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Saturday, February 2, 2013

How Frank and Jesse James swore loyalty to the Union

As I discussed in my post on loyalty oaths in the Civil War, many rebels swore to stop fighting the Union in return for being allowed to live as civilians. Some stopped fighting and some didn't.

Two of the most famous people to take the oath were Frank and Jesse James. At the beginning of the war, Frank joined the rebellious Missouri State Guard and saw action at Wilson's Creek and Lexington in 1861. While the State Guard was retreating to southwest Missouri in September of that year Frank fell ill, got left behind, and was captured and paroled. He took the loyalty oath and returned to the family farm in Clay County.

And he might have stayed there for the duration if it weren't for General Order No. 19, enacted in July of 1862, which forced all able-bodied men, including paroled Confederates, to join local Union militias. While this swelled the ranks of the militia, it also made many hardcore Southerners flee to the Confederate army or become bushwhackers. Frank took the latter option and joined the band of the notorious William Quantrill.

His younger brother Jesse joined him the next year. They became hardcore guerrillas and fought until the end. In May of 1865, Jesse and a group of bushwhackers rode into Lexington to surrender and Jesse got shot by a nervous group of Union troops. He survived his wound and formally surrendered on May 21. Frank was in Kentucky with the remnants of Quantrill's group and surrendered on July 26, more than three months after Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

You can read more about Frank and Jesse in my book The Last Ride of the James-Younger Gang. They also make an appearance in my Civil War novel A Fine Likeness.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. For a photo of 16 year-old Jesse James the bushwhacker, click on the link.

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