02 January 2011 by Published in: Confederate Cavalry 14 comments

Let’s start the new year off with a profile of a forgotten cavalryman. It’s been too long since I last did one.

FergusonMilton Jameson Ferguson was born near Cassville, Wayne County, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1833. Friends and family called him by his middle name, Jameson. He was of Scots-Irish descent. His father, also named Milton J. Ferguson, owned a general store. He was described as “a studious young man, full of vim and vigor.” On September 21, 1854, he married Martha Jane Wellman.

In September 1853, at the young age of 20, he was admitted to the bar of Virginia and began practicing law in Wayne County. He had a busy and flourishing practice, handling litigation, estate, and real property matters. He was still engaged in the practice of law when the Civil War broke out in the spring of 1861, and was considered “the foremost man of the county.” That year, he was elected prosecuting attorney for Wayne County, but he did not get to serve in the position due to the secession of Virginia. The office was declared vacant in 1862 and another man was appointed to fill the term.

In 1859, Milton and his Joseph founded a Masonic Lodge in Wayne County. He also was a member of the Wayne County Militia, and when the colonel of the militia unit retired in 1857, Ferguson succeeded him as colonel of the 167th Virginia Militia Regiment. His unit saw action at the Barboursville, VA on July 13, 1861, when the Union 2nd Kentucky Infantry advanced on the town. The approach of the Confederate infantry caused the Kentuckians to withdraw, and violence was averted.

Ferguson was called “Wayne County’s outstanding contribution to the Confederacy and the Civil War.” Ferguson was 5’11″, had gray eyes, and dark whiskers. He had one of the war’s truly spectacular beards, reaching nearly to his waist. He made quite a presentation, with his long, flowing beard parted in the middle and flying over his shoulder as he led his unit into battle.

Ferguson was captured by Union troops in July 1861 and spent a stint as a prisoner of war at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio. In January 1862, he and another Confederate officer were exchanged for Union officers of equal rank, and Ferguson returned to duty, and began recruiting a company of cavalry. The company was mustered in on September 16, 1862, and in the coming months, Ferguson recruited five more companies, sufficient to form Ferguson’s Battalion Virginia Cavalry. In January 1863, his battalion merged with another battalion of four companies, forming the 16th Virginia Cavalry, with Ferguson as colonel of the new regiment.

The 16th Virginia Cavalry was assigned to a newly-formed cavalry commanded by Brig. Gen. Albert G. Jenkins, a Harvard-trained lawyer who had just received his general’s star. He led his regiment is several actions, including a long raid intended to disrupt the formation of the new state of West Virginia in the spring of 1863. Jenkins’ command then joined the Army of Northern Virginia, and led the way into Pennsylvania for Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s Second Corps in June 1863. After advancing all the way to the suburbs of Harrisburg, Jenkins’ men then led Ewell’s Corps to Gettysburg. After leading Ewell’s command to Gettysburg–and probably firing the first shots of the Battle of Gettysburg–Jenkins’ Brigade was split in half. Half, under Ferguson’s command, spent July 2 and 3 doing provost duty on Seminary Ridge, guarding prisoners and protecting the Confederate route of retreat.

Jenkins led the other half out onto the Confederate far left flank on July 2, and while reconnoitering in the area of Blocher’s (Barlow’s) Knoll, was badly wounded by shrapnel from a Union artillery shell. For some reason, word never reached Ferguson that Jenkins was down and that Ferguson now had command of the brigade. Consequently, that portion of Jenkins’ brigade, left leaderless, simply drifted away and failed to picket the roads to the north and east of Gettysburg, forcing two brigades of Confederate infantry to do duty that Jenkins’ horsemen should have done. That portion of Jenkins’ Brigade that failed to picket the roads on July 2 fought on East Cavalry Field on July 3, under command of Lt. Col. Vincent Witcher of the 34th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry.

