- Note from Moderator: I recently visited Richard Phillips’s blog, “N.C. Buffalo Soldiers,” and wanted to share it with readers
- Vikki Bynum
- N.C. Buffalo Soldiers: 1st and 2nd North Carolina Union Volunteers
- By Richard Phillips
- Hello, My name is Richard Phillips and this blog is an attempt to understand and learn about the men who served in the 1st and 2nd NC Union Volunteers. These men went against the tide of Confederate Nationalism. Their story has been ignored and forgotten by historians. Its time to set things right.
- My GG Grandfather, Edward Phillips was a soldier in Company F, 1st North Carolina Union Volunteers. Its interesting the different reactions my father and uncle had in regards to Edwards service in the Union Army. My father, Richard R. Phillips Sr. told me he was very proud of Edwards service in the Union Army. My Uncle, Grover C. Phillips said that Edward was a damn traitor.
One of the photos below shows Edward Phillips holding his great grandson, Grover C. Phillips.
Archive for the ‘North Carolina’ Category
Posted in North Carolina, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, tagged carolina hulin, interracial communities, jan coxey, Jesse Hulin, moncure conway foundation, Montgomery county, North Carolina, randolph county, Unruly Women on March 28, 2010 | 2 Comments »
I returned from Falmouth/Fredericksburg Virginia last week, where I spoke on women in Civil War North Carolina. Two major topics of my paper were interracial relations before the war, and the Wesleyan Methodist community of the Randolph County area (including northern Montgomery County), located in North Carolina’s Quaker Belt.
Jesse Hulin’s widow, Caroline, and their children are pictured below on the event’s brochure. For a clearer print of the photo, click here.
It was a wonderful visit. The turnout was great, and my hosts, Beate Jensen and Anita Dodd, went out of their way to show me a good time, even treating me to a tour of artist Gari Melchers’ (1860-1932) studio and home.
I am also pleased that Jan Coxey, who frequently posts about her Mississippi kin on Renegade South, came over for the presentation. We had never met before, and had a great time getting to know one another in person. She even brought a camera, as evidenced by the photo below.
I’m now preparing to move to Missouri, so expect my posts to be a bit more sporadic. I will continue to moderate comments as best I can for the next few weeks!
I want to let everyone know that Renegade South will be in slow-mode for the next few weeks. I am flying to Richmond on Saturday to give a talk in Falmouth, VA, on my new book. Details are below. Immediately following my return, on April 1, my husband and our two cats will be moving from Texas to Hannibal, MO.
I will continue to moderate Renegade South throughout this period of transition, so please feel free to send in your comments as before. I’ll also try to respond to all comments addressed to me. I will likely not be publishing my usual weekly post, however, but will resume doing so as soon as possible.
In the meantime, two announcements:
1. Brett Schulte has written a great review of my new book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War for his premier Civil War blog, TOCWOC. To read the review, click here .
2. I will give a presentation on The Long Shadow of the Civil War in Falmouth, Virginia this coming weekend. If you’re in the area, come on over! Here again are the details:
“Defying Convention: Women, Race, and Class in the Civil War South”
Presentation by Dr. Victoria Bynum
From her first book, Unruly Women, to her most recent publication, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, Dr. Bynum has continued to stimulate the public with her close look at Southern dissenters: women who did not behave like “ladies”; whites who crossed the color line socially and sexually; African Americans who did not follow Jim Crow rules; and families that opposed secession and the Confederacy. Her lecture will focus on these Southern dissenters living in the American South—a subject of great interest to Moncure Conway himself and directly related to many individuals living in Falmouth and Stafford during the Antebellum period and throughout the Civil War. A reception to follow.
The Pavilion at Gari Melchers
Home and Studio at Belmont
224 Washington Street, Falmouth
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Sponsored by the Moncure Conway Foundation & the National Park Service.
This event is to generate attention to Falmouth’s rich historic heritage.
For directions to the Gari Melchers estate, click
Posted in Mississippi, Multiracial Families/Communities, North Carolina, Texas, The Free State of Jones, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, tagged american civil war, Big Thicket of East Texas, civil war dissent, free state of jones, jasper collins, jones county MS, long shadow of the civil war, mississippi unionists, mixed race, newt knight, north carolina piedmont, north carolina quaker belt, one drop rule, rachel knight, serena knight, state of jones, victoria bynum, Warren Jacob Collins, wesleyan methodists, yvonne bivins on February 22, 2010 | 2 Comments »
A conversation with Victoria E. Bynum
Author of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies
Published April 15, 2010
$35.00 hardcover, ISBN 978-0-8078-3381-0
Q. There seems no end to books about the American Civil War. What does The Long Shadow of the Civil War offer that is new?
A. Although Civil War books about the home front are not new, this is a new sort of home front study that focuses on three communities from three different states. Rather than close with the war and Reconstruction, The Long Shadow of the Civil War follows individual Unionists and multiracial families into the New South era and, in some cases, into the twentieth century. This historical sweep allows the reader to understand the ongoing effects of the war at its most personal levels.
Q. What led you to combine three Civil War home fronts, all noted as areas of violent disorder, in one study? Why these three?
A. Most basically, I combined them in order to provide in-depth comparisons of the communities within the same volume. But there’s more to it than that; the communities have important links to one another. The North Carolina Piedmont was the ancestral seedbed of migration into what became Jones County, Mississippi. Later, East Texas attracted many non-slaveholding Mississippi families seeking a less-developed piney woods region.
