John Newman Edwards The Chevalier Bayard of Missouri.

John Newman Edwards was born on January 4, 1838, near Fort Royal, Virginia. At age sixteen he moved to Lexington, Missouri. Before he turned twenty, he was made the editor of a highly influential weekly newspaper, The Expositor.   Here is a post war image of the dashing Edwards.

In the year 1862, General Joesph Orville Shelby organized a regiment near Waverly, Lafayette County, Mo. Edwards was one of the original recruits.  In September 1863, Edwards was promoted to major, and appointed as adjutant for the regiment. When Shelby was promoted to the command of a division, Edwards followed him and became his adjutant.

Edwards wrote his official military orders and dispatches utilizing the same flamboyant and poetic style he later displayed in his editorials and novels.  A (Confederate) officer once bore a report of General Shelby's to General Theophilus H. Holmes, who on reading it exclaimed with an impious expletive:"Why, Shelby is a poet as well as a fighter!" "No," replied the officer, "but his adjutant is a born poet." (1)

The achievements of Shelby and his men are a matter of history. Among his men, Edwards was considered a hero, both on and off the field of battle. Major J. F. Stonestreet, of Dover Missouri, who was with Shelby until he crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico following Lee's surrender, tells the story of Edward's part in the War for Southern Independence, more eloquently than I ever could.

"I cannot speak of John Edwards without emotion," he said. "He was the noblest man of the many noble men who took part in the great struggle in the West. I can not begin to tell of all the instances of his valor in battle, his kindness in camp, his care for his comrades, his noble self-sacrifice, his great brain and noble heart. No one but those who were with him in those dark hours can appreciate his magnificent spirit."

"He was only a boy when he joined (Silas) Gordon's regiment, but he soon became the hero of Shelby's old brigade. It was a grand sight to see him in battle. He was always where the fight was thickest. He was absolutely devoid of fear. The men had the confidence in him that they would have had, had he been a god. Their trust in him was sublime."

"He (Edwards) had a genius for war. While he was as brave as a lion, his courage was not of the rash, impetuous sort that led him into foolhardy undertakings. His wisdom was as great as his bravery. No one appreciates more the character and achievements of General Shelby than I; but when the dark days came, it was John Edwards who, more than anybody else, inspired hope in the hearts of the men, cheered and encouraged them, and spurred them on to renewed exertions."

"This self-sacrifice was noble. I have seen him dismount and give his horse away to a tired trooper. In the hospital once I saw him take off his shirt and tear it up for bandages for the wounded, not knowing when or how he was to get another one. I have seen him take off his coat and give it to a soldier who, he thought, was more in need of it. His spirit was so gentle that it hurt him more to see others suffer than to suffer himself."

"What heroism he displayed in that awful retreat from Westport! Small-pox broke out among the men. John Edwards feared it as little as he did the bullets of the enemy. He would take a soldier with the small-pox in his arms, carry him to the most comfortable place that could be secured, and nurse him with the care of a woman. He would brave anything to secure a delicacy for a sick soldier. When we were eating horseflesh on that awful march, and the men were starving, naked and ready to give up, it was he who cheered and encouraged them and held them together. His heart was so big that he thought of everybody before himself."

"In battle he was a very Mars; in camp he was as gentle as a woman. The men loved him, and little wonder. He could never do enough for them. Brave men, all of them, they recognized him as the bravest and the brainiest. 'Follow me, boys,' I have heard him cry, 'and I will take you where the bullets are the thickest and the sabers the sharpest' and then, his sword flashed in his hand, he would be off to where the fight was the hottest. And the men would be after him with a confidence and devotion that insured victory. He was the bravest man in war and the gentlest in peace that I ever saw. He was the soul of honor. He was one man in a million. He was the Chevalier Bayard of Missouri." (2)

At the close of the war, Edwards had fought in more than 50 battles, and untold number of skirmishes. Major Edwards was among those who followed Price and Shelby into Mexico and was among the party that buried the Confederate battle flag of the "Iron Brigade" in the muddy waters of the Rio Grande before leaving the borders of the United States.

Edwards became a favorite of Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlotta. He negotiated the agreement that allowed the Missourians to establish a colony in Cordoba made up of ex-Confederates. Along with Governor Allen formerly of Virgina, Edwards established a newspaper called The Mexican Times. While in Mexico, he gathered material that would become his second book, [i]Shelby's Expedition To Mexico, An Unwritten Leaf of the War[/i].

In 1867, soon after he returning from Mexico, Edwards published his first book, "Shelby and His Men, or The War In West." Soon afterwards Edwards was working as a reporter for the St. Louis Republican. In 1868, Edwards and a partner launched the newspaper the Kansas City Times.

On March 28, 1871, Edwards married Mary Virginia Plattenburg, of Dover, Lafayette County, Missouri. Together they raised three children. Edwards next worked at the St. Louis Times. While working there, Edwards participated in a duel with Colonel Emory S. Foster.

This is the same Emory Foster who had served in the 7th Missouri State Militia Cavalry, and who was commander of the Union forces at the Battle of Lone Jack.  After that battle, both Foster and his brother were spared from execution by Cole Younger. (3)

The dispute centered on an article by Edwards writing about the mistreatment of Jefferson Davis at the Winnebago County, Illinois Fair. Foster replied in his own newspaper, The Journal, saying that "the writer of the Times (Edwards) article had lied, and knew he lied, when he wrote it." (4)

Edwards immediately demanded a retraction but Foster refused saying the editorial was not directed at Edwards personally. So when  Edwards demanded satisfaction in his next article Foster publicly accepted the challenge.

