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Posts Tagged ‘guerrillas’

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

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

 

 

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

Eliphar Childs Dykes Chain, courtesy of Jan Dykes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vikki Bynum

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Part 2: No better than runaway slaves:  Piney Woods enlistees in the Union 1st N.O. Infantry

 

By Ed Payne

Between November of 1863 and November of 1864, over two hundred Mississippi men—nearly all from the state’s southern Piney Woods region—trekked to Louisiana and joined the Union 1st and 2nd New Orleans Infantry regiments (Note 1).  The names of the men thus far identified and the methods used to discover them were discussed in Part 1 of this series Reviewing the list of names, a question naturally emerges:  what caused these men, many of them formerly in Confederate units, to join with the enemy?  

Descendants who acknowledge their ancestors’ service in the Union Army often cite financial motives, saying it was done purely for U.S. greenbacks.  While it is true that Confederate currency had collapsed, subsistence farmers and herders of the Piney Woods did not share our modern dependency on money.  Their lives were rooted in a self-sufficiency which we can scarcely comprehend.  The small amounts of money they obtained—usually from periodic sales of livestock in Mobile, Alabama—bought a few staple goods such as salt, sugar, coffee, flour and whiskey.  Larger amounts of money could buy land but, prior to the timber boom of the 1880s, the Piney Woods included large tracts of open range on which all livestock could be set loose to graze.  Yeoman herders only needed the modest acreage which they and their families could till.  Given the passions engendered by the war, if money played a role in their decision I think it was a minor one.   

It would be wonderful to discover a trove of letters or a diary written by one of these men.  Based upon the ability to sign their names on enlistment papers, it appears that 30% of the Mississippian enlistees had basic literacy skills. This did not imply, however, that they possessed either the capacity or desire to compose lengthy passages justifying their actions.  Elias Allen authored the single letter by a Piney Woods Union soldier that has come to my attention.  In it, he wrote his sister-in-law to report the death of her husband, Alvin Sumrall.  The letter contains a mere 180 words.

Elias A. Allen

Even without further documents from individual Union enlistees, the following factors emerge as motives for their change of allegiance:

UNIONISM (or at least anti-secessionism) – While the state of Mississippi ranked second only to South Carolina in secessionist fever, the fever did not afflict everyone.  Even so, it is difficult to identify those men who steadfastly held Unionist convictions simply because such opinions were rarely documented.  In Mississippi’s heated late antebellum period, voicing anti-secessionist sentiments could be dangerous—unless one lived in an area where such contrarian views were widely shared.  Several contemporary accounts point to Jones County as being one of those areas.  Researcher Jeff Giambrone recently uncovered a newspaper item describing an anti-secessionist meeting in the county. 

It should be noted that similar, if more muted, sentiments were also expressed by a number of wealthy slave-owners—although for very different reasons.  These individuals were dubious about Southern chances of winning a war and worried about the prospects for slavery in the event of a loss.  When the Mississippi Secession Convention was held in January of 1861, 15 delegates from 10 counties voted against leaving the Union.  These nay votes came from counties with both small and large slave populations (Note 2).

Evidence shows some pre-war Unionists among the men who signed up at Fort Pike and in New Orleans.  Riley J. Collins of Jones County was remembered by neighbors and kinfolk as an ardent defender of the Union, while documents found in the military file of Robert Spencer of Jasper County cast him in a similar light.  For many others, however, Union enlistment represented a drastic turnabout in loyalties.   

CONSCRIPTION & ENLISTMENTS – When the Civil War began in the spring of 1861, military service was—save for local social pressures—an entirely voluntary matter.  It seems reasonable to assume that men who enlisted in 1861 were motivated by “the cause” or at least by notions of participating in a brief, glorious military adventure.  One year later, an expanding war and mounting casualties forced the Confederate Congress to enact its first Conscription Act.  This law applied to able bodied men ages 18-35 and eventually extended to ages 17-50.  There were some occupational exemptions and provisions for hiring substitutes, but these applied to few men in the Piney Woods.  In the wake of the Conscription Act, men had three choices:  enlist in a locally raised company; await conscription, which was commonly viewed as dishonorable; or attempt to evade conscription, considered nearly unthinkable. 