All three regions exhibited fierce Unionist activity during the Civil War, with brothers fighting in separate deserter bands across state lines in two of the communities. So, combining them in one study provided a wonderful opportunity to identify common characteristics of Southern Unionism, while also showing how different geographic settings influenced the nature of the inner civil wars.
Q. What were the most important similarities among the three communities of dissent? The most important differences?
A. All three communities were located outside the South’s plantation belt and all had large non-slaveholding majorities. Important differences were religious practices and length of settlement. The North Carolina Quaker Belt had a history of religious dissent that included Moravian, Mennonite and Dunker sects as well as Quakers.
By contrast, neither Jones County, Mississippi, nor Hardin County, Texas, exhibited significant or organized religious dissent against slavery. As in North Carolina, family networks were important to anti-Confederate activity; however, in East Texas, more recent migration from states like Mississippi meant that family networks were less extensive there. Less cohesive and deeply rooted communities, coupled with politicians’ successful linking of Texas’s 1836 revolution to the Southern cause of secession, undermined organized anti-Confederate activity among non-slaveholders in East Texas.
Q. Why did you return to the Free State of Jones County, Mississippi, and to the North Carolina Quaker Belt, two regions that you wrote about in previous books, for this study?
A. Ever since I discovered that a splinter band of Unionist deserters, led by several brothers of members of the Jones County band, kept Confederate forces at bay in the Texas Big Thicket, and after discovering ancestral links between the North Carolina Piedmont and Jones County, Mississippi, I have wanted to combine the inner civil wars of these three regions in the same volume. Doing so also gave me the opportunity to analyze research materials that were not included in my earlier works: two examples are documents concerning the lives of freedpeople and poor whites in Orange County, North Carolina, and Newt Knight’s 1887-1900 Mississippi claim files.
Q. You cite abolitionism as a motive for anti-Confederate sentiments in only one of your three communities: that of the Randolph County area of the North Carolina Quaker Belt. How and why did religion play such an important role in this region, but not in Jones County, Mississippi, or the Big Thicket of East Texas?
A. The Randolph County area of North Carolina (including Montgomery and Moore Counties) was the “heart” of the state’s Quaker Belt. Quaker opposition to slavery had faded over time because of the state’s changing demographics, but it never entirely disappeared, making this region fertile ground for Wesleyan Methodists who gained a foothold in the 1850s. In Montgomery County, the Rev. Adam Crooks condemned slavery from the pulpit of the Lovejoy Methodist Church. In contrast, Jones County, Mississippi and Hardin County, Texas, were Baptist strongholds during the secession crisis. I have found no evidence that any Baptist church in either county publically opposed slavery or secession; indeed, the Leaf River Baptist Church of Jones County publically supported the Confederacy.
Q. Newt Knight, the controversial “captain” of the Knight Company, is a polarizing figure who even today evokes heated arguments among readers. Why is this so, and how did it affect your historical treatment of him?
A. As long as we continue to debate the causes, meanings, and effects of the Civil War, Newt Knight’s motives and character will also be debated. We know that he defied Confederate authority during the war, supported Republican Reconstruction afterward, and openly crossed the color line to found a mixed-race community. To neo-Confederates, such facts make Newt a scoundrel and a traitor to his country and his race. To neo-abolitionists, he is a backwoods Mississippi hero who defended his nation and struggled to uplift the black race. My response to such powerful and emotional narratives is to examine critically not only the documentary evidence, but also the mountain of published opinions about Newt Knight that have too often functioned as “evidence” for both sides of the debate.
Q. Newt Knight, his white wife Serena, and former family slave, Rachel, were the founding parents of a multiracial community. What sort of a community was it in terms of racial identity? How did members of the community identify themselves racially, as opposed to how the larger white society defined them?
A. As segregation took hold in New South Mississippi (1880-1900), the descendants of Newt, Serena, and Rachel were increasingly defined by white society as black, i.e. as “Negroes,” despite being of European, African, and Native American ancestry. Before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s, however, few of these descendants identified themselves as “black.” Depending on their physical appearance, including skin shade and hair texture, descendants of Newt and Rachel variously defined themselves as white, Indian, or colored. Whereas white society applied a “one drop rule” that grouped together all people of African ancestry, these descendants self-identified in ways that reflected their multiracial heritage.
There is no direct evidence of how Newt, Serena, or Rachel racially identified their multiracial descendants. Descendant Yvonne Bivins, the most thorough Knight researcher, was told by her elders that Newt Knight actively encouraged his descendants to identify as white. All that is certain—but nonetheless remarkable—is that they economically supported, nurtured, and lived openly among both white and multiracial kinfolk all their lives.
Q. By crossing the color line, Newt Knight deviated from the norm by acknowledging and supporting his multiracial descendants. What may we deduce from those facts about his political views on race relations in the era of segregation?
A. Since we don’t know that Newt Knight identified his multiracial descendants as “black,” we can’t deduce from his intimate relationships with them, or by his efforts to enroll them in a local school (one that he helped create) alongside his white descendants, that he supported equality for all people of African ancestry—that is, for people classed as “Negroes.” Only if we adhere to the “one drop rule”—and assume that Newt Knight did, too—can we conclude that Newt’s protection of his own kinfolk extended to all Americans of African ancestry.
