In the book, Inside War: The Guerilla Conflict in Missouri during the American Civil War, the author, Michael Fellman, presents at page 40 evidence of civilian testimony and depositions. One such piece of evidence is set out in the paragraph below. The words in quotations are from the original document. The phrase in the title is found in the quotes.

Griffith ... burned a photograph of Bean's son-in-law, a Union officer, saying, "boys did you ever see a God Damned Federal Officer burn before?" Bean continued, "Well, they just danced jam bone, sung rally round the flag boys (a Union anthem), while burning the Stars and Stripes."

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    I have never heard the term (and I even grew up in Missouri), and the dictionary isn't illuminating me. I presume it's a colloquialism of the time. From the limited context you presented, I infer that it means something along the lines of to cavort wildly. – PellMel Apr 25 '16 at 22:06
  • "Jam bone" might suggest jumping up and down, and it could be referring to an imitation of an African dance, but that's just speculation. – Hot Licks Apr 25 '16 at 22:38
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because there has been no response to it. – Nigel J Oct 27 '17 at 2:32
  • There certainly has been a response to it—and an interesting one—by StoneyB, the same day it was asked. I see no reason to close this question. – Sven Yargs Oct 27 '17 at 4:34
  • The presence or absence of a response has no bearing on a question's closeability. – Hellion Oct 27 '17 at 16:07

This is probably the style of percussive dance which was first recorded in 1837 among Virginia slaves under the name "juba" or "juber", but which soon became widely performed in minstrel shows under the name "hambone". It is still alive today, both in the African-American step dance and as a solo performance—there's a particularly fine example in this video. You see particularly from about 3.00 to the end that it may involve considerable heel-stamping to stress the downbeats. That aligns neatly with a quote I found in Google Books which may be from the same historian, and even the same primary source, as yours:

“One fellow danced jambone with the heels of his boots on the carpet in my wife’s chamber till he cut it through.”

It has not survived only among African-Americans, either, as you may see here. I myself first saw it performed about 1960 by one of my father's colleagues, a white English professor who grew up in rural Alabama in the 1930s

I suspect that hambone and jambone are variants of the same word, derived from French jambon for the repeated striking on the thighs.

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  • Jambon means ham in French. (Which probably needs to be capitalized in your penultimate line.) – deadrat Apr 26 '16 at 2:24
  • @deadrat Jambon indeed means ham; but the word derives from the body part, and like hams in English, les jambons is used in French for the thighs. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 26 '16 at 11:04
  • Good to know. I've been (erroneously) using hams to mean just the buttocks. – deadrat Apr 26 '16 at 13:30
  • @deadrat Remember Hamlet, who says that old men have " a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams"! Prof. Stroud, in fact, employed a much more sweeping gesture, striking the backs of his thighs on the way to striking his chest. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 26 '16 at 13:41

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