Early on, I assumed that Mississippians who joined the 1st New Orleans had entered Confederate service in 1862 or later under pressure of conscription.  I expected an examination of Confederate records to verify this assumption.  Establishing matches can be difficult since the CSA files seldom recorded the soldier’s age or birthplace, and given names were often rendered as initials.  On the other hand, companies were typically raised within specific counties and retained their local identity.  Also, family members usually enlisted in the same company.  Using these clues, 101 strong matches were found between the New Orleans recruits and earlier Confederate enlistees (Note 3).

The Confederate records revealed—in utter disregard for my reasoning—that out of the 101 former Confederate soldiers, 31 enlisted in 1861.  These men joined local companies well before pressured to do so by conscription laws.  Another eight volunteered between January and March of 1862.  Of the 31 earliest volunteers, 14 joined Gulf Coast companies that became part of the 3rd MS Infantry in October of 1861.  Among them were  D.W. Bounds, Charles Cuevas, Enoch E. McFadden (Captain of the “Gainesville Volunteers”), G.T. Mitchell, Robert Page, and James L. Seal.  All would later serve in the 1st New Orleans.  Even in the heart of the Piney Woods, seven future Union recruits enlisted in the 8th MS Infantry regiment on May 4, 1861: Wiley Courtney, Hansford and James Dossett, William Holyfield, Eli Rushing, Martin V.B. Shows, and William Tippet.  To explain the change of heart in these men, we must examine their wartime experiences.

“RICH MAN’S WAR, POOR MAN’S FIGHT” – In October of 1862, six months after instituting conscription, the Confederate Congress passed the “20 Negro Law.”  The legislation granted planters one military service exemption for every 20 slaves owned.   In those sections of the South where slaves comprised a large percent of the population, whites were perpetually apprehensive over possible uprisings.  Lawmakers felt it prudent to retain a certain number of men on plantations to manage their bondsmen.  However, many non-slave owning soldiers took an understandably dim view of the law.  Those given to pondering such matters questioned whether the war had become one of poor men fighting to protect the slave property of rich men.  Some of these men began leaving the ranks in the winter of 1862. 

WAR FATIGUE AND FAMILY NEEDS – By the early spring of 1863 a scattering of yeoman farmers, now realizing the war would be a lengthy one, left their units to return home and plant crops—without which their families’ lives would be precarious.  The first report of a Piney Woods deserter problem came from 2nd Lieutenant H. C. Mathis of the 8th MS Infantry, who wrote Governor John J. Pettus on June 1, 1863 notifying him of “between seventy-five and one-hundred deserters” in Jones County.  Mathis, who had settled in the area prior to the war, said he received word of the situation from “responsible men” in his community. 

At the same time, other men from the region were huddled within the defensive perimeter around Vicksburg.  Confederate forces included the 7th Battalion MS Infantry and the 36th, 37th, 38th, 40th, and 46th MS Infantry regiments, all of which contained companies organized in the Piney Woods.  After enduring 47 days of constant bombardment and dwindling supplies, Confederate General John C. Pemberton finally surrendered on July 4, 1863.  Union commander Ulysses S. Grant, not wishing to assume responsibility for 30,000 prisoners, decided to offer paroles.  The parole documents pledged each man not to take up arms against the United States until properly exchanged for a Union prisoner (Note 4). 

The Piney Woods men saw a Union Army firmly in control of central Mississippi while contemplating the privations endured by their families.  These realizations caused a number of them to conclude that their obligation to the Confederacy had been fulfilled.   They began walking home.  Among them were later Union enlistees Richard D. Bound, John C. Culpepper, Asa Easterling, James Grantham, William McBride, Daniel Sumrall, and Hanson Walters.  Following the surrender, General Pemberton issued furloughs requiring the parolees to report to exchange camp by August 23.  The date appears in several records as the point from which these soldiers were considered absent without leave.

IN-KIND TAXATION – When war-weary soldiers returned home, they found another reason for distress.  In April of 1863 the Confederacy enacted in-kind taxation.  Regional quartermasters and their agents were authorized to seize 10% of agricultural produce and 10% livestock raised for slaughter.  They could confiscate more if they deemed the individual noncompliant.  The state troops enforcing these laws were frequently led by men of the planter class, who viewed the hard scrabble yeomen with disdain.  A Confederate officer who took part in Col. Robert Lowry’s campaign noted that such attitudes “have done more to demoralize Jones County than the whole Yankee army.” Since Federal troops made very few incursions into the Piney Woods, the poorer inhabitants began to view Confederate tax agents and state troops as greater enemies. 

