Although I have yet to meet Jonathan Odell in person, we have been friends for about three years, ever since we discovered that both of us were writing about Newt Knight and the Free State of Jones (click here for his views on that story). Jon’s first novel, The View From Delphi, is a great favorite of mine. His second novel, The Healing,  is forthcoming from Nan A. Talese/Doubleday in February, 2012, and promises to be a blockbuster. My review of it follows.


Jonathan Odell’s second novel, The Healing, introduces readers to Gran Gran, the lonely inhabitant of an ancient, decayed mansion located on a former slave plantation. The old black midwife and folk doctor, once a vital presence in the surrounding community of Shinetown, is now dismissed and feared as a witch by Shinetown’s younger generation.

The story opens on a damp winter day in 1933 shortly after Gran Gran finds herself in charge of a young girl, Violet, whose mother has died following an abortion attempt. Gran Gran’s efforts to comfort Violet within the confines of the rambling old mansion—where many years ago she lived as the petted slave child of her deranged mistress, Amanda Satterfield—prepares Odell’s readers for a journey back to when this household vibrated with the laughter, tears, and hustle of slaves alongside the commands, demands, and recriminations of its master and mistress. Back then, Gran Gran—or Granada, as she was called—considered the indulgences of her white mistress as proof that she was above the “swamp slaves” who worked the fields. No harm, she thought, could ever come to a dark-skinned girl allowed to wear a white girl’s ruffles and ribbons, even if that dark-skinned girl was a slave.

Granada’s assumptions are soon challenged by the arrival of Shinetown’s first true healer, the extraordinary Polly Shine. The woman for whom Shinetown will eventually be named is purchased by Master Ben Satterfield in a desperate effort to save his field slaves from the ravages of disease.  Polly, a slave doctor of African and Indian ancestry, immediately sets tongues wagging among free and enslaved alike.  Her healing gifts, combined with her audacious manner and appearance (highlighted by a head scarf festooned with shiny metal disks that fringe her forehead), signal that life will never again be the same for those who live at Satterfield Plantation, whether in its Great House or its most distant and dismal slave quarters.   

Day-by-day in serial fashion Gran Gran tells Violet her life’s story, transporting her—and readers—back to the world of slavery. The tedium of field work, the dangers of swamp life, and the horrors of epidemic disease mark the lives of slaves, as do the personal triumphs, defeats, sorrows, and joys of daily life. Odell effectively contrasts the perspectives of the free and the unfree, showing their lives to be inextricably entangled. Like so many slaveholders, Master Ben prides himself on understanding the mental and physical characteristics of Africans that he believes have destined them for slavery; yet the institution that has brought slaveholders such great wealth has also brought Ben and Amanda Satterfield an equal measure of personal misery.

The women of Satterfield Plantation are The Healing’s centerpiece. Moving between present and past, Odell creates parallel relationships between adolescent girls and wise old women (Polly and Granada, Gran Gran and Violet) in which motherhood—its joys and its sorrows—is a recurring theme. Whether addressing the slaveholding regime of the antebellum South or the hard-bitten segregated society of twentieth-century Mississippi, Odell places women’s reverence for motherhood alongside desperate acts of abortion driven by rape, coercive sexual liaisons, and economic impoverishment. 

Gran Gran’s efforts to revive Violet’s spirit by telling her the story of Shinetown forces her to confront painful events of her own life—the loss of her mother, her failure of nerve in the presence of so great a force for freedom as Polly Shine, her years as Shinetown’s doctor. Happily, Violet does not remain the passive recipient of Gran Gran’s hard-won wisdom. Readers will delight in the manner in which she becomes the vehicle for the remembrance and reconciliation of past hurts that allows Gran Gran’s own deadened spirit to soar, and which provides the book’s final message of hope.

Victoria Bynum

On April 24, 2009, Renegade South published “Henry Flaugher, Civil War Unionist of Burnet County, Texas.” In 1863, Henry Flaugher was murdered by Confederate vigilantes in the Hill Country of Texas because he remained loyal to the Union. His body, thrown in a cave called Dead Man’s Hole, joined those of numerous other Southern Unionists murdered in similar fashion. In this follow-up post, I expand on this history of Civil War persecution with the story of the murder of Adolph Hoppe, Flaugher’s companion on that fateful day. New materials and transcriptions provided by John Dorff, Suzanne Wall, and Betty Zimmerman have enabled this new post, and I thank the three of them for their hard work and generous sharing of information about this tragic episode of Civil War history.

Vikki Bynum

In her classic memoir of Texas pioneer life, Memoirs of a Texas Pioneer Grandmother, Ottilie Fuchs Goeth remembered the harrowing experiences of the Civil War from the perspective of German Texan Americans: “We lived in the shadow of death and worse, for our whole family, as indeed all Germans, remained loyal to the Union. Furthermore, we were looked upon with suspicion because we had never held any slaves. The Fuchs women were ridiculed and looked down upon for doing housework themselves which was all done by slaves on the large plantations.”(1)

Although there were German Americans in Texas and elsewhere who did own slaves and did support the Confederacy, in the Hill Country of Texas where Ottilie’s parents, Pastor Adolph Fuchs and his wife Louise (Ruemker), settled, support for the Union was indeed the norm among tight knit communities of German Texan farmers and ranchers who mostly relied on free labor to work their lands.

Joining the Fuchs (pronounced “Fox”) family and the many other Germans who pulled up stakes and moved to Texas were Johann Eduard Rudolf Richter and Hans Adolph Hoppe, who, like Ottilie’s family, settled in Burnet County. Through intermarriage, the Richter, Hoppe, and Fuchs families became intertwined. Living across the Colorado River from them was Henry Flaugher (pronounced “Flour”), a transplanted Northerner who shared their pro-Union views during the Civil War. (2)

The passage of time did not dim Ottilie Fuchs Goeth’s memories of the Civil War. In 1915, the widow of Texas legislator Carl Goeth recalled the devastating effects of the Civil War on her community. “By 1862,” she wrote, “the terrible war had advanced to the stage that Carl and many of his friends were conscripted for military service.” Because of volatile relations between Texas citizens and Indians, some married men were exempted from Confederate service in order to protect the home front against Indian attacks. Carl, “with considerable effort,” obtained such an assignment.

Others who opposed the new Confederate government were not so lucky. “The so-called Fire Eaters [avid secessionists] of the South were almost worse than the Indians” wrote Ottilie. “Secretly they murdered anyone who was not for the South and who expressed this view too openly. Fanatically they looked upon their actions as heroic deeds.  A few miles from Marble Falls, on the road to Johnson City, one can see a place where men favoring the North were killed and thrown into a cavern after a trial of sorts was held there.  Many of the best men of this area lost their lives at this spot.” Included among these men was John R. Scott, a pro-Union judge from Burnet County. (3)

The “spot” that Ottilie referred to was the infamous Dead Man’s Hole (also called Devil’s Well),  the gruesome site of multiple murders during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Often referred to as a cave, Dead Man’s Hole is actually a deep natural sinkhole, probably caused by gas pressures. It was discovered in 1821 by Ferdinand Leuders, an entomologist and naturalist. (4)

"Dead Man's Hole," Photo courtesy of John Dorff

There are conflicting reports of the number of men whose bones were found in Dead Man’s Hole after the war. Some say 36; others 17. There is also disagreement over what happened to the bones after they were removed. Some say the bones mysteriously disappeared from the courthouse where they had put on display; others say that at least some of the victims were given decent burials by their families.

During the war, to avoid being murdered and tossed into the “Hole” was serious business for Burnet County Unionists. Even friendships of long standing might be destroyed by differences over the war. “One of the fanatic Southern Fire Eaters was John Townsend,” wrote Ottilie, “a former friend and hunting companion of my brother Conrad.  He was now a member of the gang of assassins who were supposed to report anyone who remained loyal to the Union.  He came to my brother Conrad with tears in his eyes and said:  ‘Conrad, I can’t save you any longer, you must go away.’  My brothers then left their wives with my parents for safety and themselves joined in Government service.  They served with it until the end of the war.” Although no one in her immediate family lost their lives, Ottilie recalled that Adolph Hoppe, the father of her brother’s son-in-law, was one of those murdered

Like Ottilie’s husband and brothers, the Hoppes and Richters remained loyal to the U.S. government during the sectional crisis of the 1850s, and opposed the increasingly shrill calls for disunion by radical secessionists. In a 1973 interview conducted by his son-in-law, Earnest Langley, Hugo Ernst Richter recalled that his grandfather Johann (who went by his middle name of Rudolf) had many pro-Confederate neighbors, but managed to get along with them by keeping his mouth shut. (5)

Rudolf’’s close friend, Adolph Hoppe, was not so careful, and openly proclaimed his loyalty to the Union. Although Hoppe was murdered long before Hugo Richter was born, in 1973 Richter still remembered having seen a limb that once hung over Dead Man’s Hole. He had heard that the men who killed Adolph hung him from that limb and then cut the rope loose to lower his body into the hole.

Adolph Hoppe, photo courtesy of Becky McNamara and Ken Fuchs

Adolph Hoppe’s great-grandson, Dwayne Hoppe, understood from family tradition that Adolph was a pacifist who took seriously his oath of allegiance to the United States. His great-great-granddaughter, Becky McNamara, put Adolph’s pro-Union views in historical perspective. In the year that Hoppe migrated to Texas, Germany, like all of Europe, was in the midst of a deep economic depression that resulted in revolutions throughout the continent in 1848. “One of the unfulfilled dreams of these [Texas] pioneers,” wrote McNamara, “had been a unified Germany, and this dream had been part of what had led them to America.”(6)

Such people were not likely to support the tearing apart of their new nation. In 1861, Adolph Hoppe voted against secession, as did the majority of voters in Burnet County, by 248 to 159. He was marked for death by neighboring fire-eaters after he allegedly helped a field hand to evade Confederate conscription. (8)

Adolph’s family and friends knew something was wrong when his horses came home without him. They went looking for him, and saw a piece of harness on a ledge about 45 feet down in the sinkhole. Years later, after the poison gases of the sinkhole were removed, searchers brought up one of his shoes, the only evidence of him they recognized.

