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Posts Tagged ‘free state of jones’

renegadesouth:

The article below, written by Wilmer Watts Backstrom and Yvonne Bivins, was originally published by Renegade South on December 6, 2009. I am re-posting it because of recent media attention given to Newt Knight as a result of the Senate candidacy of Chris McDaniel, a member of the Mississippi Tea Party.

Chris McDaniel lives in Ellisville, Jones County, Mississippi, a fact that probably made inevitable an invoking of the spirit of the Free State of Jones, and, specifically, the ghost of Newt Knight. Just this morning, a Politico article made the comparison, noting that

 

Here in the Mississippi Pine Belt, Jones County has been known as “The Free State of Jones” since the Civil War, when a hardheaded fellow named Newton Knight led a movement to oppose the Confederacy. His beef would resonate with tea partiers of today; Knight and his comrades felt they shouldn’t be conscripted as Rebel soldiers when plantations with more than 20 slaves could exempt one white male. They believed dirt farmers shouldn’t fight a rich man’s war.

 

Fair enough. But does this description of Newt Knight truly “resonate” with what Chris McDaniel represents?  Author Bill Nichols apparently thinks so:  “Jones Countians loathe the Washington establishment,” he tells us, before wrapping up his article by linking McDaniel and Newt Knight as self-appointed “patriots” seeking to save the Republic.

But wait a minute. This analogy is absurd—patently absurd. During the Civil War, Newt Knight led a band of men who fought FOR the federal government, and AGAINST the Confederacy. During the war, Newt crossed the color line and, for the rest of his life—in Jim Crow Mississippi—lived openly among his mixed-race descendants. In contrast, Chris McDaniel proudly stands before the Confederate flag and regularly denounces the federal government. And he certainly isn’t courting the vote of black Mississippians.

But there’s more. Just today, we were treated to news stories about one of  Chris McDaniel’s donors, lawyer Carl Ford. Ford, we learn, defended KKK Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers for the murder of Civil Rights activist, Vernon Dahmer of Hattiesburg. He is also a member of the League of the South, a Neo-Confederate organization that was associated with the Ku Klux Klan in Laurel, Mississippi, during the 1960s.

Ah, the plot thickens! Chris McDaniel’s association with Carl Ford makes efforts to buddy him up with Newt Knight all the more absurd. Especially since the revered Civil Rights activist murdered by Klan leader Sam Bowers came from a family that had intermarried extensively with the mixed-race descendants of Newt Knight himself!

And, so, for those interested in the true associations of Newt Knight, I am republishing the essay on Vernon Dahmer, written several years ago Wilmer Watts Backstrom and Yvonne Bivins. 

 

 

Originally posted on Renegade South:

Note from Renegade South: Vernon F. Dahmer, a well known Mississippi civil rights worker, was murdered in 1966 by white supremacists connected to the Ku Klux Klan. Before the night of January 10, 1966, when the Dahmer grocery store and home were firebombed, Vernon had been leading voter registration drives in his community. To facilitate that effort, he had recently placed a voter registration book in the grocery store he owned.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

Dahmer Grocery Store

Vernon Dahmer's grocery store, located on Monroe Road, 3.5 miles from the Jones County line. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

Vernon Dahmer, Western Union Telegram

Telegram from President and Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson expressing sympathy for the family of Vernon Dahmer. Courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

It took many years and five court trials to convict KKK Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers in 1998 of having ordered the murder of Vernon Dahmer. Today, Dahmer is revered for his courageous work on behalf of black civil rights. In honor of his memory, both a street and memorial park in Hattiesburg bear his name.

In the essay that follows, Dahmer’s grandniece, Wilmer Watts Backstrom, and Yvonne Bivins, a member of his extended family of Smiths…

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The following is Ed Payne’s third and final essay regarding the newly-rediscovered 1880 pension claim of Newt Knight, leader of the Knight Company of  “Free State of Jones” fame. Here, Ed takes us beyond Jones County, Mississippi, and examines the rules and shifting political alliances that dictated the generally dismal outcome of most claims of Southern loyalty to the Union filed in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

“We’ll all die guerrillas”:Southern Unionism under Scrutiny and Newt Knight’s Relief Bill of 1880

by Ed Payne

In his second petition for relief, submitted before Congress in 1880, Newt Knight requested compensation totaling $21,150 for himself and 54 other men.  The claimants had rebelled against Confederate authority in Jones County, Mississippi in late 1863 and fought a series of skirmishes against state militia and CSA troops.  Senator Blanche K. Bruce, the lone Republican remaining in the Mississippi delegation, introduced the bill.  It was referred to the Committee on Claims, from which it never emerged.  (Note 1)

The failure of Newt Knight’s 1880 Relief Bill—and of similar attempts in 1870, 1887, and 1891—needs to be considered in the context of postwar attitudes and politics.  The sentiments of Northern Republicans were shaped by anger over the toll exacted by the Civil War and what many perceived as a lack of Southern contrition in its aftermath.  As a result, those who had a financial stake in affirming wartime Unionism faced considerable skepticism.  From 1874 onward, difficulties arose from a different source: the re-emergence of Southern Democrats in Congress, many with strong ties to the former Confederacy.

The basic facts underlying Newt Knight’s petition are recounted in the Prologue to this series.  Knight decided that he and his men’s battle against Confederate authority, augmented by his postwar reputation as a stalwart Republican, merited compensation.  The 1880 Relief Bill requested payment for their “services as officers and members of Knight’s company, United States infantry, during the years eighteen hundred and sixty-three, eighteen hundred and sixty-four, and eighteen hundred and sixty-five.”  The wording was both terse and oblique since Knight conceded in later depositions and interviews that his men had never been mustered into the United States Army, acting instead as partisans on behalf of the Union cause.

The Knight claim was just one of thousands emerging from the war ravaged South.  As soon as hostilities concluded, Southern civilians claiming Unionist sympathies began petitioning for reimbursement of property appropriated by the federal military.  Meanwhile, a significant number of Southern men had died or been disabled while serving in the Union Army.

Congress provided four means by which Southerners identifying themselves as loyal could seek compensation:

1) Union Army pensions.  Historian Richard N. Current estimated that 104,000 white males from the Confederate states who fought in the Union Army, including 2,700 recruited from Northern prisoner-of-war camps.  They generally fell under the series of laws passed by Congress to provide financial support for disabled Union soldiers and survivors of those who died in service.  However, a key restriction on these benefits, described below, would have serious implications for a number of these men.

2) Southern Claims Commission.  Established in 1871, the SCC had the narrow but contentious mission of validating claims by Southern loyalists for property requisitioned or seized by federal troops for military use.  In order to receive compensation, claimants underwent extensive investigations designed to expose the actual extent of their Unionism.

3) Private claims.  From its inception, Congress has had the power to introduce private legislation on behalf of constituents.  It quickly created a number of standing committees to evaluate these claims.  To be enacted, private bills had to be favorably reported out of committee, passed in identical form by both houses of Congress, and be signed into law by the President.

4) Court of Claims.  Congress established the Court of Claims in 1855 to lessen the burden of evaluating the deluge of private claims.  Over time Congress gradually expanded the scope and authority of the Court of Claims.  This was the body that issued the final ruling on Knight’s claim in 1900.

While Newt Knight did not seek Union Army pension benefits or redress through the Southern Claims Commission, the standards developed by those entities delineate political sentiments common in the postwar era.  As early as July of 1862, Congress inserted language into pension legislation excluding all persons who supported the Confederacy. This restriction was codified in 1873 as Section 4716 of the Revised Statutes, which stated:

“No money on account of pension shall be paid to any person, or to the widow, children, or heirs of any deceased person, who in any manner voluntarily engaged in, or aided, or abetted, the late rebellion against the authority of the United States.”

The Section 4716 prohibition, originally aimed at officers from the pre-war Army who had sided with the South, later applied to Union veterans with any prior Confederate service.  The exclusion ignored conscription laws enacted by the Confederacy beginning in April of 1862.  Southerners who opposed secession believed their enlistment in the wake of this legislation was not voluntary;  it simply allowed the enlistee to select his unit and avoid the stigma of conscription.  Congress refused to accept this line of reasoning and insisted that Southern soldiers either, a) voluntarily joined the Confederate military, or, b) had been conscripted, but still with a presumption of willing service.  It naturally followed that those who voluntarily participated in the rebellion were deemed traitors to the Union, not loyalists. (Note 2)

Hanson Walters of Jones County does not appear on the Knight Band rosters, but like many of its members he enlisted in the 7th Battalion Mississippi Infantry on 12 May 1862.  The number of men who joined the 7th Battalion at the same time indicates the coercive impact of the first Conscription Act.  Hanson served through the siege of Vicksburg but, after being paroled by Union forces, failed to report to the Confederate exchange camp.  He was declared AWOL as of 23 August 1863.