HANGINGS AND DOGS – Desertions were a vexation for Confederate commanders, as they continue to be for Lost Cause devotees seeking unblemished Confederate pedigrees among their ancestors.  Because Southern military records grew more sporadic as the war continued, it is difficult to determine how many Piney Woods men left their units and how many remained in the ranks until the war’s end (Note 5).  By spring of 1864, however, reports describing the number of deserters and their influence goaded officials into ordering troops into the Piney Woods.  Back-to-back campaigns were mounted, the first led by Col. Henry Maury in March and the second by Col. Robert Lowry in April.  Their primary objectives were to restore Confederate authority and to force deserters back into service.

In a society grounded in a sense of personal honor, abandoning a military unit in which one’s relatives and neighbors also served must have been a wrenching decision.  Returning home to find one’s family in destitute conditions increased the strain.  Only a few years earlier these men had existed in a realm largely free of external authority.  Now they found themselves conscripted, taxed, and pursued by those who claimed to be protecting their rights.

Col. Robert Lowry felt stern measures were necessary.  His troops hanged seven men on April 15-16.  He took fathers hostage to coerce their sons into surrendering.  And he deployed dogs to track down the deserters.  Accounts handed down by member of the Newt Knight Band make frequent mention of these dogs—and for good reason.  Our modern sensibilities have been dulled by years of watching movie depictions of wily prison escapees eluding bloodhounds.  We fail to appreciate the way in which these men perceived the use of dogs.  Planters employed tracking dogs to hunt down fugitive slaves; now the same animals had been unleashed on those who took pride in being free white men.  The sounds of the pack hounds must have produced a bitter realization in the minds of the Piney Woods deserters:  Confederate authorities deemed them no better than runaway slaves. 

"Fugitive slave attacked by dogs" (Image reference NW0200; http://hitchcock.itc.virginia.edu/Slavery/index.php, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.)

 

The above factors help us to understand the stresses that caused some men to make profound breaks with their past.  The timing of the influx of Mississippians into the New Orleans Union regiments clearly reflects the anger and humiliation evoked by the Maury and Lowry campaigns.  In the end, circumstances forced two hundred Piney Woods men—including some of the earliest volunteers in the Southern cause—to conclude that the costs of Confederate loyalty had finally become too onerous to bear.

__________________________________

Note 1:  As described in Part 1, the 2nd New Orleans Infantry was disbanded in August of 1864.  All but three of the 2nd New Orleans Piney Wood enlistees subsequently appear on the 1st New Orleans rolls.  Therefore, this and future posts will focus exclusively on the 1st New Orleans recruits. 

Note 2:  The vote was 84 in favor of secession and 15 opposed.  Mississippi counties casting votes against secession were:  Adams, Amite, Attala, Franklin, Itawamba (split vote), Perry, Rankin, Tishomingo, Washington, and Warren (split vote).  Jones County elected a representative, by a 166 to 89 margin, pledged to oppose secession.  However, after realizing the declaration of secession would pass handily, he cast his vote in favor.  

Note 3:  More problematic matches with Confederate military records were found for 29 other 1st New Orleans recruits.  In eight cases the commonality of the names produced too many possibilities.  No CSA service matches were identified for the remaining 65 New Orleans recruits.  Of these, 36 (55.4%) were under age 21—suggesting that as the war continued, some Piney Woods youths reaching conscription age failed to report and had local support in doing so.

Note 4:  Five days after the surrender of Vicksburg, the fortress at Port Hudson, Louisiana capitulated on July 9, 1864 following a 48 day siege.  Among the surrendering forces was the 39th MS Infantry, composed mostly of companies mustered in the Piney Woods.  As was the case in Vicksburg, the men were released on parole.

Note 5:  Those who enlisted in the 1st New Orleans were a minority, even among the population of Piney Woods deserters.  If we assume that 90% of men ages 15-39 on the 1860 census ended up serving in Confederate military units, Union enlistees would comprise 2.7% of the number from Jones and its bordering counties (98 of 3,668).  Using the same calculation applied to just Jones, Marion, and Perry counties, the percent of Union enlistees is 7.1% (90 of 1,261).