Ferguson retained command of the brigade until Jenkins returned to duty in the late fall of 1863. During that time, the brigade participated in the November 6, 1863 Battle of Droop Mountain, where Union cavalry under command of Brig. Gen. William Woods Averell defeated a combined force of Confederate infantry and cavalry under command of Brig. Gen. John Echols, and which included Jenkins’ Brigade (with Ferguson in command of the brigade). Droop Mountain was the last large-scale combat in West Virginia during the war. When Jenkins returned, Ferguson reverted to command of the 16th Virginia Cavalry.

On February 15, 1864, Ferguson and 39 of his men were captured on Laurel Creek in Wayne County by Col. George Gallup and the 14th Kentucky Infantry. Ferguson soon found himself back at Camp Chase for a second stint, and was later sent to Fort Delaware and then on to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina before he was finally exchanged in late 1864. He served out the balance of the war, and was paroled at Charleston, West Virginia at war’s end.

After the war, he returned to Wayne County and tried to return to the practice of law. Because he was not permitted to resume his practice in West Virginia as a former Confederate officer, he relocated to Lawrence, Kentucky, and was elected judge there. In 1871, the law was changed, and Ferguson returned to Wayne County and resumed practicing law there. He built one of the larges and most extensive personal libraries in West Virginia, and was active in the Methodist Episcopal Church in Wayne County.

He died on April 22, 1881 at the young age of 48, and was buried in the Fairview Cemetery at Fort Gay in Wayne County, overlooking the Big Sandy River. He left behind his wife Martha Jane and three children, Henry Wise, born in 1855 and also an attorney, Lynn Boyd, and Luta. Another child, Volney Howard, died at the age of 8.

Milton Ferguson did his duty to the best of his ability. He had no formal training as a soldier, and proved to be a capable regimental commander who was clearly out of his depth as a brigade commander. The breakdown in the chain of command on July 2, 1863 was inexcusable, and kept two fine, veteran brigades of Virginia infantry from participating in the attacks on East Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill that night. One can only speculate what might have happened had Ferguson taken command of the cavalry after Jenkins fell and those two veteran brigades had participated in the unsuccessful Confederate assaults that night.

Here’s to Colonel Milton Ferguson, forgotten Confederate cavalryman.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Ken Noe
    Mon 03rd Jan 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Four of my ancestors rode with Ferguson. Thanks, Eric.

  2. Mon 03rd Jan 2011 at 6:47 pm

    I did not know that, Ken. Very cool. Now I’m really glad that I did this post.

  3. BobA
    Tue 04th Jan 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Col. Ferguson is one of my relatives, my family comes from Cabell & Wayne counties. I don’t know any stories about him from the family, just what I’ve read about him. It was said that when he rode his beard would fork and fly over his shoulders. Another cavalryman that might interest you is Capt. Hurston Spurlock, who commanded Co. E of the 16th VA. There is a nice CDV of him in Jack Dickinson’s “Wayne County, WV, in the Civil War”.

    I don’t know if I would call the men from the 2nd Kentucky Infantry “Kentuckians”, since they were almost all from Ohio, like many of the early Union regiments of West Virginia, such as the 1st and 2nd Infantries, 1st and 2nd Cavalries, and the 4th Infantry, which were mostly from Ohio and PA.

    I hear you are doing a book on the battle of Greenbrier, I look forward to it.

  4. Wed 05th Jan 2011 at 1:31 am

    BobA:

    You are correct about the 2nd WV Cavalry, which was recruited entirely in Ohio, but you are wrong about the other WV regiments that you cite. The 1st WV Cavalry was recruited from six WV counties, one Ohio and one Pennsylvania county. The 1st WV Infantry’s soldiers came from eleven WV counties, two Ohio, two Penn. and two Virginia counties, as well as one Maryland county. The 4th WV Infantry was recruited from six WV counties and three Ohio counties. The 2nd WV Infantry, which became the 5th WV Cavalry, was recruited primarily from Allegheny and Washington counties, PA; Ohio and Taylor counties, WV; and Lawrence County, Ohio, although its soldiers also came from three other WV counties and one Ohio county.

