The killing of Siles Judd- my second-great uncle

Grave marker of Siles Judd in Judd Cemetery, Cookeville, Tennessee

 

The story passed down in my family is that eleven year old Siles Judd (aka Silas Judd) was killed by Confederate guerrillas at the Judd homestead in Cookeville, Tennessee.  The Confederate band was allegedly led by Champ Ferguson. Whatever happened on that September day, tragedy had made a horrible visitation on the family. The loss of an eleven year son and brother was no easy matter. The Judds were a large God-fearing, hard working family. They were part of some of the earliest settlers to Cookeville.  The elder Judd (Nathan Sr.) was a tanner and preacher . Siles had an older brother named Mathias. The legend says that when Siles was murdered, Mathias vowed revenge for his death which he planned to fulfill by joining the Union Army when he became old enough. These Judds were pro-Union, but there were Judd cousins and others who were not. Keeping to his promise, my second-great grandfather Mathias Judd joined the Union Army in 1864. Siles was buried on the Judd homestead property- which eventually became the Judd Cemetery of Cookeville. Years later, Mathias Judd, an ordained minister by then, preached from the Judd Church on the same property. The church building is now gone. I wonder if Mathias ever thought about his younger brother buried in the back of the church there.  Many others had been buried there as well.

Mathias Judd

 

I don’t know why Siles Judd was killed. He was a boy and couldn’t hurt anyone, I suppose. If Confederates did kill him was it out of revenge for being Unionists? I ran across an article in an old issue of Civil War Times Illustrated (Oct. 1974) in which author Albert Castel supplied food for thought on The Guerrilla War. Writing about Champ Ferguson, he noted that he “prowled the Cumberland Mountains, a region where Unionists and Secessionists waged a remorseless, feud-like struggle.” Further, he commented that Ferguson was different from other “bushwhackers” based on the “ferocity and number of his killings. Not content merely to shoot his victims, he often stabbed them as well. Once he literally slashed a man to pieces, then rammed two cornstalks into the wounds.”

Could Ferguson have killed Siles Judd? It sounds like he was capable of any kind of atrocity. Castel said that on one particular occasion his “bloodlust” was “unsated.” Castel estimated that Ferguson personally killed over one hundred men during the war. Then, I read something in the article that really got me wondering. It had to do with why Ferguson did what he did and to the degree that he chose to do it with. It helped explain Ferguson’s motivation and actions during the war. Here what the article said:

“According to Confederate sources, at the outbreak of the war a band of local Unionists went to his house on Calfkiller Creek near Sparta, Tennessee while he was away and stripped his wife and 12 year old daughter naked, an atrocity that caused him to seek blood-vengeance against all “Lincolnites.” This story may be true, although Ferguson himself denied it, but it scarcely explains and certainly does not excuse his savagery, which seems to have been psychopathic.”

After reading the above, I felt I had a new understanding of the man. Even though he denied the account-I think it was probably true. Ferguson’s family was shamed and treated very badly by Union soldiers-leaving Ferguson “no choice” but to exact payment for what was done. It didn’t make his actions right but it made them more understandable. How ironic that my eleven year old second-great uncle Siles Judd was killed by him (if it happened that way)-considering that an injustice was done to his own twelve year old daughter.

What happened to Ferguson? Castel summarized his end with the following:

 

“…shortly after the war ended the Federals, who had declared him an outlaw, apprehended him by means of a ruse and placed him on trial before a military commission, charged with fifty-three specified murders. He of course was found guilty, and on October 20, 1865 was hanged at Nashville. To the end he expressed no regret for his deeds, and only last wish was that he be buried in his native Cumberlands-a request that his wife fulfilled.”

 

Ferguson is buried in France Cemetery in Sparta, Tennessee. It is a small well-kept place. There are some other Confederates buried there also. As I stood looking down on Ferguson’s grave, I noticed that the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) have a marker placed for him. They honor him.  I thought about the people he murdered-Siles Judd probably among them. I felt anger towards him and what he did. I left him at rest. His anger is over. His war is done. I left it in the hands of history and a merciful God. 

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