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Posts Tagged ‘civil war dissent’

Widow and sons of Jesse Hulin, killed by vigilantes for refusing to fight for the Confederacy

Widow and sons of Jesse Hulin, killed by vigilantes for refusing to fight for the Confederacy

Post by Victoria Bynum; quoted passages by Thoburn Freeman, grandson of Sarah Ann Hulin Moore and great-nephew of Caroline Moore Hulin.

Determining what made fierce Unionists of some southerners is not always easy. Was it class? religion? distance from the cotton belt? In the case of Unionists who lived on the borders of Randolph and Montgomery counties, in the North Carolina Piedmont, the answer is easy: it was all three. Several interrelated families in this region–principally the Hulins, Moores, Beamans, and Hurleys–were nonslaveholding yeoman farmers who lived in the heart of North Carolina’s Quaker Belt and outside the South’s plantation belt. They were also devout members of the antislavery Wesleyan Methodist Church, which grew in numbers throughout the 1850s (for more on this community, click here).   

I wrote about these families in my first book, Unruly Women (Chapel Hill, UNC Press, 1992), and I return to their story in the forthcoming Long Shadow of the Civil War. Recently, I got in touch with Linda Beaulieu of the Montgomery Herald in Troy, NC, who graciously put me in touch with Elaine Reynolds, the keeper of the Hulin family papers. It was Elaine who generously provided me with the photos that accompany this post. She also sent me an essay written by Hulin/Moore descendant Thoburn Freeman, which was originally published in Winnie Richter’s Heritage of Montgomery County, NC (1981). I quoted from this essay in Unruly Women, and I am happy to quote from it again here on Renegade South.

The lives of these men and women differed greatly from those of wealthy slaveholders:

During the years before the civil War, the people lived quietly, going about their affairs with pride and purpose. The men were busy clearing land, building fences, homes, schools, and churches. The women were busy carding, spinning and weaving, not to mention cooking on open fire with coals on the hearth, tending children and house cleaning. Everyone worked in the fields. . . . In the fall, they would hold their Camp Meetings, when the families would move out and live in “tents” constructed of logs and later, boards.

“Everyone worked the fields” meant women and children as well as men. Making a living from the soil was a family endeavor that required the hard labor of all. Still, they enjoyed family visits back and forth, which included “quiltings, log-rollings, corn shuckings, spelling bees, and, in some communities, dancing.” Then came the war . . . .

During the war, most social activities, even hunting, were interrupted and came to a halt, except for some of the older men and young boys. All were afraid of the bands of Rebels that roamed the countryside. The church at Lovejoy was Wesleyan at the time, and their ministers preached against slavery. One preacher, Adam Crooks, was arrested in the pulpit. . . . Since most of the people in the area were opposed to slavery and not in sympathy with the Southern Cause, many men chose to hide out and were called “Outlyers” by the Rebels. Among them were 3 sons of Hiram and Nancy Sexton Hulin: Jessie, John, and William.

The men relied on the aid of women to elude capture by Confederate soldiers and vigilantes (Carolina Hulin, pictured above, was the wife of Jessie). One cold January morning, their luck ran out. . . .

Near the end of the war, the three Hulin brothers were arrested and held for several days in an old mill house near Uwharrie. Then without proper trial, in the early morning hours of January 28, 1865, with a light snow on the ground, they were taken to Buck Mountain and shot to death–less than four months before Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered. The bodies were loaded onto a wagon and taken to Lovejoy Church by their father, Hiram Hulin [for more on Hiram, click here]. . . . The only offense the boys were guilty of was: they obeyed their conscience, which is the only personal contact we have with God–

Triple grave of William, John, and Jesse Hulin, Troy, NC

Triple grave of William, John, and Jesse Hulin, Troy, NC

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The following post appeared a few months ago on Southern Unionist Chronicles . I’ve decided to post it here as well because it relates so closely to my posts on Civil War Unionists from the North Carolina Piedmont. Hiram Hulin, the author of the letter reproduced below, was the father of Jesse, John, and William Hulin, three brothers murdered for their refusal to serve in the Confederate Army. The Hulins lived in Montgomery County, N.C., and were Wesleyan Methodists who opposed slavery as well as secession. They are the topic of chapter 3 of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies, excerpts of which may be accessed here and here.

Many years ago, historian Bill Auman called my attention to Hiram Hulin’s 1867 letter to Col. M. Cogwell, Commander of the U.S. Post at Fayetteville in Reconstruction North Carolina. Hulin was seeking justice for his sons, who were murdered during the Civil War by Confederate home guard troops.