Newt’s efforts on behalf of freedpeople as a Republican appointee during Reconstruction do not necessarily make him an advocate of black equality, as some historians have argued. There were many Reconstruction Republicans who supported the same basic rights of marriage and military service that Newt upheld for freedpeople, while supporting segregation and opposing black voting rights. We simply don’t know Newt’s political position on these issues.
Q. For thirty years, Newt Knight petitioned the federal government to compensate his ad hoc military band, the Knight Company, for its support of the Union during the Civil War. What do those petitions reveal about the claims process itself, as well as the Knight Band?
A. The transcripts from Newt Knight’s extensive claims files suggest the federal government’s hostility toward claims of Southern Unionism, especially after 1887, as the nation sank into a deep economic depression. That year, Newt renewed efforts begun in 1870 to win compensation.
Several depositions of Jones County men made a strong case for Unionism among the Knight Company. The passage of time, however, doomed Newt’s claim to failure. His Washington, DC lawyers were unfamiliar with the Jones County uprising, while witnesses’ memories of the war faded over time. Most damaging, crucial evidence presented in Knight’s 1870 petition was misplaced by the government and never presented after 1887. At the same time, an expanding literature that portrayed the white South as having been unified around secession made Northerners all the more suspicious of Southern claims of Unionism.
Q. The Long Shadow of the Civil War is as much about the legacies of Civil War dissent as about the war itself. Why did you include both topics in a single volume?
A. To truly understand the Civil War, we need to understand its long-term impact on the lives of those who endured it. Southerners who took a Unionist stance lived with that decision all their lives, as did their children and grandchildren. Some struggled to put the war behind them and never spoke of it again; others, like Newt Knight and Warren Collins, defended their actions all their lives, and went on to fight new political battles.
Multiracial communities that grew out of war and emancipation grew larger and more complex in the late nineteenth century. Faced with racial violence and segregation, many of their members exited the South during these years. But among those who remained, we witness the birth of a multiracial Southern middle class.
Q. You locate a long tradition of political dissent among certain Jones County families that found expression in third party political movements after the Civil War. How does this New South agrarian radicalism shed light on Civil War Unionism and vice versa?
A. In all three regions, I found examples of emerging class consciousness among non-slaveholding farmers as a result of the Civil War. Late in life, Newt Knight, for example, offered a class-based critique of Southern society. Two prominent Unionist brothers, Jasper J. Collins of Jones County, Mississippi, and Warren J. Collins of Hardin County, Texas, went even further, carving out political careers as populists and socialists in two separate states.
A close study of individual lives reveals how the Civil War reshaped their perspectives. Of course, the majority of Southern Unionists did not join third-party political movements in the aftermath of war. It appears, however, that some ideologically committed Unionists, such as the Collinses of Mississippi and Texas, grew ever more militant in their political views as the years passed.
Q. Your epilogue, “Fathers and Sons,” compares and contrasts three twentieth-century histories of individual guerrilla leaders written by their sons. What do these biographical sketches reveal about the impact of kinship and politics on the Civil War memories of Southern Unionist families?
A. All three biographies were written after the deaths of their subjects, and reflect the need for sons to defend notorious fathers against charges of treason, lawlessness, or ignorance—especially in the wake of New South glorification of the Confederate cause. Further complicating Tom Knight’s biography of Newt Knight was his effort to present his father as a hero to the segregated, virulently white supremacist society of the 1930s. At the time of Newt’s death, Tom was estranged from him and the family’s interracial community. He knew little about his father’s early years (his narrative is studded with factual errors) and his “memories” of Newt Knight during the Civil War and Reconstruction were profoundly influenced by his need to valorize Newt and thereby restore respect for his family. Though very different in tone and accuracy, Vinson A. Collins’s and Loren Collins’s biographies of their fathers, Warren J. Collins of Texas and Jasper J. Collins of Mississippi, are presented not only with a sense of each son’s relationship with his father, but also in the context of the nation’s politicized memories of the Civil War.
This interview may be reprinted in its entirety with the following credit: A conversation with Victoria E. Bynum, author of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies (University of North Carolina Press, Spring 2010). The text of this interview is available at http://www.ibiblio.org/uncp/media/bynum/.
ISBN 978-0-8078-3381-0, $35.00 hardcover
Publication date: April 15, 2010
240 pp., 9 illus., 1 map, bibl., notes, bibl., index
For more information: http://uncpress.unc.edu/books/T-7790.html
The University of North Carolina Press, http://www.uncpress.unc.edu
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Posted in Announcements, Mississippi, Multiracial Families/Communities, North Carolina, Texas, The Free State of Jones, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, tagged american civil war, Big Thicket of East Texas, civil war dissent, free state of jones, jones county MS, knight company, long shadow of the civil war, mississippi unionists, mixed race, multiracial, newt knight, north carolina unionists, rachel knight, Southern Unionists, victoria bynum on February 18, 2010 | 12 Comments »
I’m excited to announce that my new book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies, has been released! Click here to see its table of contents.
To learn more about The Long Shadow of the Civil War, watch for my next post on Renegade South, which will feature my recent Question & Answer interview with the University of North Carolina Press.
