Jeff Thompson seems larger than life to many of us. It may be because he intended it just that way. He deliberately helped to create his own image and legend. He was a Civil War hero, descendant from Revolutionary War officers, and was distantly related to George Washington. He was left a young boy as motherless. He left home at seventeen, and as he put it, he "paddled his own canoe." He was a man of great talents, he won and lost a few battles in life, and he was one of the most popular men in northwest Missouri. When the Civil War took place, he left his comfortable home, his place in the community, and his family all to fight for a Confederacy. He loved his country. Although, he was without formal military training or a record of military success, he nevertheless proved to be a master of the arts of warfare in the early years of the Civil War.
I too can relate to General Thompson, many called him "an energetic eccentric." Two Books you should read tell about his life and adventure in the Civil War, "The Coming Fury" by Bruce Catton and "A History of the Civil War on the Missouri-Arkansas Border" by Elmo Ingenthron.
Jeff Thompson was known in every household, the object of either praise or comdemnation, admired and scorned, despised and beloved, but seldom ignored. He was brave to a point of recklessness. Absolutely no mission was too large for him. Thompson was a gentleman and was gallant to the ladies, and he wrote poetry to commemorate just about every important thing in his life. His memoirs sparkle with adventure. His memoirs certainly had romance, adventure, and heroic times. He daughter described his life as: "The notes he left read like a romance, had it filled out the details, they would be a mine of information." He was a man of true honor. In Mrs. Doris Mueller's book "M.Jeff Thompson, Missouri's Swamp Fox of the Confederacy," she sums it up his life, "It has been said that the story of any man's life can reveal attributes of the historical period in which he lived." This is certainly true of Jeff Thompson. A Southerner by birth, he chose to fight from the divided state of Missouri, his adopted home. He fought off swamps and guerrillas in a style of leadership both in Missouri and Arkansas. When the war was over, he petitioned the United States government to reinstate his citizenship and was a house guest of General Ulysses S. Grant.
It is said his appearance was often flamboyant. His statue was quite noticeable, he sometimes rode a white horse and sported a large white plume in his hat. He was described as being about six feet tall, slender, sinewy, with a weather-beaten, aged look. He was quite the talker and never meet a stranger. He was very unique, quite eccentric, dressed in a suit of snowy white from the plume in his hat to the heel of his boot, and with a sword belt and white gloves. He was self-confident in manner and had a broad smile.
He had friendly, bright blue eyes and long blond hair, which he darkened with oil and tucked behind his ears.
He was also known to be quite the storyteller. He loved to tell stories and often, of course, made himself to be the hero. General Thompson was a man of his word and he would make a believer out of anyone that didn't abide by it. Thompson often put his own spin on a story, always to minimize a defeat or embellish his successes. Often, but not always. He was a brave and courageous man. Thompson wouldn't tolerate dishonesty, either in himself or from those in his command. He was a man of honor to his family and friends and didn't take well to being slander. He had a pure love for his men and called them the purest and noblest men of the Confederacy.
Thompson, like so many other soldiers, left their homes and families to fight for a cause they believed in. He was devoted to his wife and children, and because he was away from home, he made it a point to write to them special letters on each birthday.
A legacy that Thompson left to future generations was indeed a many faceted one. He played a special role in the war and set an example for peace and patriotism when the war was over. Here we can be proud to say, "Another Veteran who simply did his duty for his country and paid a great price." How honored we are in Poinsett County, Arkansas, to have had General Thompson to select Harrisburg as his headquarters.
A newspaper story announcing Thompson's death and burial closed by saying: "We may well exclaim, 'Here lies one whom when his mission was accomplished, took his flight to a better and brighter world.' May heaven give us more such men as Jeff Thompson."