Vikki Bynum

 

 September 28, 1867

Sir,

Permit me to address a line to you in which I ask your opinion of the course proper to be pursued in regard to the arrest and trial of certain persons who in the time of the war murdered my three sons Jesse, John, and William Hulin and also James Atkins who were evading the military service in the Confederate Army; after arresting them they took them before two Justices of the Peace for trial. From the only information which we can get the Justices committed them to jail. They were delivered into the hands of the murderers who were home-guard troops and while on their way to the pretended prison they deliberately shot and beat to death with guns and rocks my three sons and Atkins while tied with their hands and handcuffed together. One Henry Plott now residing in the County of Cabarrus was the officer in command of the s[q]uad of murderers at the time of the murder was committed. Most of the murderers were strangers to the people of the County and their names are entirely unknown to us except one George W. Sigler who now resides quietly in Marshall County, Mississippi. Against him a bill has been found by the Grand-jury of this County. His Post office is Byhala about 16 miles from Holly Springs, Mississippi. I have informed the State Solicitor of his where abouts and nothing is done for his arrest. Permit me to pray you in the name of my departed sons to lend aid of the Military force of the government to arrest and bring to trial the felonious murderer. I beseech you by all the paternal feelings which a father should hold for a son to lend us aid in this matter.

We would earnestly commend that you arrest Henry Plott as so-called Captain in the Confederate Army in command of the murderous squad and that he be held in custody till he reveals the names of the remainder of the murderers. Henry Plott was heard to say soon after the murder “we caught four,” and the question was asked, “what did you do with them?” Answer “we put them up a spout.”  “Did you kill them?” “Yes we did.” All the facts above stated can be proved by the best of testimony.

You will please inform us by your earlyest convenience what course you can take in [this] matter and what it may be necessary for us to do in the premises. With Great respect I am sir

Your Obedient servant

Hiram Hulin

Published in Elizabeth Gregory McPherson, ed. “Letters from North Carolina to Andrew Johnson,” North Carolina Historical Review vol. 28, no. 1 (Jan. 1952): 118-119.

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1st Lt. of Knight Company

1st Lt. of Knight Company

In 1864, with the nation at war, soldiers and civilians alike must daily have asked themselves, would life ever return to normal? At the same time, daily routines had to be continued if folks were ever to see better times. Resigned to the fact that hard-working people now must work harder than ever just to keep body and soul together, on a spring day in April, Indiana Welborn went to the family barn to milk the cow.

According to the story I heard some ten years ago, Indiana was milking the cow when she noticed to her horror that blood was dripping down on her from the barn loft above. She soon discovered that a wounded man had secreted himself in the family barn, and that it was his blood that dripped on her.  That man was James Morgan Valentine, Newt Knight’s 1st Lt. in the Knight Company. Morgan had been shot by Confederate Cavalry while swimming in a river, but had managed to make it to Lawrence Welborn’s barn, where he hid in the loft. After discovering him, Lawrence’s daughter Indiana took it upon herself to nurse Morgan back to health, and never told anyone about it until after the war. Or so the story goes.

Sometime in 2005, I had the good fortune to be contacted by Danny and Dwayne Coats, great-grandsons of Morgan Valentine. I eagerly ran this story by them, which they in turn confirmed had been told to them, too, by their own grandmother. According to Dwayne Coats, his grandmother told him “that the lady [Indiana Welborn] that took care of him told her the story herself. My grandmother also said that he had lost so much blood that his earlobes were completely white.”

As 1st Lt. of the Knight Company, Morgan Valentine was one of the band’s most important members, and obviously very close to Captain Newt Knight.  Like most of the Knight Company, Morgan also came from a strongly Unionist family, evidenced by the four Valentines, in addition to Morgan, who appear on Newt Knight’s roster (see Knight Company roster).  In addition, Morgan’s father Allen, like William Wesley Sumrall’s older brother, Harmon Levi, signed a letter of defense of Newt Knight in 1870, when Newt filed his first petition for federal compensation for the men of the Knight Company (see 1870 Letter of Support for Newt Knight’s Compensation Claim).  

Demonstrating once again the seamless personal and political ties that bound the Knight Company men to one another, I should note that Morgan’s second marriage was to Newt Knight’s niece, Mary Mason Knight. And that Morgan’s sister, Tolitha Eboline Valentine, married another stalwart Unionist, Warren Jacob Collins, brother of Jasper, and leader of the Hardin County jayhawkers of East Texas (see Collins Family Unionism, Mississippi to Texas).  

In 1895, James Morgan Valentine testified on behalf of Newt Knight in Newt’s third and final claim for compensation (see  Newt Knight vs. the U.S. Court of Claims). In the next few days, I will abstract that deposition and post it on Robert Moore’s Southern Unionist Chronicles. I’ll cross-list it on Renegade South, so please watch for it!

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Note, Oct. 18, 2009: The title of this book has officially been changed to The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies.

I’m pleased to announce that my forthcoming book, Southern Communities at War: Essays on Civil War Dissent and Its Legacies, is now officially in press. On May 6, the editorial board of the University of North Carolina Press met and approved it for publication. After a long, arduous process of research, writing, submission, revision, and resubmission, it now enters the (also arduous) copyediting  and production stages. It should be available by spring 2010. To see a description of the book, click here, for an excerpt from the introduction, here, and for the table of contents, here.

