In 1857, M. Jeff Thompson was elected mayor of St. Joseph, Missouri. He gave a speech about the importance of the Pony Express in a ceremony on April 3, 1860, before the first rider left St. Joseph.
Thompson supported secession in writings and speeches while mayor. After the war began, he commanded the First Division of the Missouri State as brigadier general. Located in the “boot heel” of Missouri, he and his troops caused trouble for the Union forces and won their admiration. Then Colonel Ulysses S. Grant called him “Swamp Fox.” He soon became known as the “Swamp Fox of the Confederacy.”
After suffering some defeats, Thompson was assigned to the Confederate riverine navy defending Memphis. This navy was destroyed and Thompson was sent back to Arkansas where he and his men raided into Missouri for the next few months.
Thompson was captured at Pocahontas on August 24, 1863. He spent the next year as a prisoner first at the St. Louis Gratiot Street Prison, then Johnson’s Island, Ohio, and then Fort Delaware. He was paroled in August of 1864.
He rejoined the fighting in Missouri. He had command of the Iron Brigade in Brigadier General Jo Shelby’s division and commanded the Sub-District of Northwest Arkansas beginning in March, 1865.
Union Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. Davis, 51st Illinois Infantry, requested a conference with Thompson. They discussed surrender terms on May 9th at Chalk Bluff, Arkansas. Thompson asked for two days to consult with his officers.
Thompson surrendered on May 11, 1865. The paroles took place at two Arkansas locations, Wittsburg and Jacksonport. Though some of Thompson’s men had already deserted, about 7,500 officers and enlisted men surrendered and were paroled.
-Sandra Merville Hart
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