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Report:

I just returned from a wonderful visit to Leiden University in the Netherlands, where I spoke generally about Civil War Southern Unionists and specifically about The Free State of Jones as part of that university’s yearly American Studies Lecture Series. In commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, this year’s theme was “The American Civil War After 150 Years: An Unfinished War?”

I was impressed by the deep interest in the American Civil War displayed by Leiden students and faculty. I’m happy to report there were no arguments between True Believers in either the noble “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy, or the total benevolence of Northern motives and goals in thwarting the South’s secession from the Union. Rather, discussions centered on understanding that many Southerners–white as well as black–opposed secession and the creation of the Confederacy, and that many more turned against the Confederacy as the war dragged on. How common across the South was guerrilla warfare such as that of Jones County, Mississippi?, they wanted to know. Who was Newt Knight? This question led to a discussion about the deep need displayed by Civil War partisans to turn Newt into either a murderous traitor to “The South,” or, conversely, into an abolitionist whose racial views anticipated the modern Civil Rights Movement.

We probably will never know the full story of Newt Knight’s political or racial views, but we do know that no Solid South existed either before, during, or after the Civil War. And, yes, we know that slavery played a crucial role in convincing key Southern leaders to push for secession, even though most Northerners, including Abraham Lincoln, were not abolitionists bent on fighting a war for the liberty of African Americans.

They didn’t have to be abolitionists. It was enough that the newly-elected Republican president was dedicated to limiting slavery’s expansion into the nation’s western territories. Slaveholders’ equal dedication to the expansion of slavery as essential to the institution’s survival eventually led to the Civil War–a war that ironically resulted in what slaveholders most feared–the abolition of slavery. 

Not only did a good many white Southerners oppose secession, but the disastrous course of that war eventually demoralized a good many more who originally believed they were fighting for liberty and honor, but increasingly saw a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”

There was special interest among the Leiden audience in the mixed-race community that grew out of Newt Knight’s wartime collaboration with Rachel Knight, the former slave of his grandfather, Jackie Knight. Many of the questions centered on issues of racial identity and the historical importance–and limits–of the “one drop rule” in determining such identities. Members of the audience were fascinated by the variety of racial identities assumed by, as well as imposed upon, descendants of Newt Knight, his white wife Serena, and the two mixed-race women–Rachel Knight and her daughter George Ann–by whom he had children.  Historically, they understood, race is a social, political, and legal construction rather than a biologically rational system. 

Announcement:

I recently discussed the above themes (and more) in regard to my latest book, The Long Shadow of the Civil Warin an interview with the Peabody Award-winning show, “To the Best of Our Knowledge,” produced by Wisconsin Public Radio and distributed by Public Radio International (PRI). The interview, part of NPR’s “Remembering the Civil War” series, was arranged by Erin Clune and conducted by Anne Strainchamps. It will air on various NPR affiliates throughout the nation tomorrow, on Sunday, May 8, and will also be podcast:

http://www.wpr.org/book/110508b.cfm

FYI, here’s a list of NPR affiliates that broadcast “To the Best of Our Knowledge”:

http://tunein.com/radio/options/To-the-Best-of-our-Knowledge-p498/

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

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The following essay is crossposted on the special Civil War Sesquicentennial website hosted by the University of North Carolina Press.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

 

Reflections on the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War

Victoria Bynum

As a historian of the Southern Civil War home front, I am continually confronted by the destruction of communities, as well as the deaths on and off the battlefield, that the Civil War visited upon the United States.  As we commemorate such an important event on its 150th anniversary, it is important to remind ourselves that our system of government is capable of stunning failures of leadership as well as inspiring moments of greatness.

A popular sound bite among our politicians today—one repeated ad nauseam—is that Congress should no longer “kick the can down the road” in regard to this problem or that problem. Well, slavery was the “can” that our antebellum politicians kicked down the road. Slavery did not emerge suddenly as a problem during the sectional crisis of the 1850s, it was a problem–a contradiction of our Revolutionary principles–from the nation’s inception. Over time it became ever more thoroughly embedded in our national economy, so fundamental to the wealth of slaveholders and cotton merchants that they employed the most virulent racism to justify its continuance.

Yet despite the thousands of books written about the Civil War, one wonders if the lessons of this war will ever truly be understood or agreed upon. In today’s political discourse, we hear debate over whether or not the flying of the Confederate flag is inherently racist, or whether individual states might nullify an act of Congress. In fact, we even hear talk of secession movements in the name of protecting state sovereignty against the so-called tyranny of a federal government that just happens to be headed by the first African American president. 

