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By Victoria E. Bynum, author of The Free State of Jones (University of North Carolina Press, 2001)

This is the first installment of a three-part review. For part two, click here; for part three, click here.

The State of Jones, by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer (Doubleday, 2009), aims to please, delivering a stirring narrative, lively and passionate prose, and richly-detailed Civil War battle scenes. For many readers, particularly those drawn to Civil War battlefields, this book will make the past come alive. Others, particularly students of the “Free State of Jones,” will find problematical the authors’ stretching of the evidence to support highly exaggerated claims that Newt Knight “fought for racial equality during the war and after,” and “forged bonds of alliance with blacks that were unmatched even by Northern abolitionists” (pp. 3-4).

The history that Jenkins and Stauffer re-tell is well-known to Mississippians and familiar to many southerners and Civil War historians. It is certainly well-known to regular readers of this blog, for whom Newt Knight needs no introduction. As we all know, from October 1863 until war’s end, Newt was the leader—the captain—of the Knight Company, a band of deserters and draft evaders who led an armed insurrection against the Confederacy.

In this version of an old story, readers are treated to vivid depictions of Corinth, Vicksburg, and Kennesaw Mountain, all battles in which the 7th battalion Mississippi Infantry (in which the majority of Knight Company members served) fought. The final two chapters of the book recount the tragic history of Mississippi Reconstruction, an era riddled with violence and marked by the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist campaigns that brought an unrepentant slaveholding class back to power. The authors give special attention to carpetbag governor Adelbert Ames, from whom Newt Knight received several important political appointments, and redeemer governor Robert Lowry, the same Col. Lowry whom Newt battled during the war in the Leaf River swamps.

Stauffer and Jenkins also re-tell one of the most fascinating, if long-known, elements of Newt Knight’s history: his long and intimate relationship with Rachel, the former slave of his grandfather. After the war, Newt lived openly with Rachel and their numerous children, bestowing property and affection on white and multiracial kinfolk alike.

As I began writing this review of State of Jones, I quickly realized it would have to be written in installments, as I could never critique the book in one post. This then is the first installment of what will be an ongoing series of reviews and discussions of the book’s various themes, topics, and arguments. I hope the reviews will become interactive, with readers joining in to discuss what they like or don’t like about the book.

The obvious place to begin is by assessing the startling assertions by Jenkins and Stauffer  that Newt Knight rivaled northern abolitionists in his views about slavery and that he forged “alliances” with slaves during the war. Due to a maddening endnote style, however, it is often difficult, sometimes impossible, to determine the source for a particular conclusion. Add to this the authors’ use of “parallel stories” to take fanciful journeys into what “might” have happened, or what Newt “likely” would have thought or done, and you have a narrative that allows readers to easily glide past what is documented history and what is pure conjecture (reminiscent of Ethel Knight’s Echo of the Black Horn, minus the racism).

Take, for example, the authors’ argument that Newt was likely raised a Primitive Baptist whose religious devotion led him to condemn slavery. Such conjecture is based on a single statement by Newt’s son, Tom Knight, who published a biography of his father in 1946. But Tom never stated that his father was raised a Primitive Baptist, only that he joined the Zora Primitive Baptist Church around 1885-86 (p. 14). Newt Knight may well have hated slavery, but the only definitive statement to that effect appears in Anna Knight’s 1952 autobiography, Mississippi Girl.

A problem that runs throughout this book is the authors’ uncritical use of Tom Knight’s biography whenever it suits their purposes. If there’s one thing that past historians of the Free State of Jones have agreed upon (including myself, Rudy Leverett, and Kenneth Welch), it’s that Tom’s words must be used with great care. Quite simply, The Life and Activities of Captain Newton Knight is shot through with errors. Tom’s determination to present his father as a devout Christian (like Tom himself), a loving father, and a sincere defender of the United States government led him to take great liberties with his father’s life story.

