Posted May 29, 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 Five

TO THE DEATH

As this was transpiring the desperate life and death horse races of Button McGuire and John Craig came to a bloody climax outside town.  After McGuire split away from him, John Craig raced west toward the Fredericktown toll-road pursued by William W.

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Proffer, John A. Taylor, and James A. Virgin.  Coming upon the tollgate, he did not stop and try to shoot it out as McGuire was in the process of doing, or even try to surrender.  Instead, he spurred his horse and sailed over the gate.  Behind him his enemies had no mind to try the same theatrics.  They stopped, dismounted, opened the gate, re-mounted, and resumed the chase.  Having gained a few moments of time, Craig decided he would be better off hiding out than continuing a horse race—a race in which the loser might very well end up dead.  Instead, as he came upon a paw-paw thicket he left the road.  Hiding his horse and taking his double-barrel shotgun as well as a six-shooter, he headed through the heavy brush on foot.  Thinking he had outsmarted his enemies, the joke was on him.  The men chasing him were probably in the advance for good reasons, one of which must have been an ability to spot sign and to track.  As Craig emerged on the other side of the copse the three Union troops were waiting for him.1

Perhaps just thirty feet, but no more than forty feet away from him and on horseback were his hunters, according to a post-war account found in the Craig family bible. With the Federals opening fire, Craig raced for the closest cover, a tall old sugar tree stump.  The Federals being three and Craig being alone, the Federals being mounted and Craig being on foot, the Federals being at close range and Craig being in flight, simple logic would suggest that the advantage lay with the boys in blue.  Diving behind the stump as bullets thudded against it, Craig quickly summoned his courage, stepped out into the open, directed his scattergun in the general direction of the grouped up Unionists and let loose with both barrels.2 

The blast had devastating effect at this range, and as the smoke cleared no less than three bodies were prone on the ground—two men and one horse.  Wounded in this barrage was James A. Taylor of Company C, who took a pellet or two, along with James H. Virgin of Company D, who caught part of the load in his shoulder.  Luckily for the troopers, Virgin’s horse absorbed most of the buckshot.3

Left standing was William Proffer of Company A, who had only an inaccurate single shot rifle with which to defend himself.  With both Proffer and Craig startled by the turn of events, and with Craig now standing out in the open, a strange dance between the two men began to play out.  Taking deliberate aim, Proffer had just one shot and he needed to make it good.  Perhaps he was even waiting for Craig to surrender.  As the two squared off in the third stare-down of the day, Craig spit out a curse “Damn you, shoot!” and feinted back towards the stump.  The die was cast and a shot echoed amidst the paw-paws.  While the bullet clipped the tree and sprayed bark on Craig, he remained unharmed.  Amazingly, he now controlled the course of events.4

Craig pulled his revolver and charged Proffer.  Realizing he had forced himself into a losing situation, Proffer turned and ran for his life.  The hunter was now the hunted.  As he made his way into the very thicket from which Craig had emerged just seconds before, the Rebel followed closely behind.  After a chase of one hundred yards or so Craig stopped, took aim and fired.  Proffer went down hard, severely injured with a ball through the thigh that shattered bone.  Craig walked up to Proffer, disarmed him, and tried to make him as comfortable as possible.  After placing an old horse skull under his enemy’s head as a pillow, Craig walked back to the other Union troops.  Finding they had no more fight left in them, he gathered up their weapons as well as the saddle and bridle from the dead horse.5 

With his arms full of booty, he started walking back towards town to see if he had any friends left alive.6   

___________________

Up Fulenwider Lane, Button McGuire had ridden on desperately after separating from John Craig at the fork in the road.  Also pursued by three troopers, he galloped until the road ended.  What Reuben McDonald and the two other Union troopers pursuing McGuire did not know that almost everyone else in the region knew was that the Rebel was not just a fair shot with a rifle.  He was an excellent shot.  He was also likely as tough a man as ever rode with Bill Jeffers.  “Let me tell you, they had no idea who they were following, for no man, without he wanted it to a finish, would dare follow Butt McGuire,”—so said Luther Jenkins as an old man.  But McDonald did not know this and probably would have proceeded anyway even if he had been told.  Country boys were always bragging on their toughness and shooting skills.7

After hitting the dead-end, McGuire made no effort to flee further or to hide out.  Being a bit more calculating and cold than his pal John Craig up the way, McGuire turned to his left and trotted down the fence row about seventy-five yards.  Dismounting his horse, he walked up to the corner rail and laid his rifle across it.  Steadying the weapon and getting comfortable, he took aim back towards the road.  At that time the Union horsemen came racing up, stopped at road’s end, and looked around to see if they could spot the Reb who must surely be close at hand.8 

He was.

McGuire later said he was not scared, just a little tired from his ride, and that was why his aim was off.   With Reuben McDonald scanning the area, he turned his head to the left.  Whether he spotted his prey is not known since no one ever heard McDonald’s version.  Button said he was aiming for the eye.  The shot hit a half-inch high.  The other two Federals, sprayed with the contents of Reuben McDonald’s head, came to know first-hand about the Rebel’s vaunted ability and suddenly decided they had better places to be.9

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ENDNOTES


1 Craig family Bible memoir

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.; Jenkins

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.


©2004 G. E. Rule

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