This return to Confederate principles is pushed by the new “tea party” wing of the Republican Party—the same party that symbolized Big Government in the 1850s; the same party that urged the federal government to use its power to limit slavery’s expansion into the western territories of the United States. While neither that Republican Party, nor its presidential nominee, Abraham Lincoln, advocated slavery’s abolition in 1860, the party’s belief in the superior power of the federal government, coupled with an aggressive abolitionist movement that urged party leaders to end slavery once and for all, finally convinced southern proslavery Democrats to secede.

Over 150 years ago, Northern warnings of a “slave power conspiracy” were met by Southern warnings about the North’s determination to dominate and transform cherished southern institutions. Southern concerns about the effects that a wage-based, industrial society would have on a rural society of independent farmers effectively masked slavery as the preeminent cause of war. And so, southern white soldiers, the majority of whom owned no slaves, fought for principles of liberty, honor, and a way of life that seemed threatened by a too-powerful federal government.

Still, southerners were never unified in their support for the Confederate cause. In regions throughout the South, Unionists, dissenters, and deserters—not just men, but neighborhoods of men, women, children, and slaves, engaged in inner civil wars against the Confederacy. Newt Knight, the leader of a band of deserters in piney woods Mississippi, is the most famous of these renegades. For well over a century, people have debated whether he was a traitor and an outlaw, or a Unionist and patriot.

I believe such debates miss a larger point: that Newt Knight was only one of a sizable minority of nonslaveholders throughout the South who concluded it was the Confederacy that threatened their way of life—in fact, their very lives. With crucial support from their families, many of these men organized and armed themselves to fight against the Confederacy.  Others joined the Union Army.

Unless we believe that the Confederate cause—and make no mistake, its ultimate cause was the preservation and expansion of slavery—was a just one that served the interests of the Southern people, most of whom either owned no slaves or were slaves, how can we help but be inspired by those who refused any longer to serve?

In commemorating the American Civil War, I hope that we will reflect on what lessons the Civil War teaches us about political motives, people’s economic interests, and the meaning of dissent—and that we apply those lessons to the similarly toxic and dangerous political environment that threatens us today.

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Newt Knight by VB

Visitors to Renegade South often express interest in where Newt Knight and his band of deserters hid out during the Civil War; there’s even an essay devoted to the question on this blog. Recently, Jones County historian Ed Payne pointed out to me that a pretty good description of the location was provided by local citizen Ruby Huff during the 1930s. Huff was an unabashed admirer of the Knight Company, and I quoted liberally from her essay in my book, FREE STATE OF JONES, to demonstrate how vividly the story remained seared in the minds of  local people.

Ruby Huff’s essay was part of the Works Projects Administration’s (WPA) historical research on Covington County, Mississippi. My thanks to Ed Payne for suggesting that I reprint it on Renegade South. The section that describes the location of “Deserters’ Den” appears below in italics.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

 

“A Skirmish – Cavalry versus Deserters – Where in Newt Knights men raid Lowrey’s Raiders”

By Mrs. Ruby Huff

After the 20 Negro Act was passed, by the Confederacy, the men, to whom fighting (in so one side a struggle as the Civil War was) was abominable and seemingly very un-called for, became rebellious; therefore, after the damnable siege and slaughter at Vicksburg many officers, privates and younger recruits left the lines of battle to join a rank of men, who dare to rebel; these rebels were termed deserters, at many points in the south these men had haunts suitable for protection; because of this act of their desertion at so critical a period in the struggle enraged higher officers to the extent that orders were given to the cavalry to bring the men back or shoot them dead in their tracks.

Many skirmishes and drives were staged in Jones and Covington Counties because the notorious deserter leader, Newt Knight and his cohorts lived near the boundaries of these counties and the most outstanding hide out or secret haunt intersects the boundary between the two counties; this historical land mark (unorthodox) is known as Deserters’ Den Lake and is situated about .5 mile east of Leaf River (Reddoch’s Ferry) Bridge south of Highway 84; to the general public this unique natural feature is unknown, but in its course of time many a weird tale, many a heart rending sob and much beautiful bravery has centered around this particular protector.  The lake is situated so the entrance faced the old Reddoch’s Ferry, another mark of history now so contritely in the background.