Posted in Multiracial Families/Communities, North Carolina, tagged amos gooch, deviant women, granville county, interracial relations, mary harris, multiracial people, north carolina piedmont, polly harris, Unruly Women on January 29, 2010 | 9 Comments »
When I wrote Unruly Women, (published 1992) I focused primarily on showing how the lives of nonslaveholding women–poor white, free black, and farm women–were impacted by living in a slaveholding society. I was particularly interested in what sorts of behavior marked a woman as “deviant.” I soon discovered that women who crossed the color line, thereby blurring the boundaries of race in a slaveholding society, were most consistently hauled before court magistrates for their crimes of passion.
One women who did not make it into Unruly Women was Mary (Polly) Harris of Granville County, North Carolina. One reason I passed her over was because she lived a generation too soon for the framework of my study (1830-1865). It certainly was NOT because Mary obeyed the rules of society. But, unlike most unruly women, Mary’s behavior was rarely reported in court records, probably because she was from the slaveholding class, for whom personal matters were often settled privately.
Nevertheless, I did discover Mary Harris while working in the North Carolina State Archives in 1983, and I took notes on the interesting circumstances of her life, which included giving birth to children–lots of them–without the benefit of marriage. Nothing more defined a woman as “deviant” than this, and yet I didn’t discover Mary’s habits in the county court’s bastardy bonds, but, rather, in the estate papers of Adam Gooch, who died around 1821. Gooch was a Granville County bachelor who fathered five of Mary’s children: William, Nancy, John G., Jane, and Elizabeth (Betsy).
I was reminded of Mary Harris and Amos Gooch last week when I received an email from Daniel Mahar of San Francisco. Descended from one of Amos’s brothers, Daniel discovered Mary in the records of the North Carolina Archives many years ago, and wondered if I had also encountered her while researching Unruly Women. Daniel’s expansive knowledge of Mary’s life, as well as the lives of her children, stimulated me to return to my files and, with his help, piece together a fascinating chronicle of unorthodox living arrangements among members of North Carolina’s early slaveholding class.
In 1804, Amos and Mary’s illegitimate daughter, Betsy, received a slave from her mother. The following year, Amos recognized Betsy as his daughter, and pledged in a guardian bond to support her and her slave. Eventually, Betsy Harris became Betsy Gooch. Curiously, the Gooch name was not bestowed on Amos and Mary’s other four children.
Among the descendants of Amos Gooch and Mary Harris, slaves and land were passed from one generation to the next, with courtroom battles occasionally fought over who deserved to inherit what. For example, Nancy Harris, the “natural born” daughter of Amos, owned four slaves when she died in 1826. After Nancy’s estate was dispersed, her half-sister, Susan Harris, sued its administrator, Thomas Jones, and won a judgment for $211.25 from the state supreme court.
That only begins the task of sorting out the tangled skeins of a distinctly unruly family of North Carolina’s early upper class. According to family researcher Arnom Harris, Mary Harris gave birth to a total of twelve children: five fathered by Amos Gooch; three of uncertain paternity (one of whom, Susan, appears either to have been mixed-race or the mother of mixed-race children); and four by Moody Fowler, whom Mary married in 1830 (yes, this unwed mother did eventually marry!).
Mary Harris’s life story raises intriguing questions about deviant behavior among upper-class Southern women; about interactions between Granville County’s “free black” population (which was overwhelmingly multiracial) and the white slaveholding class; and about the distribution of property among intricate kinship groups that included “legitimate” and “illegitimate” children.
Need I add that were I writing Unruly Women today, Mary Harris would be prominently featured?
Posted in Mississippi, North Carolina, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, tagged american civil war, civil war dissent, free state of jones, jasper collins, jones county MS, long shadow of the civil war, moncure conway, moncure conway foundation, north carolina quaker belt, northern abolitionists, randolph county north carolina, southern abolitionists, Southern Unionists, universalism unitarianism, wesleyan methodists on January 19, 2010 | 34 Comments »
Figuring out the racial views of white southerners who opposed the Confederacy can be difficult. It is tempting, for example, to interpret white nonslaveholders’ economic resentment of slaveholders as evidence that they opposed slavery itself, but the two sentiments often did not coincide. And, even when nonslaveholders did express hatred of slavery, one must be careful not to equate that hatred with abolitionism, since relatively few southern whites actively worked to bring about its end. Certainly, deserting the Confederacy and/or joining the Union Army only rarely indicated that a Southern soldier embraced abolitionism.
No such ambiguity, however, clouds our understanding of Moncure Conway (1832-1907), who both detested slavery and worked to bring about its end. I have been thinking a lot about Conway, one of the South’s best-known abolitionists, ever since administrators of the Moncure Conway Foundation invited me to give a talk there this coming March on Southern women and the Civil War.*
Speaking on behalf of the Conway Foundaton in Fredericksburg, Virginia, seems a perfect setting for the presentation since my topic includes the antislavery Wesleyan Methodist community located in the heart of North Carolina’s Quaker Belt (the Randolph-Montgomery County area). Despite differences of class and religion, Moncure Conway and North Carolina’s Wesleyan Methodists both exemplify southern dissent against the Confederacy.
They also demonstrate dissent’s various forms. Unlike my subjects, Conway was neither a yeoman farmer nor a Wesleyan Methodist (although he was raised a Methodist). Rather, he was the son of a prominent Virginia slaveholder and a deeply religious mother. Influenced by his mother’s humanitarian views, Conway was drawn to the ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Transcendentalism before the age of twenty. He attended Harvard, and during the 1850s joined the Northern abolitionist movement, meeting reformers such as Theodore Parker, William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Wendell Phillips.