When troops entered the Piney Woods to round up Confederate deserters, Hanson headed south and, along with two hundred other Mississippians, joined the Union 1st New Orleans Infantry Regiment.  He remained a U.S. soldier until honorably discharged on 1 June 1866.  Three decades later, in 1898, sixty-one year old Hanson Walters applied for a Union disability pension citing rheumatism.  He was rejected under Section 4716 due to his earlier service in 7th Battalion.  In 1902 Congress finally exempted most Southern Union veterans from the disbarment.  Hanson re-applied and received a disability pension until his death on 24 Dec 1910.

Rejected pension application of Hanson Walters, veteran of the Union 1st New Orleans Infantry, based on prior Confederate service.  The notation reads, “Claimant rendered voluntary service in the C.S.A. as shown by his own affidavit & the report from the records of the War Dept.”

The postwar definition of loyalty is further exemplified in the work of the Southern Claims Commission.  Recall that the SCC evaluated claims arising from goods being commandeered by Union forces from loyal Southerners.  SCC officials developed an array of procedures to investigate the merits of each case.  Examiners disseminated notices of hearings so anyone who wished to dispute claimed Unionism could testify.  A standard set of fifty-one questions probed the full extent of wartime attitudes and actions.  A sampling of these questions indicates SCC tests for loyalty:

5.  On which side were your sympathies during the war and were they on the same side from beginning to end?

13.  Did you adhere to the Union cause after the States passed into rebellion, or did you go with your State?

46.  Were you in the Confederate army,  State Militia,  or any military or naval organization hostile to the United States? … If you claim that you were conscripted, when and where was it, how did you receive notice, and from whom, and what was the precise manner in which the conscription was enforced against you?  If you were never in the rebel army or other hostile organization, explain how you escaped service.

Endorsements from Union men in high positions counted for little.  SCC historian Frank W. Klingberg noted the case of a Mrs. Evans of Louisiana, the sole heir to her late father’s sugar plantation—whom she asserted was a loyalist.  She received a letter of support from Republican Congressman Benjamin F. Butler, a former Civil War general who had gained Southern infamy during his tenure as military commander over New Orleans.  Furthermore, the man serving as current military governor of New Orleans appeared as a witness on her behalf.  But testimony from neighbors and acquaintances cast doubts on the loyalty of the late Mr. Evans and the claim was rejected.

So were many others.  The strict standards employed by the SCC overcame the initial mistrust of Northern congressmen.  Over the course of its existence (1871-1880), the SCC evaluated 22,298 cases seeking compensation totaling $60,258,150.  Of these, only 7,092 passed investigative scrutiny (31.8%) with final federal payments totaling $4,636,930—7.7% of the original amount sought.

As the foregoing demonstrates, in the aftermath of the war Congress adopted a highly restrictive definition of wartime loyalty.  Claimants had to provide strong evidence of consistent support for the Union cause before and throughout the war, regardless of the perils of such a stance.  To have acquiesced to Confederate authority at any point during the conflict meant one forfeited a claim to loyalty.

Measured against this benchmark, the Newt Knight Relief Bill bore an unstated onus.  Of the 55 men listed, at least 35 (63.6%) served in the Confederate military, mostly in the period between May 1862 and August 1863.  Furthermore, 30 of these—including Newt Knight—belonged to a single unit: the 7th Battalion, Mississippi Infantry.  It seems clear that in the spring of 1862 few Piney Woods yeomen considered draft evasion a realistic option.  They became pawns in the conflict between two rival powers.  As a result, they were viewed by wartime Confederate officials as recalcitrant conscripts turned bushwhackers and by postwar federal officials as willing rebels who later shifted their loyalty.  (Note 3, 4)

The submission of the Newt Knight claim as a private relief bill did not circumvent these difficulties; in many ways it exacerbated them.  Over the course of the nineteenth century, nearly half a million relief petitions arrived in Congress.  This produced a chaotic process in which thousands of private bills competed for attention in each session.  Only the least contentious and most straightforward claims had some chance of surviving the legislative process, and the Knight Bill was neither.

The inauguration of Union military hero Ulysses S. Grant as president in 1868 raised further obstacles.  President Grant quickly came to resent what he deemed as Congressional meddling in matters best left to the proper agencies, such as the Pension Office and the War Department.  He referred questionable relief bills that survived the legislative process to the appropriate executive agencies for review.  If their findings were unfavorable, and they almost inevitably were, Grant either issued a formal veto message or else exercised a pocket veto.  Grant’s vigorous stance can be measured by the fact that his seventeen presidential predecessors vetoed a total of 88 legislative measures, while he alone vetoed 93.  Forty-three of these were private relief bills, of which Congress managed to override only three.

During Grant’s second term (1872-1876), the Congressional landscape experienced drastic changes.  In 1873 the nation plunged into a prolonged economic depression.  This, combined with a series of corruption scandals, resulted in extensive Republican losses during the Congressional elections of 1874.  Democrats gained 94 seats in the House of Representatives, becoming a majority with 62% of the membership. The new arrivals included 56 Democrats from the eleven states which had comprised the former Confederacy, bringing with them strong ideological ties to the Lost Cause.

This political upheaval held serious implications for the 1880 Newt Knight Relief Bill.  Mississippi Republican Senator Blanche K. Bruce, who introduced the bill, did so with full knowledge that politically resurgent white Democrats in his state had doomed his senatorial career.  The Knight Bill went to the Senate Committee on Claims, chaired by Missouri Democrat Francis Marion Cockrell.  During the Civil War,  Cockrell had joined the Confederate Army and risen to the rank of brigadier general.  He participated in the defense of Vicksburg, where many men from the 7th Battalion, Mississippi Infantry and other Piney Woods companies concluded their war was over, and never returned after their parole by the Union Army.  Francis Cockrell, on the other hand, served until the end of the war.  We might assume him not to be favorably disposed towards the petition of those who, in defense of their own private armistice, took up arms against the Confederacy.  The 1880 Newt Knight Relief Bill never emerged from his committee.

Statements outlining the burden of proof for former Confederate soldiers seeking to establish Union loyalty. (Decisions of the Department of Interior in Appealed Pension and Bounty-Land Claims, Vol 7 [Washington: Government Printing Office, 1895], 586.)

In 1895 another submission of the Newt Knight Relief Bill finally received a hearing before the Congressional Court of Claims.  Three decades after the events under review, however, government attorneys still avoided the core issue of whether partisan activities on behalf of the Union might justify payment, even if conducted by ex-Confederates.  Instead, they focused on exposing discrepancies in the fading memories of the aged witnesses and rebutting stories of a failed attempt by Union troops to muster the band.  The matter of Confederate service did emerge.  But when government witness Joel E. Welborn candidly acknowledged the Unionist sentiments of many men who had deserted his 7th Battalion command, the court attorney felt it best to drop the subject.  The Court of Claims issued a final denial of the Knight petition in 1900. (Note 5)

None of this is meant to discount the actions of the Knight Band in their place and time, but merely to underscore difficulties confronting his unusual quest for compensation.  The postwar Northern Republican definition of loyalty held no place for the grudging Confederate enlistees of 1862.   And later ex-Confederate lawmakers deemed wartime Unionism as treason to the Lost Cause.  If Newt Knight never understood the political obstacles which doomed his petitions, he eventually acknowledged their end result.  Talking to an interviewer a year before his death in 1922, he commented, “We’ll all die guerrillas, I’ll reckon . . . Always was inofficial.”

Notes:

1.  Newt Knight, identified on rosters as captain of the unit, sought $2,000; those identified as lieutenants were listed for amounts ranging from $325 to $1,800; and those designated as privates for $300.  The variation in payments for the lieutenants resists explanation.   But dividing the individual amounts by the monthly pay rate for a Union captain ($115.50) and for enlisted men ($16) equates to back wages for approximately 18 months of service.

