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Posts Tagged ‘Ben Knight’

Fresh from giving a presentation on the Free State of Jones at the Mississippi State Archives in Jackson, Ed Payne offered the following documents for publication on Renegade South. Together, they provide the most detailed descriptions–written from the perspective of the Confederacy–that we have of Col. Robert Lowry’s raid on Jones County during the Civil War.  I am posting the letters today and will post the newspaper articles in a few days. My thanks to Ed!

Vikki Bynum

 The following are transcriptions of a published letter and two contemporary newspaper articles dealing with Confederate actions against renegades in South Mississippi contained in the Civil War scrapbook of J.L. Power, housed at the MS Archives, Jackson.  The letter appeared in the Mobile Evening News and identifies the writer as a cavalryman who participated in the Lowry campaign in Jones, Perry, and Smith counties in the spring of 1864.  Unfortunately, the final line of type with his name is missing from the clipping.  Only significant errors are denoted by “(sic).” 

Ed Payne, Jackson, MS

Correspondence of the Evening News

LETTER FROM MISSISSIPPI

            Mr. Editor:  I see by your evening issue of the 24 inst., that, under “Mississippi Items,” you say that Capt. Newton Knight, of Jones, had sent in a flag of truce, &c., to Col. Lewis.  This is not so.  I am just from Jones county.  The expedition consisted of the 5th (sic) and 20th Mississippi Regiments and my cavalry company, the whole under command of Col. R. Lowry, of the 6th Mississippi Regiment.  We entered Smith county on the 27th of March, and on the 28th hung two noted deserters and leaders of squads, viz:  McNeil and Rain.  These were all the men who were hung in Smith.  There was a Union flag, or rather a ludicrous representation of the United States flag, captured at the home of one Hawkins (of Smith county); it was concealed on the person of Mrs. Hawkins, who would not deliver it until after much persuasion and a few threats.  The history of the flag is as follows:  After Gen. Polk’s army had retired from the State and the enemy were at Meridian, it was thought that the State had gone up, and that our forces would not again occupy it, at least not soon.  So old Hawkins called a meeting of the citizens of his part of the county and of the deserters who had straggled during the retreat of our forces.  He then made a speech to the assembly and urged them to stay at their homes and go to work, that they would not be molested, and told them that as the mill where he lived was all the property he had, that he had made a Union flag to fly on it as the rumor was they were burning all mills. – The worse feature was, that several good citizens were compelled by the deserters to attend the meeting.  Old Hawkins is in custody, and will remain so until his case can be property disposed of.  While in Smith several hundred deserters were arrested and sent forward.  On the night of the 12th of April a party of infantry, under a Lieutenant, out on a scout, were being rested on the piazza of Mr. D. McLeod’s house, in Covington county; after dark a shot gun was discharged in their midst, killing a sergeant and wounding the Lieutenant and a corporal.  The perpetrator of the act was soon discovered.  On the 15th we moved into Jones.  That day the man who fired into the party on the piazza was arrested, after being wounded and run down by dogs, and promptly executed.  His name was D. Reddock.  A young man by the name of Gregg was with him, was shot while running, and soon died from the wound.  The same day another party of our boys was ambushed near Newton Knight’s home by deserters – only wounding one man, not seriously, however.  Our boys promptly charged the ambush and captured two, Ben. Knight and a lad, Silman Coleman, and shooting one other.  Knight and Coleman were promptly executed.  The same day four others were caught and brought in – they were put before a court martial, and on their own confession of resisting with arms military arrests, wereon (sic) the morning of the 16th nit. (sic), executed by hanging.  Many men said to belong to Knight’s company have reported.  We pursued a vigorous policy, but the condition of the community required it.  Terror was struck among them, and they came flocking in asking for mercy.  Just about this time General Polk’s proclamation of pardon reached us.  We relaxed not, however, the vigor of our campaign, and with the proclamation and our activity we have succeeded in getting all but five of the deserters of Jones county.  Newton Knight, it is thought, will report if he can be found and see the proclamation by his friends and relatives, who are hunting him.  Sim Collins and boys have reported.  There never has existed any organizations of men in Jones.  The deserters who were prominent in their neighborhoods led their squads, not consisting generally of more than six or seven men.  Jones is no worse than her surroundings.  The people are very poor and very ignorant, and the enemy traversing the State without opposition induced to believe the county had gone up.  So by the advice of some older citizens they were induced to believe they were the strong party, so they would defy the Government and stay at home.  We have changed the status of things in Jones, Perry and Smith, and expect to re-establish in all South Mississippi a healthy loyalty to the Powers that be.  If you see proper to extract from the above you can do so.

                                                            Respectfully,       

[last line with name missing]

[The following letter, dated 5 May 1864, was sent to Governor Charles Clark.  It describes the campaign of Col. Robert Lowry against deserters in Jones and Smith counties.  The letter is listed on the governor’s calendar as from “Concerned citizens of Jones County.”  Unfortunately, the concluding portion of the letter is missing from the file.  But evidence supports the contention of Rudy Leverett that the author was Col. William N. Brown, commander of the 20th MS Infantry.  The 20th MS participated in the campaign along with Lowry’s 6th MS under Lowry’s overall command.  The writer provides a remarkably evenhanded account of conditions in Jones County at the time of the incursion.  Portions of the letter were quoted in Legend of the Free State of Jones by Rudy H. Leverett and Free State of Jones:  Mississippi’s Longest Civil War by Victoria E. Bynum.  This, however, is a new transcription made directly from the extant text of the very faded original in the Mississippi Archives.  Ed Payne, Jackson, MS]

Letter to Gov. Charles Clark

From a Confederate Officer in Jones County

            Comp. 20th Miss. Regt Knights Mills Jones Co Miss.

