Posted May 16, 2004

 

The Fight at Jackson Fairgrounds:

Confederate Victory Against the Odds

by

©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 6 - Playing a Squally Game of Marbles

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

Bibliography

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Chapter Three

 CLOSING IN

Unbeknownst to Toler and Murdoch, their task force had in fact been very close to around two-dozen of their quarry.  As the FederalsBethel Church were making their sweep from Jackson to Whitewater to Dallas on April 3, Captain Jeffers was sending scouts out of his hidden Whitewater encampment to follow the United States soldiers.  At days end, probably in response to the close call at Whitewater and a decision not to further tempt fate, Jeffers vacated the area and made a night march back to Jackson.  Upon his return he took up residence near the Bethel Church on Hubble Creek a mile and a half south of town.1

Jeffers, having moved into Camp Bethel in the early morning hours of April 4, had another near miss later that day when Murdoch brought his command back through Jackson.  After the Federals had passed, Jeffers kept the bulk of his troops with him in camp while allowing small numbers of men to take turns visiting their nearby homes.  After a few days he decided he would once again move his command.  Since they were going to be on the march, the Rebel leader permitted his men to say their goodbyes to friends and family in the area before they departed.2

Pursuant to this plan, on the morning of April 8th the camp cleared out as Jeffers took eighteen men with him into Jackson, journeying in on foot lest a mass of horses attract unwanted outside attention.  Desiring to part company from their comrades for the day, two other men struck out on their own.   Twenty-one year old John Q. Craig was going to make a final visit to his “best girl” out in the countryside and rode part of the way with Lieutenant William “Button” McGuire, who lived close to the Craig family in Byrd Township outside Jackson.  As the soldiers departed, two men were left behind to guard the camp and look after the unit’s horses.3

The day before, Union General John Schofield dispatched a scathing message to Lindsay Murdoch at Cape Girardeau, chastising him for crying wolf and causing the recent large-scale movement of regular Federal troops up from Cairo only to find out events had “proved they were in no wise necessary.”  Schofield advised Murdoch that should another such lapse in judgment occur he would be obliged to place someone else in command at the Cape who could be relied upon.4

Stinging from Schofield’s rebuke and discounting the marked failure of his recent sweep through the area with the Illinois troops, Murdoch was determined to prove a substantial Confederate force was present in the county.  Apparently prompted by Schofield’s dispatch and hoping to make him eat crow, on the same morning Rebel William Jeffers decided to take his men into Jackson, Murdoch sent a large patrol from the 11th Battalion Cavalry back to that same point.  This force was given orders by Murdoch to scout the area and find the secessionists.  Under the circumstances, complying with these instructions would turn out to be quite simple.

Moving up the old gravel road out of Cape Girardeau, the mission was led by Company C’s Captain Thomas B. Walker and consisted of 23 men from Company A under Lieutenant George Hummel; 25 men of Company C under the immediate oversight of Sergeant William C. Randall; and 23 men of Company D under Captain William Flentge.  After marching just three miles, Captain Walker and an enlisted man took ill.  As the two sick men returned to base, Flentge assumed overall command and the 69 cavalrymen that remained to see it to completion.  However, while Captain Walker’s departure had left Captain Flentge as the senior ranking officer of the force, Flentge would later legalistically claim that he was not technically its leader since Walker did not formally place him in charge.5

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Skittish about Murdoch’s cries that the area was swarming with Rebels, the Militia proceeded into the unknown.   Five miles outside of town, intelligence found its way to the patrol that Jeffers was in Jackson with three companies.  Moving determinedly, Captain Flentge pushed his troopers forward in an attempt to be upon them before they were aware of his presence and were able to escape or prepare a defense.6       

According to Luther E. Jenkins on the Confederate side, the group in town was “enjoying the company of friends” and having “a jolly day” that beautiful spring morning.  As the morning wore on Jeffers and the eighteen Rebels (not three companies) with him, as well as his two mounted men outside of town, obliviously went about their farewell visits.  Except for the Confederate soldiers moving openly about, the daily activities of the townsfolk were going on normally, including classes at the Jackson Academy, a relatively large regional school.  Sitting at his seat in the building was second-grader Frank McGuire, Lieutenant Button McGuire’s young son who would come to be the editor of the local newspaper at the dawn of the following century.7

A number of the socializing Confederate troops went to a Mr. Welling’s house for their noon meal where they ate “a dinner to make a soldier smile all over his face.”  Joining the lunch party were several young ladies who put cakes and other treats into the haversacks of their brave fighting men.  Around 12:30 p.m., Jeffers rounded up sixteen of his men and was leading the content bunch through town on their way back to camp.  Trailing behind was Luther Jenkins and Richard Medley who had stayed behind so Mrs. LaPierre could decorate Lute’s hat with a large black plume.8

As the main body headed south back towards Bethel Church they approached the Cape Girardeau Road, crossed it, and walked beyond the Russell Heights Cemetery.  Still moving merrily onward, they were approaching the James McGuire farm and Jackson Academy when something caught their attention to the left.  Glancing down the road the men caught hold of a terrifying sight that made them pause and gape—a six man Union scouting party was stopped and was a mere eight hundred yards down the way, with dozens of more cavalry troopers on further behind this vanguard.  And that Union scout was not only stopped, it was stopped and was looking directly at them.9 

As time must have seemed to stand still and perhaps an “O, Lordy” or two was quietly whispered, both sides stood motionless—Rebel staring at Federal, Federal staring at Rebel.  “Shocked” was the word that Confederate John Bennett said best described the scene.10

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ENDNOTES


1Bennett

2 Ibid.; O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 8, 362; Murdoch Narrative, 150

3 Bennett; Mrs. Shelby Brown, “The War Comes to Jackson,” Biography of Historic Cape Girardeau County (n.p., 1976) 55-56.  See also, McGhee, Campaigning with Marmaduke.  The Brown article includes a letter from Luther E. “Lute” Jenkins that appeared in the Missouri Cash-Book issue of 8 Feb 1906 (this source is hereinafter cited as Jenkins); Undated, handwritten memoir by unknown author, found in Craig family Bible by Craig family member Charles Hutson of Jackson, Mo.  The Craig Bible memoir appears to have been written in the early 1900’s in response to the Cash-Book articles, and may have been intended for publishing. 

4 General John M. Schofield dispatch to Captain Lindsay Murdoch, 7 Apr 1862, transcription found in the Murdoch Narrative at p. 154

5O.R., Series 1, Vol. 8, 365; O.R., Series 1, Vol. 8, 364-365; August Voshage, “Battle at the Old Fair Grounds,” Missouri Cash-Book, Jackson, MO, 14 June 1906.  Voshage was one of Hummel’s men.  The fact Murdoch put Walker in command of this expedition is curious and calls into question whether he really suspected Walker of traitorous tendencies.

6 O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 8, 365

7Jenkins; Bennett; Rev. J.C. Maple, “A Civil War Reminiscence,” Missouri Cash-Book, Jackson, Mo., 14 Dec 1905.  Reverend Maple was the headmaster of the Jackson Academy in 1862. 

8 Jenkins.  Unless otherwise indicated, the first names of the persons mentioned in the text are not known.

9Maple; Bennett

10Bennett


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