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  • Constructing Guerrilla Memory:John Newman Edwards and Missouri's Irregular Lost Cause
  • Matthew C. Hulbert (bio)

On May 5, 1889, the Kansas City Times eulogized, "It is not derogation to other good and brave men to say that the death of no man in Missouri would cause genuine pain and grief to so many and so different persons as that of John N. Edwards. Nor will the memory of any be so cherished."1 Edwards—a veteran of Gen. Jo Shelby's Iron Brigade, fire-eating conservative pundit, and prolific myth-maker—stood as a pro-Confederate vanguard in Missouri politics and cultural restoration from the end of the Civil War at Appomattox in 1865 until his death in 1889.2 As author of the controversial Noted Guerrillas, Or, The Warfare of the Border (1877), Edwards's area of expertise was anything but official or Reconstructed. Other postwar movements commemorated fallen Confederates from the regular chain of command, but for the guerrilla, Edwards solemnly proclaimed, "there was no funeral."3 By most accounts, these guerrillas—endemic to the border West but particularly raucous in Missouri—had operated under night skies, utilized non-typical backcountry battlegrounds, and ambushed any alleged Unionist, military or civilian, with signature six-guns blazing.4 Thus, while elite ex-Confederate authors scrambled to produce and harness apotheosized imagery of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis to revamp southern culture, John Newman Edwards focused both gaze and pen squarely on the rowdiest, most reviled irregular figure: the Missouri bushwhacker. To aid in the production of a southern identity for Missouri, Edwards sculpted this bushwhacker to accouter the state with an irregular Lost Cause.

It is important to note that Edwards was not himself a bushwhacker—nor even a native Missourian, for that matter. John Newman Edwards was born in Warren County, Virginia, in 1838 and migrated to Lexington, Missouri, sometime around 1855.5 Upon arrival, he found brief employment editing the Expositor, until a group of raiding Kansans, displeased with the newspaper's partisan slant, destroyed its printing press. Not too long after settling in Missouri, Edwards also met the aristocratic Joseph [End Page 58] Shelby; the two were avid hunting companions and lifelong friends. In 1862, Edwards joined Shelby's Confederate cavalry unit, best known as the Iron Brigade, and eventually rose to the rank of major and adjutant.6 While raiding with the Iron Brigade in 1863-64, he came into contact with many of the Missouri bushwhackers he would later spin into martyr and myth.

Following Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Shelby and Edwards spearheaded a quixotic attempt at colonization south of the border. Initially, Shelby offered the combat services of the Iron Brigade to the puppet monarch Maximilian—then engaged in a bitter war with Benito Juarez and his Mexican guerrilla fighters—but the soon-to-be-executed emperor declined. Rather than arm the ex-Confederates, he instead accorded land for a colony, which the ex-Rebels named after his wife, Carlota. While in self-imposed Mexican exile, Edwards managed a struggling plantation, wrote politically charged letters to his sisters back in Virginia, and edited an English-Spanish newspaper called the Mexican Times. In 1867, after Maximilian's execution, Edwards and Shelby returned to Missouri.7 By 1868, Edwards had cofounded the Kansas City Times, a literary outlet for his fiery brand of anti-Reconstruction politics and a vehicle for his partisan editorials starring bushwhacker-turned-bandit Jesse James.8 Edwards left the Times in 1873 to edit the St. Louis Dispatch—the move marked the beginning of a long, alcoholism-fueled stint of instability and short-term work.9 Two years later, Edwards fought a duel with Col. Emory Foster over inflammatory remarks; neither shooter drew blood. Edwards, however, demanded another shot before cooler heads (and promises of libation) prevailed and his seconds dissuaded him from further gunplay. In 1877, Edwards published his magnum opus, Noted Guerrillas, Or, The Warfare of the Border, which featured William C. Quantrill, William "Bloody Bill" Anderson, Coleman "Cole" Younger, and his former editorial subjects the James brothers, Frank and Jesse. In his later years, Edwards decried the state-sponsored assassination of Jesse James and subsequently negotiated...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2159-9807
Print ISSN
2154-4727
Pages
pp. 58-81
Launched on MUSE
2012-02-23
Open Access
No
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