As promised, I am posting two articles from Confederate newspapers that reported on Col. Robert Lowry’s raids on Smith and Jones County, Mississippi. Note (as in both the letters previously posted) the prominence of Unionist Ben Hawkins and his wife of Smith County. Clearly, Newt Knight was not the only leader of deserters in the area, and it appears that temporary or informal gatherings of disaffected men supplemented the Knight Company in this region of the Mississippi Piney Woods.
Transcribed and submitted by Ed Payne:
1. A newspaper article concerning the Lowry campaign contained in the scrapbook of J.L. Power. Publication source of the article is unknown
The Deserters in Smith County
We learn from a gentleman just from Smith county that Col. Robert Lowry, commanding the 6th and 20th Mississippi Regiments, made a sudden and unexpected appearance with these regiments in Smith county on Sunday the [__] day of March, and up to Friday had captured about one hundred and thirty deserters, and had some fifteen citizens who had been harboring deserters immured in the Raleigh jail, amongst whom were old Bob Harrison, A.J. Hall, Sam. Thompson, Jeff. Ainsworth, [____] Duke, [____] Searcy, and last but not least, old Ben Hawkins, the man that went to Illinois in 1861 and represented himself as being commissioned by the starving Mississippians to buy corn for them; was lionized by the Abolitionist; introduced into the Illinois Legislature; also to Old Abe Lincoln of whom he begged his ambrotype; brought it home with him and exhibited it as the picture of “Our President,” and “a great and good man.”
Col. Brown, of the 20th Mississippi Regiment, who arrested old Hawkins, captured from the person of old Mrs. Hawkins a coarsely made United States flag. It seems that Hawkins had the flag hoisted at his house, but on the approach of Col. Brown’s men the old Dame Hawkins tore it down and concealed it on her person. He should have been hung on the spot, but was not, though we hope Col. Lowry will not suffer this blind and fanatical traitor to do any more mischief.
Major Massey, of the 20th Mississippi, had hung two men, J.C. Rains, a citizen, and Bill McNeill, a deserter from the 37th Mississippi. They were both bad men, and met a just but too long deferred fate.
That’s the way to put a stop to this deserting and banding together from the purpose of thieving and pillaging the good citizens of the country. Would to God we had more Major Masseys sent out after these fellows; of if Col. Lowry will give him a little more rope, this gallant and sensible officer will rid the country of these thieving banditi, to do which will be of infinitely more service to the country than the [winning] of a Confederate victory.
The deserters of that section have for a long time been weeding a wide row. Whenever a man was found to be a loyal citizen, or one who would not endorse their many sets of villainy, he was immediately notified to pull up stakes and leave, or else be assassinated. Now and then they catch a tartar, as they did in the person of W.H. Quarles, whom they had notified to leave, but he respectfully declined to comply with their request; whereupon they placed their pickets around his house, but instead of trying to escape, he took down his gun and went out to meet them, and shot one down and severely wounded another, and also receiving a wound in the neck himself. Knowing that there were [some] ten others concealed some twenty yards from him, he dismounted and commenced to load his gun, telling them he would attend to them when he finished loading; but when he was ready, the foe had fled. The next day they sent in a flag of truce to bury the one he had killed, but Mr. Quarles told them No! It was his intention to skin him and tan his hide. We hope he he (sic) may be successful in his tanning business.
2. A second newspaper article concerning the Lowry campaign contained in the scrapbook of J.L. Power. Rudy Leverett quoted from this article and described it as being published in the Jackson Mississippian.
Col. Lowry and the Deserters
But a few weeks since, desertions from the army had become so numerous and the deserters so defiant in some of the eastern counties of this State, particularly in Jones and Smith, that the good citizens in those localities felt the most serious alarm for their personal safety and for their property, and dared not express their opinions publicly lest they might provoke the cruel vengence of these miscreants. Loyal citizens were murdered in cold blood, and other good men were compelled to flee their homes. The attention of Government was called to this state of affairs. Col. Maury was sent from Mobile to Jones county with a force to capture the deserters. He, it was said, killed a few, but after remaining only a short time returned to Mobile without having accomplished the object of his visit.
Gen. Polk, deeply impressed with the importance of crushing out the last vestige of this insane and demoralizing element in the country, after giving the subject the most anxious deliberation, selected Col. Robert Lowry as the man to carry out his views. – He gave Col. Lowry, in addition to the 6th Regiment, the 20th Mississippi Regiment; and relying upon his sagacity, vigilance and prudence, couple with a calm bravery that no danger can daunt, gave him carte blanche to exercise his own judgement in his movements and in dealing with the deserters and their accessories.
Col. Lowry suddenly appeared with his command in Smith county, and began the work in earnest. He was warned by friends of the dangers that beset him, but unawed by the threats of the deserters, he pushed forward in the good work. He soon had the jail filled with deserters and their accessories. He held the father as hostage until the son was brought forward, which rarely failed. – Without going into detail, he sent from Smith five hundred deserters, and was the cause of at least one thousand men, from different counties returning to their commands; and from Jones he sent about one hundred and fifty excluse of those who went to their commands! The old women sent him cloth, eggs, etc., and on seeing his course, men and women expressed the highest satisfaction at the justice and impartiality with which he executed his duties, and all accord him the highest praise for the tact, skill and success that have marked his march through those counties.
During the expedition, nine men were hung, two shot dead, and one wounded; and his loss was one killed and two wounded.
It is said Gen. Polk is delighted with the success of Col. Lowry, and feels, no doubt, additional gratification in the fact that his high opinion of Col. Lowry as an officer of rare merit and of extraoridinary sagacity and strong sense, has been fully realized; and, we may add, that the universal opinion is that no one could have succeeded as Col. Lowry had done.
It is due to the counties of Smith and Jones to say that all the deserters within their boundaries did not belong to them, but a large number were from different counties and different States. The loyal people of those counties now breathe free and easy, and we hope they may never again be subjected to a similar state of affairs.