  5. BobA
    Wed 05th Jan 2011 at 3:36 pm

    Mr. Snell, I am very curious where you got your information. The George Moore website says the 1st WV had only 39% WV. McClellan said the 1st WV (3 month) had very few Virginians in it, was mostly Ohio/PA. (McClellan’s War, Rafuse) The 1st WV Cavalry had 32% WV and the WV Artillery had only 44% WV, 47% of the regiment came from OH/PA and immigrants. The 4th WV is listed in Whitelaw Reid’s “Ohio in the War” as an Ohio Regiment with 7 companies coming entirely from Ohio. This is what Reid says (Vol 2, pg. 918)-

    “This regiment, although mustered into the service as a Virginia organization, was recruited mainly in Ohio. Seven full companies of it were recruited in the counties of Meigs, Gallia, Lawrence, and Athens. These numbered some six hundred men. Portions of the remaining companies were also interspersed with Ohioans. This regiment was organized and mustered into the service in July, 1861, at Point Pleasant, West Virginia.”

    Reid also states that Ohio gave the greater part of 5 regiments to WV. (Vol. 2, pg. 3)

    Theodore Lang in his book “Loyal West Virginia” described the 2nd West Virginia Cavalry thus-”…formation of a regiment for the cavalry arm of the U.S. Service was begun about August 1, in southern Ohio. Three companies were recruited in Lawrence County, two in Meigs, one in Jackson, one in Vinton, one in Washington, and one in Morgan. The remainder of the regiment was composed largely of volunteers from Putnam and Monroe counties, West Virginia.” So basically, most of one company
    was West Virginian.

    Lang also described the 2nd West Virginia Infantry-”Companies A, D, F, and G came from Pittsburg, Pa.; Company I from Greenfield and California, Washington County, Pa.; Company H from Ironton, Ohio; Company B from Grafton, [W] Va.; Company C from Wheeling, [W] Va.; Company E from Monroe and Belmont Counties, Ohio, and Wetzel, Taylor and Ritchie Counties, [W] Va.; and Company K from Parkersburg, [W] Va., and Bridgeport, Ohio.” So of the 10 companies perhaps 3 were West Virginian.

  6. Wed 05th Jan 2011 at 7:50 pm

    BobA:

    My information comes from the statistics and data tabulated by the staff of the George Tyler Moore Center. The data was gleaned from the Compiled Military Service Records of soldiers who enlisted in West Virginia regiments. Printed secondary sources, even from participants such as Lang, are not fully reliable,as I am sure you are well aware. Also, keep in mind that a soldier’s place of birth, ie., his “nativity,” does not mean that he lived there when he enlisted. The document from the GTM Center that you cite (about the 1st WV Infantry) states “39% were born in counties that would become part of the new state of West Virginia; 23% from Ohio; 18% from Pennsylvania; 11% were foreign born; and the remaining 8% from other parts of the U.S. ” The largest percentage came from WV, followed by Ohio and PA. If you add PA and Ohio’s enlistments, you are correct in that together they outnumber those who were born in WV. However, we do not specifically know how many recruits might have resided in WV at their time of enlistment, and the same goes for the foreign born and those born in other states. That is why we also list their “counties of enlistment.” Until the GT Moore Center completes its multi-year project, the actual numbers will have to be based on statistical analysis. So far, the research indicates that West Virginia’s citizenry was pretty evenly divided in its loyalties, with about 20,000 or so serving in Confederate regiments and the roughly the same number serving in Union regiments. The “official” number of 32,000+ WV Union soldiers is absolutely false. We know that about 1/3 of that number were Pennsylvanians, Ohioans and others. But, there were also a fair amount of WV natives who served in the Potomac Home Brigade, attributed to Maryland. The GT Moore Center plans to compile the service records of that brigade on its database, which will then give an accurate account of the nativity of those soldiers. Much work is yet to be done.

    I hope this answers your question.

  7. Scott Patchan
    Wed 05th Jan 2011 at 10:30 pm

    I’ve long studied these West Virginia regiments. One thing to keep in mind is that many companies were recruited along the Ohio River with men coming from both Ohio and West Virginia. You see this in communities like Wheeling, Steubenville, Parkersburg, Marietta, Point Pleasant and Ironton. Many soldiers like Colonel Joseph Thoburn of the 1WV were born in Ohio but had moved to WV where they worked and raised their families.

