Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Last Battle of the Civil War?

James-Younger Gang Attempt to Rob Northfield Bank – 1876; Reenactment in Northfield, September 11, 2011.

I stopped by Northfield this weekend to check out the reenactment of the James-Younger gangs raid on Northfield back in 1876. The town has been putting this show on since 1948. The bank and hardware store are preserved as a historical site and museum. Dark black circles surround certain large holes in the old bricks of the hardware store, where old bullets are reputed to have struck.

I call it the last battle of the Civil War, although we might reflect that the civil war is still going on. Unlike old histories, such as George Huntington’s 1896 “Robert and Hero,” which does not mention the issue; or the 1972 film the “Great Northfield, Minnesota Bank Raid,” full of idiotic historical fantasies as big as the 'mountains' looming over the town, neither focuses on the strong Civil War connection.

The raiders did not come to the town because it had ‘the most money’ west of the Mississippi, although it was one of several banks targeted in southern Minnesota. To get sympathy from ex-Confederates, Cole Younger mentioned to the press that Benjamin Butler, an abolitionist union general, had money in the Northfield Bank, as did Adelbert Ames, former Reconstruction governor of Mississippi. (See Ames mentioned in the review of the ‘The State of Jones,’ below.) In doing this, he implied that this was one of the reasons they chose this bank to rob. However, Younger was wrong, as it was J.T. Ames, the brother of Adelbert Ames, who sat on the board of directors of the bank. Butler’s daughter had married Adelbert Ames, so there was indeed a family connection at the bank - a Union connection.

There is an argument as to whether Adelbert Ames was in Northfield on that day - the re-enactors say he was. Or whether one of the Ames brothers was addressed as ‘guvnuh’ by a southern voice as he crossed the bridge to the Ames mill (now owned by Malt-O-Meal), which caused Ames to glance at the riders and see pistols under their linen dusters - also claimed by the re-enactors. This alerted Ames and supposedly lead him to follow the riders back into town. However, it is no secret that Joseph Heywood, the bank teller killed by Frank James, and others in the street in Northfield shooting back, were former Union soldiers. Heywood fought at Chickasaw Bayou, Champion’s Hill and finally at Vicksburg under Sherman and Grant, after which he got sick. Anselm Manning, who killed raider Bill Stiles/Chadwell, had been a Union soldier. The Younger brothers – Cole, Bob & Jim - fought with Quantrill and the James brothers – Frank & Jesse - had ridden with Bloody Bill Anderson’s blood-thirsty guerrillas. All fighting for the South as irregulars in the Confederate Army.

Raiders Clell Miller and Chadwell/Stiles were killed by the armed citizens of Northfield that day. Cole and Bob Younger were injured. During the manhunt, lead by Union veteran William Murphy and also organized by J.T. Ames, the Missourians fled towards Madelia, Minnesota. There Charlie Pitts was killed and the three Younger brothers shot up and captured. The three were later sentenced to Stillwater Prison, where Cole Younger started the prison newspaper. Only the James brothers escaped, though, typical of this history, there is a bit of doubt whether one or the other was in Northfield. It was admitted to by several of the band, but Cole Younger tried to deny their presence, which is something any smart 'pard' would do. Six of eight of the gang were killed or captured (though some claim there was a ninth gang member on the edge of town), and this ended the exploits of the gang. The re-enactors take great pains to point out that the James/Younger gang was no bunch of “Robin Hoods’ but were instead interested only in buying good liquor, prostitutes and high-quality horses and guns. They gave their money to no one but themselves.

The roots of this raid in the Civil War are unmistakable. The James brothers participated in the Centralia massacre, where more than a 100 unarmed Union soldiers were killed and mutilated. These Missouri bushwhackers, who were part of a movement that had also burned down Lawrence, Kansas and killed dozens in cold blood there, lived up to their name, again, even in 1876. Both Heywood and a Swedish immigrant, Gustafson, died that day. Killing unarmed tellers and conductors was the gang's habit. But the ex-Confederate raiders met the same fate at the hands of Minnesota farmers and unionists in Northfield as the Confederate Army met in the battles of Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Missionary Ridge and Nashville, all battles where Minnesota units distinguished themselves.

Lessons? There’s only one way to deal with a slaver… and their modern equivalent, a fascist, if they ever show up again.

And I saw it in southern Minnesota!
Red Frog, September 12, 2011

No comments: