they and what were the dates and occasions surrounding their murders?
1. Nov. 1, 1861 - William Frogg, age 22, Clinton County, 12th Kentucky Regiment, Co. D (my third great uncle). He was home sick in bed with the measles when Ferguson confronted him about being at the Union Army's training camp, Camp Dick Robinson, near Standford. In Champ's world, many of his once long time friends and neighbors had become his enemies. He despised what the training camp stood for. Regardless of who or what they were, he was compelled to target and eliminate those who had been there. ‘I reckon you caught the measles at Camp Dick Robinson,’ Ferguson said just before he shot him dead. Findagrave 217632875
2. Dec. 4, 1861 - Reuben Wood, age 56, Clinton County. Ferguson shot him twice at his home near Albany on Dec. 1st. He died three days later.
3-5. April 1862 - Joseph Stover, William Johnson and Lewis Pierce, near Henry Johnson's house on Wolf River in Clinton County. Ferguson shot and stabbed Pvt. Stover of 1st Ky Cavalry. He chased Johnson and shot at him, causing him to fall over a steep cliff resulting in his death. He shot Pierce.
6. April 1, 1862 - Fount Zachary, age 18, Fentress County. Fount surrendered the shotgun he was carrying, but Ferguson shot him anyway. Almost as soon as he hit the ground, Ferguson was on him with his Bowie knife, and Fount became the first of four Zachary males to fall to Ferguson.
7. May 2, 1862 - Alexander Huff, Sr., age 51, at Pall Mall. He shot him in the head at the old Conrad Pile home. Findagrave 30015273
8. June 1, 1862 - Elisha Koger, age 32, at Oak Grove (my 3rd great-grandfather). He was shot over 30 times outside his home, not far from the Oak Grove Church Cemetery. Findagrave 59105584
9. June 1, 1862 - James Zachary, age 48, Fentress County. Fount Zachary's uncle. He was a magistrate. Findagrave 110262343
10. Aug. 27, 1862 - Joseph Beck, age 45, Poplar Mountain at Duvall Valley Findagrave 31965322
11-14. Oct. 5, 1862 - John Williams, William David Delk, John Crabtree, unknown African-American girl, near the home of Mrs Piles in Fentress County. They were taken from John Huff's mother's home in Fentress County, tied up, removed about a hundred yards away and found dead in a horse lot at Mrs. Piles' home. Williams was shot in the head. Delk was shot once through his chest, and a bayonet ran through it. Crabtree was cut up all over. The unknown negro girl was cut up into pieces in a barbarous manner.
15. Oct. 28, 1862 - Washington Tabor, age 55, Clinton County. He was taken outside his home near Snow and shot. Findagrave 43940663
16. Nov. 1862 - Dr. William McGlasson, Cumberland Co. He was told to run or be killed. He did but was killed anyway, plus robbed and stripped of his clothes. Ferguson denied this.
17-19. Jan. 1, 1863 - Peter and Allan Zachary of Pickett County and Pvt. Elam Huddleston. It happened at the home of Capt. Rufus Dowdy in Russell County. The home was under construction. The upstairs had but a few planks on the joists. Huddleston was shot from an upstairs window and was believed to be dead when he fell to the ground floor. Ferguson killed Peter Zachary and Allan Zachary was killed by the others under Ferguson's command. Elam Huddleston Findagrave 810673. Huddleston was at the Battle of Mill Springs and is buried at the national cemetery. The Zachary's were from Pickett County.
20-39. Feb. 22 1864 - Nineteen unknown soldiers, TN 5th Cavalry. Operations against guerrillas at Johnson’s Mills and Calfkiller River in White County, TN. During this time frame, Ferguson was accused of murdering (unknown) 19 men of the U.S. 5th TN Cavaly.
40-52. Oct. 4, 1864 - Twelve Federal Army soldiers, plus two colored soldiers, all unknown. The First Battle of Saltville (October 2, 1864) was fought over an important saltworks near that town in Virginia. The participants included one of the few black cavalry units. The murder of captured and wounded black soldiers after the battle has been called the Saltville Massacre.” Champ Ferguson fought in this battle. Two of the charges accused him of murdering surrendered United States Colored Troops after the battle had ended. Thomas Mays’ 1995 book, "The Saltville Massacre," recalls the testimony of Pvt. Harry Shocker, a wounded prisoner who watched Ferguson calmly walk about the battlefield killing both white and black prisoners. Champ denied killing any black troops at Saltville.
53. Oct. 7th, 1864 - Lt. Eliza Smith, a Clinton County resident, lay wounded at Emory and Henry College Hospital at Emory, Virginia, when Ferguson burst into the room, approached his bed and placed his gun a foot from the helpless Smith’s forehead. After three misfires, the gun discharged and Smith lay dead with a bullet through his head. Lt. Smith is buried at Knoxville National Cemetery. His wife, Lucy Staton Smith, is buried at Dr. Smith Cemetery in Clinton County. Findagrave 2972
Even though he was charged with killing fifty-three people, Ferguson boasted of killing over a hundred. He said those he had killed were seeking his life and that he was justified by killing in self defense.
He said, "I am yet and will die a Rebel … I killed a good many men, of course, but I never killed a man who I did not know was seeking my life. … I had always heard that the Federals would not take me prisoner, but would shoot me down wherever they found me. That is what made me kill more than I otherwise would have done. I repeat that I die a Rebel out and out, and my last request is that my body be removed to White County, Tennessee, and be buried in good Rebel soil."
The trial ended with Ferguson's conviction on Sept. 26, 1865. He was hanged on Oct. 20, 1865. Per his request, he was buried at France Cemetery, north of Sparta, TN, off Highway 84.
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