Yet Tom’s biography of Newt is the only source cited for many of the authors’ narratives about the activities of Newt Knight, particularly for the era of Reconstruction, for which archival records (with the exception of Newt’s multiple petitions for compensation as a wartime defender of the Union) provide only tantalizing glimpses of Newt’s political  activities after the war.

Heavy reliance on Tom’s uncorroborated stories creates a problem for the authors that they are loath to admit.That is, if you’re going to use one Tom Knight story, why not another? Tom Knight certainly never presented his father as any sort of abolitionist, religious or otherwise. He also shared the common racist views of his generation and was deeply ashamed of Newt’s interracial relationships. As I have argued elsewhere, Tom’s shame may have motivated his claim that his father killed a slave while still a boy, or, even more shockingly, that Newt was responsible during Reconstruction for the disappearance (suggestive of a lynching) of a “young negro man” who was “slipping around the white women’s houses after dark,” (p. 37). For obvious reasons, the authors ignore this story. Their careless use of this deeply-flawed source is a luxury they cannot afford in a book that claims to be “Civil War history at its finest.”

To support their assertion that Newt formed “alliances” with slaves during the war, Stauffer and Jenkins leap far beyond his collaborative relationship with Rachel Knight. The authors provide an imaginative tale of Newt’s likely alliance with slaves while on the run from Corinth without a shred of concrete evidence to back them up. Appearing in the space of five paragraphs, the phrases “a fugitive slave who might well have stopped Newton as he groped his way,” (p. 146); or, “Newton would have come across men like Octave Johnson,” (p. 146); or, “Johnson could have shown Newton how to lure the dogs,” (p. 147); and “Newton would have learned how to hunt in the swamps,” (p. 147) are purely conjectural, drawn from published memoirs such as Rev. John Hill Aughey’s 1888 Tupelo (Aughey was a documented southern abolitionist), and Solomon Northrup’s Twelve Years a Slave, neither of which have any direct connection with Newt Knight. One can only hope that readers will turn occasionally to the vaguely-written endnotes at the back of the book to see that no primary sources are used to support what amounts to a subtle attempt to impose a northern abolitionist persona on Newt Knight.

Coming up in future reviews of State of Jones: Was Newt Knight at Vicksburg? What was the nature of Newt’s relationships with Serena and Rachel? And more–stay tuned!

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As promised, I am posting two articles from Confederate newspapers that reported on Col. Robert Lowry’s raids on Smith and Jones County, Mississippi. Note (as in both the letters previously posted) the prominence of Unionist Ben Hawkins and his wife of Smith County. Clearly, Newt Knight was not the only leader of deserters in the area, and it appears that temporary or informal gatherings of disaffected men supplemented the Knight Company in this region of the Mississippi Piney Woods. 

Vikki Bynum 

Transcribed and submitted by Ed Payne:

1. A newspaper article concerning the Lowry campaign contained in the scrapbook of J.L. Power.  Publication source of the article is unknown

The Deserters in Smith County

 

            We learn from a gentleman just from Smith county that Col. Robert Lowry, commanding the 6th and 20th Mississippi Regiments, made a sudden and unexpected appearance with these regiments in Smith county on Sunday the [__] day of March, and up to Friday had captured about one hundred and thirty deserters, and had some fifteen citizens who had been harboring deserters immured in the Raleigh jail, amongst whom were old Bob Harrison, A.J. Hall, Sam. Thompson, Jeff. Ainsworth, [____] Duke, [____] Searcy, and last but not least, old Ben Hawkins, the man that went to Illinois in 1861 and represented himself as being commissioned by the starving Mississippians to buy corn for them; was lionized by the Abolitionist; introduced into the Illinois Legislature; also to Old Abe Lincoln of whom he begged his ambrotype; brought it home with him and exhibited it as the picture of “Our President,” and “a great and good man.”

