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Cumberland Blood

Champ Ferguson's Civil War

Thomas D. Mays

Publication Year: 2008

By the end of the Civil War, Champ Ferguson had become a notorious criminal whose likeness covered the front pages of Harper’s Weekly, Leslie’s Illustrated, and other newspapers across the country. His crime? Using the war as an excuse to steal, plunder, and murder Union civilians and soldiers.

Cumberland Blood: Champ Ferguson’s Civil War offers insights into Ferguson's lawless brutality and a lesser-known aspect of the Civil War, the bitter guerrilla conflict in the Appalachian highlands, extending from the Carolinas through Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. This compelling volume delves into the violent story of Champ Ferguson, who acted independently of the Confederate army in a personal war that eventually garnered the censure of Confederate officials.

Author Thomas D. Mays traces Ferguson's life in the Cumberland highlands of southern Kentucky, where—even before the Civil War began—he had a reputation as a vicious killer.

Ferguson, a rising slave owner, sided with the Confederacy while many of his neighbors and family members took up arms for the Union. For Ferguson and others in the highlands, the war would not be decided on the distant fields of Shiloh or Gettysburg: it would be local—and personal.

Cumberland Blood describes how Unionists drove Ferguson from his home in Kentucky into Tennessee, where he banded together with other like-minded Southerners to drive the Unionists from the region. Northern sympathizers responded, and a full-scale guerrilla war erupted along the border in 1862. Mays notes that Ferguson's status in the army was never clear, and he skillfully details how raiders picked up Ferguson's gang to work as guides and scouts. In 1864, Ferguson and his gang were incorporated into the Confederate army, but the rogue soldier continued operating as an outlaw, murdering captured Union prisoners after the Battle of Saltville, Virginia.

Cumberland Blood, enhanced by twenty-one illustrations, is an illuminating assessment of one of the Civil War's most ruthless men.

Ferguson's arrest, trial, and execution after the war captured the attention of the nation in

1865, but his story has been largely forgotten. Cumberland Blood: Champ Ferguson's Civil War returns the story of Ferguson's private civil war to its place in history.


Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4


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pp. 5-7


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pp. 8-9


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p. ix-ix


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-11

THE TIME HAD COME FOR CHAMP FERGUSON TO DIE. The Nashville weather had been cold in the days leading up to 20 October 1865, the date set for the execution. That morning the State Penitentiary on the corner of Stonewall and Church Streets...

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1. “A terror to peaceable citizens”

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pp. 12-20

CHAMP FERGUSON WAS RAISED IN THE HIGHLAND border region of Tennessee and Kentucky. He came from a rising yeoman-farmer family and displayed the values of the rural South. While Ferguson seemed to have much going in his favor, even...

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2. “The day for discussion had passed”

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pp. 21-33

THE ELECTION OF 1860 AND THE COMING OF THE CIVIL war divided people in the Cumberland highlands. While many in the eastern mountain counties of Tennessee and Kentucky remained loyal to the Union, the counties in the foothills became a...

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3. “Don’t you beg and don’t you dodge”

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pp. 34-49

THE QUESTION OF WHY FERGUSON BEGAN KILLING during the war is still debated. A rumor at the time was that he was out to avenge an atrocity that the Home Guard had committed against his wife and daughter. Ferguson always denied it. In...

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4. “Clean as you go, you aught to have shot them”

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pp. 50-65

EIGHTEEN SIXTY-TWO BEGAN IN KENTUCKY WITH THE Confederate armies being driven from the state. As the front moved south, Union men in Tennessee began to form independent companies to counter the threat presented by Ferguson and the...

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5. “I ain’t killed but thirty-two men since this war commenced”

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pp. 66-79

THROUGHOUT THE SPRING AND SUMMER OF 1862, Ferguson continued his ruthless killing spree. He butchered his former neighbors, friends, and relatives for riding with the Home Guard or simply for siding with the Union. During this period...

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6. “A damned good christian!—and I dont reckon he minds dying”

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pp. 80-94

THROUGHOUT 1862, FERGUSON SOUGHT TO HAVE HIS gang of outlaws accepted as a regular Confederate company, but no one seemed to want to accept responsibility for them. On Morgan’s First Kentucky Raid, Duke observed that Ferguson commanded...

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7. “All are Southern but opposed to Champ”

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pp. 95-109

AS THE WAR CONTINUED, FERGUSON’S REPUTATION AS A ruthless guerrilla grew. Just the thought of a raid by his gang sent Union communities and forces into a panic. Throughout 1863 and 1864, Federal forces made repeated attempts to clear Middle Tennessee...

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8. “I have a begrudge against Smith”

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pp. 110-125

IN THE SECOND HALF OF 1864, FERGUSON DISCOVERED that he could no longer operate independently along the border. He then joined with the Confederate army but found that his brutal form of warfare would not be tolerated. By the end of summer, Ferguson...

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9. “The Mosby of the West is now on trial in Nashville”

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pp. 126-145

ALTHOUGH THE CIVIL WAR HAD ENDED, FERGUSON returned to the border and resumed his raiding and killing—it seems that he did not know when to quit. If Ferguson had simply laid down his arms and disbanded his men after Lee’s surrender...

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pp. 146-150

FOLLOWING FERGUSON’S EXECUTION, HIS WIFE AND daughter returned to White County with his body. Ferguson was buried at the France family cemetery along the Calfkiller River, at his wartime home. For several years after the war Martha and Ann...


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pp. 153-156


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pp. 166-179


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pp. 157-179


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pp. 181-187


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pp. 189-194

Back Cover

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p. 218-218

E-ISBN-13: 9780809387038
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809328604

Publication Year: 2008