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Posted May 29, 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
By Charley Hester, Edited by Kirby Ross
available for pre-order at Amazon.com
Also by this author:
As the sideshows played out in Turnbaugh’s Hotel and up Fulenwider Lane, the main event at the Fairground was getting under way. Captain Flentge, true to his claim that nobody put him in charge, was not taking any sort of real control over the quickly deteriorating situation even though his troops were being shot at west and south of town. Apparently fearful of being overwhelmed by the large enemy force that Lindsay Murdoch had been harping on, Flentge began settling in at the Jackson Academy instead of sending out reinforcements in support of the two portions of the command taking enemy fire.
Lieutenant George Hummel was made of different stuff and in short order re-appeared at the schoolhouse to gather additional troops. Within a few minutes Hummel assembled an assault force of fifteen men and proceeded back towards the Fairground while Flentge kept most of the men for himself. Bearing down on the grandstands and beyond, Hummel quickly saw that his two Rebel shooters had disappeared. Forming his command into a column, the lieutenant sent an advance on down the road after which his primary force followed. Unsuspectingly, the U.S. soldiers rode towards the Confederates without spotting them in the forest. With his men holding their fire as they had been ordered to do, Captain Jeffers took careful aim with his large revolver.1
With the forward elements passing unmolested, Lieutenant Hummel came into view with the main body of Federals. Upon reaching the Rebel position Jeffers brought his full attention upon them, and pulled the trigger. A split-second later a broadside was unleashed from all around him. William Brawner was immediately shot through the body with either a pistol or rifle ball, while Hummel and his horse caught a blast from a shotgun. Both men went down, with Hummel’s horse landing on top of him.2
Showing a measure of discipline, the remainder of the Bluecoats turned their horses and retreated two hundred yards up the hill where they formed a line of battle in a grove of trees behind a fencerow. With the U.S. militia troops firing down into the river bottom and the Confederates firing up the hill, a loud and seemingly vicious skirmish echoed up the basin. “The Federals immediately wheeled and formed along the old Russell fence, and commenced playing marbles with us pretty lively. Things looked squally,” the irrepressible Lute Jenkins recollected. All the while Brawner and Hummel lay wounded on the road as bullets passed back and forth overhead.3
Captain Flentge, hearing the combat a quarter mile to the south and supposing it to be the sound of Hummel’s squad of men against a force of 500 Confederates instead of just eighteen, had his three or four dozen men called to horse. Realizing that Hummel was hotly engaged with the enemy and needed help, Flentge deigned to give him that help. Unfortunately for Hummel, Flentge’s idea of rendering aid consisted of taking himself and every other spare Federal in town several hours ride back to Cape Girardeau to see if there was any assistance to be had there.4
In the meantime the combatants at the Fairground continued the raucous exchange of gunfire, all to little effect. The Rebels were carrying inaccurate shotguns and revolvers. The militiamen were mostly armed with muzzle-loading single shot carbines that were prone to either misfire or have the lead ball inside simply roll out at inopportune moments. A few Federals had pistols supplied at their own expense—but just a few. The Union troops with their defective weapons and the Confederates with their short-range ones were causing much more noise than harm. Hearing the buckshot tearing tree branches over their heads but having no other consequence, the U.S. troops continued shooting into the hollow. From the high ground August Voshage noted the surrealistic scene and how “the enemy down in the bottom, moving about with their shot-pouches hanging at their sides, appeared smaller than men and reminded me of school boys.”5
Finally, realizing this fight might go on for some time and ultimately allow the Union troops time to reinforce, Jeffers ordered a charge against their position. Giving a great Rebel yell Jeffers led his men up the hill. This was enough for the Federals. Leaderless with Hummel lying on the road and waiting in vain for help from Captain Flentge, the men along the Russell fence probably were starting to feel a bit ambivalent about the fight. Since they had no one to order them to stick around and since this particular exchange did not seem to be real important to the rest of the Federal soldiers in the neighborhood, Hummel’s squad mounted up and headed back up the road to Jackson where they found the reason they had not been reinforced. They were quite alone. These remaining dozen or so Bluecoats, abandoned by their comrades, rode off after them.6
Twenty Rebels—eighteen at the Fairground and two others west of town—had taken on around sixty-nine State Militiamen and had decisively whipped them.7 Luck, a lot of it, had aided them—John Craig’s shotgun blast that took out two of three Federals and then the third Federal missing Craig at thirty yards; the Federals failing to check the moaning and groaning Tom Wheeler in the hotel bed to see if he really was a sick man; Jeffers leaving town with his men when he did—a few minutes later and they would have been caught in town; impetuous Luther Jenkins and Richard Medley leaving town when they did—a few minutes earlier and the Federal advance would have been on them, a few minutes later and the main body of Federals would have been on them; Lieutenant Hummel initially taking only three men with him when he first confronted Jenkins and Medley; Captain Flentge being nonchalant about the Rebels at the Fairground and failing to take off after them with his full force immediately upon arriving in town; Captain Flentge getting cold feet and abandoning Hummel’s squad after the shooting started when the small enemy force could have been flanked and surrounded. Brave leadership by Jeffers aside, a change in any one of these events far beyond the control of anyone on the Rebel side and disaster would have befallen him. Instead, as things turned out in the course of the Rebellion, Jeffers was about to evolve into a force of significance in the Missouri and Arkansas theatres of war, and Flentge had taken a pass on a prime opportunity to nip his career in the bud.
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1Bennett; Voshage; Jenkins; Maple; O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 8, 364-365; William Nevin, History of Co. K, 3rd M.S.M. Cavalry Vols. From Its Earliest Organization in 1861, to Final Muster Out On January 31, 1865, Missouri Historical Society. Company K, 3rd M.S.M. was originally Company A, 11th M.S.M. Battalion/12th M.S.M. Regiment (Hummel’s Company).
4O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 8, 365
5 Bennett; Voshage; Jenkins; Maple; Nevin
7The Bennett memoir lists the following men as having participated on the Confederate side. It should be noted this listing omits the name of Tom Wheeler (who feigned illness in the Turnbaugh Hotel), and apparently includes the names of the two horse-minders back at Bethel Church.
“Capt. W.L. Jeffers, John Craig, R.J. Medley, Luther Jenkins, Capt. Pilcher, John Adams, R.G. Randol, John A. Bennett, Edward H. Bennett, James Howard, J.W. McGuire, Henderson Howard, Columbus Woodfin, Florenstine Grant, King Tucker, Jesse Carmac, Henderson Wiley, John Atwell, John H. McGuire, Lee Moore, Jacob Deck.”
©2004 G. E. Rule
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