At this point, the different accounts of the murders at Dead Man’s Hole diverge. According to Henry Flaugher’s sister, Catherine Flaugher Wilson, it was Henry, not Adolph Hoppe, who went with a hired hand to cut a load of wood. Since neither Hoppe nor Flaugher (both middle-aged, prosperous landowners) would likely have served as hired hands for the other, it’s curious that the families of both men remember the “other” man as such. In an article in Frontier Times, Walter Richter simply describes Hoppe and “Mr. Flour” (Flaugher) as loading cedar posts together when they were halted by a group of men who separately murdered both of them. (8)

Despite such discrepancies, those who tell the story of Flaugher’s and Hoppe’s deaths agree that the two men were confronted while loading wood in a wagon by a ranger and a hostile band of men. Dwayne Hoppe was told that a Texas Ranger and “several men” took the “field hand” into custody for evading Confederate conscription. “Several days later the men returned without the Texas Ranger and seized Mr. Hoppe.”

Walter Richter’s account, though similar to Dwayne Hoppe’s, describes Hoppe and Flaugher as being confronted by a ranger and vigilantes who “tried” the two men on the spot for attending secret Union meetings. Flaugher, but not Hoppe, was found guilty. The ranger left him in the hands of the vigilantes, but let Hoppe go. As soon as the ranger went on his way, however, (not several days later) the vigilantes pursued Hoppe, and murdered him as well as Flaugher.

We will likely never know whether a hired hand or field hand was part of this story; nor exactly the sequence of events that  led to the brutal murders of two upstanding citizens of Burnet County, Texas; nor exactly how many men (and women?) met their deaths in Dead Man’s Hole.  We do know, however, that Adolph Hoppe and Henry Flaugher were among them.

The story of Dead Man’s Hole is painful to tell. It reminds us that war, despite highminded rhetoric about love of country and individual rights and responsibilities, simultaneously ushers in death, destruction, and suppression of civil liberties. In the Hill Country of Texas, Southern dissent was complicated by the United States’ history as a nation of immigrants. Here we encounter German Texans, many of whom entered the United States little more than a decade before the Civil War erupted, struggling to remain loyal to the national government they had pledged to uphold. From their perspective, the Confederacy was asking them to break their oath of allegiance, while demanding that they fight to uphold slavery, an institution that belied the nation’s democratic ideals.

Vikki Bynum

NOTE: My thanks to John Dorff for contacting Renegade South and putting the telling of this story in motion, and to Ken Fuchs for generously supplying a photo of Adolph Hoppe after the fact.


1. Ottilie Fuchs Goeth, Memoirs of a Texas Pioneer Grandmother, (1915: translated by Irma Goeth Guenther, 1969, 1982). Ottilie migrated to Texas from Germany with her family, who settled at the German community of Cat Spring in Austin County before moving in 1853 to the south side of the Colorado River in Burnet County.

2. For a history of the Fuchs-Hoppe family that includes a photograph of Adolph Hoppe, see Ken Fuchs’ Web World.

3. Bob Glass, “Dead Man’s Hole: Civil War and Reconstruction Violence in the Texas Hill Country

4. Voices of the Texas Hills

5. Interview of Hugo Ernst Richter by his son-in-law, Earnest Langley, 1973, contained in the Earnest and Helen Langley papers, Southwest Collection, Texas Tech. Johann Eduard Rudolf Richter and Hans Adolph Hoppe emigrated from Germany to Burnet County, Texas in the 1800’s before the Civil War. The Hoppe and Richter families lived across the Colorado River from Henry Flaugher. Richter’s son, Walter Herman Richter, married Bertha Leonore Hoppe, a granddaughter of Hans Adolph Hoppe.  On March 23, 1973, Earnest Langley interviewed his wife’s parents, Hugo Ernst Richter and Helene V. Klappenbach Richter, in Herford, Deaf Smith County, Texas. Genealogical information on the Richters and Hoppes may be found at : http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=REG&db=bbivona&id=I1776 

6. Becky McNamara, “The Life and Times of Adolph Hoppe” (my thanks to Ken Fuchs for supplying me with a copy of this essay)

7. Flickr: A Daily Blog of Stories and Images (Adolph Hoppe)

8. Walter Richter, “Disaster at Dead Man’s Hole,” Frontier Times Magazine, vol. 18, No. 6, March 1941.

 Mixed Chicks Chat

Earlier this year, on February 16, I announced my upcoming interview on the award-winning show, Mixed Chicks Chat. This live weekly show, launched by co-producers and co-hosts Fanshen Cox and Heidi Durrow in 2007, addresses different aspects of mixed-race experience each week with guest authors, community leaders, and everyday people who share their own stories. So, I was excited to be a part of the show! Sadly, however, the interview scheduled to take place on Wednesday, March 2, 2011, had to be cancelled because of technical difficulties.