Conway, a Unitarian minister, joined these religious radicals in rejecting contemplative intellectualism in favor of social activism and moral reform. He considered slavery to be the nation’s greatest sin, and, in 1856, he publicly denounced the institution from his Washington D.C. pulpit. As a result, he was ousted from his church, but soon found a new position in an Cincinnati ministry dedicated to abolition.
After moving to Ohio, Moncure married Ellen Davis Dana, a Unitarian abolitionist and woman’s suffragist who shared his vision of society. Many members of his family, with the exception of his mother, were incensed by his increasingly militant views and broke ties with him. Yet, despite the profound influence of Northern intellectuals, his Harvard education, and rejection by family and friends, Conway’s Southern roots made him sensitive to the plight of the South during the Civil War. A pacifist, he initially opposed war as a means to ending slavery, but convinced himself that a “holy war” against slavery would be a just war. In his 1861 work, The Rejected Stone, he pronounced the Civil War a “revolution,” one in which God would fulfill his vision of humankind.
Torn between his belief that slavery was inhumane and equally strong belief that war degraded all humankind, Conway soon became disenchanted with the Unionist cause. His concern for Southern society, black and white, fueled frustration with President Lincoln’s conservative half-measures in regard to emancipation, as well as with many abolitionists’ willingness to support a war that did not promise freedom to all African Americans. In late 1862, in a work entitled The Golden Hour, Conway warned that the Administration’s foot- dragging on emancipation of all slaves threatened to destroy the North’s credibility in an increasingly brutal and savage war.
Before war’s end, Conway’s disenchantment with the Union cause was complete, as he came to believe that even Northern abolitionists were more interested in conquering the South than achieving liberty for slaves. ”I for one wash my hands of it forever!” he wrote to his wife from England. Although the Conways lived for short periods of time in New York City, after the war, England (and less so, France) became their new home.
In London, Conway became the minister of South Place Chapel, founded in 1793 as a dissenting Universalist church. Although Unitarian in name, the church embraced humanitarian free thought under Conway’s leadership. I am reminded here of Jasper Collins of the Free State of Jones, who helped to found a Universalist Church in the middle of the Mississippi piney woods. Unlike Moncure, Jasper never gave up on remaining in the society that produced him, despite his opposition to secession and the Confederacy. But he did continue to seek alternatives to conventional political and religious structures, choosing the People’s Party over the Democratic Party, and the Universalist Church over the Baptist Church.
The postwar lives of Jasper Collins and Moncure Conway, both of whom lived into the twentieth century, remind us that the Civil War’s impact on the behavior of Southern dissenters reached far beyond the war itself.
NOTE: For an excellent overview of Moncure Conway’s life, including a bibliography of sources, see Charles A. Howe’s “Moncure Conway,” Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography.
*On Sunday, 2 p.m., March 21, 2010, I will present “Defying Convention: Women, Race, and Class in the Civil War South,” at the Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont, Fredericksburg, VA, a neighboring site of the Moncure Conway House (event hosted by the Moncure Conway Foundation).
Posted in Mississippi, Multiracial Families/Communities, North Carolina, Texas, The Free State of Jones, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, tagged american civil war, Big Thicket of East Texas, Bill Owens, david woodbury, free state of jones, guerrillas, hardin county TX, harmon levi sumrall, hiram hulin, jasper collins, jayhawkers, Jesse Hulin, John Hulin, jones county MS, long shadow of the civil war, Lydia Bynum Collins, Martha Sheets, mississippi unionists, mixed race, montgomery county NC, multiracial, newt knight, north carolina piedmont, north carolina quaker belt, north carolina unionists, rachel knight, randolph county north carolina, Sarah Parker, serena knight, Simeon Collins, Southern Unionists, texas unionists, Warren Jacob Collins, wesleyan methodists, William Hulin, william wesley sumrall on January 10, 2010 | 8 Comments »
Researching Civil War Homefronts and Beyond
by Vikki Bynum
Back in fall, 2001, just months after the release of my book, Free State of Jones, David Woodbury (moderator of Battlefields and Bibliophiles) interviewed me for the Civil War Forum Conference Series. As I read today the questions that he and others posed, and my answers to them, it becomes clear why I wrote The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies. There was so much more I wanted to know, or knew and wanted to tell.
For example, although I identified the Collins and allied families as representing the heart of Jones County Unionism, I had only touched on the parallel renegade band led by another branch of the same family in the Big Thicket of East Texas. Likewise, I had barely tapped into records detailing the postwar political activism of Collinses in both Mississippi and Texas.
And then there was Newt Knight himself. I obtained copies of Newt’s voluminous claim files of 1887-1900 from independent researcher Ken Welch shortly before Free State of Jones went to press. Although the claim files did not change my essential understanding of Newt Knight, they provided such rich detail about the claims process, and the men who either joined or opposed the Knight Band, that I decided to devote a chapter to them in the new book. In yet another chapter, I expanded on the history of the multiracial Knight community that resulted from collaboration between Newt Knight and Rachel, the former slave of his grandfather.
