Southern Outlaws, Duelists, and Degenerates: Edgefield vs. Little Dixie

For those friends and acquaintances most frequently forced to “enjoy” the company of JHW and myself, this geographical duel will come as no surprise. More than one bottle of bourbon as refereed the two of us boasting which southern locality claimed the worst of the worst: bushwhackers, duelists, horse thieves, scalpers, murderers, degenerates, alcoholics, and hotheads. And, minus the availability of an ’82 DeLorean or other means of Bill and Ted-esque chicanery, we’ve decided to let the good readers of Bowtied & Fried decide once and for all. Below you will find the biographical information of select candidates from both Edgefield, South Carolina, and the Little Dixie region of Missouri. Three men from each side form our bracket. JHW and I have both consented to format and process; there will be no hanging chads or recounts. Please cast your ballot thoughtfully. The ramifications of your vote will resound in bars, BBQ joints, around campfires, and in random panels at the annual SHA meeting for years, if not decades, to come.

Team Edgefield (JHW)

1. Louis T. Wigfall, best known historically as a first-rate Southern fire-eater during the sectional crisis, began forging his reputation for honor-bound pugnacity early in life. An inclination toward booze and bravado led to his first documented affray while attending Jefferson’s esteemed University of Virginia, where he quarreled with a classmate over a young belle who’d garnered their mutual interest. Though he avoided an exchange of shots in this particular confrontation, it established a pattern of belligerence he held to most of his life. Transferring to South Carolina College in 1836, Wigfall spent more time pouring himself drinks in local taverns than over his studies, and often felt his honor tweaked while in Columbia. Eventually eschewing academics altogether, he entered the military and served valiantly in the Third Seminole War. He truly reached his pugnacious peak on the heels of this service, during the 1840 South Carolina gubernatorial campaign. He literally fought for his preferred candidate, fellow Edgefieldian James Henry Hammond, engaging in a fistfight, two duels (and three others honorably adjusted without shots) and was indicted, but not convicted, for killing another Edgefieldian, Thomas Bird, in the first of the duels. The other duel proved the end of Wigfall the duelist—not literally by death, but professionally by exile—in that his quarrel with Preston S. Brooks, another son of Edgefield, crippled his legal practice and forced him to migrate to Texas. In their encounter on the field of honor, Brooks and Wigfall each hit their mark, and both were severely wounded and it was feared, mortally so. But both recovered their injuries, holding only scars and grudges henceforth. Wigfall parlayed his dueling reputation into political success in Texas, ascending to the Governor’s mansion and eventually serving the state in Congress.

2. Preston S. Brooks is by far most renowned for his caning of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner in the Congressional Senate chamber in 1856. Shattering a gutta-percha cane with “thirty first-rate stripes,” he permanently maimed Sumner—who “bellowed like a calf,”—and further inflamed the sectional crisis. It was a decidedly honor-bound answer to Sumner’s perceived affront to Senator Andrew Pickens Butler, an Edgefield cousin of Brooks, in a previous speech. Finding courage in the whiskey and words poured out by fellow South Carolina Congressman Lawrence M. Keitt, Brooks exacted his caning and garnered cheers of “Hit him again!” from across the South. He received numerous replacement canes, some carrying that moniker, for his service to the state. But Brooks’s caning of Sumner merely culminated a life of such honor and violence, and the infamous cane itself bore witness, as its need was the result of young Preston’s first encounter on the field of honor. During the 1840 election year, Brooks dueled political rival and Edgefield neighbor Louis T. Wigfall, exchanging shots over perceived insults to their respective candidates. Wigfall and Brooks both received severe wounds and were nearly left for dead. Though both recovered, Brooks carried the wound in a limp, requiring a cane, the remainder of his days. After resigning his congressional seat, Brooks was overwhelmingly re-elected the following year. The toast of the South and pariah in the North, he never fully realized the political results of his rebuke upon Sumner, for he died of the croup on January 27, 1857.

3. George D. Tillman, perhaps most familiar as the elder brother of infamous South Carolina Governor and Senator Benjamin Ryan Tillman, earned a reputation for belligerence worthy of, and example to, his junior sibling in the years before the Civil War. Known for his hot-headedness and fondness for spirits, George Tillman employed both to deadly effect on July 21, 1856 when he shot local Edgefield mechanic J.H. Christian during a game of faro in the Planter’s Hotel lobby just off Edgefield’s courthouse square. A dispute arose over the amount of the most recent bet, and Tillman appealed to the crowd to support his view. In so doing, he invited one of the crowd, Mr. Christian, to voice his opposition, to which Tillman proclaimed “You damned scoundrel, you know it was ten [dollars]!” Christian vehemently responded to this affront, “Who do you call a damned scoundrel?!” Tillman then brandished his .45 pistol and shot Christian in the chest. Christian wheeled around clutching his breast and exclaiming, “Tillman, you’ve killed me!” before expiring. The affair dragged on for two years, as Tillman absconded to Nicaragua with notorious filibuster William Walker, engaging in untold atrocities before returning to Edgefield to face the legal fire of his assault on Christian. Convicted on a reduced charge of manslaughter, Tillman paid the $1000 fine with his reputation seemed no worse the wear. He went on to serve South Carolina in the statehouse, the Confederate military, and later in Congress.