I’m happy to report that Fanshen Cox invited me once again to be a guest on the show, and this time things went beautifully. On August 10, I had a great time discussing Mississippi’s Newt, Rachel, and the “White Negro” Knight community with Fanshen and co-host Jennifer Frappier. I also enjoyed fielding questions from members of the audience, one of whom was Steven Riley from Mixed Race Studies: Scholarly Perspectives on the Mixed Race Experience.

If you’re not familiar with this program, I urge you to visit the Mixed Chicks site. If you find Renegade South’s posts about the history of mixed-race families interesting, you will surely find the “Mixed Chicks” interviews and dialogues fascinating!  

You may listen to interviews on Mixed Chick Chats by visiting Talkshoe.com and signing up as a listener.

My compliments to the hosts, and my thanks to them for rescheduling the interview. 

Vikki Bynum

The Long Shadow of the Civil War, by Victoria Bynum

The “one drop rule” of race refers to the belief that a mere drop of African ancestry makes one “black”—no matter how “white” one’s appearance. This pseudoscientific concept, still commonly believed throughout the United States and among people of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, reinforces the idea that a white person who has even one African ancestor somehow is “passing” for white.  However, legal cases that involved race during an era in which being classified as a “Negro” severely circumscribed one’s civil rights reveal that questions about racial identity were anything but black and white. 

Historically, one of the many paradoxes of Southern race-based society was the co-existence of  the “one drop rule” alongside contradictory legal definitions of whiteness. In Mississippi and North Carolina, for example, a person with less than one-eighth African ancestry was legally defined as white. The legal criteria for determining one’s race sometimes—but certainly not always—prevailed over the one drop rule in cases involving the marital rights of mixed-race people.

For example, in 1949, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed and remanded Davis Knight’s 1948 conviction* for miscegenation (marrying across the color line) on grounds that the prosecution had failed to prove that Knight had at least one-eighth African ancestry. Challenged by Knight’s aggressive defense lawyer, Quitman Ross, the High Court agreed that the “one drop rule” could not be the determinant of a citizen’s legal status. Davis Knight was deemed legally white and therefore legally married.

Davis Knight’s courtroom victory proved that the disjuncture between social custom and state law might favorably impact a person’s fate. Conversely, in an 1888-1892 North Carolina case, Hopkins, et al, vs Boothe, et al,* Ann Bowers Boothe was deprived of her late husband’s property based on hearsay evidence that she was the daughter of a white woman and a former slave.  Even though her alleged father’s nickname, “Red,” indicated his own mixed-race background, and even though the one-eighth law was discussed, Ann’s degree of African ancestry (if indeed, she had any) did not determine the outcome of the case. Rather, the one drop rule prevailed.

An 1877 North Carolina divorce case, Long vs. Long,* reveals the grip of racialist thinking on judges who presided over the South’s transition from race-based slavery to race-based segregation. In a case seemingly not about interracial mixing at all, a white man, James C. Long, sued his white wife Teresa for divorce on grounds she had been pregnant by another man at the time of their marriage. Denied a divorce by the lower court, Long appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court and was again denied.

Justice William Blount Rodman, however, issued a lengthy dissent from the bench. Although Teresa Long had given birth to a white child, Justice Rodman raised the possibility that an adulterous woman such as she might have been carrying a black man’s child. Citing “scientific” evidence that makes our head swim today, Justice Rodman claimed that “physiologists tell us” that once a white woman has given birth to a mixed-race child, her blood “has been tainted by mingling with that of her first child, and she is incapable of bearing children that will not show mixture of African blood in appearance or character” (italics mine). The courts, argued Rodman, must therefore allow divorce in cases where the bride was already pregnant, or “man has lost the common right lawfully to continue his pure race.”

Such was the imputed power of one drop of African blood! Did this highly-educated Supreme Court judge truly believe that an interracial pregnancy had the power to “taint” the blood stream of a white woman? Given the racial theories of his time, he most likely did.  But Justice Rodman took the “one drop rule” a step further than most by arguing in essence that a white woman who crossed the color line risked turning herself “black,” since the “mingling” of her blood with that of her mixed-race child during pregnancy destroyed her “racial purity.” One wonders if Rodman would have required such a woman, then, to identify herself as “black,” or else face accusations that she was “passing” for white. 

Vikki Bynum

*I discuss the above court cases in The Long Shadow of the Civil War.

