20 October 1865 – Champ Ferguson
Today people are happy to defend his actions as a guerrilla rebel who targeted many a Yankee soldier or sympathiser during the American Civil War.
Champ or chump?
But while some are happy to hero worship, others can just as easily brand him a cold-hearted killer who wouldn’t think twice about despatching people irrespective of frailty or infirmity during a blood period in US history. But one thing was for sure, he was driven by racism.
His methods were unorthodox and often didn’t follow the code of conduct during war. He would employ barbaric methods in his bid for Confederate supremacy.
On one such occasion, he apparently tied a man to a tree, before running circles round him on his horse, and flaying the victim with his sword until the poor unfortunate was slashed to death.
The elderly, those recuperating in hospital, anyone with a sniff of Yankee about them was fair game in his eyes. At least, that’s what the anti camp reckoned when they levelled the charge of war crimes against him in Nashville after he’d been apprehended. As many as 53 murders were included in the list of offences.
But Ferguson’s fans state ‘Some of his purported victims remained nameless, and many of the other charges were wholly unsupported by either witnesses or documentation’, according to ‘The Sons of Confederate Veterans’ (SCV). They even go as far as to call him a martyr to the cause.
Irrespective of that opinion, he was found guilty of mass murder and hanged aged 43, with his wife and daughter watching.
Or was he?
In a final twist, there was doubt cast on his execution. A biographer, by the name of Thurman Sensing reported in his book ‘Champ Ferguson; Confederate Guerrilla’ that the condemned man’s last request was that he be put in the coffin and handed over to his wife so she could ‘take him back home to White County where he would be surrounded by his family and buried in good Rebel soil’.
The author hinged his ropey argument on the fact that, surely she’d have ensured that his name had been spelled correctly on his headstone.
In actual fact, Sensing goes as far as to suggest Ferguson was cut down almost as soon as he’d fallen through the trap door, and that he’d been secretly carried out to freedom in the coffin. Why, because many other rebels who’d committed similar crimes had been let off, so why should Ferguson be singled out?
Ferguson himself said that he carried on killing because of rumours of what would happen to him if he was ever caught. ‘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.’
His family is alleged to have taken him to Oklahoma where they spent the rest of their days. Indeed Sensing reckoned he has tracked down Champ’s actual grave.
If that’s the case, who’s lying in Champ Furguson’s (sic) grave…?