Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War
by T J Stiles
Stripped of the familiar myths surrounding him, Jesse James emerges as a far more significant figure: a ruthless, purposeful and intensely political ... Show synopsis Stripped of the familiar myths surrounding him, Jesse James emerges as a far more significant figure: a ruthless, purposeful and intensely political man who used crimes and notoriety to promote the Confederate cause during the bitter decade that followed the South's surrender at Appomattox. Stiles paints a strikingly new and vivid portrait of the period before the Civil War, during the conflict and its aftermath, both nationally and, more specifically, in the divided border state of James's Missouri. There the great issues of the day were expressed in battles between those who aligned themselves with North or South. Jess and his older brother Frank, sons of a pro-slavery preacher who died in the California Gold Rush and a ferocious Southern mother, served with some of the most savage Confederate guerrillas. At 16, Jesse began his fighting career by killing Unionists neighbours on their doorsteps. In the bloodshed and bitterness that followed the war, we see Jesse and his fellow guerrillas, with their gunfights and hold-ups, become part of the intensely brutal struggle by the White South against the racial egalitarianism and Federal power fostered by Reconstruction. We see how Jesse placed himself squarely in this context with his thirst for attention, his partisan pronouncements and his alliance with a rising ex-Confederate newspaper editor who helped shape Jesse's image for their common purpose. In using violence and the news media to promote a political cause, Jesse James was neither a Robin Hood nor a quaint Wild West figure. Rather, as his life played out across the racial divide, the rise of the Klan, and the expansion of the railroads, he was a forerunner of what we have to call a terrorist. With groundbreaking scholarship and dazzling reinterpretation, T. J. Stiles has refashioned one of the great legends of American history, offering brilliant insights along the way into both the nation and the man.