During the booksigning portion of my recent trip to the Laurel-Jones County Library, where I gave a presentation on Newt Knight and the Free State of Jones, I met Jan Dykes, who told me that the Dykes family had a photograph of Eliphar Chain, remembered for having provided supplies for Newt Knight and his Knight Company guerrilla band during the Civil War. Below is that photograph, as well as the story of Eliphar Chain. My thanks to Jan Dykes.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator



In Ethel Knight’s imaginative restoration of the legend of the Free State of Jones, The Echo of the Black Horn, she tells the story of Eliphar (Elly Fair/Alafair/ etc.) Chain. “Elly Fair,” Ethel wrote, was likely the only woman from Jones County, Mississippi, to actually fight in the American Civil War. She “fought along beside her husband until he was killed,” Ethel claimed, and “carried ammunition in her checkered apron and kept handy a fresh load of powder for the nearest man that needed it.” (p. 107).

Eliphar Childs Dykes Chain, courtesy of Jan Dykes

Yet, despite fighting for the Confederacy, Ethel tells us that Eliphar returned to relatives in Bear Creek, Jones County, after her husband was killed and became an ally of the infamous anti-Confederate guerrilla band headed by “Captain” Newt Knight. In fact, one of Ethel’s most detailed stories of women’s role in the Free State of Jones is about Eliphar’s brave diversion of Confederate soldiers from the path of discovering Newt’s men, hidden in the swamps of the Leaf River. The story goes that Eliphar ran “smack into a gray uniformed officer” (p. 108) and had to think quickly to cover for the deserters. She ingeniously asked the officer if he’d seen a certain heifer that had strayed from the farm. When the officer replied he had not, Eliphar declared that she might as well change direction and seek the stray elsewhere. She then headed across the swamp as quickly as her mule could carry her and warned the Knight band that a cavalryman was scouting the area for them.

Despite Ethel Knight’s disdain for Newt Knight, she held women like Eliphar who supported him and his band to a different standard. Describing her as one of the “good women who aided the Deserters,” Ethel explained that such women “were only helping themselves.” She believed that Newt Knight was guilty of treason and even murder, but that his women supporters were loving wives and mothers simply trying to keep body and soul together. And in early 1864, Ethel explained, “people were looking upon Newt as a great benefactor of the community.”

Fair enough. But Ethel never addressed the question of why a woman who allegedly fought courageously alongside her husband for the Confederate Army would turn around and fight for an armed band of deserters bent on destroying that very Confederacy. Nor does she offer any evidence that Eliphar actually served alongside her husband on Civil War battlefields. Was this possibly an attempt by Ethel to claim a heroic figure for the Confederate side of Jones County (at least in part), as she had with Ben Knight when she claimed he had furlough papers in his pocket at the very moment that Col. Robert Lowry’s men hanged him as a deserter? In the absence of documentary evidence or published stories that predate Ethel’s 1951 book, we cannot know whether Eliphar Chain actually served on Civil War battlefields, although we know that at least 250 women did manage to do so (usually by disguising themselves as men).

We do know, however, that Eliphar’s husband, Isaac Newton Chain, died around 1863 while serving as a private in Co. B, 27th Mississippi Infantry, CSA. That fact does not preclude Eliphar having pro-Union sentiments, however. Her first marriage was to Louis Dykes, a woodcutter from Livingston, Louisiana, who was likely kin to Benjamin F. Dykes, Newt Knight’s friend and neighbor. During the war, Dykes and Newt deserted the 7th battalion Mississippi Infantry together. Both were reported AWOL on the Nov./Dec., 1862, muster, with the added sentence “lost in retreat from Abbeville.”

Nor were all Chains loyal to the Confederacy. Military records indicate that Isaac Chain’s brother, James Alexander Chain, deserted the 7th battalion in October 1862 after hospitalization for wounds sustained at the battle of Corinth. Although there is no direct evidence that James ever James never formally joined the Knight band, he remained AWOL until December 1863. Another Chain, first name uncertain, was similarly reported AWOL following the battle of Corinth, and again in early 1864. Like so many Piney Woods men, the Chains and the Dykes alternately served and deserted the Confederacy. By late 1863, many of these men (including Newt Knight) refused to go back, and joined the Knight band instead. By April, 1864, many more were joining the Union Army in New Orleans (see Ed Payne, “Crossing the Rubicon of Loyalties”).

Behavior that may appear erratic and politically confused today likely did not appear so during the Civil War. The main goal of these soldiers was to remain alive, but also to avoid being arrested by Confederate officers for desertion or imprisoned by Yankees after a battlefield defeat. For the most part, women shared the goals of their male kin. Some, but certainly not all, Jones County women had Unionist political views; others were simply loyal to family and friends. Although we don’t (yet) know Eliphar Chain’s views on secession and the Confederacy, she does appear to have been one of numerous women of the Mississippi Piney Woods who aided deserters and evaders of Confederate service in resisting capture by Confederate militia and home guard.

I encourage readers who have information on the life of Eliphar Chain (no matter how you spell her name!) and her kinfolk, to please consider sharing it with Renegade South.