2.  The enactment of the Section 4716, Revised Statutes disbarment for those formerly in the Confederate military did not mean it could be rigorously enforced.  At war’s end, 17 Piney Woods widows filed for survivor benefits after their husbands died during service in the Union 1st New Orleans Infantry.  A search reveals that eight of these men had previously served in the Confederacy.  Nevertheless, all applications were approved.  By the late 1880s, the federal bureaucracy had made marked improvements in its ability to cross-check service records.  This produced an increasing number of denials of disability claims filed by aging Southern Union veterans such as Hanson Walters.

3.  Another perplexing matter are records showing that Newt Knight first enlisted for Confederate service in 1861, well in advance of conscription legislation.  He joined Capt. John L. Sanson’s Company of the 8th Mississippi Infantry on 17 August 1861 with the understanding he would be granted a one month furlough—from which he apparently never returned. Those listed on the relief bill who did not serve in the Confederacy for the most part avoided the conscription laws due to their youth and the community shift towards anti-Confederate sentiment by the summer of 1863: seven of those claimants were 14 or younger on the 1860 census, while another eight were 15 or 16 years old.

4.  Despite stringent requirements, records indicate some men in the Knight Band and elsewhere in the region could have passed the Congressional tests for consistent Union loyalty.  Among them were 1st New Orleans Infantry enlistees Riley J. Collins and Robert Spencer.

5.  For a detailed analysis of the government’s 1895 hearing, see Victoria Bynum, chapter four, Long Shadow of the Civil War; for a Q & A between the author and the University of North Carolina Press regarding this book, click here.

Sources:

The following authors and works were used in compiling this post:  Victoria E. Bynum, The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern dissent and its legacies (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 77-96; Richard N. Current, Lincoln’s Loyalists: Union soldiers from the Confederacy (Chicago: Northwest University Press, 1992), 213-218; Thomas J. Knight, The Life and Activities of Captain Newton Knight and his Company and the Free State of Jones County (Laurel: Carolyn & Keith Horne [reprint of 1946 edition], 2009), 103; Frank W. Klingberg, “The Southern Claims Commission: A postwar agency in operation,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol 32, No 2 (Sep, 1945), 195-214; Charles E. Schamel, “Untapped resources: Private claims and private legislation in the Records of the U.S. Congress,” Prologue, Vol 27, No 1 (Spring, 1995) http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1995/spring/private-claims-1.html; and Margaret M. Storey, Loyalty and Loss: Alabama’s Unionists in the Civil War and Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004), 237-253.

Information on the membership of the 44th Congress (1875-1877) is available on Wikipedia at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/44th_United_States_Congress;  data on presidential vetoes and a detailed list of those invoked by Ulysses S. Grant can be found at:  http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/presvetoes17891988.pdf

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Despite all the research that’s been conducted on Newt Knight, new material is still being discovered! After Grady Howell of the State Archives in Jackson, MS, discovered yet another example of Newt’s several attempts to gain federal compensation for himself, independent historian Ed Payne immediately went to work gathering more information about this 1880 claim and the unlikely alliance it forged between two controversial men of their time.  Beginning with the prologue that follows, Ed’s analysis will be published in three parts. My thanks to Grady and Ed!

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

Prologue: Newt Knight’s 1880 Relief Bill

By Ed Payne

Newt Knight

On 17 February 1880, Mississippi Senator Blanche K. Bruce introduced before Congress a piece of legislation entitled, “A bill for the relief of Newton Knight and others . . . therein named.”  The discovery of this bill adds another episode to Newton Knight’s long, fruitless quest to obtain compensation for his and his men’s opposition to Confederate authority in Civil War Jones County.

The relief bill briefly linked the lives of two very different men: a rough-hewn yeoman from the Piney Woods whose iconoclasm made him a wartime leader and, later, a social outcast—and an ex-slave who had transformed himself into a plantation-owning Reconstruction era politician noted for his diplomacy and gentlemanly manner.

Recently, while reviewing microfilmed newspaper stories, Grady Howell of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History discovered an editorial denouncing the relief bill in the Jackson Daily Clarion of 3 March 1880.   He graciously provided me with the citation.  The text of the bill appeared on the same page and is reproduced below, with corrected or alternate (‘aka’) spelling of several names provided in brackets.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America Congress assembled.  That the Secretary of the Treasury be, and he is hereby authorized to pay, out of any moneys in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, to Newton Knight, two thousand dollars; to J.M. Valentine, one thousand eight hundred dollars; to Simeon Collins, one thousand six hundred dollars; to J.J. Collins and W.P. Tumbow [Turnbow], each three hundred and fifty dollars; to Alpheus Knight and S.G. Owens, each three hundred and twenty-five dollars; and to Tapley Bynum, P.M. Bynum, Montgomery Blackburn [Blackwell], J.W. Blackwell, J.M. Collins, B.H. Collins, M.C. Collins, M.M. Coals [Coats], S.C. Coleman, B.H. Cawley, R.J. Collins, James Ewlen, J.M. Gunter, Tucker Gregg, R.H. Hinton, John Hogan, J.M. Hathorn, G.M. Hathorn, W.R. Jones, M.W. Rurven [Curven, aka Kirven], S.W. Curven [aka Kirven], J.M. Knight, G.H. Knight, H.C. Knight, B.H. Knight, Lazarus Mathews, A. McDaniels, C.H. Prine, Daniel Redock [Reddoch], W.W. Sumrall, John J. Valentine, Patrick Valentine, M.R. Valentine, R.H. Valentine, Elijah Wilbon [Welborn], T.L. Welch, R.J. Welch, W.M. Welch, G.R. Welch, Y. Wilbon [Welborn], W.Y. Wilbon [Welborn], N.V. Whitehead, G.J. Whitehead, D.W. Whitehead, James Yates [aka Ates], Thomas Yates [aka Ates], Joseph Vaughn, and Moses Richardson, or their representatives, each the sum of three hundred dollars, the same being for services as officers and members of Knight’s company, United States infantry, during the years eighteen hundred and sixty-three, eighteen hundred and sixty-four, and eighteen hundred and sixty-five.

The facts behind Newt Knight’s petition can be summarized as follows: the Knight Band, composed primarily of Confederate deserters, was organized in Jones County, Mississippi, in October of 1863.  Comprised mostly of nonslaveowning yeomen from the region, its members either opposed secession from the outset or had become demoralized by the war’s impact on their families.

Contemporary accounts make it clear that the band enjoyed a considerable local support, understandable given the extensive kinship ties within the sparsely populated region.  Reports concerning the strength and activities of the band made their way as far as Richmond, Virginia.  In spring 1864 two successive campaigns were launched in an effort to bring the Knight Band to heel.  Forces led by Col. Robert Lowry captured and executed a dozen men, while forcing many others to surrender and rejoin their units or flee south to the Pearl River swamps.  However, a small remnant of men, including Knight, remained active in Jones County.  They eventually made contact with Union forces in Meridian and carried out assignments on their behalf. Convinced of the value of his wartime activities, Knight firstpetitioned thegovernment for compensation in 1870; that effort failed. (For a detailed history of the claims filed by Newton Knight in 1870, 1887, and 1891, see Victoria Bynum, “Fighting a Losing Battle,” Ch. 4, Long Shadow of the Civil War.)

U.S. Senate Chamber, 1877

The allies of Knight who forwarded his 1880 bill to Senator Bruce probably did so with full knowledge that the Republican would not be re-elected to his seat.  The Democratic Party had reclaimed most of Mississippi’s state government in 1876 on a platform of white racial solidarity.  Those now moving into positions of power were often ex-Confederate officers who had little reason to advance the claim of a traitor to The Lost Cause such as Knight.  The editorial comments of the Daily Clarion reflected that general attitude:

The Newton Knight Relief Bill.

In another column we have printed the bill, which a friend at Washington has been considerate enough to send us, that was introduced by Bruce a few days ago, in the United States Senate, for the “relief” of Newton Knight and other persons therein mentioned.  It was introduced by unanimous consent, read twice, and referred to the Committee on Claims.  The bill, if passed, would be a fraud on the government.  It is predicated on the fiction that the parties for whose benefit it purports to have been offered, rendered the United States Government service as “Knight’s Company United States Infantry,” in the late sectional war. From what we can learn there was no such company mustered into the United States Army.  The pretended military company, as we are informed, was for the most part a band of bushwackers, deserters from the Confederate army, and persons who escaped the vigilance of conscription officers, and from hiding places carried on a sort of predatory business at the expense of their neighbors who were in the Southern army.  A portion of them took refuge under the Butler government in New Orleans and never returned.  Some of the clan still live in the vicinity where they formerly resided, and have become law abiding, good citizens.  They were probably mislead (sic) in the first instance.  Knight himself, the chief beneficiary and the head of the clan, still lives in the Southern portion of Jasper county, and is “truly loyal” in living up to the social equality doctrines of the extreme Radicalism which he inculcates by precept and example, as essential elements of loyalty.  We are not prepared to forecast the fate of the Bruce bill; but it is due to candor to say that it is a fraud in the presumption that Knight and his clan were a company of United States soldiers.