            Col. Brown, of the 20th Mississippi Regiment, who arrested old Hawkins, captured from the person of old Mrs. Hawkins a coarsely made United States flag.  It seems that Hawkins had the flag hoisted at his house, but on the approach of Col. Brown’s men the old Dame Hawkins tore it down and concealed it on her person.  He should have been hung on the spot, but was not, though we hope Col. Lowry will not suffer this blind and fanatical traitor to do any more mischief.

            Major Massey, of the 20th Mississippi, had hung two men, J.C. Rains, a citizen, and Bill McNeill, a deserter from the 37th Mississippi.  They were both bad men, and met a just but too long deferred fate.

            That’s the way to put a stop to this deserting and banding together from the purpose of thieving and pillaging the good citizens of the country.  Would to God we had more Major Masseys sent out after these fellows; of if Col. Lowry will give him a little more rope, this gallant and sensible officer will rid the country of these thieving banditi, to do which will be of infinitely more service to the country than the [winning] of a Confederate victory.

            The deserters of that section have for a long time been weeding a wide row.  Whenever a man was found to be a loyal citizen, or one who would not endorse their many sets of villainy, he was immediately notified to pull up stakes and leave, or else be assassinated.  Now and then they catch a tartar, as they did in the person of W.H. Quarles, whom they had notified to leave, but he respectfully declined to comply with their request; whereupon they placed their pickets around his house, but instead of trying to escape, he took down his gun and went out to meet them, and shot one down and severely wounded another, and also receiving a wound in the neck himself.  Knowing that there were [some] ten others concealed some twenty yards from him, he dismounted and commenced to load his gun, telling them he would attend to them when he finished loading; but when he was ready, the foe had fled.  The next day they sent in a flag of truce to bury the one he had killed, but Mr. Quarles told them No!  It was his intention to skin him and tan his hide.  We hope he he (sic) may be successful in his tanning business.   

2. A second newspaper article concerning the Lowry campaign contained in the scrapbook of J.L. Power.  Rudy Leverett quoted from this article and described it as being published in the Jackson Mississippian.

Col. Lowry and the Deserters

            But a few weeks since, desertions from the army had become so numerous and the deserters so defiant in some of the eastern counties of this State, particularly in Jones and Smith, that the good citizens in those localities felt the most serious alarm for their personal safety and for their property, and dared not express their opinions publicly lest they might provoke the cruel vengence of these miscreants.  Loyal citizens were murdered in cold blood, and other good men were compelled to flee their homes.  The attention of Government was called to this state of affairs.  Col. Maury was sent from Mobile to Jones county with a force to capture the deserters.  He, it was said, killed a few, but after remaining only a short time returned to Mobile without having accomplished the object of his visit.

            Gen. Polk, deeply impressed with the importance of crushing out the last vestige of this insane and demoralizing element in the country, after giving the subject the most anxious deliberation, selected Col. Robert Lowry as the man to carry out his views. – He gave Col. Lowry, in addition to the 6th Regiment, the 20th Mississippi Regiment; and relying upon his sagacity, vigilance and prudence, couple with a calm bravery that no danger can daunt, gave him carte blanche to exercise his own judgement in his movements and in dealing with the deserters and their accessories.

            Col. Lowry suddenly appeared with his command in Smith county, and began the work in earnest.  He was warned by friends of the dangers that beset him, but unawed by the threats of the deserters, he pushed forward in the good work.  He soon had the jail filled with deserters and their accessories.  He held the father as hostage until the son was brought forward, which rarely failed. – Without going into detail, he sent from Smith five hundred deserters, and was the cause of at least one thousand men, from different counties returning to their commands; and from Jones he sent about one hundred and fifty excluse of those who went to their commands!  The old women sent him cloth, eggs, etc., and on seeing his course, men and women expressed the highest satisfaction at the justice and impartiality with which he executed his duties, and all accord him the highest praise for the tact, skill and success that have marked his march through those counties.

            During the expedition, nine men were hung, two shot dead, and one wounded; and his loss was one killed and two wounded.

