Monday, May 25, 2009

Confederate Images: The Daring Jesse - Col. George M. Jessee

By Nancy Hitt and Porter Harned

   His rather insignificant flat marker at the New Castle, Kentucky cemetery reads: “George M. Jessee, 1830-1896, Col. Confederate Army.” Not many folks in Henry County can recall the facts about Colonel Jessee’s life, but it started with a daring elopement and carried on to acts of bravery during  the War for Southern Independence. He was a farmer before and after the War and served Kentucky in the state legislature both before and  after the conflict (elected in 1857 and 1869).

   In the Spring of 1862, George Jessee of Henry County recruited a company of 100 gallant men from Henry, Carroll and Trimble Counties. Before getting out of the state, the Company was captured by the enemy, but Jessee made his escape and recruited another Company which did manage to get to Knoxville, Tennessee where his men were mustered into the Confederacy.
   Colonel Jessee saw action at Big Creek Gap, Tennessee where he escaped again after his company was captured. He was at Perryville, and held the rear at the defeat of the 2nd Battle of Cynthiana. Adjutant-General Edward O. Guerrant paid special compliments to the holding actions of Jessee. After Cynthiana, Jessee was detached to gather up the scattered forces in Kentucky.

   George Musgrove, who knew Col. Jessee, wrote in “Kentucky Cavaliers of Dixie” that “The hair-breadth escapes of Jessee and his men, and the thrilling episodes that went to make up their career in Kentucky, would of themselves, furnish material for a most interesting and romantic chapter of partisan warfare.”

   On November 3, 1864, there was an execution of four innocent Confederate Prisoners of War as part of Burbridge’s reign of terror and military occupation in Kentucky (see “Terror in the Bluegrass” in the Summer 2004 issue) near the Pleasureville Railroad depot. It was Jessee’s band of Partisan Rangers which were a part of the Sixth Confederate Battalion that raced into Pleasureville sixteen hours after the poor men had been shot. These soldiers carried the bodies of the martyrs to Eminence where the rest today under a monument in the Eminence Cemetery (one was reinterred by his family in the Maysville area).  One of the victims was William Darbro, who was in Jessee’s command. Jessee was mentioned in the Louisville Journal during 1864 as “that guerilla chief”.

   In the 1860 census of New Castle, Jessee was recorded as having three children—he had eloped at the age of nineteen with Betty Foree who was then only fourteen. He was to eventually have ten children; three of his sons became medical doctors and his daughter, Rose, became the first female superintendent of schools in Henry County. A historical marker stands at the junctions of Highways 421 and 202 which reports some of his exploits. The Drennon Road (which is Hwy 202) is where his home place was located near to the Mt. Gilead Church.

   After the war he was elected to the state Senate. Betty Layton Warren, his Great-Granddaughter wrote: “After his term in the Senate, Jessee farmed quietly until his death in 1894. He felt his Cause was just, and he never regretted his part in the war…” Nor should we!

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