Vikki Bynum

Interview by Wisconsin Public Radio

The Long Shadow of the Civil War

This has been a busy week, and the upcoming week will be even more so! As part of Wisconsin Public Radio’s observation of the 150 year anniversary of the Civil War, I was interviewed on Friday, July 8, on the Veronica Rueckert Show.  The topic was my latest book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, and the discussion included Southern Unionists, participation by Southern women in anti-Confederate uprisings, Newt Knight and the Free State of Jones, and Wesleyan Methodist Unionists in North Carolina. After the first half hour the show was opened to callers, whose questions and comments took us beyond a discussion of the book’s contents. If you’d like to hear the interview for yourself, click on the arrow below:

Upcoming presentation in Jones County

In a few days, Gregg and I will head out for Laurel, Mississippi, where I’m scheduled to present “Newt Knight, Southern Renegade: Patriot or Traitor?” at the Laurel-Jones Public Library. The Library is located at 530 Commerce St., Laurel, and my talk will take place on Friday, July 15, from 11:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. If you’re in the area, come on by!

My thanks to Dan Walters of Laurel for arranging this. 

Gregg’s and my day at the Laurel library will be followed by our attendance at the biennial Knight-Booth Family Reunion in Soso, where we’re looking forward to reconnecting with good friends like Florence Knight Blaylock and Olga Watts Nelson, pictured below.

Vikki Bynum

Florence Blaylock, Olga Watts Nelson, and Vikki Bynum, January 2011


Part 3: True Faith & Allegiance: Piney Woods enlistees in the Union 1st N.O. Infantry

By Ed Payne


The Mississippians who joined the Union 1st New Orleans Infantry Regiment  in late 1863 and 1864 signed enlistment documents pledging “true faith and allegiance to the United States of America.”  The agreement specified a three year term of service and stipulated their military duties would be restricted to “the defences of New Orleans.”  In the wake of Gen. Nathaniel Bank’s failed Red River campaign, Southern forces remained active in central and northern Louisiana.  But the Union had achieved control of entire Mississippi River and New Orleans was secure.  Thus the Mississippians had every reason to feel confident that they would not have to shoulder their weapons against Confederate units.

Upon enlisting, the recruits received a bounty of $25.  An additional $75 would be collected when discharged.  In hardship cases soldiers could also request an advance on their first month’s pay of $13.  In July of 1864 the base pay for privates was raised to $16 per month.  However, payroll was issued at irregular intervals and sometimes months elapsed between payments.

The Piney Woods men came from a sparsely settled region where much of the population wrestled a frugal living from herding and small scale agriculture.  Several times a year herders drove their surplus livestock to Mobile, Alabama, so the soldiers may have had some exposure to city life.  But Mobile’s population of less than 30,000 paled in comparison to New Orleans’s 175,000.  Strong traces of the city’s French-Spanish heritage remained, combined with African-American influences from both slaves and a community of free persons of color.  During the 1840s and 1850s the city’s dominant role in the cotton trade prompted an influx of Northern businessmen and emigrants from Germany and Ireland.

The Mississippians serving in the 1st New Orleans Infantry performed their duties amid the many strange and unfamiliar aspects of life in New Orleans.  Records suggest they were housed in newly constructed barracks just north of the city.  Other soldiers in their regiment were a roughly equal mixture of Northerners and foreign-born recruits.  Military reports show that the 77th U.S. Colored Troops were under the same general command, suggesting at least some interaction between the two regiments.  Their normal duties also required the Mississippians to interact with the citizenry of an occupied city.  The fact that they were Southerners in blue uniforms meant many New Orleanians viewed them as traitors and scoundrels—and probably had little compunction about expressing this view.     

When all this is taken into account, it is not surprising that some Piney Woods men had second thoughts about their Union enlistment and departed; the actual wonder is that so many stayed.  And, by and large, they did stay.  Before delving into their service histories, it is pertinent to compare the Mississippi recruits with their compatriots.  We might suspect that the Piney Woods men, being mostly independent-minded yeoman—many of whom had deserted Confederate service—would not measure up to their fellow soldiers.  Such suspicions turn out to be wrong.

Military records reveal that, as a group, the 203 Mississippi soldiers performed better than their counterparts on two key measures.  A random sampling of 470 (40%) of the 1,174 soldiers with no Mississippi connection was used to make the comparisons.  Despite the alien environment and their proximity to home, far fewer Mississippi men failed to report for muster or desert prior to the end of the war.

The relative performance of the two groups is depicted in Table 1:

Service outcome comparison


Other *

Not taken up on muster rolls



Deserted BEFORE end of war



Deserted AFTER end of war



Died in service



TABLE 1:  Service performance of 203 Mississippi enlistees in the 1st New Orleans compared with random sampling of 470 (40%) of 1,174 non-Mississippians.

Service outcomes are categorized as follows:  1) enlisted but failed to appear for muster; 2) deserted before the end of the war (defined by later Congressional acts as May 22, 1865); 3) deserted after the end of the war; 4) granted medical or other discharge; 5) died during term of service; and 6) completed service and discharged when the 1st New Orleans was decommissioned on June 1, 1866.  A breakdown of these outcomes is shown in Table 2:

MS service outcomes



   Not taken up on muster rolls



   Deserted BEFORE end of war



   Deserted AFTER end of war



   Medical discharges



   Other discharges



   Died in service



   Completed service



         Total enlistees



TABLE 2:  Service outcomes of Mississippi soldiers who served in the 1st New Orleans Infantry.