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(This post is also published on Southern Unionists Chronicles)

The following is a story of Civil War Unionism and its persecution in the Hill Country of Texas. Its narrative and documentation was gathered and provided by Betty Zimmerman of Woodville, TX, whose husband is a descendant of the story’s main figure, Henry Flaugher (pronounced “Flour”). For this essay, I have compressed and rearranged her material, but the history of this murder was essentially written by Betty and members of the Flaugher family.

The story passed down in Flaugher family oral history is as follows: By fall of 1860, many southerners were expressing “feelings of hatred” toward former northerners who had moved South. Such a family was that of Henry Flaugher of Burnet County. Flaugher’s son-in-law, John T. Malone, and his daughter, Allie, were frightened enough by events to leave the state shortly before secession was achieved. Not long after they left, the Malones learned that a gruesome murder of some 36 men suspected of Unionism had taken place in their former home county, and that Henry Flaugher was among them. Twenty-five of the 36 men, according to the story, were hanged over the mouth of a saltpetre cave (there are many such caves in Burnet County), the ropes then cut so that the bodies dropped into the cave, seemingly out of sight forever.

Some two years later, the bodies were discovered by family members, perfectly preserved in the cave. Henry Flaugher was given a decent burial. His personal history, and the events leading to his gruesome murder, remind us that the Civil War ripped apart communities as well as a nation. Flaugher’s simple move from a free state to a slaveholding one, more than a decade before the war, set in motion events that led to his violent death.

Sometime around 1848, Henry Flaugher moved his family from Illinois to Burnet County, Texas, where he settled near present-day Marble Falls. His decision to move South, into a slaveholding state just as the nation’s sectional crisis was heating up, may not have been an easy one. Two of Henry’s grown children from the first of his two marriages did not make the move, but his sons, John and Adam, and daughters, Allie and Catherine (Kitty), plus his second wife Eliza and their six children, were soon transplanted to the beautiful Hill Country of Texas, where Henry bought 139 acres of land on the Colorado River, and commenced buying and selling stock.

Around 1856, Henry’s eighteen-year-old daughter, Allie, married widower John T. Malone, who lived nearby. Twenty-eight-year-old Malone, a master stonemason born in Ohio, was also a relative newcomer to Texas. John had lived in California and Missouri before making his way to Texas; in 1850, he mined for gold in El Dorado, CA. John, then, was well aware of heated national debates over whether slavery should be allowed to move into the western territories. That very year, California was admitted into the Union as a free state, following a bitter political battle between pro- and anti-slavery forces.

In 1860, as southern states moved toward secession, some of John T. Malone’s neighbors suspected that he and his father-in-law, Henry Flaugher, were not “sound” on the slavery issue. John was even accused in a court of law of having assisted slaves in escaping North. Although he was acquitted, threats and suspicions continued, causing him and Allie to flee Texas, first to Iowa, then to Washington Territory, by wagon train. It was late fall, and John left behind property, tools, and an uncollected payment on a stone mill he had built.

Allie’s father, Henry Flaugher, was expected to follow, but decided to wait until after his crop was in. The results of his fateful decision are seared in the memories of his descendants. One daughter and three granddaughters of Allie Flaugher Malone told essentially the same story: Henry Flaugher was taken prisoner by a group of men while fetching a bucket of water from the river. However, a letter written by Henry’s sister, Catherine Flaugher Wilson, on May 25, 1868, differs somewhat in details. Catherine claimed that Henry and a hired hand had gone into the timber woods for a load of wood. His wagon, she said, was found half loaded, but Henry was no where to be found. Family members later found the cave, with a gallows erected by the “REBELS,” and Henry’s body in the cave. While Catherine mentioned that some forty additional bodies were found in the cave, she did not claim they had been killed alongside her brother.

Catherine Flaugher Wilson’s 1868 description dovetails nicely with a story published in a 1941 issue of Frontier Times: “Disaster at Dead Man’s Hole,” by Walter Richter. Richter was writing the story of one Adolph Hoppe, but a secondary figure in this history was a “Mr. Flour,” surely the Henry Flaugher of this story. According to Richter, Hoppe and “Flour” were loading cedar posts in a wagon and had just started for home when they were halted by a ranger and a group of men. Accused of attending secret Union meetings, both men were “tried” on the spot, and “Mr. Flour”–but not Adolph Hoppe–was found “guilty” of Unionism. The ranger let Hoppe go, but left the man now believed to be Henry Flaugher in the hands of the vigilantes. For being in the company of a Unionist, however, Hoppe was pursued by the vigilantes as soon as the ranger went on his way. His body was recovered from the cave known as “Dead Man’s Hole” in 1866.

