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Posts Tagged ‘guerrillas’

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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Some of you may have noticed the new media slideshow that’s been added to the Renegade South website, www.renegadesouth.com One of the images you’ll see on it is the handwritten roster of the Knight band that Newt Knight submitted to Congress in 1870. That was the year that Newt began petitioning Congress to compensate him and his men for having fought on behalf of the Union Army.  He included the names of 54 men that he described as having remained “true” to the band and to the Union.

Understand that this is not the original roster that Newt kept hidden in the woods during the war. Family members retain that original, which is quite brittle and fragile. Rather, this roster was created after the war and presented as evidence to support Newt’s petition. Some of you will no doubt enjoy looking for familiar names! In case you can’t read them–the document “slides” by pretty fast–I’m listing all the names here, with original spellings and in original order.

I hope you enjoy the search, and if you’d like more information about what is written on the roster about a particular man, just ask! Officers are followed by privates:

Captain Newton Knight

1st Lt. J. M. Valentine

2nd Lt. Simeon Collins

1st. Sgt.  J.J. Collins

2nd Sgt. W. P. Turnbow

1st Corp. Alphus Knight

2nd Corp. S.G. Owens

Tapley Bynum

P.M. Bynum

Montgomery Blackwell

J.M. Blackwell

J.M. Collins

B.F. Collins

M.C. Collins

M.M. Coats

S.C. Coleman

B.F. Cawley

R.J. Collins

James Ewlen

J.M. Gunter

Tucker Gregg

R.H. Hinton

John Hogan

J.M. Hathhorn

G.M. Hathhorn

W.B. Jones

M.W. Kurven

S.W. Kurven

J.M. Knight

G.F. Knight

H.C. Knight

B.F. Knight

Lazrous Mathews

Ausberry McDaniel

C.F. Prine

Daniel Redock

W.W. Sumrall

John Ira Vallentine

Paterick Vallentine

M.B. [probably W., not M., for William] Vallentine

R.H. Vallentine

Eliga Wilborn

T.L. Welch

R.J. Welch

W.M. Welch

H.R. Welch

Younger Welborn

W.T. Welborn

N.V. Whitehead

T.J. Whitehead

D.W. Whitehead

James Yates

Thomas Yates

Joseph Youghn

Moses Richerson

Be sure to have a look at the original; it truly makes the past come alive!

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cover page of Newt Knight's final petition to Congress, 1894

cover page of Newt Knight's final petition to Congress, 1894

Newt Knight was relentless in his efforts to gain compensation for himself and his men from the U.S. Government for having served the Union. I barely touched on his history of claims in The Free State of Jones because the National Archives, where the files are stored, could not locate most of the records when I visited there back around 1994. Thankfully, Ken Welch of Soso, Mississippi, provided me copies of the missed files back in 2000, but not in time for me to integrate them into the book.

So, in a new essay, “Fighting a Losing Battle: Newt Knight versus the U.S. Court of Claims, 1870-1900, ” which will appear in my upcoming book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, I tell the history of those efforts. The case files are fascinating–many former members of the band, including Newt, AND opponents of the band, gave lengthy depositions! These files convince  me more than ever that the Knight Band never attempted to secede from the Confederacy, but rather rejected the Confederacy’s right to exist, at least in Jones County, which had voted against Mississippi’s secession from the Union.

But there’s much more to be learned from the files than that, and I truly enjoyed writing this essay as kind of an epilogue to The Free State of Jones. Most striking is how doggedly Newt pursued his case, right up to the dawn of the twentieth century. In the end, he and his men were denied compensation (as were the vast majority of Southern Unionists).

When I imagine Newt’s frustration with the government he claimed to have fought for during the Civil War, I think I understand why he commented around 1892 that nonslaveholding farmers in the South should have just risen up against the slaveholders rather than fight their war for them.

 

Vikki Bynum

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This essay from my upcoming Long Shadow of the Civil War profiles the leaders of three guerrilla bands from three regions of the South known for Unionism and resistance to the Confederacy: the Randolph County area of North Carolina, the Jones County area of Mississippi, and the “Big Thicket” region of East Texas. The geographic and family ties that link the bands are fascinating. The parents of Newt Knight, leader of the Mississippi band, migrated west from North Carolina around the period of the American Revolution. The three Collins brothers who initiated the Texas band had North Carolina and Mississippi roots, and were the brothers of the three Collins brothers who served with Newt Knight back in Jones County!