While in the reminiscent trend let me retell of a skirmish or drive that marked quite a turning point in General Lowrey’s * dare-devil squad of Cavalry men.

In May of ’65, the Cavalry under the leadership of General Lowery * decided to break camp at Jimmy Knight’s old mill which was located on the Etahoma part of Big Creek above Gitano, to gain trail back toward Raleigh, the County seat of Smith where a Confederate Divisional Headquarter and a hospital (now Harrison Hotel) were located; in order to get to Raleigh from their location in Jones, they had to sallie forth to Reddoch’s Ferry, be ferried across Leaf River, then cross Cohay at the old Jackson Trail Ford near Hot Coffee (bridge now in construction at the point on U.S. Highway #35).

The Cavalry had done much harm while encamped at the old mill in the way of robbing helpless widows of their last bit of “grub”, chasing down and slaying innocent men who knew nothing of the Deserters, too, of unmercifully hanging and slaying the Deserters without so much as giving them a chance to return to service or make explanation.  This had enraged the Deserter Crew, so much that when the signal was given that Lowery’s bunch was crossing the ferry about fifty Deserters, who knew the lay of the land quite well, slipped hurriedly through the old Jackie Knight’s home field, swam to Cohay and rushed into secreted hiding places in and around the old Ford and when the tramp, tramp of the weary men in uniform about a thousand strong, neared the banks and ventured into the water one brave Deserter hollered “Newt here they air”, at which signal the Deserters shook the bushes and dispersed tumultuously into a panic and simultaneously Newt fired a few wild shots, the “rookus” was, so unexpected and so riotous the 1000 strong Cavalry did pretty much like ole’ sis’ cow in Uncle Remus’ tales “dey hist deir tales and away dey flewd.”

Sometimes this spirit of the South, gets so unsouthy as to want to clap my hands and say three cheers for the most daring troop that ever tramped the Southern soil—the Deserters

“The Deserters”

The Deserters, were men, honest good and true, men, who liked to live and let live as well as I or you.  Men, who were hounded in chase, like creatures of the lower animal race.  No home, no church, no school could withhold, The Cavalry from those ill-treated pioneers out in the cold.  So refuge these much abused citizens did take, in the protecting arms of Mother Nature’s (Deserters’ Den) Lake.

*Huff was referring to Col. Robert Lowry

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Recently, I received an email message from Richard A. Jermyn, Jr., whose great-great grandfather and great grandfather both participated in Confederate Col. Robert Lowry’s raid on the Unionist/deserter stronghold of Jones County, Mississippi, during the Civil War.

The Jermyn family was from Handsboro and Mississippi City of Coastal Mississippi, where James Jermyn was actively engaged in trade between Mississippi City and New Orleans. “Mobile, the Mississippi Coast, and New Orleans,” writes descendant Richard Jermyn, “were intimately tied together via coastal shipping, . . . . Handsboro and Mississippi City were centers of commerce in the region up to the Civil War.” Great-great grandfather James, “born in Yarmouth, England, was a cabin boy on a British ship, jumped ship in New Orleans at the age of nine years old, fought in the Mexican war, eventually settled in Handsboro/Mississippi City as a schooner/packet boat captain, and was enlisted [in the Confederate Army] for the duration of the Civil War.” (1)

 In spring 1861, James Jermyn enlisted in Co. E of the 20th Mississippi Infantry (“Adams Rifles” of Harrison County), which was later joined with the 6th Mississippi Regiment to quell unrest in the Jones County region of the state. Later, his son, Robert Alfred Jermyn, enlisted in the same company. I find it particularly interesting that the father and son participated in the Lowry raid as regular soldiers, and thus might have offered a different perspective on events than the two officers, Col. Lowry of the 6th Miss. Reg’t., and Col. William N. Brown of the 20th Miss. Inf., who also provided eye-witness accounts.  

Alas, despite the fact that James Jermyn’s narrative diary survived the war, and despite a note that he wrote to his wife Samantha from Knight’s Mill on May 5, 1864 (just following the Lowry raid), James provided few details about the raid itself.  What he does provide, however, is possibly the only written day-by-day description of the men’s movements during the course of that raid. For those details alone, the diary of James Jermyn is invaluable. (2)  Portions of that diary are reproduced below, with original spelling and punctuation left intact.