Although Hoppe rather than Flaugher was the subject of this essay, it seems clear that both men were murdered and dropped into the cave. The separate stories tell essentially the same story, and it is reasonable to assume the men met their fate together. What is not clear, however, is that 36 men were killed that same day. The story of Adolph Hoppe describes two men meeting their deaths at the hands of secessionist vigilantes. I suspect, and Betty Zimmerman concurs, that those 36 other dead men were probably victims of murders that took place throughout the Civil War, as pro- and anti-Confederates fought it out on Civil War home fronts. Like Catherine Wilson, Richter pointed out that many other bodies were found in the cave: “thousands of bones,” he reported, were brought up from “Dead Man’s Hole” in 1866.

My thanks to Betty Zimmerman for sharing this important Civil War story with us.

Vikki Bynum

Note: Walter Richter’s article, “Disaster at Dead Man’s Hole,” is from Frontier Times Magazine, vol. 18, No. 6, March 1941.

For more on this story, see “Dead Man’s Hole: The Murder of German Texan Unionist Adolph Hoppe in the Texas Hill Country

 

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The Leaf River, where Newt Knight and his band of men hid out during the Civil War

The Leaf River, where Newt Knight and his band of men hid out during the Civil War

I recently received a message from William “Jeff” Knight (a descendant of Newt Knight’s brother Albert) that reminded me of how little I know about the geography of the Jones County area. As most of you know, or have figured out by now, I was not raised in Mississippi, although my Bynum ancestry is deeply rooted in Jones County.

Jeff’s remarks so intrigued me that I decided, with his permission, to post his descriptions and questions about artifacts and locations of Newt Knight’s Civil War world. The following are excerpts from his message to me. I hope readers will respond with their own observations (hand drawn maps are welcome!) about the area that Newt and his men occupied.

I was wondering where Newt’s hide out was. I do know that the picture that you have in your book, The Free State of Jones, of the Leaf River on the Covington Jones county line by Sullivan’s Hollow is about 100 yards or so from the ferry site. Up river from there in the swamp is a petrified log with all the names carved in it of the Knight band. Also there is a creek with a cave. The cave site was known as the Devils Den. I do not know where the cave is but I could find it if I could get a map of the area from that time.

My grandfather would talk to us about his uncle Newt. He as a young man knew him well. My father would tell us about things and places that were important to that time and before. Some of the things he told us about didn’t relate to Newt; like there was an oak tree in south Forrest County with Greek writing on it somewhere around Skull Fork. The tree had a large metal rod that went through the middle of it and it pointed to the ground. He also told us about Buffalo roaming on top of a very large hill just out side of Ellisville before the time Newt was in that area. In Eastabutchie, just south of Moselle, there is a Knight graveyard in the back of a man’s field by Farris Falls. I remember snake hunting with my brothers and walking by the site. There were three old home sites there. Also south of there, there is another graveyard where my brother is buried that has Knights buried in it from the Civil War. To the south of that graveyard is what I believe to be a slave graveyard. To the east of where my brother is buried is a graveyard where a black Confederate solder is buried. In the Eastabutchie swamp there are 5 to 10 union cannons in the water. That is where Confederate solders pushed them after a fight. Eastabutchie I was always told was named that due to it being called East Of The Butchery.

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james-a-keith-reward1

One of the grisliest mass murders of Southern Unionists occurred in 1863 in Madison County, North Carolina. Popularly known as the “Shelton Laurel Massacre,” this Civil War story was told by the late historian, Philip Paludan, in his moving book, Victims: A True Story of the Civil War (1981). Robert Moore revisited the story on Southern Unionist Chronicles in 2008, and you can also find detailed descriptions of the murders on the Southern Unionist Forum hosted by Genforum.

Back in 1983, while researching my first book, Unruly Women, at the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh, I transcribed and copied several documents detailing this case that I would like to share with you.  In the Governors’ Papers, for example, I found S. A. Merrimon’s report of Feb. 24, 1863, to Governor Zebulon Vance. Merrimon told Vance that at least 13 men and boys were taken into the woods, made to kneel down, and shot to death on the mere suspicion that they had participated in a robbery in the town of Marshall. Three of the murdered “men” were described as 13, 14, and 15 years old. Merrimon added that “several women were severely whipped and ropes were tied around their necks.”

The man who ordered the murders was Lt Col. James A. Keith of the same county. In his defense, Keith claimed that Brigadier General Henry Heth had directed him to kill the Madison County Unionists and deserters, to take no prisoners, and to file “no reports” of the matter. Heth responded that he had advised Keith to take no prisoners only in the event that there was an “engagement” between forces, but denied that he had authorized maltreatment of prisoners, women, or children. (Some believe that Gen’l Heth was indeed complicit.)

The Governors’ Papers also contain a petition signed a few months later, on May 1863, by eleven Shelton Laurel women who requested that Gov. Vance appropriate money for them to buy provisions, “being as we will be bound to suffer on account of [Confederate] troops eating up all our provisions & killing our men and property and destroying the country.” The women included seven with the surname Shelton–Judah, Sarah, Marthy Jane, Rachel, Elizabeth, Polly, and Margaret–as well as Rody Hall, Nancy King, Liney Norton, and Emeline Riddle.

