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Confederate Outlaw

Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia

Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War

280 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / 18 halftones, 2 maps

ebook available

Civil War

  Hardcover / 9780807137697 / April 2011

Winner of the Tennessee Library Association Book Award

In the fall of 1865, the United States Army executed Confederate guerrilla Champ Ferguson for his role in murdering fifty-three loyal citizens of Kentucky and Tennessee during the Civil War. Long remembered as the most unforgiving and inglorious warrior of the Confederacy, Ferguson has often been dismissed by historians as a cold-blooded killer. In Confederate Outlaw: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia, biographer Brian D. McKnight demonstrates how such a simple judgment ignores the complexity of this legendary character. In his analysis, McKnight maintains that Ferguson fought the war on personal terms and with an Old Testament mentality regarding the righteousness of his cause. He believed that friends were friends and enemies were enemies--no middle ground existed. As a result, he killed prewar comrades as well as longtime adversaries without regret, all the while knowing that he might one day face his own brother, who served as a Union scout.

Ferguson's continued popularity demonstrates that his bloody legend did not die on the gallows. Widespread rumors endured of his last-minute escape from justice, and over time, the borderland terrorist emerged as a folk hero for many southerners. Numerous authors resurrected and romanticized his story for popular audiences, and even Hollywood used Ferguson's life to create the composite role played by Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales. McKnight's study deftly separates the myths from reality and weaves a thoughtful, captivating, and accurate portrait of the Confederacy's most celebrated guerrilla.

An impeccably researched biography, Confederate Outlaw offers an abundance of insight into Ferguson's wartime motivations, actions, and tactics, and also describes borderland loyalties, guerrilla operations, and military retribution. McKnight concludes that Ferguson, and other irregular warriors operating during the Civil War, saw the conflict as far more of a personal battle than a political one.

Brian D. McKnight is associate professor of history at the University of Virginia's College at Wise. His book Contested Borderland: The Civil War in Appalachian Kentucky and Virginia won the James I. Robertson Literary Prize in 2007.

Praise for Confederate Outlaw

“The book is a gripping read.”—LeeAnn Whites, Civil War History

“McKnight has told us all we are ever likely to know about Ferguson and about the myths and legends that sprang up around him. McKnight's research is impressive.”—Blue and Gray Magazine

“Confederate Outlaw is a welcome addition to the growing scholarship on guerrilla violence during the Civil War....Students of the Civil War and Appalachian history should read this lucid and provocative book.”—Bruce E. Stewart, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

“McKnight's insightful biography traces [Champ Ferguson's] story in all its grisly horror....The strength of McKnight's work is his willingness to go beyond a simple blow-by-blow description of Ferguson's violent wartime career to probe his complex nature.”—Daniel E. Sutherland, Journal of East Tennessee History

“Students of southern Appalachia and the Civil War era will certainly find this well-researched biography valuable.”—Samuel B. McGuire, H-Appalachia

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