 On April 14, James Jermyn wrote:

Left camp near Raleigh [Smith Co., MS] at 11 a.m. marched 12 miles and rested about 2 hours and then Scouted all night.

On April 15, he reported that his unit had

Stopped at Mr. Rob’t Hawthorn’s at sunrise and slept in the Ginroom till 12M when we marched to the Leaf River and crossed at Mr. Blackwell’s and marched to Knight’s Mills & Bivouaked Dist 8 miles.

At that point, the two units were amid deserters. All three of the above surnames—Hawthorn (Hathorn), Blackwell, and Knight—may be found among men listed on Newt Knight’s roster.

On the 17th, James wrote in somewhat unclear language that Co. E had

Left camp near Knight’s Mills and deployed as Skirmishers & drove Black Creek to the mouth crossed Tallahoma creek and marched about 3 mile and Bivouaked at night.

On April 18, he wrote, the men

Left at sunrise deployed skirmishers and drove the rest of Tallahoma & Tallahala Creeks and then marched to Ellisville and rested until 4AM.

On April 19,

Left Ellisville at Daylight marched 3 miles and then deployed skirmishers. Skirmished about 10 miles up Tallahala and then marched 8 miles to Mile’s Mills & Bivoaked.

On April 20,

Left Mile’s Mills at Sunrise and marched 7 miles and Bivoaked at Copeland’s Mills at 11 A.M. and marched 16 miles crossed Bogohoma and Bivoaked near Mr. Williamson’s place.

On April 25,

Left our Bivoak at Sunrise and marched about 5 miles S.E. and rested till 4 P.M. when we marched back to Tallahala and guarded the Fords and foot logs & Bridges and drove the swamps with dogs marched in all about 21 miles sweeping Bogohoma 3 or 4 times.

On April 26,

Left our posts on Tallahala and marched about 2 miles and Bivoaked about 1 mile from the Widow P(?)ouilk’s Place.

On April 27,

Left our Bivoak at 10 A.M. marched a 10 miles and Bivoaked near Wm Hodges farm in the N.W. corner of Wayne County.

On April 28,

Left our Bivoak at 10 A.M. marched a____mile and deployed as Skirmishers and Skirmished 8 miles in the Forks to Thompson’s Creeks then marched 4 miles and Bivoaked at dark on Little Thompson Creek near the Bridges.

On April 29,

Left Bivoak at 12 a.m. marched 1 mile and deployed as Skirmishers and Skirmished 8 miles and then marched 4 miles down the Creek and Bivoaked in Perry County.

On April 30,

Started at Sunrise and marched____miles and Bivoaked near Mr. Finche’s in Wayne County.

On May 1,    

Left our Bivoak at 8 a.m. marched 3 miles South deployed as Skirmishers, Skirmished ___ miles then marched 4 miles & Bivoaked at Henderson’s Farm in Green County.

Finally, the skirmishes ended. On May 2, Jermyn reported, we

left our Bivoak at 7 a.m. and marched 25 miles and Bivoaked at night at Mr. Wm. McGillberries on Bogohoma Jones County.

On May 4,

Left our Bivoak at Mr. McGillberries at 6 ½ a.m. and marched to Tallahala Creek by 12 Rested 2 hours At 2 P.M. Marched to Ellisville and out on Raleigh road 6 miles & Bivoaked. Dist 31 miles.

On May 5,

Started at Daylight and marched to Knights Mills by 10 a.m. Dist 10 miles.

It was on this date that James Jermyn wrote the following words to his wife, Samantha, in which he surely referred to the Jones County raid when he alluded to “very arduous duty,” but now believed that “prospects look brighter than they have for a long time”:

Dear Wife, I added these few lines to you informing you that I am enjoying a reasonable position of good health, and hope this will meet you enjoying the same blessing. Since I last wrote to you we have been performing very arduous duty from which we have just arrived at camp. I have not received a letter from you since the 4th or 5th of March last. I have no news to write you of interest though our prospects look brighter than they have for a long time and hope this year will bring about peace. Alfred is well I expect he will write to you. All the rest of the boys are in good health. Give my love to all. Write to me the first opportunity you have and believe me your ever Affectionate Husband, James Jermyn. (3)

On May 7,

left Knights Mills at 7 a.m. and marched 26 miles to Bivouac 1 mile north of Tallahala.