            It is said Gen. Polk is delighted with the success of Col. Lowry, and feels, no doubt, additional gratification in the fact that his high opinion of Col. Lowry as an officer of rare merit and of extraoridinary sagacity and strong sense, has been fully realized; and, we may add, that the universal opinion is that no one could have succeeded as Col. Lowry had done.

            It is due to the counties of Smith and Jones to say that all the deserters within their boundaries did not belong to them, but a large number were from different counties and different States.  The loyal people of those counties now breathe free and easy, and we hope they may never again be subjected to a similar state of affairs.

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

Vikki Bynum

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

Ed Payne, Jackson, MS

Correspondence of the Evening News

LETTER FROM MISSISSIPPI

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

                                                            Respectfully,       

[last line with name missing]

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

Letter to Gov. Charles Clark

From a Confederate Officer in Jones County

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

                        May 5th of 64

Gov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One of the genuine surprises of my research on The Free State of Jones was the discovery that my own Bynum ancestors were deeply involved on both sides of Jones County’s inner civil war. I learned about the Free State in a history book, not from my father, who never mentioned Newt Knight or the Knight Company to me before his death in 1990. In that way, I’m like a lot of folks who had no idea their ancestors were in the middle of such an important Civil War story until later in their lives.

There were many Jones County families, like the Bynums, who supported opposing sides of the war. My great-grandfather, William A. Bynum, son of William, born 1795, son of “Old” William, born 1763, fought on the side of the Confederacy. Like many Jones County men, he deserted the Army for a time and was charged with being AWOL. However, rather than join the Knight band, he rejoined the Confederacy. During Reconstruction, he, his father, William Senior, and his brother, John H. Bynum, all signed petitions opposing Newt Knight and his followers.

But it was a very different story for Tapley Bynum, who was a half-brother to my GGGrandfather, William Senior. Tapley deserted the Confederate Army, joined the Knight band, and was shot to death by Confederate soldiers, allegedly while at home visiting his newborn daughter.

Why were such different courses taken by members of the same family? A careful study of family alliances offers at least a partial answer. It appears that certain branches of the same family were pulled in different directions according to the families they married into. And here is where the Collins family once again emerges as one of the most important Unionist families in the region. It appears that if a branch of a family married into the Collins line, they were especially likely to be Unionists before, during, and after the war.

Newt Knight himself was influenced by the Collinses. At the end of his long life, he credited Jasper Collins with convincing him that the Twenty Negro Law made the Civil War a “rich man’s war and poor man’s fight.” Jasper then deserted and Newt did, too. It’s not so much that folks became Unionists after meeting or marrying a Collins; rather, it seems that such connections solidified their own Unionist tendencies. Jones County voters, after all, elected an anti-secession delegate to the 1861 Mississippi State Convention.

The importance of family alliances is demonstrated by two sons of Old William, Mark and Benjamin, both of whom were Unionists. During the war, “old man Mark Bynum” (born 1801) delivered a wagonload of provisions and arms to the Knight band. And well he might: his daughter, Lydia, was married to band member Simeon Collins. Benjamin Bynum was married to Simeon’s sister, Margaret. Their son, Prentice M. Bynum, joined the Knight Company during the war. Oh, and Mark and Benjamin also had a sister, Nancy Bynum, who married the oldest Collins brother, Vinson, another staunch Unionist. These branches of the Bynums married into Unionist branches of the Mauldin, Welch, and Holifield families as well. Opposition to secession and, later, the Confederacy, was most certainly a family affair.

In contrast to the above Bynums, however, who were prosperous but nonslaveholding farmers, there was a slaveholding branch of the family. Old William, the original migrant to Mississippi, had owned three slaves. He passed these slaves onto his oldest son, William, who owned them at the time of the war (this William’s son, William A. Bynum, was my direct ancestor). Not surprisingly, these Bynums married into other slaveholding families. And, during the war, they identified their fortunes with those of the Confederacy.