Now let’s take a closer look at these outcomes and some of the men who exemplified each:

FAILURE TO REPORT FOR MUSTER – After a recruit signed his enlistment papers, there was often an interval of several days before he reported for muster.  Some men simply pocketed the $25 bounty payment and disappeared, resulting in a file entry of “Not taken up on muster rolls.” Eight Mississippians enlisted but were not mustered, or 3.9% of the total.  As shown in Table 1, this was less than half the rate found in the sampling of non-Mississippians.

It is doubtful any of the Piney Woods men enlisted with the intention of bounty jumping.  A more probable explanation is that these recruits experienced a culture shock which they could not tolerate.  Men such as James Dearman, John W. Rester, and William Spradley decided to take their chances with Confederate troops and headed back home.

DESERTION – In the period between their enlistment and the end of the war, 17 of the Mississippi men deserted.  Two of them, Irvin E. Elzey and Marion H. Ellis, left after serving only 93 and 99 days, respectively.  Marion Ellis, who enlisted at age 18, deserted on June 2, 1864 only to be arrested six days later.  He was charged with being absent without leave, having stolen a gold watch from a prisoner of war, and using insubordinate language.  Sentenced to 18 months confinement, he was released under a general order and given a dishonorable discharge on December 29, 1865.  At the other end of the age range, Irvin Elzey was grey-haired and 43-years-old when he signed up on April 28, 1864.  He received a promotion to Corporal on June 1, but was listed as having deserted on July 30.  Descendants report that he died in November 1864 as a result of a train derailment in New Orleans.

The remaining 15 men who deserted prior to the war’s end did so only after serving an average of 288 days.  Many made the unfortunate decision to leave in the early months of 1865.  The choice was unfortunate because in the 1890s Congress passed increasingly lenient pension legislation to curry favor with Union veterans.  Provisions were added allowing those who deserted on or after May 22, 1865 to apply to have the charges removed, paving the way for pension eligibility.  General Baron DeKalb O’Neal deserted on February 27 and Henry F. Davis on April 1 of 1865.  Both later sought to have their desertion charges removed, but their requests were denied.

The case of Albert Walters, on the other hand, illustrates how capricious military justice and the Federal pension bureaucracy could be.  On November 27, 1864, Albert left his company.  The 38- year-old Jones County native was apprehended a few days later, charged with desertion, and sentenced to one year’s confinement at Fort Jefferson, in the Dry Tortugas islands off the coast of Florida.  A few days shy of completing his sentence, he was subject to the general release of December 29, 1865.  Transported back to New Orleans, he was mustered out of service on February 21, 1866.  However, because his sentence did not stipulate a dishonorable discharge, forty years later he received approval for an invalid’s pension.

When the war ended, the Mississippi soldiers remain bound by their three-year enlistments.  For most that meant serving until the spring of 1867.  Wanting to return to their families, 44 Piney Woods men abandoned their posts between May 22, 1865 and June 1, 1866—when the 1st New Orleans was decommissioned.  Of these, 31 later made successful applications to have their post-war desertion charges removed.

Some men deserted and later returned to service.  All such cases have been counted among the desertions.  Robert Spencer  left his post on July 14, 1865 after learning that his step-father, who killed his mother in 1862, had returned to Jasper County.  Two weeks later Spencer turned himself in, was sentenced by a court martial panel to three months at hard labor, and afterward rejoined his company.  Seaborn Tisdale, detached to Mobile, deserted on June 17, 1865.  On November 6, he voluntarily surrendered in New Orleans.   He was sentenced to two months in the city jail and then completed his service.

MEDICAL DISCHARGES – Fourteen men received discharges prior to the end of their term of service, 12 of which were for medical disability.  An example is 18 year-old Harro Bellman from Jackson County.  On May 10, 1865, six months after his enlistment, he was admitted to the U.S. General Hospital for treatment of an unspecified illness.  Less than a month later, on June 6, he was discharged from the hospital and military service in compliance with recently issued general orders requiring those with chronic illnesses to be expeditiously removed from the military rolls.  Harro Bellman recovered, later qualified for a pension, and died in Mobile in 1920 at age 71. 

 DEATHS IN SERVICE – The death rate among Piney Woods men of the 1st New Orleans disputes arguments that recruits were motivated by the lure of U.S. greenbacks and easy duty.  Between April of 1864 and January of 1866, a total of 56 men died—27.6% of all who enlisted. 

The first recorded death was that of 25-year-old Augustus Lambert from Jasper County, who enlisted at Fort Pike along with 27 other men on March 25, 1864.  Lambert died at the fort on April 17.  Deaths mounted over the following few months:  four in July, six in August, seven in September, and five in October.  November, 1864, proved to be the peak month for mortality, witnessing the demise of 10 men.  By the end of 1864 the death toll had reached 36.  Since many of these men had enlisted with kinsmen, the Mississippians were well aware of the price they paid for their service.