  8. Thu 06th Jan 2011 at 12:15 am

    Scott,

    You are absolutely correct, and I suspect that quite a few men who had been born in Ohio along the river probably moved to (West) Virginia sometime before the war. The same might be said for natives of southwestern Pennsylvania. Conversely, it would be interesting to know how many (West)Virginians moved to Ohio or Penna. before the war and enlisted in those states’s regiments. (Colonel Thoburn, however, was born in county Antrim, Ireland, but his family moved to Ohio shortly after his birth. Then, as an adult he settled in Western Virginia.) BTW, your blog “Shenandoah 1864″ is a terrific resource. Thanks for putting it online.

  9. Stan O'Donnell
    Thu 06th Jan 2011 at 10:41 pm

    I don’t know where he was on the 3rd Day at GB. Probably poppin’ Yank cherries in an orchard somewhere while BG Graham exhaled near one of the Marsh Creek Church/Fairfield Rd. prisoner pen/yards.
    But I know he got popped in the head at 3rd Winchester “and several other times.”

    A true Billy_F’….in_Bearded_ Bad_Ass if there ever was one.

    Good stuff Eric…Thanks and hope to see you soon,

    Stan

  10. Sat 08th Jan 2011 at 11:27 pm

    Great article about Milton J. Ferguson. He may be forgotten in Ohio but among Civil War buffs here in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, the name still has a nice ring to it. The Battle of Laurel Creek on February 15, 1864, of course, is of special interest to me since Ferguson and a good number of his men got bagged by the 14th KY Infantry, the unit I am researching. Ferguson lost more men on Laurel Creek that day than at any other time during the 16th VA Cavalry’s service, including Gettysburg. And since you like cavalry…Colonel Vincent A. “Clawhammer” Witcher is another interesting character to write about. He rode a black horse that could scale steep mountains like a goat. McLaughlin’s Troopers had a few run-ins with him while serving in Eastern Kentucky under James A. Garfield in early 1862. And then there is Jenkins….I better stop…it never ends :-) Isn’t Civil War history great!!

  11. Mon 25th Jun 2012 at 9:39 am

    Just thought everyone would like to know that not all the details in this article are correct. First, Ferguson was born at Trout’s Hill not Cassville. At the battle of Barboursville, Ferguson’s men did indeed engage the Kentuckians and four to five of the Union soldiers were killed. One Rebel was killed, but Ferguson’s men retreated. Also, Ferguson was at the Battle of Scary Creek. At Gettysburg, Ferguson’s men were engaged throughout the cavalry battle of the third day against Custer’s men in particular. Superior officers including J.E.B. Stuart were pleased with Ferguson’s actions and he continued to guard the rear of Lee’s Army on the retreat from Gettysburg. Ferguson caused so much trouble for Union forces in western Virginia during the winter of 1863-64 that the Union Army made several concerted efforts to capture him. After his capture at Murder Hollow, Ferguson was transferred from Fort Delaware to Hilton Head, SC where he spent five weeks on a prison ship. After being released in Charleston Harbor, he returned to action and did not surrender until more than a month after Lee’s surrender. Most of these details came from the Official Records among other scholarly sources. I published a biography of Ferguson in 2011.

    Robert Thompson

  12. joe
    Mon 03rd Sep 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Great info. Had 2 relatives, brothers, who served in 16th.

  13. Caitlin Lewis
    Tue 03rd Dec 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Milton Jameson Ferguson was my great grandfather’s father. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who knows about him!

  14. Fred O'Neill
    Tue 03rd Jun 2014 at 3:06 am

    My great-grandfather on my mother’s side (also named Milton Jameson Ferguson) was born in 1849 and was 16 when the war ended. Colonel Ferguson’ s father, Milton, was the brother of my great-great grandfather Edmond Ferguson. He served in his first cousin’s cavalry regiment, but either deserted or was captured in February or March of 1865. Colonel Ferguson bore a striking resemblance to my grandfather, Pharaoh Ferguson of Wayne County, W.Va.

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