Efforts to prosecute James A. Keith dragged on for years. You can clearly see Sheriff S.G. Brigman’s frustration and desperation to apprehend Keith in the two letters he wrote to Provost Marshal Edward W. Hinks on September 18, 1867 (the letters are quoted below). Those letters apparently resulted at long last in Keith’s arrest on several counts of murder.  On February 22, 1869, however, Keith escaped from the Buncombe County Jail along with two other prisoners (see reward notice, above). Keith was never recaptured. But even had he not escaped, President Andrew Johnson’s Amnesty Act of 1868 caused all charges against him to be dropped.

[Excerpt from letter #1 from Sheriff S.G. Brigman to Provost Marshal Edward Hinks]:

Col: In compliance with your request endorsement Sept. 3, 1867 I have the honor to make the following report of James A. Keith – He is full six feet high, Dk hair, and very heavy black beard, generally wears his beard long,–weighs 180 to 185 lbs,–rather slow spoken but very intelligent and well posted on matters of history, etc.—was in the Mexican War and practicing physical while in this county. Age, about 43 or 45 and, while talking or interrogated, keeps one eye shut. The said James A. Keith was at one time a Col in the Rebel Army but was dismissed for robbery, murder, and a general plunder. He then organized a band of robbers and went about plundering & murdering on his own hood. He remained in the county (Madison Co) until about the time of the surrender, when he left and went to Greenville Dist., South Carolina, where he now lives.—Keith formerly lived in this County, in fact he has lived here all his life until he left about the [time of the] surrender. He bought the farm formerly owned by Col. L. M. Allen on South Tiger River 3 miles or 6 miles from Weavers old factory .— He bought this farm with property stolen from this country   —.

                His residence is 18 miles from Greenville C.H. North near the Spartanburg Dist. Line, not very far from the foot of Blue Ridge – Near a road leading from Henderson, N.C. to Spartanburg C. H., S. C.— Lives in a nice small white house [with] a portico in front, stables, and out houses below, stairway going up in center. It appears from the statement that the officer who made the search did not go near the directions, as this man Keith who he arrested lived in Pickens Dist., while James A. Keith lives near the Spartanburg line, the opposite direction. South Tiger River is very noted and he lives ¼ of a mile of said river. This same man Keith was seen but a few weeks ago lurking in this county and is well known and feared by every man in Western Carolina.

                Keith has a wife and one or two small children, his wife’s maiden name was Jones and lived in Tenn – Keith was [arrested?] one time before the war for forging a Bank Check.

                Keith’s Post Office is Travellers Rest.—I forwarded you last Mail affidavits of his guilt and Certificates of Clerks. I have capias, State warrants, and all manner of papers against Keith. He would likely be very easily arrested now, but soon he will commence his  ramble of plunder.

                If anything further is required of me you will advise me of the same.

                                                I am Col Very Respectfully

                                                Your Obdt Servant

                                                S. G. Brigman

                                                Sheriff of Madison Co., N.C.

[Excerpt from letter #2]:

I have the honor to forward affidavits of Several persons in regard to James A. Keith murdering several union men in this county. I can if you require send more than fifty affidavits of this kind. There are several true bills against him in the courts of this county for murder and one for arson for burning Thos. S. Denver’s mills long after the surrender. The said James A. Keith . . . intended to burn and destroy every union man in the county –commencing on T. S. Denver, a leading union man.—Denver has again rebuild his mills at the cost of several thousand dollars. Keith has since been seen lurking about and has said they should not stand long. I have had capias and papers against him and have them now but he is [beyond?] our search. If Keith could be arrested and brought to the county there is sufficient charges against him to hang 500 men.

S.G. Brigman, Sheriff of Madison Co., N.C.

                                                               

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For those of you interested in learning more about the role played by Harmon Levi Sumrall in the Free State of Jones, please visit Robert Moore’s  Southern Unionists Chronicles .  There, I have posted and analyzed excerpts from depositions provided by H.L. Sumrall on behalf of Newt Knight for the U.S. Court of Claims in 1890 and 1895.

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William Wesley Sumrall is the only man with the Sumrall surname listed on Newt Knight’s roster (see related post, “1870 Knight Company Roster”). He and his brother, Harmon Levi Sumrall, were nonetheless among Jones County’s strongest Unionists.

Being over the age of military conscription, Harmon Levi never joined the Knight band, but was every bit—perhaps more—of a Unionist than his younger brother. Born in 1817, H.L. was 23 years older than W.W., and may have been more like a father to him than a brother, especially given that W.W. lived with him and his family in 1860. It’s quite possible that H.L. influenced W.W.’s views on secession and his decision to ditch the Confederate Army and join the Knight band. In fact, H.L. seems to have been one of those “old and influential” citizens described by Confederate Col. William N. Brown (of Col. Lowry’s raid) as having imbued the younger generation with “Unionist ideas” based on the principles of the “agrarian class.”