On September 4, 1875, at 5:00 pm, two old foes met in field located near Rockford, Illinois. Armed with Colt Navy revolvers, both duelists fired almost simultaneously. The decade since the war had ended had not been kind to their aim, both men missed their mark.

"A little high!" exclaimed Foster, as soon as he had fired. Edwards demanded another fire, in an excited tone. His second asked if he would adhere to that resolution. "Yes," he replied, "It is just as I told you before we came on the field. I will go on if it takes a thousand fires;" and with this remark he sat down on the grass. Foster declined another fire. He was the challenged party, and felt no bitterness against his antagonist. Therefore he was not anxious for blood. His honor had been sustained as the challenged party. Shots had been exchanged, and that was all that was necessary. The genial bourbon was produced and the agreeable termination to the affair toasted. (5)

So Edwards left the St. Louis Times and returned to Dover, Missouri, where he wrote and published his third and final book, [i]Noted Guerrillas; or, The Warfare On The Border.[/i] This is the only account of the Missouri-Kansas Border War that was written while the events were still painfully fresh in everyone's memory, and while Missouri was still laboring under the harsh and bitter sanctions imposed under reconstruction.

However, there is little doubt that Edwards' most important contribution to American history was his involvement with Frank and Jesse James. Not only did John Newman Edwards give birth to the legend of the James brothers, he nurtured and cultivated it, until it grew to be larger than life.

Utilizing all his skills as well as his position of influence, Edwards launched a battle strategy that would have made his old comrades in arms proud. He launched a series of editorials, articles and letters, many purportedly written by Jesse James (but in all likelihood  written by Edwards himself) which portrayed the James boys as heroic figures, struggling against the evil carpetbaggers who had overrun Missouri. Without John Newman Edwards there would likely be no one labeled as "America's Robin Hood."

When Jesse was assassinated by the traitor and coward Robert Ford, Edwards wrote: "Tear the two bears from the flag of Missouri. Put thereon, in place of them, as more appropriate, a thief blowing out the brains of an unarmed victim, and a brazened harlot, naked to the waist and splashed to the brows in blood."

Edwards ultimately returned to be the editor of the Kansas City Times in 1887, and held this position until his untimely death.

John Newman Edwards suddenly passed away on May 9, 1889, while in Jefferson City, Missouri. His death had a profound effect upon the entire State. The Legislature passed a resolution of respect, and then went into recess. A special railroad car carried Edward's body back to Dover, Missouri for burial. At least 130 notices of his death were published in various newspapers across the state.

Edwards was an unreconstructed Missouri Confederate, who proudly and loudly defended everyone and everything associated with "The Lost Cause." John was a classic prose poet, in the style of Sir Walter Scott and Victor Hugo. Both of these traits have enabled modern day critics a reason to justify dismissing his writings.  

For example, Larry Olpin, in the Dictionary of Missouri Biography, writes:

"His (Edward's) sentences are elaborate, and his allusions are grand and excessive.  Edward's bushwhackers and soldiers are either warriors of the stature of Achilles and Hector, or they are needlessly compared to rebels of note, but none, according to Edwards is made of sterner stuff than his own heroes.... His book is unabashedly pro-Confederate.  Union forces are always large, Confederate forces were small and valiant....In this account Quantrill takes on the image of the historic avenger. His wrongs, according to Edwards, were melted out only under the most extreme provocation." (6)

The plain truth in nearly every instance was that Missouri Confederate forces were vastly outnumbered. Based upon what they accomplished, the Missouri guerrillas were every bit the equal to any unit that fought on either side in the War, bar none.  To the men who rode with him, and those who supported Southern rights, Quantrill was an avenger and defender of their freedom, whose actions were mandated by the cruelty inflicted by the Union army.

It only stands to reason that someone who fought and shed blood for the Southern cause, would write an account that is from the pro-Southern perspective. However, Mr. Olpin or his ilk never criticizes the likes of Sherman for writing his memoirs from a pro-Union viewpoint.

Finally, when all else fails, Edwards critics pull out the trump card, claiming he had a serious drinking problem. Perhaps he did, yet I don't see the accomplishments of Ulysses S. Grant being dismissed simply because he never met a bottle of alcohol he didn't like.

In my opinion Edwards was a war hero and a literary genius, whose own legend is unjustly tarnished because of his association with the Lost Cause, as well as his tireless promotion of the James-Younger Gang.

©Patrick Marquis,quantrillsguerrillas.com "Permission should be requested and agreed to before using this copyrighted essay."

(1). John Newman Edwards, A Biographical Sketch. By Rev. Geo. Plattenburg, Dover, Mo. Taken from John N. Edwards: Biography, Memoirs, Reminiscences and recollections, edited by Jennie Edwards, 1889. ©2002 Ge. Rule, Civil War St. Louis.com  (2).Ibid  (3).Quantrill of Missouri, The Making Of  A Guerrilla Warrior.Paul R Petersen, Cumberland House 2003. Page 185 (4). John Newman Edwards, A Biographical Sketch. By Rev. Geo. Plattenburg, Dover, Mo. Taken from John N. Edwards: Biography, Memoirs, Reminiscences and recollections, edited by Jennie Edwards, 1889.©2002 Ge. Rule, Civil War St. Louis.com (5). Ibid (6) Ibid.

©Patrick Marquis,quantrillsguerrillas.com "Permission should be requested and agreed to before using this copyrighted essay."




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