James Yell After the War
After the war’s end, Yell and his family moved back to Pine Bluff. He was deep in debt, his slaves were freed and his large land interest was of no marketable value. He had become wealthy before the war, but he had spent many thousands of dollars to pay and equip the brigade of troops he had raised and apparently he signed bonds for other funds.
When the carpetbag courts opened, General Yell was sued on his bond and a large judgment was obtained against him. With the sellable remnants of his fortune he paid $20,000 dollars leaving a large unpaid balance which he could not pay. The court’s terms were, “Your money or the jail.”
According to Yells’s file, in the National Achvies, he applied for a pardon, July 12, 1865, to the local Union authorities. Being under indictment he was refused so he wrote to President, Johnson. In his letter Yell claimed, “He was always publicly opposed to Jefferson Davis, Tom Hindman, Robert H. Johnson. T. Homes and E. Kirby Smith (respectively the Confederate President, Arkansas politician and commander of the Trans-Mississippi Army in Arkansas); and that, as a lawyer, he defended arrested Unionist, and that he returned to Pine Bluff from Texas after the war.” All his efforts to get a pardon failed.
Colonel, W.P. Grace, said this distressed General Yell more than all the noble battles he fought during the five years campaign; and no braver solider ever wore a plume or led men to battle. To relieve the General from this distress, colonel Grace went to him and told him that himself and others had agreed to raise the money for him.
“No!,” said the General, “I’ll will not imperil the fortunes of my friends anymore. I will leave an estate which will discharge every dollar of this debt and leave a surplus. I have lived without dishonoring my name. I have survived my usefulness. Having lived like a man I intend to die like one. Come to my house tomorrow morning, Porter, between the hours of nine and ten, and I will show you how a man can die.”
Porter, as the intimate friends of Colonel Grace called him, tried to disuade the General, but to no purpose. At the appointed time he went sorrowfully to Yell’s residence and found the General in bed, in apparently perfect health.
After conversing a few minutes about his business and telling Grace how he would like to be burried, he turned over and said “Now, Porter, look and see how a man can die.” In a few minutes he passed away. The date was September 4, 1867.
Colonel, W. Porter Grace, historian, writer, fellow lawyer, and friend, described General James Yell’s death by penning the words, “Thus was hounded to death by men who were not worthy to ‘loose the latch of his shoes,’ a Roman among men, and exemplar in virtue, a Colussus in the legal forum, a chivalrous knight in the field, a hero who knew how to live, a martyr who knew how to die.”
James Yell was laid to rest in the family plot in Bellwood Cementry, in a above ground brick tomb. In the 1990s the bricks in the tomb was detorating to a point that there was a hole large enough that one could shine a light in and see the cast iron casket. Several members of the Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne Camp, of Sons of Confederate Veterans patched the hole with new bricks. Lynn N Gaines, a member of the camp, aquired to government memorial markers, one for General Yell and one for his son, who was killed during the war, and they were placed on the Yell family plot.