The Daily Clarion’s description of the Knight Band falls on the more moderate side of postwar rhetoric.  Two allegations have remained common down to the present day: 1) that the Knight Band preyed upon the local populous, and 2) that Newt Knight deluded his followers into doing his bidding.

As Victoria Bynum pointed out in Free State of Jones, members of the Knight Band shared extensive kinship ties.  During the brief period in which it held power (October 1863 until April 1864), the band created anxiety among the region’s slave owners, raiding Confederate commissaries where the tax-in-kind produce confiscated from the area’s impoverished families was stored.  Knight was responsible for the murder of Confederate Major Amos McLemore, who sought to convince deserters to return to their units.  The band also killed several Confederate tax agents.  Thus the locals upon whom the band preyed were selected targets.  On the other hand, an officer participating in the Lowry campaign acknowledged that Confederate militia operating in the area had done much to provoke deep hostility among the general population.

Depictions of Newt Knight’s followers as pawns—led either by inspiration or duplicity—conveniently ignore the fact that the yeomen of the Piney Woods were routinely described as self-reliant and highly independent.  But writers often prefer simplistic narratives featuring a hero (or villain) of mythical proportions.  It is far easier to portray a man single-handedly instigating a rebellion than to grapple with the more complex story of a regional rebellion that, for a period of time, coalesced around his leadership.  Yet when over two hundred Piney Woods men trekked south in the spring of 1864 and agreed to join Union Army regiments in New Orleans, it was hardly due to the machinations of Newt Knight.  He remained in Jones County until the end of the war.

Finally, the editorial indicates that knowledge of Knight’s postwar relationship with former slave Rachel Knight and his mixed-race children with her, had reached Jackson.  For those promoting a political agenda based upon notions of racial purity, however dubious in actual practice, Newt’s personal life offered final proof of his “true loyalty” to “the social [i.e. racial] equality doctrines of the extreme Radicalism.  .  .  .”

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Recently, Dean Collins, a descendant of Stacy and Sara Anderson Collins, shared with me several photos that I am pleased to post on Renegade South. Dean is descended from Stacy and Sara’s son, Vinson A. Collins of Jones County, Mississippi.

Vinson, (not to be mistaken for his nephew and namesake, Vinson A. Collins of East Texas) is pictured here:

Vinson A. Collins of Jones County, MS. Photo courtesy of Dean Collins

Born January 16, 1815, Vinson Collins was past the age of conscription during the Civil War. He was nonetheless as important a figure in Jones County’s anti-Confederate uprising–popularly known as the “Free State of Jones”–as were his numerous brothers, nephews, and cousins who took up arms against the Confederate Army. Even Vinson’s sister, Sarah Collins Walters Parker, is famous for having sheltered pro-Union family members at the expense of her own safety during the Civil War (Sarah’s own son, George Walters, served and died for the Confederate cause during the war).

Soon after the Civil War ended, on July 15, 1865, many of Jones County’s anti-Confederate citizens petitioned Mississippi’s provisional governor, William L. Sharkey, to overturn the county’s 1864  “rebel” elections of probate judge and sheriff and fill those offices with Unionists. Governor Sharkey compromised by allowing dual appointments of both the pro-Union and pro-Confederate candidates. His decision resulted in pro-Union Vinson A. Collins serving alongside pro-Confederate William Hood as probate judge of Jones County.

Three years later, during Reconstruction, Vinson briefly served as delegate to the 1868 Mississippi Constitutional Convention from Smith and Jones County. (Note: the state legislature had previously renamed Jones “Davis County” in honor of Jefferson Davis, but the name “Jones” was restored in 1870).

Below is the back side of the same photo of Vinson A. Collins. Dean reports that the inscription was likely recorded by his grandmother, Bertie Wigington Collins.

Inscription on back of photo. Courtesy of Dean Collins

The following group photograph includes Clay Crittenden Collins (1853-1940), a son of Vinson and Nancy (Bynum) Collins, and his wife Clarissa, “Classie,” (1864-1950). Dean’s grandmother, Bertie Collins, speculated that the photo was taken at the old Lebanon school/church house. Dean believes that it is “most likely a Collins family gathering” since so many members of the Collins family seem present. Following the photograph is  a diagram that identifies a few of the people who were gathered that day. Readers are welcome to offer opinions of who’s who by keying additional names to the diagram numbers.

Group gathering including Clay and Clarissa Collins. Photo courtesy of Dean Collins.

Outline of group photo, courtesy of Dean Collins. Please help identify if you can!

Below is a close-up of Clay Crittenden Collins, son of Vinson A. and Nancy (Bynum) Collins, standing with wife Clarissa around the year 1917:

Clay and Classie (Clarissa) Collins, circa 1917. Photo courtesy of Dean Collins

Here is a 1925 photo of a school class of Soso, Mississippi. Bennie Crittenden Collins, son of John Calhoun and Francis (Hinton) Collins, grandson of Clay and Clarissa Collins, and great-grandson of Vinson A. and Nancy Collins, is kneeling in front row, second from left:

Soso School Days, circa 1925, courtesy of Dean Collins. Bennie Collins is in front row, 2nd from left. Can anyone identify any of the others?

Thank you so much, Dean Collins, for sharing these family photos with Renegade South!

Vikki Bynum

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A note to Jones County, Mississippi, descendants: In this post, Ed Payne shares documents featuring numerous ancestors by name that you may never have seen! My thanks to Ed for once again publishing his careful research on Renegade South.

Vikki Bynum, moderator

by Ed Payne

A few weeks ago I made one of my frequent visits to the William Winter Library at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.  My task was to search out a state Confederate pension file.  I located the microfilm roll and was happy to find it relatively free of scratches.  So I printed the image (which typically under-exposes the top and bottom of the image) in order to scan it to my computer as a jpeg file.  While attempting to produce a half-way decent reproduction, a staffer came by and mentioned that these records were now available on the FamilySearch website.  Curious, I returned to my office and tracked down the file.  I was amazed to find the same image in pristine condition and downloadable as a jpeg file.  Indeed, the image was so sharp I could see the embossed notary public seal.  I decided to take a closer look at the Mississippi-related records that have been added to the FamilySearch site.

FamilySearch is a free repository of genealogy-oriented materials hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (LDS).  LDS teams have microfilmed a wide assortment of state and county records over the last half century.  Like many genealogists, I initially made use of FamilySearch because it was free.  But after I began researching in state archives and subscribing to services such as Ancestry and Fold3, my use of FamilySearch fell by the wayside—until the helpful tip prompted me to re-evaluate what the site has to offer.  The answer is that FamilySearch provides access to some very valuable source documents for those interested in the Civil War and its impact on the Mississippi Piney Woods region.

To view these records, go to the FamilySearch home page (https://www.familysearch.org).  Scroll down to the bottom half of the page to reveal the ‘Browse by Location’ selector and click on ‘United States.’  When the next page appears, select ‘Mississippi’ from the list of states.  The Mississippi records are organized into 10 groups, of which three pertain only to Tippah County.  Other than marriage records, which have been transcribed into a database, and a caveat concerning Civil War service records discussed below, all other materials are images of original documents.  In the remainder of this article I will offer an overview of the records found in the six statewide image collections, and specifically those pertaining to Jones County.

FamilySearch Mississippi Page

1) Mississippi Confederate records, 1882-1949

This record group consists of 27,040 images subdivided by county.  Note that while pension rolls are located in this category, individual Confederate pension applications are found in the next group.  The Jones County files include the following:

Confederate pension reports, 1916-1932

Enumeration of Confederate veterans and widows, 1907

Enumeration of Confederate veterans and widows, 1932

Indigent and disabled Confederate soldiers and dependents, 1863-1868

Indigent and disabled Confederate soldiers and dependents, 1867

Of these, I found the Jones County records in the ‘1863-1868’ subgroup the most interesting.  They are actually a portion of a statewide survey undertaken in early 1864.  The purpose was to ascertain the names of all men who had enlisted in CSA units, as well as tallying the women and children deemed indigent as a result of the war.