Tapley Bynum, the last of Old William’s sons (William was 74 years old when Tapley was born!) seems to have been raised primarily by his older brother Benjamin, and Benjamin’s wife, Margaret Collins. He was only eight years older than their son, Prentice, and the young men may have joined the Knight band together. On a cold January morning, the decision to defy the Confederacy cost Tapley his life. Later, Confederate Col. Lowry’s raid on the county convinced Prentice to flee to New Orleans, where he joined the Union Army and survived the war. During the 1890s, Prentice Bynum became a Populist, as did his uncle, the venerable Jasper Collins.

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The following letter of support was filed with Newt Knight’s 1870 petition for compensation. I particularly value this letter because it describes in the men’s own words the formation of the Knight Company during the Civil War. It makes no reference to the legend that Jones County seceded from the Confederacy, but rather emphasizes the Knight band’s loyalty to the United States government.

Note the names of those who signed it. All were fathers or brothers of members of the band (see the Knight Company roster, posted earlier).

The State of Mississippi
Jones County
Personally appeared before me, T.J. Collins, an acting Justice of the Peace in and for the county and state aforesaid, John Mathews, H. L. Sumrall, Allen Vallentine, James Hinton, and Madison Herrington, and makes the following Statements upon Oath:

We are citizens of the State of Mississippi and county of Jones and was well acquainted with Newton Knight before and during the late Rebelian. We know that he was opposed to the War and refused to take up armes against the United States and the rebels [who] was determined to make him fight or kill him. They destroyed all his effects, Horses, and Mewls and his Household etc., and they left his family destitute, and finally they got holt of him for some length of time. Finally he got away from them and came home in the month of May 1863, and immediately tuck measures to rase a company to oppose the Rebels and fight on behalf of the United States. And Knight and a portion of his men had several fights with the Rebels before they succeeded in organizing a company. On the 13th day of October 1863, Knight and his Men met at the place cald Sals Battery in Jones County, Mississippi, and organized there Company by electing there officers and Making a solemn vow to be true to each other and to the United States, and to fight on behalf of the United States during the War. And we know of our own knowledge that Knight and his men did fight the Rebels and act in good faith to the United States from the 13th day of October until the 10th day of September 1865. They performed the duties of Infantry—gave a grate deal of detached services. They kept there details, pickets, and curiers on the lookout, and we further say that we have examined the list of Knight’s Company herewith presented and we beleave it to be in all things true; and we beleave that each man’s name on the list hearewith presented did perform the services therein alleged to have been rendered; and we further say that we are not interested in this matter either directly or indirectly.

John Mathews
H.L. Sumrall
Allen Vallentine
James Hinton
Madison Herrington

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A few days ago, one of my new Myspace friends, Sheri Welch Hilbun, expressed an interest in knowing more about her Welch ancestors. Specifically, she asked me if I knew where Welch Landing is located. Since I don’t, I decided to put the question out to readers of Renegade South.

While we’re on the subject of the Welches, let’s remember that they, like the Collinses to whom they are closely related, were major participants in the Free State of Jones—just look at the Knight Company roster, and you will see four Welch men listed there: T.L. (Timothy); R. J.; H. R. (Harrison); and W.M. (William). I’m thinking that R. J. Welch, who is described on Newt’s 1870 roster as having fled to New Orleans and joined the Union Army in the wake of Lowry’s raid on Jones County, is actually Richard T. Welch, whose military records describe the same actions. Can someone out there help me with that identification?

Meanwhile, Timothy, Harrison and William Welch were all captured by Col. Lowry (as was Simeon Collins and his three sons), and forced back into the Confederate Army. Like Simeon and sons, they too fought at Kennesaw Mountain and ended up in Yankee prison camps.

According to the records and family histories I used to write Free State of Jones, Timothy L. and Harrison R. Welch were brothers, sons of John Ira and Catherine (Bynum) Welch. William M. was their cousin one generation removed, and the son of Henry and Sarah Welch. and the son of James Richard and Mary Valentine Welch (thanks, Russell!). If my suspicions are correct that R. J. Welch is actually Richard Thomas Welch, that would make him the brother of William M. Welch son of Henry and Sarah Welch.

