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Posts Tagged ‘e.m. devall’

For thirty years, guerrilla leader Newt Knight of Jasper County, Mississippi, sought compensation as a Unionist from the U.S. government on behalf of himself and 54 men who had belonged to his Civil War “Knight Company.”* These men included deserters and a few draft evaders who banded together in the swamps of the Leaf River in neighboring Jones County to fight against the Confederacy.

In my recent book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, I analyze in depth Newt’s unsuccessful efforts to gain compensation from the federal government. Aiding my analysis were numerous depositions, including those provided by Newt Knight, H.L. Sumrall, Jefferson Musgrove, J.M. Valentine, E.M. Devall, William M. Welch, J.E. Welborn, J.J. Collins, B.F. Moss, A.B. Jordan, O.C. Martin, E.M. Edmonson, T.J. Huff, T.G. Crawford, and R.M. Blackwell.** Among these men were members, friends, and enemies of the Knight band. Some former members of the band testified on behalf of Newt, the claimant; others testified for the U.S. government, the defendant. In several instances, the defense called on witnesses friendly to Newt Knight in hopes that the testimonies of wartime allies would contradict one another.

R.M. (Montgomery) Blackwell, a 48-year-old farmer, was one such Knight band member called to testify on behalf of the U.S. government. On March 7, 1895, at 5:30 p.m., Montgomery was deposed at the Ellisville, Mississippi, courthouse by Jesse M. Bush, clerk of the circuit court. After establishing Blackwell’s identity, defense attorney John C. Dougherty asked him whether he had “belonged to any body of men during the war,” and to “state what it was, at what time and what place you joined and what purpose you had in connecting yourself with the same.”

With no apparent hesitation, Montgomery Blackwell replied that he had “belonged to Captain Knight’s company; joined in Jones county near Reddoch’s Ferry; I believe it was in Sept. 1863. Knight had a squad of Union men, and I had enough of kin in the Confederate ranks, and I concluded to go with the Knights.”

Two things stand out in Blackwell’s answer. First, he contradicted Newt Knight’s testimony that the Knight Company was formed on October 13, 1863. Second, he did not identify his family as solidly Unionist, but rather indicated a fair amount of support for the Confederacy within its ranks. This is not surprising since many families in the Jones County area, including the Knights, were split over the war. The most solidly Unionist family, as I have pointed out on this blog as well as in Long Shadow and Free State of Jones, were the Collinses.  They and their kinfolk comprised the majority of band members. Joining ranks with the Knight Company, however, forged a new kinship link between the Knight and Blackwell families when, in 1869, Montgomery Blackwell married Newt’s cousin, Zorada Keziah Knight.

Blackwell’s tentative answer in regard to when the Knight Company was formed was a minor discrepancy given that thirty years had passed since the war’s end. Perhaps for this reason, defense attorney Dougherty immediately shifted to a more important area of contradiction by asking Blackwell to explain whether or not he “took any oath” at the time the band was formed, and if so, to “state what oath, before whom, and when and at what place” it was taken.

This talk of an “oath” harkened back to an affidavit certified in 1870 by justice of the peace T. J. Collins which stated that the Knight Company had not only organized itself on October 13, 1863, but had elected officers and taken a “sollomn [sic] vow to be true to each other and to the United States and to fight on behalf of the United States during the war.” This document, signed by four Jones County men, made no claim that any Union official had administered an oath of allegiance, only that the men had spoken one among themselves.

With the passage of time, however, the facts surrounding this elusive oath became hopelessly confused. In their 1895 depositions, several members of the band testified that T.J. Collins had delivered the oath in 1863, when in fact he had certified a statement from several witnesses in 1870 that the Knight Company had taken such an oath–likely without the benefit of any public official.

Others, Montgomery Blackwell among them, testified in 1895 that “old man V.A. Collins” had likely administered the oath.  But if anyone presided over this moment, it probably was Benagah Mathews, as suggested by Jasper Collins in his testimony. The elderly Mathews, who had close ties with the band, was a probate judge by 1869. It was he who took responsibility for filing Newt Knight’s initial claim file in 1870, acting in lieu of a lawyer for the Knight Company.

The problem in 1895 was that Newt Knight’s new lawyers were not familiar with the internal workings of the Knight Company, as Benagah Mathews had been, and, in their efforts to embellish its Unionist credentials, they created a trap for themselves. The notion that a Unionist official had administered an oath of allegiance to the Knight Company during the midst of the Civil War was easily shot down by the government’s defense team.  By distorting the evidence in this and other instances, Newt’s lawyers put witnesses such as Montgomery Blackwell in predicaments where they were asked to remember “facts” that had been altered by Newt’s lawyers in an effort to strengthen the evidence.

At the same time, the government misplaced Newt Knight’s truly factual evidence, offered in his first petition of 1870, that the reconstructed government of 1865 had recognized him as a staunch Unionist. None of that evidence was presented in his second and third petitions (see Long Shadow of the Civil War, pp. 77-96). Not surprisingly, the Knight Company lost its bid for compensation as an ad hoc military unit that had fought on behalf of the Union Army during the Civil War.

Vikki Bynum

* NOTE: Although lawyers for Newt Knight identified the Knight Company as the “Jones County Scouts” between 1887 and 1895, I have found no evidence that the band ever referred to itself by this name. It’s my opinion that Newt’s lawyers manufactured the new name to give it more of an official military ring.