If by that remark, Brown meant independent and prosperous nonslaveholding farmers who believed secession was madness, Harmon Levi indeed fits the description. He was also one of five men, all past the age of conscription, who signed a letter of support for Newt’s claim in 1870 (see related post, “1870 letter of support for Newt Knight”). Those five men were of an older generation that opposed secession and likely encouraged their sons, nephews, and younger brothers to desert the Confederate Army, just as Col. Brown reported. They also fed, hid, and even helped arm those young men during the war. After the war, they supported their petitions for federal compensation for having served as unofficial Union soldiers in the Knight Company. Again in 1890 and 1895, H.L. Sumrall testified on behalf of Newt Knight’s claim (on Newt’s claim, see related post “Newt Knight vs. the Court of Claims”).

As we’ve come to expect, ties of marriage and kinship bound the Sumrall brothers to other men and families who joined or supported the Knight Company. And, again, the Collins family was their strongest kinship tie with the band. In 1861, the same year the Civil War erupted, William Wesley Sumrall married Nancy Emeline Collins, daughter of Simeon and Lydia. That meant that he joined the Knight Company along side a father-in-law and three brothers-in-law.

Long after the war ended and his first wife had died, W.W. Sumrall married Mary Olivia (Mollie) Knight, daughter of Newt Knight’s cousin, George Baylis (Clean Neck) Knight. At the time of their marriage, W.W. was 68; Mollie was 24. The couple had one son together.

Harmon Levi Sumrall also had close ties to the Collins family. One of his daughters, Sarah Palestine (Pallie), married Thomas Jefferson (Jeff) Collins; another, Lucinda, married Morgan Collins. Both Jeff and Morgan were sons of Simeon and Lydia Collins. H.L.’s son, Benjamin Franklin, also married a Collins (Sabra), while other of his children married into Unionist branches of the Mathews and Valentine families.

The Sumrall brothers’ immersion in the Knight Company reinforces two important points about the Jones County Civil War uprising: first, that branches of at least eight area families—including Collinses, Bynums, Valentines, Mathews, Welborns, Welches, Walters, and Knights—exhibited strong Unionist views traceable to an older generation of pioneers born before 1820; second, that this network of families intermarried extensively, reinforcing cultural and economic principles that would predispose them to oppose secession in 1861.

By late 1863, many men from these families were not only unwilling to serve in the Confederate Army, but had organized and armed themselves to fight for the defeat of the Confederate Government. Their Knight Company did not secede from that government, however, as “Lost Cause” legends claimed. In their minds they had never signed on in the first place.

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The following post is reprinted by permission from Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi: A Weblog by Terry Thornton. It was originally posted on Terry’s website on August 27, 2007. Terry graciously granted myself and Robert Moore of Southern Unionists Chronicles permission to re-post it. I am certain you will enjoy the story he tells as much as we did!

(Terry Thornton’s weblog is now listed on the Renegade South blogroll.)

Monday, August 27, 2007
Shhhhhhhhhhhhh! Let’s not talk about this . . .
by Terry Thornton

I am a Mississippian by birth and I am a Mississippian by choice. Of the forty-seven years that have passed since I turned twenty-one years of age, I have spent the majority living in other states electing to return to inside the Magnolia Curtain to live out my retirement.

I am a Southerner.

Growing up in the Hill Country of eastern Monroe County during those peaceful decades prior to the turbulent 1960s, I learned some about our region’s history and heritage but little about my Thornton family history. My father was somewhat distant to his larger family both in temperament and in geography — that, combined with the Thornton tendency to withhold information mitigated against my learning much about my ancestors.

I got most of my information from overhearing snatches and snippets of conversations while listening from the chimney corner. And as I grew older I learned that perhaps not all of the solid Southern unity was as it was rumored and taught to be — that perhaps there were cracks in the solidarity in the Hill Country Confederate unity during that difficult time some seventy-eight years before I was born.

Some things didn’t add up.

But when I would ask, I was told, “Shhhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about that.”

One of my favorite places to play during those safe years when children were permitted to play unsupervised away from home was at the New Hope Cemetery which was about one-half mile west of my home. Down the gravel road we would walk (no soccer moms with vans back then — nor any other vehicle; kids walked or rode bicycles) sometimes eight or ten or more to play all afternoon among the cool stone markers in the graveyard. Although the graveyard then was kept free of grass (as was the custom for most Hill Country houses: the yards were bare of grass), the cemetery had overgrown with trees creating large dense shaded places. And our favorite game to play in one of the large ornately decorated plots at the cemetery was “Civil War draft dodger.”

