M. Jeff Thompson

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M. Jeff Thompson
Meriwether Jeff Thompson.jpg
Birth nameMeriwether Jeff Thompson
Born(1826-01-22)January 22, 1826
Harpers Ferry, Virginia
(present-day West Virginia), U.S.
DiedSeptember 5, 1876(1876-09-05) (aged 50)
St. Joseph, Missouri, U.S.
Allegiance Confederate States
Service/branchMissouri Missouri State Guard
Years of service1861–1865 (MSG)
Rank Brigadier-General (MSG)
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War
Spouse(s)Emma Catherine Hays Thompson
  • Meriwether Thompson (father)
  • Martha Slaughter Broaddus (mother)
Other workCivil engineer

M. Jeff Thompson (born Meriwether Jeff Thompson; January 22, 1826 – September 5, 1876) was a senior officer of the Missouri State Guard who commanded cavalry in the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the American Civil War. The CSS General M. Jeff Thompson (c. 1862) was named after him.

Early life and career[edit]

M. Jeff Thompson was born in Harpers Ferry, Virginia (present-day West Virginia)[1] into a family with a strong military tradition on both sides. Thompson received basic training in military tactics in Charleston, South Carolina, but was not appointed to a military academy. Following his education, he found employment as a store clerk in a few Virginia and Pennsylvania towns.[2] He moved to Liberty, Missouri in 1847 and St. Joseph the following year, beginning as a store clerk before taking up surveying and serving as the city engineer.[3] He later supervised the construction of the western branch of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad. He married Emma Hayes in 1848.[2] Thompson served as the seventh Mayor of St. Joseph from 1857–1860. He presided over the ceremony inaugurating the first ride of the Pony Express on April 3, 1860. Thompson also gained national attention in May, 1861, when he cut down a union flag from the St. Joseph post office flag pole and threw it down to an angry crowd of southern sympathizers who shredded it to pieces.

American Civil War[edit]

Thompson during the Civil War

Thompson was a colonel in the Missouri state militia at the outbreak of the Civil War. In late July 1861, he was appointed brigadier general of the First Division, Missouri State Guard. He commanded the First Military District of Missouri, which covered the swampy southeastern quarter of the state from St. Louis to the Mississippi River. Thompson's battalion soon became known as the "Swamp Rats" for their exploits. He gained renown as the "Swamp Fox of the Confederacy." Although Thompson frequently petitioned for the Confederate rank of brigadier general it was never granted. His brigadier rank came from his Missouri State Guard service.[4]

When Union General John C. Fremont issued an emancipation proclamation purporting to free the slaves in Missouri, Thompson declared a counter-proclamation and his force of 3,000 soldiers began raiding Union positions near the border in October. On October 15, 1861, Thompson led a cavalry attack on the Iron Mountain Railroad bridge over the Big River near Blackwell in Jefferson County. After successfully burning the bridge, Thompson retreated to join his infantry in Fredericktown. Soon afterwards, he was defeated at the Battle of Fredericktown and withdrew, leaving southeastern Missouri in Union control.

After briefly commanding rams in the Confederate riverine fleet in 1862, Thompson was reassigned to the Trans-Mississippi region. There, he engaged in a number of battles before returning to Arkansas in 1863 to accompany Gen. John S. Marmaduke on his raid into Missouri. Thompson was captured in August in Arkansas, and spent time in St. Louis' Gratiot Street prison, as well as at the Fort Delaware and Johnson's Island prisoner-of-war camps ("Poor old Jeff, how my heart went out to him; he a prisoner and his devoted wife in a madhouse", Major Lamar Fontaine wrote later).[5]

Eventually, he was exchanged in 1864 for a Union general. Later that year, Thompson participated in Major General Sterling Price's Missouri expedition, taking command of "Jo" Shelby's famed "Iron Brigade" when Shelby became division commander. He served competently in this role.

In March 1865, Thompson was appointed commander of the Northern Sub-District of Arkansas. Brigadier General Thompson agreed to surrender his command at Chalk Bluff, Arkansas on May 11, 1865, and agreed to have his men assemble at Wittsburg and Jacksonport, Arkansas to lay down their arms and receive their paroles. Thompson's command was widely dispersed throughout northeast Arkansas, more for reasons of available forage than anything else. About a third of his men refused to surrender. Shelby's Missouri Brigade, along with elements of Green's and Jackman's Missouri Brigades, lit out for Mexico. Some Missouri units disbanded rather than surrender their colors. Many men simply went home.[6]

While most the men on the Jacksonport parole lists actually served in the unit with which they surrendered, some men were attached themselves to various regiments solely for the purpose of surrendering. A few probably never saw any service except marching with their relatives and neighbors to Jacksonport to receive the paroles, which were thought to provide the former confederates with some degree of protection from later arrest or capture.[7]

Later life[edit]

After the war, Thompson moved to New Orleans, where he returned to civil engineering. He designed a program for improving the Louisiana swamps, a job that eventually destroyed his health. He returned to St. Joseph, Missouri in 1876 where he succumbed to tuberculosis.[8] He is buried in Mount Mora Cemetery in St. Joseph, Missouri.


In early 1862 at New Orleans, a side-wheel river steamer was converted to a "cottonclad" ram and named after Thompson. The CSS General M. Jeff Thompson was sent up the Mississippi that April to join the River Defense Fleet in Tennessee waters, seeing its first action at Plum Point Bend. On June the 6th, after being set afire by gunfire at Memphis, the General M. Jeff Thompson ran aground and soon blew up.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Filbert, Preston, The Half not Told; the Civil War in a Frontier Town, Stackpole Books, page 11
  2. ^ a b "C1030 Thompson, Meriwether Jeff (1826-1876), Papers, 1854-1935" (PDF). The State Historical Society of Missouri. Retrieved January 8, 2014.
  3. ^ Allardice, Bruce, More Generals in Gray, LSU Press, page 219
  4. ^ Allardice, Bruce, More Generals in Gray, LSU Press, page 220
  5. ^ Fontaine, Lamar. My Life and My Lectures. New York: The Neale Publishing Company, 1908, p. 238.
  6. ^ Howerton, Bryan R. "Re: Jacksonport 1865 surrender list?", Arkansas in the Civil War Message Board, Posted 1 January 2004, Accessed 1 January 2012, http://history-sites.com/mb/cw/arcwmb/archive_index.cgi?noframes;read=6006 Archived 2012-04-06 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ A Brief History of the 45th Arkansas Cavalry Regiment, C.S.A., by James Logan Morgan; The Stream of History, Volume 16, Part 4 (Oct. 1978). Page 3. Accessed 6 January 2012, http://jackson.sdlhost.com/digital/3/237/3/2.pdf
  8. ^ Filbert, Preston, The Half not Told; the Civil War in a Frontier Town, Stackpole Books, page 166


External links[edit]