Enlistment Document of Augustus (“Gus”) Lambert

The causes of death, where recorded, were typically camp diseases: small pox, chronic diarrhea, and pneumonia.  The high mortality rate among the Piney Woods men compared to others in the 1st New Orleans—six times greater—is a point of curiosity.  The most likely explanation is that most of the other soldiers were urban residents and/or Union veterans.  By the time they joined the 1st New Orleans—which did not begin recruitment until September of 1863—the more susceptible of their cohorts had already succumbed.  Although over half of the Mississippians had previously served in Confederate units, they clearly arrived in New Orleans more vulnerable to disease than their counterparts.

Riley J. Collins of Jones County was one of the fatalities.  Later informants spoke of his adamant opposition to secession.  When the first Confederate Conscription Act was enacted in April of 1862 he was exempted by age, being 36.  Later that year the act was amended to include men up through age 45, but he refused to enlist.  His wife Desdemonia died that same year, leaving him to care for their six children.  Nevertheless, when Col. Robert Lowry led troops into Jones County to force men into Confederate service, Riley Collins made his way to Fort Pike and enlisted on April 30, 1864.  He entered the U.S. General Hospital on August 20 and died 10 days later.  His orphaned children were taken in and raised by a brother.

The pre-war political views of John W. Axton are unknown.  A native of Alabama, he moved to Perry County where the 1860 federal census listed him with a wife and new-born son.  On April 4, 1862, John joined the 46th MS Infantry at Raleigh.  He was sent to a hospital in Brandon in November and deserted from there.  The next record of him is among the group of men who enlisted at Fort Pike on March 25, 1864.  The 28-year-old died at the regimental hospital on October 11 and was buried, like most of the others, in Chalmette Cemetery.  His widow successfully applied for survivor’s benefits.

As noted, many of the Mississippi soldiers shared kinship bonds.  There were several instances of two or more brothers joining and some cases of fathers and sons enlisting.  Disease and death did not respect such family ties.  David McBride, age 45, and his 18-year-old son William enlisted at Fort Pike on March 25, 1864.  In late May, David was admitted to the University Hospital where on July 24 he succumbed to chronic diarrhea.  One week later his son William died in the U.S. General Hospital of small pox.

COMPLETED SERVICE – Sixty-four of the Mississippi soldiers remained in the 1st New Orleans until mustered out on June 1, 1866.  The longest serving of the enlistees were Robert McIntire, who signed up on November 7, 1863 and Enoch E. McFadden, who joined two weeks later.  Within seven months of his enlistment Robert McIntire had gained a promotion to Corporal, only to be returned to the ranks in December of 1864.  Still, he displayed sufficient military tact to be assigned as an orderly at Regimental Headquarters in September of 1865.  After the war he was a peddler in Harrison County and died in Louisiana sometime after 1890.

Enoch E. McFadden exemplifies those whose military records indicate a dramatic shift in loyalties.  He enrolled as a 2nd Lieutenant in the “Gainesville Volunteers” on July 1, 1861 and was elected Captain on October 5.  The unit, thereafter identified as Company K or G, became a part of the 3rd MS Infantry.  When the company held a second vote for officers in May 1, 1862,   Enoch was not re-elected.  A muster card simply notes he was dropped from the rolls on that date.  Eighteen months later, on November 18, 1863, Enoch and two brothers, James and Milton, enlisted in the 1st New Orleans. Milton was 31 and Enoch 30, while younger brother James had just turned 18.

Milton H. McFadden, whose connection with the others I only recently uncovered, joined the CSA 8th Louisiana Infantry in March, 1862.  His regiment saw action in Virginia where he was taken prisoner and later exchanged.  In August of 1863 he was reported absent without leave and next appeared in New Orleans.  All three brothers were assigned to Company A of the 1st New Orleans.  In April, 1864, Enoch and Milton were both promoted to the rank of Sergeant.  On November 8 their brother James died of chronic diarrhea at Winn Island.  However, both Enoch and Milton completed their terms of service.  A pension application by his widow suggests Enoch died in 1894.  Milton moved to Texas, was granted an invalid pension in 1890, and died in 1922.

The McFadden brothers epitomize lingering questions about what motivated the Union enlistees.  Early organizers of Southern units felt entitled to command and, if elections for officers did not go their way, sometimes resigned as a point of honor.  But even if this were true of Enoch McFadden—and the evidence is meager—it hardly explains his change of allegiance.  Nor does it explain why his brothers demonstrated a similar rupture in Confederate loyalties.  For now, we can only publish these long ignored names of Union soldiers from the Mississippi Piney Woods and hope that further information will come to light.

 This concludes the first series of posts concerning research on the Mississippi enlistees in the 1st New Orleans Infantry.  At some point, I hope to return to this topic with a table listing those who died and, when known, their burial locations and also provide more stories about some of the individual soldiers.  E.P.


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