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James A. Jamison, a rebel in our midst

Monday, April 18, 2011

Civil War Vets at McCook Golden Anniversary Celebration 1932 are, from left, Barney Lewis, Thomas Smith, Thomas Moore, T.C. Hegeman, W.S. Fitch, James A. Jamison and Tom Bales.
(McCook Daily Gazette McCook Daily Gazette Golden Anniversary Edition)
The year 2011 marks the 150th Anniversary of the start of America's Civil War.

Each day there are interesting stories in the newspapers and on television dealing with the Civil War generally and how the Civil War affected folks in Nebraska. There were a number of Civil War Vets in McCook. Most had fought for the North, but not all --

After the Civil war there was a great deal of animosity in the South toward the North. Children grew up believing that "Damn Yankee" was one word. Even today, feelings can run deep, as evidenced by the row stirred up over flying of the Confederate flag. If there was a lasting bitterness between soldiers who had fought on different sides, that bitterness was not deep here in the Plains, where the common experience that pioneers shared with neighbors was deeper than were memories from the war.

In the 1830s, Nebraska was part of the land that the government had declared "Indian Territory," land preserved for the various Indian tribes who lived here. All that changed in 1854, with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which among other things, took back the land from the Indians and made it available to homesteaders, who could be awarded 160 acres of free land if they would live there and "prove up" on that land for five years. That portion of the act was still in effect in some parts of the country into the 1930s. Also, railroads were encouraged to lay track across our state with the promise of immense amounts of land on either side of their tracks -- land the railroads used to lure settlers to establish towns along their rights of way. However, the Civil War (1861-65 ) pretty much put a stop to any settlement in our region for a number of years.

Nebraska was not yet a state when the Civil War began, and was largely unsettled. This began to change in earnest in 1867, with statehood. Like so many of the western towns, McCook owes much to the Civil War veterans. Many of these vets had been just boys when the war began, but emerged as men, who had grown up in the heat of battle. After a short time "at home," they felt the need for "something better."

They had returned from war to the political scandals that arrived with the early days of reconstruction. A depression had fallen over the eastern portions of the country following the war, and jobs were scarce. The men were young, and restless, and adventuresome -- and there was the lure of free land in Nebraska -- Why not try?

Almost all of the Civil War Veterans who came to our section of the state had been soldiers in the Union Army, had followed Grant and Sherman, in the quest to collar Gen. Lee -- but not all. James A. Jamison, later of McCook, had been born near Ashland, Boone County, Missouri, the state that couldn't decide if it should be Confederate or Union.

In his early years, James assisted his father on the farm and learned the profession of "tanner."At age 19, in 1858, he married a local girl, Caroline Clatterbuck.

They had one child, a girl. He seemed to be content to live quietly as a family man forever, but the war wouldn't allow that to happen. In 1860s Missouri, even families were divided, one son fighting for the North, another for the South.

But for James Jamison there was no problem decision. He cast his lot right away with the South, and in 1861, soon after the war began, he left his family to join the Confederate Army.

The South made a strong effort, early in the war, to bring Missouri into the Confederacy. At the Battle of Wilson's Creek (near Springfield) the South, under Gen. Sterling Price, soundly defeated the Northern forces and in the process killed one of the Union's promising generals, Nathaniel Lyon. This battle gave them control of southwest Missouri. About this time young Jamison joined Gen. Price's army -- just in time for the Battle of Lexington (near Kansas City), which pretty much put the South in charge of the western half of Missouri.

He was also on hand in 1862, when Price clashed with the Union forces, under Gen. Curtis, at the Battle of Pea Ridge.

(The Battle of Pea Ridge is of interest for three reasons. First, for James Jamison, it is the battle where he was wounded, which pretty much marked the end of his military career. Second, it is the only battle in which Indians [fighting with the South] played an important role in a battle. Third, Pea Ridge was a huge Union victory; and though it took place in Arkansas, marked the South's last serious attempt to bring Missouri into line.)

After the war, James Jamison went back to the farm for a few years, but the call of opportunity in the new country of Nebraska was too strong, and in 1886 he moved with his wife and daughter to Southwest Nebraska, to locate on a homestead in Hayes County. He farmed here until the death of his wife in 1901, when he moved to McCook to make his home with his daughter, Mrs. H.G. Phelps.

Beginning about the time of World War I, for 10 years Mr. Jamison served Red Willow County as a janitor at the (old) Courthouse.

It was during this period that Ray Search, then just a boy, got to know James Jamison. Once, in reminiscing about the old Courthouse, Ray recalled that "Old Man" Jamison gave Ray and his young friends "a lot of grief" over their practice of trapping pigeons in the Bell Tower of the Courthouse. Later Jamison and Ray became good friends, and Mr. Jamison even helped Ray trap a few of the "chocolate brown" pigeons that the young collectors considered so valuable. Shortly before the present Red Willow County Courthouse was built, ill health forced Mr. Jamison to give up his janitorial duties.

In McCook James Jamison became very active in a number of social and fraternal organizations, including the McCook Elk's Club. James took a great deal of satisfaction in his claim (unchallenged) that he was the oldest living member of the BPOE in Nebraska. In those days the clubroom at the Elk's Lodge was the favored place for Civil War veterans to congregate in the afternoons. James Jamison was quickly accepted into the fellowship of the other Civil War veterans, all of whom had served on the Union side. James was a gregarious soul, and a good storyteller. He readily joined in with other veterans and enjoyed regaling his audience with stories of his experiences in the war and on the prairie. After so many years the veterans were drawn together more by common shared experiences, than by which side of the conflict they had taken part. Their relationship was more like the good-natured banter that members of rival civic organizations profess than that of wartime belligerents. The war was simply a part of their past, that they held in common.

Mr. Jamison was an active member of the Masonic Lodge. He had received (and regularly wore) the Jordan Medal, which designated him as the oldest member of the local Masonic Lodge. He had reached the rank of Knight Templar, and could boast that his affiliation with the Lodge dated back to 1872.

James was also an accomplished fiddle player. He had played for countless barn dances and civic dances over the years, and delighted audiences, of all ages, with his talent. In 1927, at age 88, and less than a year before his death, he won the Old Timer Fiddler's Contest in McCook.

Mr. Jamison died in May, 1928, after a severe illness of several weeks and was buried in the Longview Cemetery in McCook, mourned by his "Fellow Civil War Vets," a Southern Rebel no more.

Sources: "Trails West to RW Co.NE", by Bob Ray & Lois Rutledge

McCook Gazette Golden Anniversary Edition, 1932.

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"In 1927, at age 88, and less than a year before his death, he won the Old Timer Fiddler's Contest in McCook."

(label under picture) "Civil War Vets at McCook Golden Anniversary Celebration 1932 are, from left, Barney Lewis, Thomas Smith, Thomas Moore, T.C. Hegeman, W.S. Fitch, James A. Jamison and Tom Bales"

So he died in 1928 and was still in the picture in 1932?

-- Posted by datarep on Tue, May 10, 2011, at 7:09 PM

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Walt Sehnert
Days Gone By