The list of 477 soldiers is probably the most comprehensive enumeration of Jones County men who joined, however willingly or grudgingly, Confederate units.  Even though the Knight Band had formed the previous October, and many of its members were known to the county supervisors conducting the survey, their inclusion on the lists indicates the supervisors’ diligent effort to record all Confederate enlistees—regardless of their subsequent actions against the Confederacy.  For example, among the names recorded within Beat 2 West of the Tallahoma were those of Knight Band members Terrell (‘Tirrel’) Welborn [111], Timothy Welch [116], Lazarus Mathews (‘Mathis’) [117], Patrick Valentine [118], and Jasper (‘J.J.’) Collins [124].  Also listed was William Mauldin [122], who would enlist in the Union 1st New Orleans within three months.

1864 CSA Survey, Beat 2W

A closer examination of the documents suggests the determination of which women and children were considered destitute may have been subjective.  In Beat 1, 31 women were tallied as destitute out of 85 soldiers listed (the subtotals on the documents contain addition errors).  In Beat 2 East of the Tallahoma, however, every wife and child of the 34 soldiers was classified in that condition.

2) Mississippi Confederate Veterans and Widows pension applications, 1900-1974

In 1888, the Mississippi legislature authorized the first annual pensions for CSA veterans who had lost a limb or been otherwise incapacitated during the Civil War.  Two years later the new state constitution included destitute widows under its provisions.  The 117,637 pension application documents in this group are subdivided by surname (e.g., ‘Aaron-Aikins’), with each containing anywhere from 475 to 775 documents. These applications date from 1900 onward; pension rolls covering the period 1889-1900 are found in the ‘Mississippi Confederate records, 1882-1949’ group.

Pension applications provide information on the residence of the applicant, the name of the soldier / veteran (if filed by his widow), date and place of marriage, date and place of soldier’s enlistment, and the unit in which he served.  On the reverse, the information was attested to by one or more witnesses and authorized by the county’s Chancery Clerk and members of the Board of Supervisors.  It is possible to find multiple records for a single veteran in the files.  Periodic revisions in the pension law required submission of new applications.  Also, when veterans died their widows had to file under their own name.

Locating records for a specific individual can be tedious, since a process of elimination is required to bracket the page range within which the application sought should be located.  If the application was filed by the widow of a soldier, it will be arranged according to her given name.  The size of each image file (nearly two megabytes) makes for slow loading.  Therefore, one’s best bet is to check on local availability of Mississippi Confederate Pension Applications by Betty C. Wiltshire (Carrolton, MS: Pioneer Press, 1994).  This three volume index includes the name of the applicant, name of the veteran, unit in which the veteran served, application year, and county of residence.  The index can verify if pension files exist and under what name(s).

State pension officials depended on the county supervisors to exercise vigilance in rejecting ineligible veterans and widows.  County officials, on the other hand, were inclined to approve applications where circumstances warranted and generally applied pragmatic standards as to what constituted ‘honorable service’ to the Confederacy.  For example, Merida (aka Merady, Marada) M. Coats enlisted in Company F of the 7th Battalion, Mississippi Infantry on 13 May 1862.  Subsequent muster rolls show him AWOL from July 1863 through February 1864.  As previously noted, the Knight Band organized in October of 1863 and his name appears on the rosters.  But when Confederate Colonel Robert Lowry led his forces into the Piney Woods in April of 1864, Merida was among the renegades who fell into his dragnet.  Sent back to his unit, he became a captive of Union forces at Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia on 3 July 1864.  He was imprisoned at Camp Morton, Indiana for the remainder of the war and finally released on 20 May 1865.

Merida Coats apparently never applied for a Mississippi Confederate pension, but seven years after his death in January of 1917 his widow Sarah did.  Jones County supervisors approved her application and the signature of U.S. (Ulysses Sherman) Collins, the son of Newt Knight lieutenant Jasper Collins, was affixed in his capacity as Jones County Chancery Clerk.

Sarah L. Coats, pension application

3) Mississippi Enumeration of Educable Children, 1850-1892, 1908-1957

The records of Educable Children for Jones County available on FamilySearch are currently limited to 1920 and bi-annual listings from 1927 through 1949.  Still, they can be used as a supplement to census data.  The enumerations are generally organized by incorporated areas (subdivided by Wards) and elsewhere by Township / Range.  Listings are further broken down by race.  Since the lists are lengthy (303 pages for 1920; 499 pages for 1949), finding a family can be difficult without knowledge of their location during the time period.

4) Mississippi State Archives, various records, 1820-1951

This group is subdivided by county.  The Jones County records include tax rolls for the years 1827-1837 and Civil War records compiled by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) circa 1936-1939.  The late Jean Strickland transcribed nineteenth century tax records for many Piney Woods counties, but FamilySearch provides the opportunity to see the document images.  For example, the 1827 tax rolls were compiled the year Jones County was established and listed the early settlers on 25 pages.  The tax records consisted of two sections:  1) an audit of personal property owned, including both slaves and livestock, and 2) an audit of real estate ownership. The county’s first tax assessor was Stacy Collins, who would have several sons and nephews join the Knight Band 36 years later.

1827 Jones Co., MS, tax roll

Stacy Collins; 1827 tax roll letter

The Civil War records subgroup consists of 43 images of a folder and its contents.  Of these 31 are rough notes, while six comprise a typescript of Confederate veterans and widows enumerated in 1907, and five are typescripts of the muster rolls for the 7th Battalion MS Infantry, Companies B, C, and F; 8th MS Infantry, Company K; and 27th MS Infantry, Company B.

The typescript of the 1907 enumeration lists 166 persons who resided in Jones County at that time and were receiving Mississippi Confederate pensions.  The information was transcribed from notebooks provided to the surveyors.  (Images of the actual notebooks are found in the ‘Mississippi Confederate records, 1882-1949’ group.)  It should be pointed that Mississippi, like most other Southern states, authorized pensions for those who joined Confederate units formed in other states.  Thus out-of-state Confederate veterans who relocated to the Piney Woods when the timber boom began in the 1880s could later apply for a Mississippi pension.  The transcript includes the state of enlistment.

The typescript of enlistees by regiment and company represents efforts by WPA researchers to compile comprehensive muster rolls.  In doing so, the muster rolls included not only those residing in Jones County, but enlistees from surrounding counties as well.  Thus, although Newt Knight lived in bordering Jasper County, the typescript includes his enrollment in Company F of the 7th Battalion (‘Knight, Newton’ third from bottom of first column).  This explains why the list totals 615 names—more men than were of military age in Jones County alone.

MS 7th battalion, Co. F

The WPA muster roll typescripts, combined with the 1864 enumeration, provide a means to identify the men from Jones County who served in the Confederacy.  From this we may be able to better assess the proportion of men who joined the Knight Band and/or enlisted in the Union 1st New Orleans Infantry.

5) Mississippi, Civil War Service Records of Confederate soldiers, 1861-1865 and 6) Mississippi, Civil War Service Records of Union soldiers, 1861-1865

Despite the promising introductory text, FamilySearch does not provide access to muster roll records.  Instead, these groups merely allow one to conduct a search of the FamilySearch database by entering a first and last name.  If the search is successful, FamilySearch provides a link to the records on Fold3—but a subscription is required for full access.

All-in-all, the array of original document images added to FamilySearch is intriguing.  Those who research the history and genealogy of the nineteenth century Piney Woods of Mississippi—or those whose quest is further afield—owe it to themselves to visit FamilySearch and familiarize themselves with the materials now available.

– Ed Payne

Note:  The images downloaded from FamilySearch and reproduced for this post were modified using PhotoScape software.  The modifications were done to increase legibility and compensate for the considerable reduction in detail necessitated by WordPress requirements (illustrations limited to a maximum horizontal resolution of 500 pixels).

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Would you like to know the true  story of the Free State of Jones, but don’t have time to read the long version? Good news! The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (published 2001) has just been released by the University of North Carolina Press as part of its new “e-Book Shorts” series.  This excerpted digital version contains the original book’s introduction, epilogue, and two Civil War chapters.  Entitled Rebels Against Confederate Mississippi, it’s available from Amazon’s Kindle store for $4.99 (currently on sale for $3.99). For those who prefer the long version, it too is available from Kindle.

