Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee

By Kent T. Dollar; Larry H. Whiteaker et al. | Go to book overview

“Time by the forelock”
Champ Ferguson and the
Borderland Style of Warfare

Brian D. McKnight

During the Civil War, the boundary separating Tennessee and Kentucky was one of the most hotly contested regions in North America. What the Confederate States sought to defend as an international border the United States worked to prove moot. Champ Ferguson, a forty-year-old farmer, lived just north of this all-important line. Having been born and reared in Clinton County, Kentucky, Ferguson was acutely aware of his proximity to Tennessee and, like others of his region, crossed the border frequently for social and economic reasons. However, the interstate border that could be taken for granted became a much more rigid dividing line once the Civil War began. For Ferguson, like many of his borderland neighbors, the border became emblematic of the internal struggle of a people beset by war. With sometimes-mortal questions of loyalty, exhibitions of partisan violence, and a perpetual instinct for self-preservation, this man, whose first documented case of violence was in 1858, became one of the most notorious guerrilla warriors of the Civil War.

To be fair, the die was cast for Champ Ferguson to join the Confederacy from the moment Tennesseans began forming Southern armies. During the late spring of 1858, Champ, along with several of his Clinton County neighbors, sold a large herd of livestock to the Evans brothers from nearby Fentress County, Tennessee. Taking a promissory note properly notarized by several of that county’s leading citizens, the Kentuckians felt confident that they would see their money. However, one of the brothers ran off with

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