On May 8,

Started at Daylight passed through Paulding at 7 A.M. and Bivoucked at 5 ½ miles from Enterprise at 5 P.M. Dist 20 miles.

On May 9, James Jermyn reported that Co E,  20th Miss. Inf., had left Mississippi for Alabama:

Started at Daylight and marched to Enterprise at 12 M left on the Rail Road from Maridian—here shifted cars and left Maridian [Meridian] at 4 P.M. on the Ala & Miss Rail road and arrived at Bigbee River at 10 P.M. went up the river about 4 miles on the Steamer Marengo, and landed at the Parole Camps near Demopolis Alabama and Bivoucked.

Although James Jermyn reported his health as “good,” and their son Alfred as “well,” to his wife on May 5, 1864, the war took a great toll on both. According to Richard, his great grandfather (Alfred) “lost all of his toes to frostbite—because of no shoes—and was said could not wear shoes again.” James Jermyn died during the year following the war.

Richard Jermyn offers this speculation about his ancestors’ war experiences:

My personal/general feeling is that the people of Coastal Mississippi who fought in that war, were thoroughly whipped, felt that the war’s intense suffering and misery—marching, hunger, cold, capture, exchange, fighting, disease, sickness, death, exhaustion, etc.—for what seemed like forever, was all for naught, and they were not particularly proud of some of the things that they did or witnessed and they didn’t really want to talk about it. They were proud that they served—that they didn’t suffer the embarrassment of having shirked their duty. Although the Mississippi Coast had small amounts of slavery, most of the men who fought were simply fighting because it was expected for the men to do their duty. It was said that the women would have nothing to do with deserters or men who avoided their service duty.

Of course, many of the Piney Woods men who refused to serve the Confederacy believed themselves to be the South’s true patriots—and their women supported them, too. When one moves beyond issues of loyalty and motive, however, one sees Southern as well as American men caught in a brutal civil war that pitted them against one another, and which brought lasting destruction and poverty to the South. 

The words of author Lionel F. Baxter, whose grandfather, Marion Francis Baxter (also from Handsboro, MS), likewise served in Co. E of the 20th Miss. Inf. during Col. Robert Lowry’s raid on Jones County, capture well the grisly nature of guerrilla warfare. In his 1977 biography of his grandfather, based on extensive research in the National Archives, Baxter wrote that Jones County deserters were “as ruthless a pack of bushwhackers as any found in the border states.” Still, he pointed out, Capt. Wm. B. Thompson of Co. H, 6th Miss. Reg’t., was “appalled by the sight” of the hanging of four young men who were court-martialed by Col. Lowry after they “shot into our troops” (p. 87). (4)

Whether privates or officers, probably few Confederate soldiers would have objected to executing deserters who shot at them from the swamps. Capt. Thompson’s misgivings, however, reflected the raw, personal nature of home front battles. According to Lionel Baxter, his grandfather Marion had “similar reservations” as did Thompson about the inner civil war in Piney Woods Mississippi that spring of 1864. As he looked back on his unit’s hanging of a group of deserters that included a boy of 16 (Baxter’s own age), he concluded that “it was a mistake to have hanged that boy as undoubtedly he was led into that kind of life by the older men” (p. 87). As Lionel Baxter noted, this was the “seamy, unromantic side of warfare” (p. 88).

My deep thanks to Richard Jermyn for sharing precious family documents with Renegade South!

Vikki Bynum

1. Email, Richard A. Jermyn, 23 Dec. 2010, to Victoria Bynum.

2. “The Sojourns of James Jermyn During the War Against the Southern Confederacy, 1861 to 1864,” Transcribed copy of diary by David T. Hale, Biloxi, Mississippi, April 1995. Copy provided to Victoria Bynum, moderator of Renegade South, by Richard A. Jermyn, Jr.

3.  Excerpt from letter by James Jermyn, 5 May 1864. In a letter to one of his daughters, James added this note to his wife, Samantha (Email from Richard A. Jermyn, Jr., 3 Jan. 2011, to Victoria Bynum).

4. The War Service of Marion Francis Baxter, C.S.A, by Lionel Francis Baxter & John Medders, published by John W. Baxter.

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I’m pleased to announce that Renegade South was recently listed as one of the top Civil War blogs by Onlinecourses.net! To visit the Online Courses site, simply click the certificate below.

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