ALS BREVET MAJOR GENERAL JAMES SANKS BRISBIN, U.S.V., 5th USCT [REBEL GUERRILLA CHAMP FERGUSON]

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Dated “Headquarters U.S. Colored Troops, Lexington, KY Nov. 18, 1864.” Addressed to “My Dear Wife.” 3 pp. in ink on unlined paper. Exhibits fold-marks, else VG.

James Brisbin was a talented volunteer officer who was rapidly promoted and awarded Volunteer Brigadier rank at the end of the war--after which he remained in the army, commanding a Battalion of Gibbon’s column during the 1876 Sioux Campaign, and becoming Colonel of the regular 1st U.S. Cavalry in 1889. He is best known, however, as the Colonel of the 5th U.S. Colored Cavalry in the October 1864 Battle of Saltville, VA. During this fight—sometimes referred as the “Saltville Massacre”--his unit was repulsed and some of their wounded, and officers, left behind as POWs, were summarily executed in their hospital beds by Rebel Partisan Champ Ferguson, who would pay a price, being hung after the war as a war criminal.

Written to his wife, most of this letter treats Lexington, KY, housing arrangements, and social gossip concerning those coming and going. During this period Brisbin served as Gen. Stephen Burbridge’s chief of staff, and he remarks of Burbridge’s wife—“Mrs. Burbridge is well and was pleased with your present to her. Her and [husband] and Steve is hardly on speaking terms.”

Burbridge’s 1864 military administration of the Department of Kentucky made him highly unpopular to all, possibly including his wife, and he was ostracized from the state after the war.

Brisbin goes on to say that “the general and I were to go to Paducah today but there was a battle in Juniper [?] yesterday and Genl Breckinridge is reported marching this way. We are shoving off all our troops to Cumberland Gap and Genl. Burbridge will go in person and command them. I do not think I will go…”

Most intriguing is the “PS” that Brisbin tacks on to this letter referencing guerrilla Champ Ferguson: “We had some fun here the other day hanging two guerrillas. Ferguson won’t shoot anymore wounded officers. Burbridge hung him up in a few hours after he was taken. An immense crowd went out to see the thing.”

Brisbin is wrong on this point. While Gen. Burbridge was actively pursuing Confederate guerrillas following the Saltville incident, and may have captured and hung one in Lexington as Brisbin describes…the man hung was not Champ Ferguson, who was taken a year later and hung in Nashville, 20 October 1865, the only rebel tried and executed for war crimes, other than Henry Wirz, commandant of the Andersonville Prison Camp.

Superb collectible from the pen of the Colonel of the 5th U.S. Colored Cavalry whose wounded prisoners were executed by Champ Ferguson following the October 2, 1864 Battle of Saltville, VA. In protective sleeve, invites further research. Accompanied by brief amount of internet research.  [JP] [PH:L]

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