For the new book, I also returned to my research on the Unionists of the North Carolina Piedmont who figured so prominently in my first book, Unruly Women. The inner civil war that raged in North Carolina’s ”Quaker Belt” (Montgomery, Moore, and Randolph Counties) had stimulated me to research the similar ”war” of Jones County. Yet, despite their similarities, I soon discovered important differences between these Civil War home front wars. That’s when I decided to compare all three communities of dissent–those of Jones Co., MS, the NC Quaker Belt, and the Big Thicket of East Texas–in the same volume.
And so the idea for Long Shadow of the Civil War was born. As you read the 2001 question and answer session that follows, I think you’ll understand why I felt compelled to continue my research on southern dissenters, and to expand the story even further beyond the Civil War.
My thanks to David Woodbury for permission to repost his Q & A session with me.
Transcript of the 35th session of the Civil War Forum Conference Series.
GUEST: Dr. Victoria Bynum
TOPIC: The subject of her book, “The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War”
Date: October 25, 2001
Greetings, and welcome to the 35th session of the Civil War Forum conference series.
We are very pleased tonight to have with us Dr. Victoria Bynum, professor of history at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, discussing the subject of her new book: “The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War” (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001). Let’s get started.
Q. (David Woodbury):
Welcome Dr. Bynum. Since this is probably a fairly obscure topic even among Civil War buffs, can you begin with an overview of Jones County, and what set it apart from the rest of Mississippi (e.g., the paucity of slaves there), and the events that gave rise to stories of the so-called “Free State,” or Kingdom of Jones?
A. (Victoria Bynum):
Jones County was founded in 1826, and it’s part of one of the earlier-settled sections of Mississippi (because of Native Americans already being pushed out of that part of the state, but not out of the more fertile portions of Mississippi). Many of the earliest settlers were veterans of the War of 1812, especially. I won’t go too much into it, but because it was the Piney Woods region, you didn’t have a great many slaveholders there. Slavery was important — there were slaveholders — but not many *big* slaveholders. It had the lowest number of slaveholders of any county in the state, and almost 80 percent of those slaveholders owned fewer than four slaves.
So, just to leap forward to the Civil War itself, this was a region that was pretty ripe — by around 1862 — for seeing the war as a “rich man’s war” and “poor man’s fight,” because they were the poorest men in the state. I don’t want to imply that they were landless, because they were small landowners, but in terms of slaveholders, they were the poorest in the state. [The county] voted almost 2-1 against secession.
Moving ahead to the 20th century about how all these stories got started — what made this story so legendary and why it has persisted so long is that the leader of this band of deserters crossed the color line. Now, it’s not that crossing the color line was so unusual, it’s the way that Newton Knight did it. He not only crossed the line, but two of his children intermarried with the children of the slave woman who was his chief collaborator (it was after the war that they intermarried — she was his collaborator during the war). And that resulted in a mixed-race community that’s still very vibrant today — a very large mixed-race community that claims descent from Rachel the slave, and Newton, the leader of the deserter band.
…So you’ve had this ongoing battle — this is why I make the second part of the title, “Mississippi’s Longest Civil War,” because factions of this family have been debating the meaning of this uprising since the Civil War. And with the racial aspect, it has made the debate particularly volatile. Those who wanted to defend the Unionism of the Knight band generally just erased the story of the race-mixing, and those who were pro-Confederate . . . used the racial mixing as just further examples that these were deviant men who committed treason against the country, against the Confederacy, and against their race. That’s why the story has lasted, [and] because there have been several books written, and a novel, and even a movie made from the novel.
Q. (David Woodbury):
One of the fun things about reading your book is the spirit of investigation, or discovery, in unmasking the past. Can you recall any major breakthroughs during the course of your research, or any particular surprises you encountered upon digging deeper?
A. (Victoria Bynum):
I believe some of the most delightful surprises were the ongoing discoveries I made about the Collins family — I believe that their story is one that was buried because of the notoriety of Newt Knight. The discovery that their ancestors were both Regulators back in the 1760s and Populists in the 1890s kind of gave me a whole view of Southern dissent as represented by this family, in a way that just stood right out — and made them the core of the Unionist group there, rather than Newt Knight.
And I want to add that probably the biggest surprise was that the Collinses had brothers in Texas who were leaders of their own deserter band, so there were actually two deserter bands which existed simultaneously. It just showed the uncompromising nature of their Unionism; not nearly all the deserters were as Unionist as the Collins’s. There was a core group of about five different families that I would call truly Unionist. Putting that together was very exciting, because I kept finding connections between the very distant past, and the Civil War era, and connections between the various families as well.
Q. (Margaret D. Blough):
What was the reaction of the Confederate authorities? Was it as brutal as the suppression of the earlier East Tennessee Unionist uprising?
A. (Victoria Bynum):
I’m not sure just how brutal that was, in terms of making an exact comparison, but the Confederacy did send two expeditions into Jones County to put down the uprisings there, and in the Official Records [of the Confederate and Union Armies] there is quite a bit of discussion of Jones County. The most important example is Colonel Lowry’s raid on Jones County. In the space of a few days, they executed ten members of the Knight Company –the Knight Band. That was the worst experience that the Jones County group experienced. I imagine that it was probably worse in East Tennessee due to the geographic location. Jones County was still pretty remote, and there weren’t as many raids.
Q. (Teresa N. Blaurock):
So nice to have you here to tell us more about your book! My co-workers, not Civil War buffs, were intrigued by the subject, and seemed ready to read more on the topic. One question I had is about “jeans” cloth. Can you tell us anything about it?