For details, or to order, click here.

Between late 1863 and mid-1864, an armed band of Confederate deserters battled Confederate cavalry in the Piney Woods region of Jones County, Mississippi. Calling themselves the Knight Company after their captain, Newton Knight, and aided by women, slaves, and children who spied on the Confederacy and provided food and shelter, they set up headquarters in the swamps of the Leaf River. There, legend has it, they declared the Free State of Jones.

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Littlefield Lecture poster

The Littlefield Lectures, UT Austin

I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be delivering this year’s Littlefield Lectures for the History Department of the University of Texas, Austin.  The lectures are based on research from my last two books, The Free State of Jones, and The Long Shadow of the Civil War:
“The Free State of Jones: Community, Race, and Kinship in Civil War Mississippi,” March 6, 4-6 p.m., Avaya Auditorium, ACE 2.302

“Communities at War”: Men, Women, and the Legacies of Anti-Confederate Dissent,” March 7, 4-6 p.m., Avaya Auditorium, ACE 2.302

If you’re in the area, I hope to see you there!

Vikki Bynum

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Free State of Jones, by Victoria Bynum

Gregg and I are excited to be heading off to Kansas City on January 26, where I’ll be a featured speaker for the 2012 Richard D. McKinzie Symposium.

The McKinzie Symposium will take place Thursday, January 26 – Friday, January 27, 2012, and will explore the topic, “Confederate Disunion: The War Beyond the Battlefield”

On  Thursday at 6:30 pm, Dr. Stephanie McCurry will present the keynote address, “Confederate Reckoning: The Politics of the ‘Homefront’ in the Civil War South.” Two plenary sessions, including my own, follow on Friday:

9 am–“Recalculating the Price of Freedom: Women and the Civil War”
Dr. Thavolia Glymph

10 am–“The Free State of Jones: Community, Race, and Kinship in Civil War Mississippi”
Dr. Victoria Bynum

For complete information on the symposium, including registration instructions, click here:

McKinzie-Program-2012

A Brief History of the McKinzie Symposium:

This year marks the 17th year of the Richard D. McKinzie Annual Research Symposium. The symposium is co-sponsored by the UMKC College of Arts and Sciences, the Kansas City Public Library, and the Organization of American Historians, the largest professional body of American historians in the country. Thanks to the generous support of the Bernardin Haskell Program, the McKinzie Symposium has grown into a highly anticipated event for our campus. The symposium offers a special opportunity for the participating faculty in the High School College Program—as well as UMKC faculty, students, and the broader Kansas City community—to interact with some of the nation’s leading scholars of American history and culture

If you’re in the area, I hope to see you there!

Vikki Bynum

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I first encountered the following letter from William D. Fitzgerald to President Lincoln on Brooks Simpson’s Crossroads post, “Black Confederates and White Southern Unionists,” and then again on the Southern Unionists page of Facebook. William Davidson Fitzgerald was born and raised in Nelson County, Virginia. By 1860, he and his family lived in Tishomingo County, Mississippi, where he taught school. I have found no evidence that he owned slaves. Fitzgerald’s letter to the President, written during his imprisonment at Castle Thunder, the Confederate prison in Richmond, was sent only weeks before his death on 27 July 1863.

Several parts of the letter stand out: first, Fitzgerald’s unequivocal belief that the destruction of slavery should be a prime object of the war, and, second, his advice to Lincoln to financially compensate slaveholders who supported the Union as a strategy for maintaining their support. Finally, Fitzgerald speaks forcefully to the question of why a Southern white man might support the U.S. government over the Confederacy. I have bolded the section of the letter I find most fascinating: that in which Fitzgerald offers a class analysis of white men’s loyalty to the Union and his reasoning for why so many non-slaveholders nonetheless joined the Confederate army. 

Vikki Bynum

From William Fitzgerald to Abraham Lincoln, July 4, 1863

Castle Thunder

Richmond July 4 1863

As a Citizen of the United States I take the liberty of addressing you a short letter.

I am now, and for a considerable time have been incarcerated by the Enemies of our Country, in Castle Thunder, Richmond– Here I shall soon die; but before being consigned to my obscure grave, I desire as a Southern man to applaud and commend your efforts in the holy cause in-which you are engaged; not only of restoring the Union, but in rending the shackles of Slavery from millions of our fellow beings– Let me assure you that the prayers of thousands in the South ascend to heaven daily for your ultimate success, in the great work–

The heads of the wicked rebellion, and the public journals of the Country, would have the people of the North and of Europe believe, that the Southern people are unanimously in favor of a new government; but, Sir, a pretension more false was never promulgated– If the sense and will of the people, including the rank and file of the army, could be taken to-day, they would, by an overwhelming majority, declare in favor of the Union– Of the white population of the South more than two thirds of the adult males are non-slaveholders or poor– It is impossible for them to fraternize with such men as Jeff Davis, Yancey, Benjamin (Note 1), and their coadjutors– It would be unnatural for them to sympathize with this fratricidal rebellion, or revere an oligarchy founded on slavery, which the rebels leaders are seeking to establish– Slavery has been a curse of the poor white man of the south and he would be mad indeed to desire to perpetuate it– The wealthy planter has ever been the poor mans enemy and oppressor, and the latter would be too generous by half if he desired to increase his foes power over him– You may depend upon it that in general the rich of the South despise the poor, and the poor in return hate the rich–

True it is that the army of the Confederacy is composed principally of men non-Slaveholders but they are not in arms by their own volition.

True it is that at the beginning of the war war many volunteers from this class were raised; but they did not realize the fact that they were to fight against the United States, against the Union– We are a sensation people; and they were carried away by the excitement of the moment– The leaders induced them to believe they were merely going to repel another John-Brown raid– The deception then successfully practiced by the heartless traitors, enabled them afterwards to enforce the conscription, and now the people are powerless– But let the war for the Union be prosecuted, let your armies advance, and wherever they can promise security to the people you will find the masses loyal–

In conclusion I will venture a single suggestion on another point– It would be arrogance and folly in an humble individual like myself to presume to council the chief Magistrate of a great nation but having closely watched the progress of this war, and the policy of your administration, I may be pardoned for expressing the result of my observations, and a single suggestion–

Your Emancipation proclamation opened the grandest issue involved in this sanguinary struggle, and may prove the heaviest blow dealt the rebellion– But as I understand it, and as it is unwisely interpreted in the South, it frees all the Slaves within the territory to which it applies without offering any indemnity to loyal citizens– In this respect it is wanting– There are many loyal slaveholders in the South, and your proclamation has driven some, and will drive others over to the rebels– I know within my circle of acquaintances several with whom it has had this effect– In my own town two gentlemen, who before the proclamation were regarded as union men, and furnished substitutes to the rebels with great reluctance, immediately after the promulgation of the document, entered the Confederate service, one as a Colonel, and another as captain– Not only were these two men added to the rebel army, but the influence of their example was by no means insignificant–

Since then you can not desire the innocent to suffer for the misdeeds of the guilty, that the loyal should recieve — the wages of treason, let another proclamation be issued, promising loyal citizens of the South reasonable compensation for the slaves liberated, out of the confiscated property of the disloyal, and the two proclamations together will quickly prove, with assistance of the army now in the field, the heaviest blows, and the death blows of the rebellion–

Such is the belief of your dying, and,

Obedient Servant–

Wm Fitzgerald

Castle Thunder Prison, Cary St., Richmond, VA, 1865. Wikipedia file

For historians such as myself, finding the actual words of a white Southern Unionist is always exciting.  Fitzgerald’s contention that non-slaveholding whites “are not in arms by their own volition,” and that they were fooled by secessionists into fighting against their own government by exaggerated stories of impending raids by the likes of John Brown is an opinion that many disputed, then and now.

Yet Fitzgerald was not alone in that view. During the same year in which he wrote to Lincoln, John A. Beaman of North Carolina wrote his governor that “farmers and mechanics” were ready to “revolutionize” rather than fight a slaveholders’ war. Guerrilla leader Newt Knight echoed Beaman in 1892 when he expressed regret that Southern nonslaveholders did not launch a successful uprising against the slaveholders who had “tricked” them into fighting their war. (note 2).  In 1912, Madison Bush (who would be mayor of Laurel, Mississippi, by 1920) agreed with Newt, telling the Jones County D.A.R. that ordinary white men and boys had initially joined the Confederacy only because “they thought it was big to get the big guns on.” (note 3).

