|William L. Jeffers
DIED: February 21, 1903
Lt. Colonel, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, First Division, Missouri State Guard
Colonel, 8th Missouri Cavalry Regiment, Confederate States Army
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William L. Jeffers saw five years of service in the Mexican War with the 1st Regiment of U. S. Dragoons including the campaign to capture Mexico City. After his service in the U. S. Army, Jeffers became an established citizen of Jackson, Missouri. His military background made him a natural to command the "Swamp Rangers," as the Cape Girardeau County unit was designated. Eventually the Rangers were consolidated with three other companies to form a "Mounted Rangers" battalion, which Jeffers also commanded. One old soldier would later recall how Jeffers' Rangers drew "first blood" in one of the initial skirmishes involving the Missouri State Guard in Southeast Missouri. Although elected lieutenant-colonel of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, First Division, Missouri State Guard, Jeffers served only briefly before resigning for reasons that remain a mystery to this day.
In 1862, after the Missouri State Guard had disbanded, Jeffers recruited a company of cavalry and initiated a slashing series of attacks on Union soldiers and positions in the "Bootheel" area of Missouri. He was highly successful, so much so in fact, that one local Union newspaper always referred to him as the "Captain of the Swamps." After the illegally-established Unionist government of Missouri made enrollment in the state militia mandatory in July, recruits flocked to Jeffers' standard. As his numbers increased, he became even more bold. He captured whole companies of militia at Dallas (Missouri) and Appleton, won hard skirmishes at Crooked Creek and in the Mingo Swamp. On September 10, Jeffers captured Bloomfield where he seized 2 cannon, tons of ammunition, enough muskets to arm a regiment and assorted other military supplies.
By October, eight companies were claimed by Jeffers and a battalion was organized. Soon after, two additional companies completed enrollment and the battalion was expanded into a regiment that was soon designated the 8th Missouri Cavalry Regiment by the Confederate government. This regiment was mustered into confederate service at Pocahontas, Arkansas and was assigned to Marmaduke's Brigade, then commanded by Col. Joseph Porter. The 8th played a prominent role in the engagement at Hartville during Marmaduke's First Missouri Raid and suffered significant casualties; its part in the general's Second Missouri, or Cape Girardeau, expedition was less important.
During 1863, Jeffers led his regiment at most of the important engagements in Arkansas, including the battles of Taylor's Creek, Helena, Brownsville, Bayou Metoe, and Bayou Fourche near Little Rock where the 8th captured two pieces of artillery. At Pine Bluff, the regiment again suffered heavy losses. In all of these engagements, the colonel and his men acted with great gallantry and determination.
During the last full year of the war, 1864, Jeffers' Regiment saw service in Louisiana, which included the skirmish at Campti in Banks' Red River Expedition and then returned to Arkansas in time to participate in the defeat of Gen. Frederick Steele's so-called Camden Expedition. In fact, a part of the regiment fought and won the battle of Poison Springs and the 8th Cavalry brought on the engagement of Jenkins' Ferry.
The Great Missouri Raid of 1864 cost the regiment dearly for the road from Pilot Knob to Mine Creek was a bloody road indeed. At Mine Creek, the 8th lost its leader for the balance of the war; Col. Jeffers was among the captives.
After several months as a prisoner at Johnson's Island, Ohio, Jeffers was paroled. He returned to Southeast Missouri, settling in Clarkton, where he operated a hotel and served as the local peace officer. The former colonel also used his military experience when he commanded the Dunklin County Militia that eliminated a reign of terror being carried on by so-called "Night Riders."
Jeffers spent his last years running a hotel in Dexter, Missouri. Always interested in the welfare of the ex-Confederate soldiers, he was the commander of the Col. Solomon G. Kitchen Camp of the United Confederate Veterans for many years. His health failed him and he went to Corpus Christie, Texas in a vain attempt to improve his condition. He died there on February 21, 1903. The good colonel's remains were returned to Jackson, Missouri for burial in a grave selected by one of his former troopers.
In September 1908, a large monument to the memory of Col. Jeffers was unveiled in a ceremony attended by both the Blue and the Gray. It stands today as a lasting reminder of the soldier that so often was referred to by his superiors as the "Gallant Jeffers."
Webmaster's note: Special thanks to Jim McGhee for providing the info on
this, but one of many, Missouri Hero.
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