Samuel Wragg Ferguson was born on 3 November 1834 in Charleston, South Carolina, the eldest of James and Abby Ann Ferguson’s eleven children. His father was a planter. Educated at a private school in Charleston, he entered the US Military Academy in 1852 and graduated in 1857. Ferguson was stationed in Walla Walla, Washington, as a second lieutenant in the 1st Dragoons when his native state seceded. He resigned his commission in March 1861 and was commissioned a captain in the South Carolina Infantry, serving as an aide-de-camp on the staff of Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard. After the bombardment of Fort Sumter, Ferguson remained with Beauregard through First Bull Run and Shiloh, temporarily leading a brigade the second day of that battle.
Appointed lieutenant colonel of the 28th Mississippi Cavalry Regiment in 1862, Ferguson operated primarily in the Delta above Vicksburg, protecting the region against Union incursions. In March 1863 he led a force of artillery, cavalry, and infantry that battled Federal troops attempting to capture Vicksburg via Steele’s Bayou. The next month, Ferguson’s command clashed with an expedition that landed at Greenville and moved down Deer Creek. He was appointed brigadier general of cavalry on 28 July 1863. His brigade operated through the summer and fall of 1863 in northern Mississippi as part of a division commanded by James R. Chalmers. The next year Ferguson’s brigade was assigned to the division of William H. Jackson, where it participated in the Meridian Campaign. Ferguson’s brigade took part in the Atlanta Campaign, shielding the flanks of the Army of Tennessee. After the fall of Atlanta it was attached to Joseph Wheeler’s command and sparred with William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union force during the March to the Sea and in the Carolinas.
Beauregard recommended Ferguson for a promotion to major general in late 1864, eliciting fierce opposition from Wheeler, who accused Ferguson of insubordination, complained that his brigade was inefficient and noted for its high desertion rate, and generally questioned his competence. Wheeler had two subordinates he considered superior to Ferguson and was stumping for their promotion: Ferguson remained a brigadier. In the last days of the war, Ferguson’s brigade formed part of the escort for Jefferson Davis during his attempted escape following the fall of Richmond. Ferguson was paroled at Forsythe, Georgia, on 9 May 1865.
Ferguson married Kate Lee, the daughter of a Delta planter, in August 1862, and she reportedly accompanied him on his subsequent military campaigns. They had three sons and two daughters. Following the war, Ferguson moved to Greenville, studied law, and was admitted to the bar. He was appointed to a post on the Mississippi State Levee Commission in 1876, and Pres. Chester A. Arthur appointed him to the Mississippi River Commission in 1885. Around 1894 an audit of the Levee Commission’s finances uncovered a shortfall of more than thirty-nine thousand dollars. As treasurer, Ferguson was suspected of malfeasance. He fled, eventually spending several years in South America. He began writing his military memoirs while residing in Ecuador and lamented to his eldest son that he was impoverished. He eventually returned to the United States and lived for a time in Biloxi. In a poignant scene recounted in William Alexander Percy’s Lanterns on the Levee, Ferguson returned to Greenville years later and sought to regain his honor by uncovering what had happened to the missing funds. He never unraveled the mystery, and when he applied for a Confederate pension in 1916, he lamented that he “had nothing. I met with reverses some years ago. I lost all through the treachery of supposed friends in business.” Ferguson died on 3 February 1917 at the State Hospital in Jackson. Although the Jackson Daily Clarion-Ledger eulogized him as “a splendid figure” whose loss would be lamented, his sparse obituary perhaps reflected the troubled nature of his last decades.
- Biographical and Historical Memoir of Mississippi (1891)
- Ellison Capers, Confederate Military History: South Carolina (1899)
- Samuel Wragg Ferguson Papers, Duke University
- Heyward and Ferguson Family Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Jackson Daily Clarion-Ledger (4 February 1917)
- Marvin Lowrey, Samuel Wragg Ferguson, Brig. General, CSA, and Wife Catherine Lee: Featuring Selections from Their Writings (1994)
- William Alexander Percy, Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter’s Son (1941)
- Dunbar Rowland, Military History of Mississippi, 1803–1898 (1908)