The older kids taught us how to play the game; they had been taught the game from the generation just older than them; and they in turn probably heard the stories from those who lived the experience upon which we had made a game. To play the game, one had to hide from the CSA draft enforcers. The place to hide was a special room underground at the cemetery in a specific family plot which had a false grave built for the purpose of hiding out. When the enforcers were in the area, you had to hide in the grave; when the enforcers were not close by, you had to hide in the dense woods and creek bottom just to the south of the cemetery.

When I was a child playing there, the family plot had been modified; the false grave had been used for an actual burial. So when we hid in the special “room” we just lay between the graves crowded into that family burial plot with its interesting stones and low fencing all around.

If the enforcers came and stayed a few days, the ones hidden in the grave were nourished by “grieving” mothers, sisters, or girlfriends who would come to the graveyard with baskets of flowers which contained food and water. And as the grieving females knelt there “praying” they were really whispering the latest news to those hidden just below.

I could never decide which role I enjoyed playing best: enforcer on horseback charging up and dragging folks off to fight or dodger lying there in the cemetery while all the pretty girls brought me food, water, and flowers and whispered directions to me as I rested in the perfect pacifist position.

To play “draft dodger” when I was a child involved a large cast of characters. There were roles for everyone no matter who all came to play that day — and we played the game often. But as I grew older, I listened to my teachers who were of the opinion that all true Southerners were loyal and 100% committed to fighting the Yankees!

If that were the case, I thought, then why were there hidden rooms in the graveyard at Parham? Maybe I had it mixed up; maybe those hidden men were really good brave loyal Southerners hiding from the Yankees.

Again came the, “Shhhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this” from the adults in my life.

But the older kids checked the story out with the older ones who would tell us the straight of it — the ones hiding were hiding from the Southern draft enforcers.

Then I overheard a conversation between my father and one of his relatives.

What? Some of the Thorntons were in the Union Army? Whoa! I thought. How did that happen? And no one would talk to me about the event or even acknowledge what I had overheard.

“Shhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this.”

As I got older I also questioned why the given name Sherman was widely used in my family: my grandfather had Sherman as one of his given names; my father had Sherman as one of his given names; my brothers has Sherman as one of his given names; and I have at least two cousins with Sherman as one of their given names. Somehow this choice of given name didn’t square with my conception of the turmoil that ripped through the Hills of Alabama and Mississippi some seventy-five years before I was born.

General Sherman was not one of my favorite people — he was not presented in any favorable light in any of the lessons in history I had at Hatley School. So what was I doing in a family with so many males named for Sherman? Oh well, I was told, they are named for someone else but that someone was never identified.

And if I persisted, out came the, “Shhhhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this.”

About 1970, my father asked my wife and me to go with him to Lann Cemetery, Splunge, Monroe County, Mississippi, to visit the grave of James Monroe Thornton. James Monroe Thornton was my father’s grandfather — James Monroe Thornton was the one who first named a son with the moniker “Sherman” — in 1865 he named a son John Sherman Thornton.

And while at the cemetery, my father told my wife what he had never told me: James Monroe Thornton served in the Union Army. Basically all he would or could tell me was that his grandfather, he had been told, was on the staff with General Sherman, had attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and so admired the General that he vowed to name the first of his sons born after the war for the general.

James Monroe Thornton survived the war and when the first child born after the war was a son, he named him John Sherman Thornton.

Be damned if I would listen to another “Shhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this” again!

During the next year or two, I started my reading and researching of the Thornton family. I learned that during the awful war years, both before and after, that they lived in the general area of Walker and Fayette Counties, Alabama. The Thornton family did not arrive in Mississippi until between 1905 to 1910. I discovered the gem of a book, Tories of the Hills, by Wesley S. Thompson (Winfield, Alabama: The Pareil Press. 1960). [My edition is the Civil War Centennial Edition, a limited-re-printing from Northwest Alabama Publishing Company, Jasper, Alabama.]

Thompson states in his Introduction “those opposed to the Secession . . . were called . . . Tories from the hills. . . met in a Convention July 4, 1861, and drew up resolutions to secede from the State [of Alabama]. When this . . . failed [the Tories] took to the coves and mountains for hiding rather than go to the Confederate Armies . . . there followed one of the bloodiest struggles of guerrilla-warfare ever fought on American soil.”

Suddenly the region known as “Freedom Hills,” a rugged area that spreads across the hill country of Alabama and west into Mississippi took on a new meaning.

Freedom! . . . no “Shhhhhhhhhh, let’s not talk about this” was going to stop me now.

So obviously the opposition to serving in the Confederate cause was as far west as the Hill Country in Monroe County, Mississippi, if hide-outs and resisting the draft were so commonplace that children’s games were organized and played almost 100 years after those sad events unfolded.

But learning more information from my father or from his larger family of their time in Alabama and of the Union Army connection to General Sherman was not to be. My father died a few years after telling me about his grandfather; the other older family members either didn’t know the family history or were not willing to talk about it. Some were of the opinion that we should not talk about the possibility of such an involvement!

