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John Newman Edwards (1839 – 1889)

John Newman Edwards was a pro-Confederate
Confederacy is a term used to identify the states that seceded from the United States and formed their own separate government during the Civil War. "Confederacy" is also used interchangeably with the terms "the South" and "the Confederate States of America."

Confederate is the term used to identify an individual who was loyal to the Confederacy.
journalist who helped create the image of Jesse James as a heroic bandit. He was born on January 4, 1839, in Virginia and moved to Lexington, Missouri, around 1855. He was a soldier of the Confederacy during the Civil War
The Civil War was a military conflict that began on April 12, 1861, when Southern forces fired on Fort Sumter outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Several Southern states had seceded from the United States (also known as the Union) and formed the Confederate States of America (also referred to as the Confederacy) out of fear that the United States' newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln, would not allow the expansion of slavery into new western states. Battles and skirmishes were fought throughout the country by Union and Confederate forces. General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. As other Confederate forces heard the news of Lee's surrender, they surrendered as well and the war was soon over. Over half a million men were killed or wounded in the war. Thousands of former slaves gained their freedom. After the war, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution were passed prohibiting slavery, providing equal protection for all citizens, and barring federal and state governments from denying citizens the right to vote due to their race, color, or status as a former slave.
and served under Joseph O. Shelby. Edwards wrote Shelby’s military reports, presenting Confederate soldiers and bushwhackers
A guerrilla is someone who fights in a war but is not part of an officially recognized military force. Often outnumbered or facing forces with superior weaponry, guerrillas rely on ambushes, raids, and surprise attacks. Their unconventional style of warfare includes attacking and killing civilians, which conventional militaries typically forbid. One of the most well-known guerrilla raids of the Civil War occurred in 1863 when Confederate guerrillas from Missouri raided Lawrence, Kansas, killed over two hundred men and boys, and burned the town. Guerrillas in Missouri were also called bushwhackers because they frequently launched attacks from heavily wooded areas in order to surprise the enemy and often in hid in rugged, forested terrain that made it difficult for the enemy to pursue them.
as heroic warriors defending a just cause.

After the Civil War, Edwards lived in exile in Mexico for about two years during which time he wrote the first of three books: Shelby and His Men. He returned to Missouri and newspaper work in 1867. He helped found the Kansas City Times in 1868 and served as its editor. His colorful and fiery editorials tried to persuade ex-Confederates to return to politics. Confederates had been banished from holding office at the end of the war.

Edward’s glorification of Jesse James is seen as part of his larger plan to instill pride in ex-Confederates and help them regain political power. By 1880 many ex-Confederates had returned to Missouri’s legislature and congressional delegation.

When Jesse James was killed in 1882, Edwards wrote a flattering obituary and tried to arrange for Frank James to surrender to Missouri authorities. Edwards, a heavy drinker, died in Jefferson City, Missouri, in 1889. His flattering treatment of Jesse James undoubtedly formed the basis of the heroic legend that is still associated with the outlaw.

Text by Carlynn Trout with research assistance by Elizabeth Engel


References and Resources

For more information about John Newman Edwards' life and career, see the following resources:

Society Resources

The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about John Newman Edwards in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets. All links will open in a new tab.

  • Articles from the Newspaper Collection
    • Kansas City Times, 1872-1882.
      John Newman Edwards was editor of the newspaper during this period.
  • Books
    • Christensen, Lawrence O., William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, eds. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. pp. 276-277. [REF F508 D561]
    • Edwards John N. Noted Guerrillas: or, The Warfare of the Border. St. Louis: H.W. Brand & Co., 1879. [REF F554.1 Ed96n 1879 IN CASE]
    • Edwards, Mary Virginia Plattenburg. John N. Edwards: Biography, Memoirs, Reminiscences and Recollections. Kansas City: J. Edwards, 1889. [REF F508.1 Ed96 1889]
  • Manuscript Collection
    • Edwards, John Newman (1839-1889), Letters, 1865-1866 (C1973)
      Letters from Mexico, where Edwards went with Shelby and other Confederates after the Civil War. Edwards invested in land and published the Mexican Times, a Confederate English paper.
    • Edwards, John Newman (1839-1889), Letters, 1882-1885 (C1531)
      Letters to Frank James, giving him information and advice about public opinion, reward for his capture, and negotiations for his surrender to Governor Crittenden.

Outside Resources

These links, which open in another window, will take you outside the Society's website. The Society is not responsible for the content of the following websites:

Historic Missourians: John Newman Edwards
John Newman Edwards (1839 – 1889)John Newman Edwards (1839 – 1889).

[SHS 001139]

John Newman Edwards

Born: January 4, 1839
Died: May 4, 1889 (age 50)
Category: Journalists
Region of Missouri: Northwest
Missouri Hometown: Lexington