**Newt Knight’s 1887-1900 claim file is located in Records of the U.S. Court of Claims, 1835-1966, Record Group 123, Committee on War Claims, Claims of Newton Knight and Others, #8013 and 8464, National Archives, Wash. D.C.

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E.M. DeVall, Sheriff of Civil War Jones County. Photo courtesy of Cindy DeVall

Note from Vikki Bynum, Moderator

Memories of the Knight Company and the “Free State of Jones” were passed down to descendants of both its supporters and its enemies. Few people opposed Newt Knight more strenuously during the Civil War than Sheriff E. M. DeVall. In 1895, Devall testified against Newt Knight on behalf of the U.S. government during Newt’s claims process (discussed at length in chapter four of Long Shadow of the Civil War).    

In this guest post, Sheriff DeVall’s great granddaughter discusses his life and family, and reflects on the DeVall family’s experiences and memories of the Civil War.

 

E. M. DeVall

by Cindy DeVall

Thank you for the opportunity to submit a few thoughts on my great grandfather, Edmond Maclin DeVall, sheriff of Jones County, Mississippi, during the Civil War. I read with great interest both of your books. I certainly do have a different perspective on the Civil War in Jones County as a result of your research and dedication to making sure that “the truth” is revealed. What seems very clear to me after reading the books is that there was no “solid south” and that within families and among in-laws, there was great passion about the war and over the need to fight it.

 Edmond Maclin DeVall (b. 1829 in SC) came to Jones County from South Carolina. His father, Neri B. DeVall, died intestate in 1845 in Edgefield District, and his widow, Mary (Truwit) DeVall came to Jones County with three sons and two daughters,  The eldest, Mary Elizabeth DeVall, married Hiram Anderson (son of Isaac)* in 1846. Edmond Maclin, being the eldest son, was given great responsibilities and by 1846 was already buying property in Jones County from Drury Bynum. In the 1850 census of Jones County, his mother lists real estate worth $350. Her brother, William Truwit of Mobile, bought 300 acres from Allen Anderson in “Old Town,” very near the Bynum Cemetery and the Anderson-Minter Cemetery. The 1853 state census of Jones Co lists Edmond Maclin as living with 2 males and 1 female. I can only assume his mother had died. He was 23 or 24 years old and had three siblings: Edward C., age 13; Melvoe Emily, age 11, and Charles N. age 9.

 My father, Leslie Coombs DeVall, Jr., (b. 1919-Ms) always talked about the importance of owning property. He said that his father stressed that you could lose your job or your money, but if you had land, you had roots. My grandfather surely must have had that reinforced from his father, Edmond Maclin. My father used to also speak about his grandfather being sheriff of Jones County during the Civil War and how he had to keep law and order against that band of “outlaws and thieves that caused so much trouble for the good people of Jones County.” My grandmother (Ethel Freeman DeVall) also told me on repeated occasions “that ole Newt Knight surely did stir up a lot of trouble in Jones County.” My grandmother was from Alabama and did not even arrive in Ellisville until 1898. However, I am sure she reflected the thinking of some of the citizens of Jones County as well as that of her future father-in-law.

 Edmond Maclin’s two brothers both served in the Civil War. Edward, at the age of 21 or 22, enlisted in Co. “C”, 7th Battalion, Ms Infantry, in May 1862 and died on Nov. 15, 1862, of wounds received at the Battle of Iuka. He left behind a wife, who I believe was Mary Ann Taylor (b 1839-Al), and a two-year-old son named John Knox DeVall. Both disappeared from records soon after his death. The 1860 census showed Edward to be a farmer with real estate valued at $250. His unmarried brother, Charles, was  still living with the family. Charles, at the age of 18, enlisted in CO “K,” 8th Ms Infantry, in May 1861 and served until he died at the Battle of Franklin in November of 1864. 

 Edmond Maclin’s sister, Melvoe Emily DeVall, married Hardy Parker, son of James Leander Parker* and Mary Anderson, in 1859. Shortly after, a group of Jones County citizens moved to Angelina County, Texas. Melvoe and Hardy Parker raised their family in Angelina County and Melvoe died in 1880 in child birth.

 I remember being raised with values related to integrity, honesty, loyalty to family and being a good citizen. My father did not think those values up in a vacuum. My grandfather provided for several families during the Great Depression in Jones Co and was a respected member of his community. Those values must have been something he learned from his father, Edmond Maclin DeVall. I am able to understand that he did not want to “recognize” a group of Jones County Scouts because he viewed them as being outside the law and not being good citizens. The fact that two of his brothers had died in the Civil War and a sister had left the county completely and moved to Texas probably only intensified his determination to dismiss the existence of citizens he viewed as deserters and outlaws. He experienced the Civil War deaths of two brothers who were poor farmers and yet did not come home, but stayed and fought.

Edmond was married to Mary Jane Welborn, the daughter of Joel E Welborn, and probably had a mentor or two in the bunch who were father figures. His loyalties were to “order, community and family.” He must have been a man of great passion whom I wish I had known. I can’t help but wonder if Edmond Maclin and Jasper Collins ever had any heated discussions!

 Vikki, as you said in your dedication in Free State of Jones, “Now I understand”

 Thanks again for allowing me this opportunity and thank you many times over for the books.

Cindy

*Despite his strong Confederate credentials, E.M. DeVall’s kinship ties with the Andersons and the Parkers link him to the staunchly Unionist Collins family. Such kinship links were common among Jones County’s Confederate and Unionist families, complicating the story of its inner civil war considerably.

 Vikki

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