Here are a few snippets from this chapter describing Bill Owen, Newt Knight, and Warren J. Collins, the respective leaders of the three renegade bands:

“Bill Owens . . . appears the most ruthless and least charismatic of the leaders. Owens’s Civil War exploits inspired no romantic tales of heroism.”

“Newt could be ruthless as well as charismatic.  The cold-blooded murder of Major Amos McLemore, Jones County’s most powerful Confederate officer, is universally attributed to Newt.”

“Warren Collins .  .  .  appeared more adept at eluding capture than murdering Confederate leaders.  .  .  .  An extensive folklore surrounds the life of this so-called “Daniel Boone” of East Texas.”

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Perhaps the longest-lived participant in the Free State of Jones, Alzade is middle person of middle row, 1926

Perhaps the longest-lived participant in the Free State of Jones, Alzade is middle person of middle row, 1926

I first discovered Southern Unionists while doing research on women in pre-Civil War North Carolina. Women, I soon realized, were central to the ties of kinship that bound together people who opposed the new Confederate nation. When I dug into the letter files of the state’s governors, I was immediately struck by how many women wrote to them during the Civil War: plaintive letters, desperate letters, angry letters.

As the long and bloody war dragged on, women’s letters became only more angry. Many of their voices appear in my first book, Unruly Women, and many more will play starring roles in my upcoming book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War.  Martha Sheets, who lived on the border of Montgomery and Randolph Counties in N.C., is one of my favorite renegade women. In early 1865, Martha threatened Montgomery County Sheriff Aaron Sanders with a visit from deserters if he did not supply her family with corn, “and make that good corn,” she added.

When I expanded my research from the North Carolina Quaker Belt to Mississippi’s Free State of Jones,  I was introduced to more extraordinary women–the fact is, renegade women existed in every state of the Confederacy. Many of them simply placed loyalty to family and neighborhood above all else, including the new Confederate government. Enslaved women, such as Rachel Knight of Jones County,  assisted deserters and guerrilla bands in hopes of undermining the institution of slavery. Others came from Unionist families that had opposed secession from the beginning. I think of Sarah “Sally” Parker, the sister, aunt, or cousin of  many stalwart members of the Knight Company guerrilla band.  Sally was Sarah Collins before she married, and the Collinses were among the staunchest Unionist families of the Jones County region. She risked her own life to shelter the Knight Company from Confederate forces, even though her own son, George Warren Walters, fought and died serving the Confederate Army. The expert on Sarah Collins Walters Parker is her great great great grandson, Ed Payne. Watch for his biography of her in the April 2009 issue of the Journal of Mississippi History.

Alzade Courtney is another favorite of mine (see photo, courtesy of Ralph Kirkland). Separated from her husband, Alzade worked her fields alone during the war, and depended on the Knight Company for protection. She in turn opened her home to them. Alzade may be the longest-lived participant in the Free State of Jones. Although in her late nineties by 1934, she provided Tom Knight with a testimonial that year for his famous biography of his father, Newt Knight. You can learn more about Alzade–and the Free State of Jones–on the wonderful website administered by her great-great grandson, Ralph Kirkland: http://www.squidoo.com/freestateofjones

I ‘m sure many of you have Civil War renegade women in your family history. I hope you’ll tell us about them here!

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Newt Knight, leader of the Knight Company guerrilla band

Newt Knight, leader of the Knight Company guerrilla band

The question of whether or not Jones County seceded from the Confederacy has intrigued historians, folklorists, and ordinary folks for well over one hundred years. In 1886, G. Norton Galloway, a Northern historian of sorts, claimed that one “Nathan Knight” had headed up a local “confederacy” in Jones County, Mississippi, that had written its own constitution and proceeded to declare itself as having seceded from the nation founded on secession. It’s a great story, one that ranks right up there with Sojourner Truth’s “Arn’t I a Woman” speech for pure spine-chilling boldness and righteousness.

