Champ Ferguson was born November 29, 1821 on a branch of Spring Creek about one and a half miles from Elliott's Cross Roads. He was named after his grandfather, Champion Ferguson, the pioneer Spring Creek settler. His father, William R. Ferguson, married Zilphia Huff and raised a family of ten children, of which Champ was the oldest.
On May 12, 1844, Champ married Eliza Smith, daughter of Jesse Bowen Smith, who bore him one child, a boy. Both his wife and child died about three years after the marriage.
On July 23, 1848, he married Martha Owen, daughter of Samuel Owen, who lived about a half mile from where Spring Creek emptied into Wolf River. To this union, one child, a girl, Ann Elizabeth, was born.
Champ's education was extremely limited. He said, "I never had much schooling, but I recollect of going to school about three months, during which time I learned to read, write, and cipher right smart." He grew up on a farm, and this was his vocation before the war. He was apparently an enterprising trader
because at the beginning of the war he owned several small tracts of land in Clinton County, Ky.
He liked to hunt; hunting not only enabled him to get out into the mountains that he loved, but it was also a means of putting food on the table for his family. He made long hunting trips through the Cumberlands, in the process gaining an intimate knowledge of the foothills and mountains, a knowledge that was to prove invaluable during the war years in enabling him to elude the Union Guerillas and Federal soldiers who hunted him relentlessly. He was an expert shot, according to his own statement the only thing he ever shot at and missed was "Tinker Dave" Beatty!
At least four different contemporaries have left us with physical descriptions of Champ Ferguson during the War of Northern Aggression.
The first was by Major John A. Brents, who fought with the Federal Army against him. According to Brents, he "is between thirty five and forty years old, about six feet high, and weighs one hundred and eighty pounds without any surplus flesh. He has a large foot, and gives his legs a loose sling in walking, with his toes turned out -- is a little stooped, with his head down. He has long arms and large hands, broad round shoulders, skin rather dark, black hair a little curled, a broad face, a large mouth, and a tremendous voice, which can be heard at a long distance when in a rage."
General Basil W. Duke first encountered Champ Ferguson when he reported at Sparta, Tenn., in July of 1862, as a guide for Morgan's Cavalry, on its first raid into Kentucky.
In his "Reminiscences", General Duke described Ferguson;" He was a rough-looking man but of striking and rather prepossessing appearance, more than six feet in height and powerfully built. His complexion was florid, and his hair jet black, crowning
his head with thick curls. He had one peculiarity of feature which I remember to have seen in only two or three other men, and each of these was, like himself, a man of despotic will and fearless, ferocious temper. The pupil and iris of the eye was of nearly the same color and, except to the closest inspection, seemed perfectly blended. His personal adventures, combats, and
encounters were innumerable. Some of his escapes, when assailed by great odds, were almost incredible and could be explained only by his great bodily strength, activities, adroitness in the use of his weapons, and savage energy."
Orange Sells, of the 12th Ohio Cavalry, present at the Battle of Saltville, saw Ferguson on October 07, 1864. He testified at Ferguson's post-war trial that Champ Ferguson," had on a dark lindsey frock coat, buttoned up in front, and tolerably short waisted. He had on a black plug hat. His hair and beard were both longer than now. His beard was full and made his face look full. He also had a moustache. I cant say how long his hair was, but it was much longer than now and was straight around the back of his neck. I dont think it came down to his shoulders.... He was a large man, a great deal fleshier than he is now. I know him by his mouth and by his features generally."
Also at Champ's post-war trial, and a witness to the Battle of Saltville, was Harry Shocker, also of the 12th Ohio Cavalry, described Champ Ferguson thusly; " the man I saw on the hill and who shot my partner, had on a butternut suit. I had never seen him before that time. His beard was long and dark. I didnt
notice whether his moustache was trimmed. He had the appearance of not shaving at all."
Champ Ferguson enlisted after the "Camp Meeting Fight" and just prior to the Battle of Mill Springs (exact date unknown) in 1861. Around the time of the Battle of Mill Springs, Ferguson was a private in the independent cavalry command of Captain Scott Bledsoe. According to testimony by A.J. Capps, of Capt. J.W. McHenry's command, Ferguson was raising an independent company in April of 1862, and was commissioned by the Secretary of War as Captain (some sources give Champ being commissioned by then East Tennessee commander, General Kirby-Smith).
In June of 1862, Ferguson & some of his command attached themselves to John Hunt Morgan's cavalry command as scouts, and acted in that capacity on Morgan's Kentucky raids.
Ferguson was also attached at times to the commands of General's John C. Breckenridge & Joseph Wheeler in late 1864 & 1865. Most times, however, Champ Ferguson operated as an independent cavalry command. Champ Ferguson surrendered under verbal promise of parole on May 23, 1865; whereby Federal cavalry captured him at home on May 26, 1865; and Ferguson was taken to Nashville, Tennessee for trial.
Denied the opportunity to mount an adequate defense on his behalf, Champ Ferguson was found guilty of "war crimes", and was hung on October 20, 1865 (his wife, Martha Owen Ferguson, telling her husband to "Die like a man, Champ". By all accounts he did just that).
Martha Owen Ferguson buried Champ on the Calfkiller, near Sparta, in White County Tennessee, as per his request. Ann Elizabeth Ferguson married George Metcalf in Sparta, Tenn. on May 08, 1867.
All three of them left around 1872 and eventually settled near Independence, Kansas. All three are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. Martha never remarried. Ann Elizabeth had children, and it is reported that somewhere near Chicago, gg grandchildren exist.
~ Special thanks to Jack Ferguson of Albany, Ky. for providing much of the information above about his great-uncle, Champ Ferguson.
Also, special mention to Allen Sullivant of Tenn., who sent information provided by Anne Ferguson, a cousin of Champ's 4x removed...