Monday, March 16, 2009

Jesse J. Finley - Fighting Judge of Jackson County

One of the most remarkable individuals to emerge from Florida during the War Between the States was Judge Jesse J. Finley of Jackson County.

Born in Tennessee in 1812, Finley had served as a captain of mounted volunteers during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) before going on to study law. He moved to Arkansas in 1840 and served a term in the Arkansas State Senate the next year. Then, in 1842, he moved across the river to Memphis, Tennessee, where he practiced law and in 1845 became the city's mayor.

Finley moved to Marianna in 1846 and four years later was elected to the Florida State Senate as a member of the Whig party. He became the judge for Florida's Western Circuit in 1853, a position he held until the secession of Florida in 1861. In this capacity he helped put down a violent regulator insurrection in Calhoun County during the fall of 1860.

When Florida joined the Confederacy, Finley initially continued to serve as a judge but then in March of 1862 he volunteered as a private in the 6th Florida Infantry. He did not remain a private for long, but was named colonel of the regiment just one month later. Finley led the 6th Florida into action during Bragg's Kentucky Campaign and at the Battle of Chickamauga. On November 16, 1863, he was promoted to brigadier general.

As a general, Finley led his brigade in the fighting at Missionary Ridge and subsequently was wounded at Resaca and Jonesboro during the Atlanta Campaign. Disabled from command by his wounds, he assumed a new position as president of a court martial board.

General Finley returned to Florida at the end of the war and settled in Lake City for six years before moving to Jacksonville. A major player in Reconstruction era politics in the state, he served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from two different districts after successfully contesting the elections of former slave Josiah Walls and Northern Republican (and former Union Army officer) Horatio Bisbee, Jr.

Finley was reelected to Congress in 1880, but Bisbee then challenged and successfully contested the election, once again trading places with the determined Florida leader. General Finley was named to represent Florida in the U.S. Senate in 1887, but his credentials were refused on the basis that his appointment had been dated before the position was actually open.

He died in Lake City in 1905 and is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Gainesville.

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