Well, Sojourner Truth did give an important speech at the Akron Women’s Rights Convention of 1851, but it was considerably less rousing than the legendary speech for which she is famous (see Nell Painter and  Carlton Mabee’s biographies). Likewise, Newt Knight DID lead an uprising against the Confederacy, but there is no evidence that he and his guerrilla band drew up documents of secession. In fact, as I documented in my book, The Free State of Jones, Newt himself, as well as his 1st Sgt., Jasper J. Collins, and Jasper’s son, Loren, all denied the myth of secession during their lifetimes. In separate interviews or publications, these three men made the same point: that it was their belief that Jones County had never left the Union in the first place. The county’s voters had elected an anti-secession delegate, John H. Powell, to the Mississippi State Convention of 1861. Under pressure by fire-eating delegates in Jackson, Powell caved in and voted for secession. That didn’t matter to Newt and Jasper (who was Powell’s own son-in-law!); as far as they were concerned, their delegate had no right to vote as he did, and they had no intention of following him out of the Union.

There is even more evidence that the legend of secession-within-secession is just that. In my upcoming book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, I detail Newt Knight’s long, unsuccessful battle between 1870 and 1900 to gain compensation from the U.S. Government for the Knight Company’s service to the Union during the Civil War. The revealing depositions that accompanied Newt’s three separate petitions all tell the same story: the men of the Knight Company formed an ad hoc military unit in late 1863 for the purpose of remaining faithful to the Union. To this end, they had pledged their loyalty to the Union before a local magistrate. Significantly, not one of the Knight Company men ever mentioned any sort of “secession” from the Confederacy, only their determined effort to bring down the Confederate Army and restore the Union. Nor did the government’s lawyers ever ask them whether they had attempted secession. This, despite the fact that to claim secession–even attempted secession–could only have helped the Knight Company prove their Unionism and win compensation. But not one of them made such a claim. (For my post on Newt’s claim, click here.)

Screenwriters and novelists love dramas that offer a singular hero with a clear, bold plan of action. Historians love a good story, too, but their first commitment must be to the truth, with all its complicated twists and turns and sometimes unsatisfying conclusions. Besides, just as the real Sojourner Truth is every bit as remarkable as the legendary one, the Free State of Jones is one of the most exciting stories of the American Civil War; it needs no embellishment.

(for more on my view of Newt Knight, see “Why I wrote the Free State of Jones.”

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When I decided in 1976 to pursue a degree in U.S. history, studying the American Civil War was the furthest thought from my mind. All that changed, however, during a long bus ride to my parents’ home during Thanksgiving break as I passed the time reading an assigned Civil War text. In a section devoted to white Southerners who opposed the Confederacy, I noticed a curious footnote. Jones County, Mississippi, the authors noted, had allegedly seceded from the Confederacy in the midst of the war after declaring itself the “Free State of Jones.”

A Deep South county that seceded from the Confederacy? What was this, and why had I not heard about it, especially given that my own father was born in Jones County? In this moment, I began dimly to perceive that the practice of history might as easily refute time-worn images of the South as reinforce them.

In the case of Jones County, located in the piney woods of southeastern Mississippi, history had first to be rescued from the realms of legend, myth, and folklore. Thanks to novelists, moviemakers, and a longstanding family feud, the Jones County uprising had remained a living story, but with pro- and anti-Confederate members of the family each presenting their “side.” Those who opposed the Confederacy were alternately presented as a gang of marauding outlaws, or as unionist heroes protecting families from harm. What was the “true” story of this region? 

I was not prepared in 1976 to tackle so formidable a task. A junior in college, I had neither academic training nor funding. Still, I never abandoned my goal of researching the history of my father’s place of birth. Sixteen years later, as my first book (Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South) was being published, I began to investigate the “legend” of Jones County’s secession from the Confederacy. What I discovered during eight years of summer research trips, and after endless writing and rewriting, was a story that utterly confounded popular notions about a “Solid (white) South” that had supported the “Lost Cause” of a separate southern nation.

In December, 1860, Jones County voters expressed widespread opposition to southern secession by electing a pro-Union delegate, John Powell, to the Mississippi State Convention of January, 1861. At that convention, delegate Powell caved in to pressure and changed his vote to favor secession, outraging many folks back home. Confederate conscript laws passed the following year dictated that Jones County’s young men join the Army. Most did so, but many did not remain there long. The northern Mississippi battles of Iuka and Corinth, coupled with passage of the so-called “Twenty-Negro Law” in October 1962 (which provided military exemptions for the owners of twenty or more slaves), convinced many to leave the Army for good. Sometimes alone, sometimes in small groups, they straggled home.

Until the Confederacy organized troops to track down deserters, AWOL men merely resumed normal activities at home. But, as Confederate militia became active in the Jones County area, deserters from the region armed themselves and headed for the swamps. By late 1863, they had formally organized themselves, unanimously electing Newton Knight, a nonslaveholding farmer, as their captain, and naming their band the Knight Company. The Knight Company proceeded to wage war on the Confederacy.