These are but a few of the pro-Union and anti-Confederate words uttered by Southern men and women, whites and blacks, that are buried in documents, memoirs, and letters throughout archives and attics of the South.  Many Southerners viewed support for the United States government as the true sign of patriotism and loyalty; many (including a good number of slaveholders) viewed secession as utter madness. 

Footnotes:

1. Here, Fitzgerald refers to William L. Yancey, prominent leader of the Southern secession movement and member of the Confederate Senate in 1862, and Judah P. Benjamin, former U. S. Senator from Louisiana who served as Confederate Attorney General, Secretary of War and Secretary of State.

2. Bynum, Long Shadow of the Civil War, pp. 15, 96

3. Bynum. Free State of Jones, p. 95

The original copy of William D. Fitzgerald’s letter is in the Lincoln Papers at the National Archives (Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916). For more on Fitzgerald, see Carman Cumming, Devil’s Game, The Civil War Intrigues of Charles A. Dunham; also Scribd.com, “New Details Emerge on the Life and Death of William D. Fitzgerald in the infamous Castle Thunder.”

My thanks to Marilyn Fitzgerald Marme, Fitzgerald’s ggg- granddaughter, for posting his letter online and allowing me to post it on Renegade South.

Vikki Bynum

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James Richard Welch died on 6 September 1879 at the age of 62.  Like most of his Jones County contemporaries of modest means, he left no will.  Fortunately, his son-in-law Prentice M. Bynum was literate and, having once served as clerk in the Ellisville courthouse, knew a fair amount about the law.  Prentice petitioned the court to be appointed administrator of the estate.  As part of his duties, he compiled a list of all heirs. That list, which I’ll return to later, provides a useful vantage point from which to examine the political stances taken by ordinary families in Jones County, Mississippi, a county that gained notoriety during the Civil War for its rebellion against Confederate authority. 

 Early in the nineteenth century, Bryant Welch, the father of James Richard Welch, followed the same migration path to Mississippi Territory as did many other early Piney Woods settlers.  He left South Carolina and lived for several years in Georgia where, around 1817, James R. Welch was born.  The family’s first stop in Mississippi was in Wayne County.  Tax rolls reveal that Bryant next moved his family to the section of Covington County from which Jones County was formed in 1826.  For the rest of their lives, Bryant and his wife, Sabra “Sally” Martin, lived in Jones County, where they raised a family of nine children (see Note 1).

 Their son, James R. Welch, fit solidly within the mold of the yeoman herders who predominated in the central Piney Woods.  After marrying Mary Marzilla Valentine around 1836, he engaged in raising livestock and planting subsistence crops.  Fairly typical of their place and time, James and Mary produced children at a rate of one every two years—for a total of thirteen born between 1837 and 1862. 

 In 1860, James estimated the worth of his real estate at $1,000 and his personal estate at $1,165.  Typical of yeoman in that region, he did not own slaves.  But like most Southerners, the Civil War left him in greatly reduced circumstances.  In 1870, at age 53, he judged his land to be worth $466 and his personal affects at $875.  This might seem like a meager amount, but among the seventy-three households in Township 10 where James resided, only seven surpassed this total while eighteen reported no assets at all. 

 Following James’s death, Mary Welch received her allotted widow’s share of the estate, valued at $168, and a year’s worth of provisions.  The court then granted authority for a sale of the remaining property.  The sale failed to cover outstanding claims against the estate and administrative costs.  Nevertheless, Prentice Bynum submitted a second and more detailed list of heirs:

 W.M. Welch; Tabitha J. Walters; Elizabeth Jackson and James Jackson [her] husband; Geo. B. Welch; Joel Welch; Matilda Clark and John H. Clark, her husband; Virginia and B.T. Hinton, her husband [all of whom] reside in Jones County.  Martha Lard [Laird] and E.W. Lard her husband who reside in Smith County; Arsella Bynum and Mary M., James B. Bynum, minors who reside in Covington County; and James Collins and two other children… who are heirs to Ebaline Colins… and H.T. Collins (their) father… (who) reside in the State of Texas.

 A comparison of the Welch household census records from 1850 through 1870 with the court documents indicates that three children—Cynthia, J.E., and James—died childless prior to 1879.  The estate papers identified Frances Bynum as the deceased wife of Prentice Bynum and listed three children as her heirs.  Frances apparently died around 1876. 

 The identity of daughter “Ebaline Collins” is a bit more difficult to establish.  Like her sister Frances, she seems to have died prior to 1879, leaving several children as her heirs.  Best evidence suggests her full name was Samantha Eboline Welch.  The 1870 Jasper County census listed 19 year-old “Emaline Collins” in the household of H.T. Collins, age 21.  The couple had a one-year-old son named James.  By 1880, Harrison T. Collins had moved to Texas and remarried, all of which conforms to the information provided by Prentice Bynum. 

 Thus the estate papers of James R. Welch offer us the identities of six children who entered adulthood during and just after the Civil War—one son and five daughters.  The court documents also provide the names of the men whom these daughters married.  From this starting point, what does an examination of war records of the males within this group reveal?

 1)  Born on 1 November 1837, WILLIAM M. WELCH married Amanda Coats sometime before 1860.  Two years later, on 13 May 1862, following passage of the first Confederate conscription act, he enlisted with many of his fellow Jones Countians in Co F of the 7th Battalion MS Infantry.  But on the July-October 1862 muster roll he is listed as AWOL, suggesting he deserted before or just after the battles of Iuka and Corinth.  William’s name appears on Thomas Knight’s version of the Knight Band roster (as “W.M. Welch”).  He was also identified as one of the men captured by troops under command of Confederate Col. Robert Lowry on 25 April 1864 (see Note 2).  Col. Lowry’s men had been deployed to the Piney Woods region to suppress renegade activity.  Due to chronic manpower shortages in the Southern army, the men they arrested were simply forced to return to their unit which shortly thereafter was pressed into the defense of Atlanta. 

 The last major battle prior to the siege of Atlanta took place at Kennesaw Mountain, about 25 miles north of the city.  Situated behind a strong defensive line, the Confederate forces of Gen. Joseph Johnson scored a tactical victory over Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union troops.  However, on 3 July 1864, at least twenty-three men from the 7th Battalion became Union captives.  Of these, eleven can also be found on the Knight Band roster—including William Welch.  He was processed and assigned to Camp Douglas, Illinois, on 17 July 1864.  His muster records, as well as those of four other men belonging to Co F and sent to Camp Douglas, include the following comment:

 Claims to have been loyal, was forced to enlist in Rebel Army to avoid conscript, and deserted to avail himself of amnesty proclimation [sic] etc.

William M. Welch, prisoner of war

William Welch managed to survive the harsh conditions at Camp Douglas, although four of his fellow captives did not (see Note 3).  He was discharged on 16 May 1865 and returned to Jones County where he spent the rest of his life.  William’s wife Amanda died on 13 October 1895.  He died on 24 September 1908.  Both are buried in Union Line cemetery.

2)  TABITHA J. WELCH was born on 19 April 1840.  Union pension files document that she married JOEL W. WALTERS on 26 Sep 1860, shortly after he was granted a divorce from his first wife.  On 13 May 1862 a “J.W. Walters” enrolled in the 7th Battalion, Co F.  It is unclear if this was Joel W. Walters, but the soldier was AWOL as of the January-February 1863 muster roll and never returned. 

What is clear is that Joel W. Walters enlisted in the Union 1st New Orleans Infantry on 25 March 1864.  He earned promotions to corporal and then to sergeant.  A month after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Joel deserted and returned home.  He died of tuberculosis on 28 July 1868.  Tabitha raised their three surviving children and never re-married.  In 1885 changes in the pension laws permitted the desertion charge against Joel to be removed and the next year Tabitha was approved for a pension, effective from the date of her husband’s death.  Tabitha died on 23 November 1924.

Tabitha/Tobitha J. Welch Walters, Antioch Methodist Church, Jones County, MS. Author's photograph

 3)  MARY ELIZABETH WELCH was born around 1842.  She married JAMES EULIN (aka Yulin / Youlin) shortly before the 1860 census.  Little is known about Eulin’s family background.  A James Youlin, possibly his father, can be found on the 1840 census of Scott County.  The 1850 census listed 10 year-old James Eulin in the family of Abraham Laird, residing in Smith County.  By 1860 the Laird family had moved to Jones County where James Eulin apparently met and wed nearby neighbor Mary Elizabeth Welch.

