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Posted May 16, 2004
The Fight at Jackson Fairgrounds:
Confederate Victory Against the Odds
©2003 Kirby Ross
with an Introduction by James E. McGhee, ©2003
The Fight at Jackson Fairgrounds: Confederate Victory Against the Odds
© Kirby Ross
|Author's Note & Introduction|
|Ch 1 - Lindsay Murdoch|
|Ch 2 - Chasing Phantoms||
Ch 7 - Aftermath
|Ch 3 - Closing In||
Ch 8 - Mopping Up
|Ch 4 - Hell Breaks Loose||Epilogue|
Ch 5 - To the Death
Adding to the concerns of Murdoch, token Confederate forces in the county under the command of William L. Jeffers and Solomon G. Kitchen happened to choose this moment in time to ratchet up their level of activity. While Kitchen was gaining renown and wealth before the war as a Stoddard County attorney, judge, landowner, and state senator, Cape County’s William Jeffers was serving in the 1st U.S. Dragoons and had saw hard service in Mexico and on the American Frontier. Furthermore, both Jeffers and Kitchen had more recently been field officers in the Southern-supporting Missouri State Guard during the first months of the war. After their troops’ six-month terms of enlistment had expired in late 1861, the two secessionist leaders had found themselves without a command and were currently in the process of recruiting men for regular Confederate service.1
On March 26 these nascent Rebel units vacated their bases near Jackson and were in neighboring Bollinger County by March 30. On that day Kitchen led a raid on the county seat, Dallas (now Marble Hill), with 120 men—a force that probably included the twenty-three men riding with Jeffers at the time. Upon their occupation of the town the Confederates took over the courthouse and destroyed a number of records before carrying off other legal documents as well as County Clerk James Noell, who was a delegate to the Union-supporting State Convention that had usurped legislative duties from the Confederate-supporting General Assembly. He was also a kinsman of the district’s United States Congressman, John W. Noell. As this force headed back into Cape Girardeau County the next day, a number of horses were “liberated” along the way. Sometime on April 1 Jeffers separated his smaller force from Kitchen, who headed south to join the forces of Dixie below Bloomfield while Jeffers stayed behind and encamped near Whitewater from April 1 through April 3.2
Hearing general rumblings of these movements but not having any details, the undermanned troop garrison at Cape Girardeau became extremely uneasy about what was going on in the area. Reports reaching Lindsay Murdoch (or at least propagated by him to Schofield) held that an army under Rebel Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson was active around Jackson and Dallas and was preparing to attack Cape Girardeau.3 The Swamp Fox, as Thompson was known, was viewed with no small amount of trepidation by Federal troops in Missouri. Operating out of the marshy bogs of Southeast Missouri in 1861, Thompson had once made a demonstration deep into eastern Missouri that was so successful it caused Schofield to declare that Thompson “interfered seriously with the communications to St. Louis. In the nervous condition of the military as well as the public mind at that time, even St. Louis was regarded as in danger.”4
Thompson, a former mayor of St. Joseph, Missouri, was also a master of psychological warfare. He widely boasted of having 10,000 troops with him in Southeast Missouri, even though he never had more than a fraction of that number. In September 1861 he received nationwide publicity by dramatically proclaiming he would “HANG, DRAW, and QUARTER” Federal prisoners in response to a threat to execute captured Confederates made by then Department of the Missouri commanding officer, Major General John C. Fremont. To underline his own warning, General Thompson executed a horse thief and then raided Charleston, Missouri, and robbed the bank. Shortly afterward he took on a superior Union force at Fredericktown, Missouri, and in December made a raid on Commerce, Missouri. Despite all this, by the end of 1861 Thompson’s star was temporarily waning with the expiration of his men’s short-term enlistments, and was in reality a general without an army at the time Lindsay Murdoch was sounding the alarm about him.5
Consequently, Lindsay Murdoch’s dire Swamp Fox report was either the consequence of a disinformation campaign orchestrated by the Confederates to keep the Federals off balance, or was a calculated bit of name-dropping on the part of a neglected feeling Murdoch in order to obtain attention and reinforcements from General Schofield. Either way, Thompson had neither a troop command in Missouri nor was he even physically in the state. Instead he was whiling away his time in Tennessee, plying gunboats up and down the Mississippi River. Murdoch nonetheless was taking Thompson’s name in vain and proceeded to issue urgent pleas for assistance to Schofield in St. Louis and General Strong in Cairo.6
Radical Murdoch already perceived the movement of U.S. troops from the state as having been accomplished through the conspiratorial “machinations” of General Schofield and Governor Gamble and felt that act should be viewed with “suspicion.” Compounding his mistrust of the Conservative faction was his feeling that Schofield was now failing to properly protect from the Confederates the “vast amount of stores, arms, ammunition and forts that could be successfully used to command the Mississippi River and over all the surrounding country.”7
The Scotsman’s ill opinion was further bolstered as Schofield discounted the imminent Jeff Thompson attack scenario and declined to send the additional troops Murdoch was requesting. While Schofield was by no means incompetent nor was he trying to make things easy for Missouri secessionists, he did believe that Murdoch was over-reacting and increasingly prone to bad judgment. In contrast, General Strong, having idle troops to spare at Cairo and not being party to this conflict of personalities taking place in Missouri, dispatched two companies of infantry and one company of cavalry with plans to rendezvous with Murdoch’s troops near Jackson.8