                        May 5th of 64

Gov

            Presuming upon personal acquaintance and a high personal regard for you which has been often times manifested I have under taken to give you a short sketch of our operations in this part of the State, thinking it would be of some interest to you and perhaps may result in some benefit to this country.

            As you are perhaps aware my Regt composes part of a detachment of Lorings Division now engaged in arresting and returning deserters to their commands from South Miss. and East La. under the command of Col. Robt Lowry of the 6th Miss.  We have been at this duty since the 23rd March and in that time have been over the country including Smith Co, Scott, Jasper, Jones and a part of Wayne, Perry, and Covington counties. We have arrested and sent to Department Hd about 500 men.  Several hundred more have eluded us or reported to their commands rather than be charged and sent under arrest.  Lt. Genl Polk estimates that 500 had reported to one Brigade alone and that this one success would no doubt do much towards determining and achieving the great object of the War (This information is a digression as my object is more particularly to refer to what is yet to do rather than boast of what has been done.)

            From representations made to us we had expect[ed] to find [irregular] organizations among the disloyal {pg 2} for the purpose of resisting our authority.  During the first five days operations we obtained a Flag from the family of one Hawkins who lives on the line of Smith and Scott Co, this led us to believe they had “Hung out the banners on the outer wall” and bitter stubborn resistance [scratch through] might be expected.  In one or two cases this proved to be true.  A small party under Lt. Evans of the 6th Miss was fired into and one man (Srgt Tillman) was killed, two others were

wounded including Lt. Evans who we since have learned is dead.  This was done by a single man, Daniel Reddoch who was afterwards caught and executed.  Another party under Maj. Borden of the 6th Miss was ambushed and one man of my Rgt wounded

this was done by Capt Newton Knight with 5 men two of which were captured and executed on the spot and Capt Knight narrowly made his escape.

            At Knights Mill Jones Co on the 16th four men two brothers named Ates and two others named Whitehead were found guilty of desertion and of armed resistance to the civil and military law and were sentenced to death by hanging before our military court.

Accordingly the four men were executed.  This made ten who have forfeited their lives for treason.  All of them were clearly guilty and some of them had been wounded in skirmishes with the cavalry which had been sent to this country at different times.

This for there has not been an example made from the citizens of the county, all have been soldiers and yet these men have often been mislead by some old and influential citizens perhaps their fathers or relatives who have encouraged and harbored them.  {pg 3}  We find great ignorance among them generally and many union ideas that seem to be [prompted] by by demogauges of the agrarian class.

            Among the women there is great relunctancy to give up their husbands and brothers and the reason alleged is the fear of starvation and disinclination to labor in the fields.  More than half, I might say nearly all the soldiers wives are reduced to this strait.         

            Provisions are now scarce particularly corn.  We estimated the supply inadequate for the maintenance of the poorer classes and particularly the females of such as are in the army.  If something could be done to ameliorate their condition by State authorities it would be productive of a much proved moral and political sentiment.  It would [convince] them that we have a government, a fact which they are inclined to doubt. A few wagon loads of corn distributed through this country from the most convenient depot on the Mobile & O Rail Road would not only improve the political [tone] of the people here but would greatly encourage the men in the army from this quarter and in my opinion would greatly lessen desertion and the excuses to desert.  Could not a train of wagons be organized for this purpose?  I make the suggestion which [from me] I hope you will not take as [offensive] and will not pretend to argue the case to one of your [noble] administrative ability.  Some complaint has been made of the commissioners whose duty it is to provide for the destitute families of soldiers.  Of this I am not able to say except that very little seems to have been done by any one, and what was done is said to be for the families of particular favorites.

            Another important item to which I would {pg 4} call the attention of your Excellancy to the importance of [supplying] women of this country with cotton and woolen cards.  The females are decidely of the working part of the population and are greatly in want of these necessary articles.  There seem to be considerable wool and enough cotton to keep them engaged, as they are now provided they manage to clothe the soldiers from this country and if encouraged would add greatly to the comfort of many more a good article of jeans sometimes sells for $6 per yard.  I found today a widow of a soldier who was killed by the cavalry and having no cards she had taken to working [horn] combs.  A specimen I send to you which for workmanship and ingenuity compares favorably with the “yankee.”  The husband of this woman having been killed by our cavalry perhaps by mistake call to mind the many outrages that have been committed by several small commands of cavalry sent into this country on the duty now assigned to our command.  Such at least are the many complaints we hear every day. 

In several circumstances improper [shirking], robbing, stealing [which] the houses, cutting the cloth from looms, taking horses [Et C].  These acts have done more to demoralize Jones County than the whole Yankee army.  We have been particular to try and have our [_______te] conduct themselves properly and all have endeavored to be civil and kind to citizens Col. Lowry has done himself great credit in the management of the expedition – By alluding to the acts of the cavalry which has been on duty here.  I do not mean to hold all the cavalry responsible for the [letter ends]

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