Team Little Dixie (MCH)

1. Bloody Bill Anderson is well-known to fans of The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976); he joined William C. Quantrill’s infamous band of bushwhackers in 1863. Immediately following the death of his sister—Josephine—in the collapse of a Kansas City prison, Anderson took a leading role in the Lawrence Massacre on August 21, 1863. Approximately 200 men and boys were ambushed and slaughtered in the Kansas town. Later in 1863, Anderson parted ways with Quantrill and took command of his own guerrilla company. On September 27, 1864, Anderson and his men carried out two separate massacres in Centralia, Missouri. In the morning, a large detachment of bushwhackers (between 70 and 90) stopped a train carrying between 20 and 30 federal soldiers. Anderson had nearly all of the outnumbered men disarmed, unloaded, and executed on the spot. Later that afternoon, several hundred guerrillas (reports range from 300 to 600) under Anderson’s command ambushed and slaughtered the 39th Missouri Infantry Regiment under Major A. V. E. Johnston. Out of about 150 men, Anderson’s guerrillas killed in the neighborhood of 125—many of whose corpses were scalped and mutilated. A special unit of 100-150 men under the command of Lt. Col. Samuel Cox was formed specifically to exterminate Anderson. Anderson was killed on October 26, 1864, after he and one other guerrilla charged Cox’s entire unit.

2. Though infamous for his post-war exploits, Jesse Woodson James joined a group of former-Quantrill bushwhackers under the command of Fletcher Taylor in 1864. Taylor lost his right-arm to a shotgun and James, along with his brother Frank, fell in with Bill Anderson’s guerrilla company in time for the Centralia Massacre(s). After Anderson’s death, James went with Archie Clement to Texas. In 1865, Jesse James received a bullet wound in the chest but survived to lead a crime spree that lasted from the late-1860s until his death. In 1867, James and Jim Anderson (Bloody Bill’s brother) allegedly murdered Ike Flannery to steal his inheritance. In retaliation, George Shepherd (an ex-guerrilla himself) slit Anderson’s throat on the capital building lawn in Austin, Texas. At the peak of his criminal career, James was a household name (thanks in great part to John Newman Edwards) and commanded the likes of Frank James, Clell Miller, John Jarrette, and the Younger brothers—Cole, Bob, and Jim. This outlaw period involved a blood feud with the Pinkerton Detective Agency and several coldblooded murders. While posing as a Mr. Howard in 1882, Jesse James was shot in the back of the head by Robert Ford; it is widely believed that Missouri Governor T. T. Crittenden contracted Ford to assassinate James.

3. Standing about five feet tall and weighing in at a stout 130 pounds, Archie Clement may have been the most feared—and perhaps the most sociopathic—of all Bill Anderson’s guerrillas. Clement was best-known for scalping and mutilating the corpses of Unionists—military or civilian—and served Anderson as a lieutenant during the massacres at Centralia. In one particular instance, a note was left on a dead Union man that read: You come to hunt bush whackers. Now you are skelpt. Clemyent skelpt you. Following Anderson’s death Clement took command of his guerrilla company and in the wake of Appomattox he refused to surrender. In 1866 Clement led a group of ex-bushwhackers (including Jesse James) on a violent crime spree in Missouri. After violently influencing the outcome of an election in Lexington, Missouri, Archie Clement was tracked to a saloon by Union soldiers. In the process of capturing Clement a gunfight erupted; with a bullet in his chest, Clement managed to escape and mount his horse. Shortly thereafter, Clement was shot off of his horse and Union soldiers reportedly found him downed in the street attempting to cock a revolver with his teeth.

This entry was posted in 19th Century, General Commentary, JHW, MCH. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Southern Outlaws, Duelists, and Degenerates: Edgefield vs. Little Dixie

  1. Sean Vanatta says:

    Or Team…Actuary?

    In November 1858, Columbia, S.C. native Fitz William McMaster sent the latest missive in the most dastardly quarrel readers of Insurance Times had see that decade. According to McMaster, (former University of Georgia Professor) Charles F. McCay had made “allegations he knew were false at the time he was penning them,” “[sought] his own advancement in violation of all noble feelings, and all proprieties and courtesies of life,” and generally conducted himself with all “the ear-marks of low and despicable cunning.” Further, McMaster wrote, “I desire it to be understood that for the planning, designing and distribution of this Reply, in all its length and breadth, I am individually responsible,” concluding, “Moreover, I am ready to prove every allegation made herein.” Prove by combat if necessary, the subtext of the circular implied.

    The object of their dispute? “The reader will be somewhat surprised to learn,” McMaster wrote, “that there is not a single item in his books which corresponds with any approved mode of Double Entry.” Though not as grizzly as the blood spilled by their Edgefield brethren – the men never fought – this unlikely convergence of two Italian transplants, the double entry and the code duello, demonstrate the strange path honor could take in the modernizing South.

  2. BPS says:

    Team Little Dixie sounds like a band of terrorists. Te men of Edgefield lived by a code. A man’s got to have a code.

    Well written gents.


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