A. (Victoria Bynum):
[You're] referring to when Newton Knight — in 1865, he was relief commissioner — had an order from the military government in place at that time to seize a certain amount of goods from the former CSA representative of the county, who was a merchant, and they refer to Jeans cloth in there…
Q. (Stevan F. Meserve):
Jeans cloth is not denim, but a particular weave of wool. It was commonly used in uniform trousers. I just had to stick that in. My question is about Unionist sentiment in Jones County. How many precincts of the county voted to remain in the Union? Here in Loudoun County, Virginia, for example, three of 16 precincts voted to remain in the Union. Overall, the county voted 2:1 to secede.
A. (Victoria Bynum):
All I know — that I’ve been able to find — is that 166 people voted against secession, and I believe it was about 89 who voted for it… Let’s see… Yes, 166 for the Cooperationist Candidate, and 89 for the Secessionist Candidate. In fact, neighboring Perry County (I don’t have those numbers with me) was even more Unionist. So Jones County was not isolated in that respect. The Perry County delegate held out longer.
Q. (Margaret D. Blough):
Did any of the Jones County Unionists articulate why they supported the Union? The pressure must have been intense in the Deep South for secession?
A. (Victoria Bynum):
Yes, of course in their county they didn’t feel that so directly — more so when the war began — but (after the war) they cited the 20 Negro Law [when] citing reasons for their desertion from the Confederacy. The only articulated Unionist statements are by the Collins family, who did not believe that the election of Abraham Lincoln was grounds for secession. And there’s a quote of a certain Collins brother counseling men to try to get duty in the hospitals as nurses if they did join the service — that they should not fight against the Union. And one more statement attributed to the Collinses is that while they didn’t believe in slavery, they also did not believe that the federal government had the right to end it.
Q. (Teresa N. Blaurock):
Early in the book, you describe rivers that were dammed to provide power for mills, but preventing fishing for those needing to do that. It seems such a conflict! I know the Jones County deserters were really against the 20 Negro Law, which was the objection to “government” in their era.
A. (Victoria Bynum):
One of the things that I found, as you no doubt noticed, were that these were people who were very touchy about the government’s role in their lives. And again to use the Collinses as an example, since they were always in the thick of it — as they moved across the frontier they continued petitioning the government to respect their rights as citizens and to provide them protection, not only against Indians, but against corrupt local officials. So this is a theme that runs throughout their history, and I think that’s the point that you’re making with your comment.
Q. (David Woodbury):
It sounds like your research benefited nearly as much from elderly locals and descendants as it did from archival work. That is, they were able to show you things, like the grave sites of Newt and Rachel Knight. Could you have written this book 20 or 30 years from now, after many of these people are gone?
A. (Victoria Bynum):
I agree that my personal contacts with descendants was really crucial to the book, and no I couldn’t have written the same book. I could have written *a* book — a study — but in fact when I started writing this book I had no idea that I would achieve the kind of contact with local people that I did. It brought perspectives that I just don’t think I could have pieced together from archival documents. In particular, I don’t think I could have described the mixed race community if I hadn’t spent a lot of time among the descendants of Rachel and Newton Knight… And I don’t believe I could have written *nearly* the kind of study of their community without that personal contact. That was crucial.
Q. (Margaret D. Blough):
To tie into what Terry asked, I’ve seen some opinions that many of the Unionists areas in North Carolina, etc., in the mountains had had no experience with the US government, except for the postal system and the first experience they had with an intrusive government was Confederate authorities enforcing the conscription and impressment laws? Is that what you saw?
A. (Victoria Bynum):
I would say that in general that was true, once they settled in Jones County, that they had a lot of local autonomy. Some writers suggest there was no real government in Jones County before the war, but that just isn’t true. But it is fair to say that they had very limited contact with state government at the top, or federal government. However, I would still point out that their frontier petitions do show quite an interest in the Federal government and its power. They have a long history of protest of corrupt local government, and I suspect that during the Civil War they developed a similar relationship with the Federal government, because they saw the Confederacy as another example of corrupt local government. That tradition goes all the way back to the Regulators.
Q. (David Woodbury):
You include a photograph of the Leaf River in your book, “site of Deserter’s Den — the Knight Company’s Civil War hideout.” Were you able to pinpoint the actual location, and what is there today (presumably private property)?
A. (Victoria Bynum):
It is private property today. I took the photo myself and I was taken there by one of those local old-timers. Not very far from that river — the site of that river in the photograph — is the cemetery of Newton Knight’s grandfather. That land is now in the hands of a private company, and we had to be escorted into the cemetery by someone who had a key… But all of those lands used to be owned by the core members of the deserter band.
Q. (Stevan F. Meserve):
On the subject of “intrusive” government, how much intrusion did Jones County see during the war from officials on either side? The territory between Hattiesburg and Meridian was pretty much no man’s land, wasn’t it?
A. (Victoria Bynum):
I think it was pretty much considered no-man’s land between those areas. The Confederacy managed to have a Home Guard unit down in Jones County, headed by a local Confederate officer, and that was Amos McLemore, reputed to have been murdered by Newt Knight and his men. By April of 1864, when more and more reports were reaching Confederate officials elsewhere that Jones County was under the control of deserters, and they had murdered some of the tax agents, then they sent the two expeditions I mentioned earlier… Col. Maury, in March (1864), subdued the deserters a bit but they came back just as strong, so then they sent Col. Robert Lowry in April. Now that really did splinter the band. He executed ten of them, and that’s when a number of them fled to New Orleans and joined the Union army. About 40 — they weren’t all members of the band — about 40 Jones County men joined the Union Army in New Orleans… And then about 15 men were captured and forced back into the Confederate army. That left about 20 more whom they never caught, including Newt Knight, still out in the swamps.