Receiving the support he needed for a sweep through the countryside, Murdoch prepared Cape Girardeau for the absence of his troops. He called 200 civilians belonging to the local Home Guard reserve into service and positioned them inside Fort A along with all the military stores he could fit into that strong point. He also put out word to Southern-sympathizing residents of the city “that if the town was attacked by the Rebels, I would certainly demolish their houses with the guns of Fort A.”9
So while the Confederates led by Jeffers camped on the river near Whitewater and those under Kitchen moved towards Bloomfield, Murdoch set out in search of them as he departed Cape Girardeau on the evening of April 2. Marching most of the night through a pouring rain, Murdoch’s force arrived at Jackson in the pre-dawn darkness. After detailing troops under Captain Walker to complete an encirclement of the town, the militiamen made their entry at daybreak but found the village devoid of enemy troops. During their brief stay, the homes of known Rebel supporters were searched but neither soldier nor contraband was located.10
At 9:00 o’clock that morning the 60th Illinois Infantry reinforcement sent up from Cairo by General Strong arrived under the immediate command of Colonel Silas C. Toler. This newly combined force of Illinois Volunteers and Missouri Militia then proceeded cautiously to Whitewater where Jeffers had been positioned for two days. After a cursory reconnaissance of the immediate area the Federal force of around 600 men failed to discover any sign of the Rebel chieftain and his small band of men. Absent definitive intelligence that any Confederates were actually present, the Union troops marched on to Dallas where they arrived at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon.11
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Upon their arrival, the Union soldiers learned of the recent raid on the town and discovered they had missed Jeffers and Kitchen by a few days. They did find County Clerk Noell, who had just returned after being released by Kitchen. Captain Murdoch later reported that Noell advised him two local Union men by the name of McIntee and Miller had also been taken prisoner and then executed as the Rebels moved through the area—McIntee by a soldier in Kitchen’s command referred to as “Bowles,” and Miller by his order.12
Through Noell, Colonel Toler heard more on the general Confederate presence below Bloomfield and obtained a first-hand report that Kitchen was on his way to join it. Having failed to make contact with any enemy forces in the course of their day’s march and having no evidence that anything more than an insignificant contingent was even in the region, Colonel Toler appears to have decided he was on a wild goose chase. The next day Murdoch returned to Jackson, and then proceeded back to the Cape from that point. Toler and his Illinoisans followed a day later, and upon their arrival boarded steamers and returned to Cairo.13
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1 Robert H. Forister, History of Stoddard County (Stoddard County Historical Society, n.d.) 13; Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, 11 Apr 1891, 13 Apr 1891; Missouri Secretary of State, Historical Listing of the Missouri Legislature (Missouri State Archives 1988) 68; National Archives, Record Group 109 Ch. 2, vol. 207 ˝, pp. 246-247; Stars and Stripes Newspaper, published at Bloomfield, Mo. 9 Nov 1861, p. 2 (reprinted Stoddard County Historical Society); Donal J. Stanton, Goodwin F. Berquist and Paul C. Bowers (eds.) The Civil War Reminiscences of General M. Jeff Thompson, (Dayton, OH: Morningside Press 1988) 144, 147. In 1861 Jeffers commanded a force called the Swamp Rangers. It evolved into the Mounted Rangers and was ultimately absorbed into the 2nd Regiment Cavalry, 1st Division, Missouri State Guard. That same year Kitchen organized the Stoddard County Rangers, which was also absorbed into the 2nd Reg. Cav., 1st Div., MSG.
2 O.R., Series 1, Vol. 8, 362; “A Scrap of Civil War History,” Missouri Cash-Book, Jackson, Mo, 19 Sept 1907. This Cash-Book account is based upon the diary of Lt. John A. Bennett, one of Jeffers’ soldiers. In the early 1900s Frank McGuire, son of another one of Jeffers’ men—Lt. William “Button” McGuire—published the Cash-Book, which was a Jackson, Missouri, newspaper. Frank McGuire’s pedigree and position allowed him considerable access in obtaining accounts of the Jackson Skirmish almost a half-century after the event. See also, James E. McGhee, Campaigning with Marmaduke: Narratives and Roster of the 8th Missouri Cavalry Regiment, C.S.A. (Independence, Mo.: Two Trails Publishing 2002)
3 O.R., Series 1, Vol. 8, 362
4 John M. Schofield, Forty-six Years in the Army (New York 1897) 51; Jay Monaghan, Civil War on the Western Border 1854-1865 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company 1955) 185; Elmo Ingenthron, Borderland Rebellion: History of the Civil War on the Missouri-Arkansas Border (Branson, Mo.: The Ozarks Mountaineer 1980) 111-122
6 O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 8, 362. For details on Thompson’s out of state duties at the time Murdoch was claiming he was in the vicinity of Cape Girardeau County see, The Civil War Reminiscences of General M. Jeff Thompson.
7 Murdoch Narrative, 148
10 O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 8, 362; Murdoch Narrative, 149-150; Murdoch Pension File
12 Ibid. The report naming the executioner of the Federal prisoners referred to him only as “Bowles.” Records for Kitchen’s command indicate he had an Anderson Boles with him who was promoted to first lieutenant shortly after these events, and James Bowles, who later served as a second lieutenant.
©2004 G. E. Rule
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