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b. 09/01/1856 Shelbyville, Kentucky. d. 08/01/1919 New York.


DATE OF MOH ACTION: 09/09/1899 Luzon, Philippines.


Bell was born to John Wilson and Sarah Margaret Venable (Allen) Bell in Shelbyville, Kentucky. His mother died when he was young. Thereafter, two most important women in his life were the black woman who looked after him as a child and the white woman who became his step mother.


During the Civil War, Shelby County was split between Union and Confederate factions. The extended Bell family was strongly in favor of the secession. After the firing on Fort Sumter, John Wilson Bell and his brothers drew lots to determine who would remain at home to look after their parents and who would join the Southern armies. John lost and remained at home. Young James Franklin, "Frank" as he was known to family and friends, thus grew up in a milieu in which slavery was not only accepted and practiced but strongly defended.


He attended the public schools in Shelbyville. Until he was sixteen, he also worked on his father's farm six days a week with breaks only for school and the Sabbath. In the process, he developed a strong physical constitution that stood him in good stead for the remainder of his life. In 1872 he began working as a clerk in a general store owned by one of his uncles. His chief recreations were baseball and horse racing. One neighbor later remembered Frank and a friend tearing down country lanes on horseback "as if the Devil" was after them.


Working in a general store did not appeal to such a high spirited young person, and in 1874 he secured appointment to West Point. During his four years at the Military Academy, he excelled in art, horsemanship, demerits, and making friends. He graduated 38th in a class of 43. The War Department assigned him to the 9th Cavalry, one of the black units formed after the Civil War. Then in Kentucky on home leave, Bell attempted to resign his commission. This, in fact, was illegal, but someone at the War Department understood the attitudes that were behind this action and assigned him to the all-white 7th Cavalry. He joined the unit at Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory, on October 1, 1878.


He then served in the Indians Wars and the Spanish-American War in the Philippines where he was awarded the Medal of Honor. In 1903 he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and was promoted to Major General. After being Chief of General Staff, he served two Presidents. On the outbreak of World War One, he went to Western France to visit the front, but failed the medical examination in order to fight overseas. He returned to his old position before he died in 1919.



Section 3, Grave 1735-4

J (James) Franklin Bell