By all accounts, “Captain” Newt Knight possessed a forceful, charismatic personality. Tall, eagle-eyed, and remarkably self-possessed, he had extensive family ties in the community and quickly rose to prominence among fellow deserters. Befitting the leader of a guerrilla band, he could be ruthless as well as charismatic. “Kill or be killed” was necessarily the motto of anti-Confederate guerrillas, who faced execution for treason if captured.

The cold-blooded murder of Major Amos McLemore, Jones County’s most powerful Confederate officer, is universally attributed to Newt, although he was never charged in court. By 1864, the Knight Company had crippled the government of Jones County, contributing to news reports of the county’s secession from the Confederacy.

There were many guerrilla bands that roamed the South during the Civil War. They commonly came from solid nonslaveholding majorities and drew on strong kinship ties and assistance from the civilian populations of their communities. Such factors were fundamental to the formation and survival of the Knight Company. Slaveholders were few, with slaves comprising only 12 percent of the county’s population, while the importance of family networks was demonstrated by the fact that twenty-six of fifty-five core members of the band shared six surnames.

Women and slaves were vital participants in Jones County’s inner civil war. In April, 1864, when Confederate Colonel Robert Lowry and his forces raided Jones County in search of deserters, they encountered fierce resistance from civilians as well as dissident soldiers. The Knight band’s female kin, as well as Newt Knight’s slave accomplice, Rachel, not only hid and fed the men, but also sprinkled red pepper and ground glass along the paths frequented by militia hounds who tracked down deserters.

Rachel’s alliance with Newt Knight bound her to him for the rest of her life. After the war, she gave birth to several light-skinned children reputed to have been fathered by him, and farmed ten acres of Newt’s 170 acres of land. By 1880, Rachel owned 126 acres of land adjoining the 320 acres owned by Newt. Together, the couple created a mixed-race community that endures to this day.

Although few would have predicted that Newt Knight’s crossing of the color line would be permanent, by war’s end, he had rejected southern racial mores altogether. Newt was active in Reconstruction politics until public knowledge of his interracial relationships made it impossible for him to win office. He also repeatedly petitioned the U.S. Government for wartime compensation for his Knight Company soldiers until those claims were once and for all rejected in 1900.

Rachel died in 1889 at age 49, but Newt lived to a ripe old age, remaining in his community and achieving legendary status in the process. He never repudiated his wartime behavior and rejected the New South’s glorification of the Confederate “Lost Cause.” Shortly before his death in 1922, an unrepentant Newt told reporter Meigs Frost, of the New Orleans Item, that “I guess we’ll all die guerrillas.”

 

Vikki Bynum

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I wrote the book Free State of Jones for professional and personal reasons. As both a historian and an individual, I am on the hunt for ordinary people who commit extraordinary acts. I am especially drawn to those who confront systems of power in unlikely ways alongside unlikely allies. In Civil War Jones County, Mississippi, deep in the so-called “solid” South, some 100 ordinary white farmers banded together to fight against the Confederate Army (a few of my distant kin were among them). Doing so earned them the label of outlaws. But outlaw means different things to different people. To pro-Confederate Mississippians, these were cowardly deserters. The core members of the Knight band, however, viewed themselves as principled Unionists. 

In my book, I struggled against writing a “Great Man” history; I did not want to portray Newt Knight as the “Rambo” of Jones County dissent. Rather, I dug deep into historical records from NC, SC, GA, and MS, to uncover the cultural and class roots of those families who contributed the greatest number of participants in the Jones County uprising. I emphasized how earlier historical events–for example, the American Revolution and the opening of the Southwestern frontier–shaped attitudes toward authority and government among these plain folks of the Old South.

The Civil War constituted a crisis of authority for many such Southerners, especially those who lived outside the plantation belt. Newt Knight did not singlehandedly create the Knight band, although he became its charismatic leader. By his own admission, the Civil War transformed his life and his character. Would Newt have developed an open relationship with his grandfather’s former slave, Rachel, one that led to creation of a mixed-race community that thrives today, had the war not erupted? Would he have become a New South Republican after the war? Like all important figures of history, Newt was as much shaped by his times as he in turn shaped them.  I hope that you are as fascinated by the history of this renegade county as I am. (On Newt Knight, see also “Did Jones County Secede From the Confederacy?”

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