Q. (Teresa N. Blaurock):
You describe the prominent role of women in the book. Using “polecat musk and red pepper” to throw off the scent of the men from the dogs was rather emphatic. How did that come to be known as the thing to use?
A. (Victoria Bynum):
Well, according to Ethel Knight, who wrote the best known book (The Echo of the Black Horn, 1951), the white women learned it from Rachel, the slave. I don’t know where she got her information from.
In your opinion, at what point did the Civil War become “inevitable”? question?
A. (Victoria Bynum):
I would suppose that once Lincoln called for troops from the South, and even many who opposed secession turned the other way — when the image of invasion became a vivid one, the firing on Fort Sumter and the call for troops, one could say that’s when it began to appear inevitable. Or you could look at it more broadly, and simply say that when the Northern states put in their constitutions gradual emancipation while the South simultaneously began designs for expanding slavery into the Southwest, some would say that’s when war became inevitable. But I’m not real big on “inevitability.”
Q. (David Woodbury):
When did you first hear of the legend about Jones County in the Civil War? And what first drew you to this as a subject of scholarly research?
A. (Victoria Bynum):
I first learned about Jones County around 1976 when I was an undergraduate in college. I saw it in a footnote in the Randall and Donald — the old Civil War text [Randall, James G., and David H. Donald. The Civil War and Reconstruction]. I did not hear about it from within my own family, even though my father was born in Jones County. What drew me to it as a subject of scholarship was writing my first book, Unruly Women. I have two chapters on the Civil War there, and one of those chapters centers on a county very similar to Jones County in many ways, and that’s Montgomery County, North Carolina. …But I just became fascinated with the topic of Southern Unionism, and the way that entire families were involved in resisting the Confederacy.
It was both the class element in it, and the participation of women and free blacks in North Carolina that made me then want to look at Jones County. So, it was only as I developed as a historian myself that I decided I would like to do a study of Jones County.
Q. (David Woodbury):
Would you talk a little bit about the so-called “white Negro” community in Jones County after the war, the trial of Davis Knight in the 1940s, and why this is such an important part of the story of “The Free State of Jones.”
A. (Victoria Bynum):
I think it’s incredibly important because it reveals how 20th century race relations and segregation buried the story of the Free State of Jones beneath all these stereotypes about race-mixing, and then combined with the Myth of the Lost Cause, which presented Unionists as treasonous. The story had just become so distorted. And so I began and ended the book with the trial to basically look at why race was such a volatile part of the story, and then to move from there to look at the story of a class-based uprising of white men that is an important story in its own right, and would not have been buried so deeply if it had not been for the obsession with Newton Knight’s interracial relationship with Rachel. And so I was determined to tell both stories, and particularly to try to bring back the stories of all these other members of Knight’s band who had just sort of been lost from the picture.
Thanks everyone. The questions were good ones, I enjoyed them.
Posted in Multiracial Families/Communities, North Carolina, tagged carolina clay, dave slave potter, david woodbury, edgefield south carolina, leonard todd, pottery making on December 18, 2009 | Leave a Comment »
Note from moderator, Vikki Bynum: The following post was written by David Woodbury and originally published on September 21, 2009, on David’s fascinating blog, Of Battlefields and Bibliophiles. I asked David’s permission to repost it on Renegade South because author Leonard Todd’s subject, Dave, an enslaved potter who lived in Edgefield County, South Carolina, and the culture of pottery-making, dovetails with an important theme of this blog: the personal lives of “ordinary” Southern people of the nineteenth-century. Pottery is a particularly relevant craft; many of the Unionist families (such as the Lathams) who lived in the heart of North Carolina’s “Quaker Belt,” were potters.
This post will be followed by a second one, also borrowed from Battlefields and Bibliophiles. There, you’ll be treated to David Woodbury’s Q & A with the author of Carolina Clay.
Posted in Mississippi, Multiracial Families/Communities, North Carolina, Texas, The Free State of Jones, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, tagged american civil war, Big Thicket of East Texas, Bill Owens, free state of jones, guerrillas, hardin county TX, jones county, knight company, mississippi unionists, multiracial, newt knight, north carolina quaker belt, randolph county north carolina, Southern Unionists, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, university of north carolina press, Warren Jacob Collins on November 30, 2009 | 11 Comments »
I am delighted with the cover designed by University of North Carolina Press for The Long Shadow of the Civil War, forthcoming February 2010. The cover’s shadowy figures and shrouded landscape not only suggest the enduring importance of place, family, and kinship in the South, but also the clandestine, rural world of Civil War Unionists. Hazy outlines of a makeshift structure put me in mind of the deserter hideouts in the North Carolina Piedmont woods, the swamps of Piney Woods Mississippi, and the Big Thicket forests of East Texas that inspired the essays contained within (to learn more about the book, click here).
My thanks to UNC Press, long known for the high quality of its publications and the highly effective “first impression” quality of it’s book jackets, for showcasing so beautifully The Long Shadow of the Civil War.