In 1895, William M. Welch gave a deposition in support of Newt Knight’s petition for compensation from the federal government.

But I digress. Back to the original question: just where is Welch Landing located?

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Independent historian Ed Payne, of Jackson, will present “Sarah Collins: Pioneer Woman in the Free State of Jones” before the Jones County Genealogical and Historical Society at the Laurel-Jones County Library on Saturday, March 28, at 10:00 a.m.

Ed’s article on Sarah Collins is scheduled to appear in the April issue of the Journal of Mississippi History.

Those who have been following my recent posts about the Collins family may already know that Sarah (Sallie) Collins (1810-1889) was the daughter of Stacy and Sarah (Anderson) Collins, among the first settlers in the area that would become Jones County. Ed offers the following profile of Sarah Collins:

Sarah’s family connections and personal decisions placed her at the center of events in Civil War Jones County. Although she was a slave owner, Sarah is documented as having assisted the Newton Knight band—which included three of her brothers and four nephews. At the same time, her son and a son-in-law were fighting in Confederate units. Thus the life of Sarah Collins offers a unique prism through which to view the legacy of the Free State of Jones.

Sarah also exemplifies the strength and grit of the pioneer women of the Piney Woods: single-handedly killing a bear in her teens, enduring the death of her husband (George Willoughby Walters) and three children in her early forties, strongly contesting a divorce suit filed by her second husband, and then struggling to operate her own farm over the next three decades.

NOTE: Kinship ties between the Collinses and other area families who ended up on opposing sides during (and after) the Civil War will also be discussed. These allied families include ANDERSON, POWELL, WALTERS, and WELBORN.

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As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, and after exchanging emails with Greg Rowe, (see blogroll, American Civil War Essays & Research), I decided to write a bit about Greg’s direct ancestor, Simeon “Sim” Collins. Sim, a crucial figure in the Free State of Jones’s Knight Company, is often overlooked because of his untimely death shortly after the Civil War. Older brother to the better-known Jasper (who lived to the ripe old age of 86), Sim was Newt Knight’s 2nd Lieutenant. Three of his sons also joined the Knight guerrilla band: James Madison (Matt), Benjamin Franklin (Frank), and Morgan Columbus (Morg).

The fate of Sim Collins and his sons reminds us that taking a Unionist stance during the Civil War was rarely a matter of merely lying in the woods and waiting out the war. The Knight band fought numerous battles against Confederate forces (all dutifully recorded by Newt Knight), but none more ferocious then that against Col. Robert Lowry and his men, sent to the area to break up the band. This battle would eventually lead to Sim’s death.

In the space of a few weeks in April, 1864, Col. Lowry’s men killed ten men from the Knight Company. None of the Collins men were among them. Jasper was up in Tennessee, on a mission to hook the band up with Union forces. Riley Collins fled to New Orleans, as did many members of the band, where he joined the Union Army and soon died of disease.

Sim and his sons were among those deserters captured by Col. Lowry and threatened with execution if they did not rejoin the Confederate Army. Story has it that Sim’s wife, Lydia, begged Lowry not to execute her husband and three sons, and that he responded by offering this alternative. So back into the Confederate Army these Collinses went, and off to Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia, where the Confederate Army suffered a major defeat. The men were captured by Yankees and imprisoned at Camp Morton—a cruel irony for the fiercely Unionist Collins family!

Sim, Matt, Frank, and Morg Collins were released from Camp Morton at war’s end, but it was too late for 46-year-old Sim, who died within months of his release. A wounded man at the time of his forced reentry into the Confederate Army, that, and the battle at Kennesaw Mountain, followed by a year in prison, no doubt sealed his fate.