On 13 May 1862, James also enrolled in Co F of the 7th Battalion.  Like his brother-in-law William Welch, James Eulin appeared as AWOL on the July-October 1863 muster roll.  And his name also appears on the Knight Band roster (as “James Ewlin”).   Another name on the Knight Band roster was “Elijah Welborn.”  In actuality, he was Elijah Welborn Laird—a son of Abraham Laird.  Adding yet another strand to this web of yeoman connections, Elijah would later marry Martha Welch. 

Captured by Col. Lowry’s troops on 25 April 1864, James and the others were shipped back to the 7th Battalion.  He, too, was captured by federal forces on 3 July 1864 and sent to Camp Morton, Indiana.  By this date, prisoner exchanges had largely ceased except for those in very poor health.  James Eulin seems to have fallen into this category, because he was selected for exchange on 19 February 1865.  However, he died at Piedmont, West Virginia, on 23 February 1865 while en route to the exchange point.  James and Mary Elizabeth had one daughter, Mahala Jane.  Mary Elizabeth’s efforts to cope with her post-war status as a Piney Woods widow will be the subject of a future article.

4)  MARTHA M. WELCH was born on 27 March 1846.  She married ELIJAH WELBORN LAIRD after the Civil War.  As noted, Elijah was the son of Abraham Laird whose family had adopted James Eulin.  Elijah enlisted in the 20th MS Infantry on 13 January 1863 and was listed as AWOL on 8 February of same year.  He is found under the name “Elija Welborn” on the roster printed in Thomas Knight’s book.  When Confederate forces moved into the area, he fled south and joined the 1st New Orleans Infantry as “Elijah Wilborn” on 30 April 1864.  He served until the regiment was disbanded on 1 June 1866 and then returned to Jones County where he married Martha M. Welch on 14 March 1867. 

Elijah moved his family to Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, around 1890.  He obtained a Union pension for an injury to his right hip.  His pension file documents that he died at the home of “S. Barnes” in Covington County, Mississippi on 31 March 1897 and was buried in the Barnes Cemetery (see Note 4).  Martha died on 21 September 1898 and was interred in the Provencal Cemetery, Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana.  At the time of her death, Martha was attempting to obtain a widow’s pension.  Although the couple left three minor children, they apparently never received any pension benefits.

5)  Born around 1847, FRANCES S. WELCH married PRENTICE M. BYNUM in 1866.  Prentice was the son of Benjamin F. Bynum and Margaret (“Peggy”) Collins.  When the first Confederate conscription law went into effect in 1862, Prentice was sixteen and so temporarily exempt.  Eighteen months later he joined the Knight Band.  In the aftermath of the Lowry campaign he enlisted in the 1st New Orleans Infantry.  Within six months he became seriously ill and entered University Hospital.  He was transferred to New York General Hospital on 1 April 1865 and discharged from McDougall Hospital on 20 May 1865. Prentice returned to Jones County and served as Clerk for the Jones County courts under the Reconstruction administration.  As noted, Frances died circa 1876.  Prentice re-married to Nancy C. Rawles in Perry County on 4 December 1878.  He moved to Marion and Lamar counties where he farmed and participated in Populist politics.  He died in Lamar County in 1906.

6)  The estate documents suggest that the deceased wife of HARRISON T. COLLINS was SAMANTHA EBOLINE WELCH, born circa 1849.  Harrison Collins, also born around 1849, apparently avoided conscription on account of his age.  As the son of Simeon Collins and grandson of Stacy Collins, however, Harrison belonged to Jones County’s most avowedly Unionist family.  Simeon Collins, like his brother Jasper, deserted the 7th Battalion following the Battle of Corinth and became a member of the Knight Band.  He was among those who surrendered to Lowry’s troops and were transferred back to the 7th Battalion—and then were captured at Kennesaw Mountain on 3 July 1864.  Along with two other sons, Simeon spent the remainder of the war in Camp Morton.  He was released under oath on 18 May 1865 but died soon thereafter. 

Harrison T. Collins would have been around sixteen years old when his father died.  The estate papers and census records suggest Samantha Eboline Collins’s death occurred circa 1876.  During this same time period Simeon’s widow Lydia (nee Bynum) and several of the sons moved to Texas, with Harrison among them.  He married twice more before dying in Polk County, Texas in 1936.

This inquiry into a single branch of the Welch family demonstrates the links between Civil War dissent and marriages within the Jones County yeoman class.  Rudy H. Leverett’s pioneering Legend of the Free State of Jones made a brief reference to kinship ties between the Knight Band and the surrounding population.  But Victoria Bynum’s Free State of Jones offered the first comprehensive exploration of these intricate kinships and the yeoman culture that set Jones County apart from much of the rest of Mississippi.  Among the early settlers she investigated were the Bynum, Collins, Knight, Sumrall, Valentine and Welch families.  Tracing nineteenth century female lines is, as any genealogist can tell you, far more difficult than tracing male lines.  County records of marriages, even when they were recorded, often fell victim to courthouse fires.  Without family Bible records or other documents, female lines often became lost.  Yet, the marriages of females tell an important half of the story—or, as in the case of these five daughters of James R. Welch—over 80% of it.

By simply recording the names of the men that the Welch daughters married, Prentice Bynum permitted us to unravel the extent of Unionist ties found among the older children of James R. Welch.  This is not to imply that exploring other Jones County female lines would invariably expose a similar preponderance of Unionist connections.  What can be said is that the records of the older children of James R. Welch demonstrate a web of anti-secessionist activities that rivals that of the Collins family.

But it is reasonable to question the relationship between war time dissent and the selection of marriage partners.  It seems highly unlikely that during their pre-war courtships Tabitha and Mary Elizabeth Welch—or Amanda Coats, who married William Welch—engaged in probing conversations to discern the attitudes of their suitors about slavery, states’ rights, and secession.  Unlike much of the antebellum South, these issues meant little to the yeoman herders of Jones County.  Slave-ownership was rare, the population widely dispersed, literacy rates low, and newspapers few.  Nor is it likely that Martha, Frances, or Samantha Welch accepted post-war marriage proposals based on their husbands’ Civil War records.  What seems more probable is that these young people belonged to a common yeoman culture; and that the Civil War brought a number of young men steeped in that culture into conflict with slave-owners, secessionists, and Confederate authorities of the larger South.

The records of the son and sons-in-law of James R. Welch demonstrate the shortcomings of attempts to depict the revolt in Jones County as emerging from the leadership of a single individual: Newt Knight.  This scenario has been put forth with Newt Knight assigned the role of  nefarious villain (Ethel Knight, Echo of the Black Horn) and, alternatively, socially enlightened hero (Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer, State of Jones).  The limited records available to us suggest that Newt Knight was decisive, shrewd, and—if the circumstances required it—deadly.  There are situations in which such characteristics are highly esteemed, from bar fights to wars.  But unless we are prepared to grant Newt Knight the role of preeminent molder of antebellum Piney Woods society, the fallacy of applying a Great Man theory to events in Jones County becomes apparent.  Rather, research into the children of James R. Welch provides further evidence of the underlying cultural roots of Piney Woods dissent during the Civil War.

Notes:

 I would like to express my appreciation to Randall Kervin, whose inquiry about Mary Elizabeth Welch on “Renegade South” led me to explore the web of Unionist connections among the children of James Richard Welch.

 1)   Tax records indicate that James R. Welch’s grandfather, Richard Welch, arrived in Wayne County in 1813 with 2 slaves.  However, the Welch families of Jones County are recorded as owning no slaves from the time of the 1830 census forward.

 2)  Thomas J. Knight’s The Life and Activities of Captain Newton Knight, was first published in 1934.  The revised 1946 edition has recently been reprinted by Carolyn and Keith Horne of Laurel, MS.  Thomas Knight’s version of the Knight Band roster appears on pages 16-17.  The men captured by Col. Lowry’s troops on 25 April 1864 appear on pages 18-19.

 3)  Those members of the 7th Battalion MS Infantry, Co F, captured on 3 July 1864, who died while prisoners of war at Camp Douglas, Illinois, included Thomas N. Coats, William A. Lyons, Henry O. Parker, and William P. Valentine.

 4)  Census records suggest that “S. Barnes” was Sebastian Barnes, Elijah’s son-in-law.  He had married Elijah’s daughter Jena C. Laird in 1886.

Ed Payne

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