And there I was, blocked in with “Shhhhhhh, let’s not talk about this” from cousins far and wide. But upon probing deeper, it was obvious that my cousins knew less than I about this part of our family’s history. The “Shhhhh, let’s not talk about this” mentality had prevented some of the most basic of family information from filtering down.

Several years went by and I began an email correspondence with a cousin, Lori Thornton, who was an experienced genealogist and computer expert. Lori and I compared notes and within a few months, I had the first documented evidence that my great-grandfather [and Lori's great-great-grandfather] James Monroe Thornton had indeed served in the First Alabama Cavalry USA.

And upon learning about this documented fact, I had relatives to send me word, “Shhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this.”

The first evidence I had of James Monroe Thornton’s military service in the First Alabama Cavalry U.S.A. was from Glenda McWhirter Todd’s in-depth study, First Alabama Cavalry USA: Homage to Patriotism (Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, Inc. 1999). There on page 368 is this entry, the first evidence I had of my great-grandfather’s involvement:

Thornton, James M., Pvt., Co. A, age 38, EN 3/23/63 & MI 3/24/63, Glendale, MS, on daily duty as teamster, MO 12/22/63, Memphis, TN.

James Monroe Thornton enlisted in the First Alabama Cavalry USA at Glendale, Mississippi on March 23, 1863. The next day he was mustered into service. He was assigned to Company A; he was given the rank of Private. He was 38 years old. He served daily duty as a teamster and was mustered out of service just before Christmas, December 22, 1863, in Memphis, Tennessee.

My father had been misinformed about James Monroe Thornton’s rank — there had been some huge and grand promotions for Private Thornton to have attained the lofty status of Lieutenant Colonel — whether that embellishment in rank was done by James Monroe Thornton himself (he lived to the ripe old age of 88 years) or by others is unknown.

Lori and I ordered the service record and the pension file for our common ancestor — and there learned for the first time the extent of his military service. James Monroe Thornton indeed was in the First Alabama Cavalry USA; he was a Private. He was at home in Alabama hiding out from the Confederate enforcers most of the time he spent in the service of the Union. He accompanied a small group in June who was returned to Walker and Fayette County and while there became ill. His family hid him in the woods from July through early December when he returned to camp.

James Monroe Thornton was absent with leave from June 29, 1863 through about December 13, 1863 when he returned to duty just in time to be mustered out on December 22, 1863.

He was not, however, a Lieutenant Colonel nor was he an aide-de-camp to General Sherman! He drove a team of mules or horses and hauled materials with a wagon as a Private doing teamster duty.

In all of this research, however, the harsh reality of what happened to my Thornton family in the Hills of Alabama has been slowly uncovered. Lori and I are continuing to examine records that are telling us the painful story of our family — a story that heretofore had been so suppressed within the family that our generation had no clue to its reality. Here is a brief summary of some of the major discoveries.

Two of James Monroe Thornton’s brothers also served in the First Alabama Calvary USA. Those two brothers died in service. No one in my family of my generation had any knowledge of these men. As far as I know, their names were not known as family. The grave of one has been located at the Nashville National Cemetery where I conducted a memorial on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of his death. It is believed that the first time that any of this young man’s family visited his grave site was 140 years after his death.

The “Shhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this” time was over.

A third brother may have been killed by Confederate enforcers as he was making his way to the Union lines to volunteer. Lori and I are still working on this possibility. We know that a third brother disappears from all records during the Civil War years and we are intrigued by a statement recently discovered in his mother’s federal pension file about this possibility. More work is needed.

And perhaps the saddest chapter in all of this that was never talked about in my family is evidence that three of James Monroe Thornton’s brothers also served in the Confederate Army. One was captured in battle in Kentucky and eventually exchanged/released in Mississippi. We think he returned straight to North Alabama, visited briefly with his wife and child and other family nearby, and then with his older brother, James Monroe Thornton, walked over to Glendale, Mississippi and enrolled together. James Monroe survived; the brother he enlisted with died.

The youngest brother in that large family also died in the service of the Union Army. He and another brother had enrolled in the Confederate Army and both are listed as deserting at Tuscaloosa. The younger brother shows up on the First Alabama Cavalry USA enlistment rosters a month later; the other brother disappears from the records. It is presumed that he is the one his mother later states was killed by enforcers while making his way to the Union line.

So I can’t tell you about a great-grandfather who was a Lieutenant Colonel in General Sherman’s army — but I can talk a bit about his service as a Private, as a teamster, during a few short months during the Civil War. I can tell you a bit about the history of the South and can confirm that the solidarity and Confederate unity wasn’t what we’ve been taught in the public schools of Mississippi.

But, listen, someone is saying, “Shhhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this!”

[Editor's (Terry's) Note: This recollection was submitted to the current Carnival of Genealogy. The 31st Carnival has as its topic Confirm or Debunk: Family Myths, Legends, and Lore, and is being hosted by Craig Manson at GeneaBlogie.]

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