Like so many of the South’s plain people, Sim’s widow and children sank into poverty after the war. In 1872, Lydia and several of their grown children and families moved on to Texas in hopes of making fresh start. Sim’s brother, Warren Jacob Collins, was there to welcome them. As a result, the Texas branch of the Collins family became as extensive as the one left behind in Jones County, Mississippi.

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Unionist communities existed throughout the Confederate South during the Civil War. “The Free State of Jones” is an exciting story with its own unique characteristics, but it was only one of many inner civil wars between Unionists and Confederates across the South. 

The following excerpt from “Occupied At Home: Women Confront Confederate Forces in North Carolina’s Quaker Belt,” chapter two of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies, features the Hulin family of Montgomery County, NC. The Hulins were among the best known Wesleyan Methodist Unionists of the North Carolina Piedmont, which, significantly, was the birthplace of many ancestors of the Free State of Jones uprising.  

Because Unionist women in North Carolina’s Quaker Belt abetted men’s avoidance of Confederate service, many Confederate supporters viewed torture and deprivation of deserters’ wives as the product of simple necessity. Torturing the wife of guerrilla leader Bill Owens, after all, had resulted in his capture and imprisonment. In some counties, pro-secessionist millers also denied deserters’ wives government grain even though there was no official Confederate policy to that effect.

Women who sheltered male kin in the nearby woods eagerly told their side of the story. In separate letters to Governor Vance, Phebe Crook and Clarinda Crook Hulin, daughters of a Montgomery County Methodist schoolteacher and kin to numerous deserters, blasted their Confederate occupiers. Clarinda, who had three “outlier” brothers-in-law (she did not mention this in her letter), implored Governor Vance to consider the plight of farm women. “I hav three little children to werk for and I have werk[ed] for ever thing that I have to eat and ware,” she wrote. But military men sent to the region to restore order were “destroying every thing they can lay hans up on.” Troops had taken her “last hog,” and poured her molasses all over her floor. “It ant only Me they air takeing from . . . ,” she added, “they take the women’[s] horses out of the plows,” she explained, for their own use.

Ten more months of armed warfare between militia and deserters brought a more detailed letter from Clarinda’s sister, Phebe. As a single woman, Phebe Crook could not anchor her protest in the time-honored trope of the soldier’s wife or mother. She seemed eager, however, to describe herself as “a young lady that has Neather Husband, son, father, no[r] Brother in the woods” (although she did have male kin hiding in the woods). Invoking the moral authority of republicanism rather than motherhood, Crook informed Governor Vance of the “true” conditions of her community. Calling on him to “protect the civil laws and writs of our country,” she denounced the militia and magistrates of her county for arresting “poore old grey-headed fathers who has fought in the old War and has done thir duty . . . .”

Enraged by home guard who, Crook insisted, had no intention themselves of fighting in the war, she condemned their physical abuse of women and children and their burning of barns, houses, and crops, all done in the name of fulfilling the governor’s directive to force deserters in from the woods. Following such orders was merely an excuse, she wrote, for pro-Confederate men to “take their guns and go out in the woods and shoot them down Without Halting them as if they war Bruts or Murder[er]s.” Once again, Crook emphasized rights of citizenship rather than victimhood by assuring the governor that her motive for writing was that “I always like to [see] people hav jestis.”

Despite the sisters’ separate appeals to Governor Vance, they could not prevent the killing of their three brothers-in-law on January 28, 1865. Jesse, John, and William Hulin were executed along with James Atkins, who had been identified as a draft evader by Sheriff Aaron Sanders during the previous fall court term. Both the Crooks and Hulin families belonged to the county’s network of Wesleyan Methodist families who opposed slavery and refused to fight for the Confederacy.

NOTE: In addition to Long Shadow of the Civil War, this essay will appear in the anthology, Occupied Women, edited by LeeAnn Whites and Alecia Long, forthcoming from LSU Press. Readers who would like to know more about the Unionist Hulin family of Montgomery County, NC, should consult my 1992 book Unruly Women.

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