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Posts Tagged ‘knight company’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inscription on back of photo. Courtesy of Dean Collins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vikki Bynum

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

Vikki Bynum, moderator

by Ed Payne

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

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

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

FamilySearch Mississippi Page

1) Mississippi Confederate records, 1882-1949

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

Confederate pension reports, 1916-1932

Enumeration of Confederate veterans and widows, 1907

Enumeration of Confederate veterans and widows, 1932

Indigent and disabled Confederate soldiers and dependents, 1863-1868

Indigent and disabled Confederate soldiers and dependents, 1867

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

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

1864 CSA Survey, Beat 2W

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah L. Coats, pension application

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

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

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

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

1827 Jones Co., MS, tax roll

Stacy Collins; 1827 tax roll letter

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

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

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

MS 7th battalion, Co. F

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

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

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

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

– Ed Payne

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

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

For details, or to order, click here.

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

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Littlefield Lecture poster

The Littlefield Lectures, UT Austin

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

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

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

Vikki Bynum

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

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

Vikki Bynum

From William Fitzgerald to Abraham Lincoln, July 4, 1863

Castle Thunder

Richmond July 4 1863

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such is the belief of your dying, and,

Obedient Servant–

Wm Fitzgerald

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

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

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

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

Footnotes:

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

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

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

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

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

Vikki Bynum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William M. Welch, prisoner of war

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

Ed Payne

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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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By Vikki Bynum

Ed Payne’s current series on Mississippi Piney Woods Civil War Unionists, “Crossing the Rubicon of Loyalties,” provides a timely context for a closer look at Oquin C. Martin, a former Confederate soldier and Piney Woods neighbor to the infamous Newt Knight. Although Martin joined neither Newt Knight’s band of deserters nor the Union army, his 1895 deposition,* gathered during Newt Knight’s federal claims hearing, indicates that were he forced to live the war all over again, Martin might not have remained loyal to the Confederacy.  When asked whether he had been a “Union man or a secessionist,” he answered, “I was a right smart of a secessionist until I was converted.”

There was no follow-up question to Martin’s intriguing statement that he had been “converted.” Clearly, the government was far more interested in what Martin had to say about Newt Knight’s loyalty than his own, particularly since he and Newt had served together in the 7th Battalion Mississippi Infantry of the Confederate Army. When asked how long Newt served, Martin replied that Newt had deserted at Snyder’s Bluff, Mississippi—before the 7th battalion moved on to Vicksburg–and, to his knowledge, “never returned” to service. More on that later.

We now know that Newt Knight was not unique among Piney Woods soldiers in his decision to bolt the Confederate Army. As Ed Payne’s research demonstrates, the disheartening course of the Civil War contributed to a growing number of Mississippi men who not only deserted the Confederacy but also joined the Union Army. These were in addition to a good many southerners who opposed secession in the first place, and remained devoted to Union.

Like so many soldiers, O.C. Martin left behind a wife and family when he went off to war. While not among the 200-plus Piney Woods soldiers who fled to the Union Army’s 1st and 2nd New Orleans Infantry, he was reported AWOL following his parole from Vicksburg. Most likely, concerns for his family, which included a wife, two children, and three stepchildren, as well as war-weariness after the ordeal of Vicksburg contributed to his decision to take an unauthorized leave.

Assuming Martin returned to his Piney Woods home while AWOL, he would have found plenty of other soldiers there who had done the same thing. A number of these men joined the Knight band, organized in October 1863; many more joined the Union Army. Martin, however, eventually rejoined the 7th Battalion. When asked by the government when he finally returned home for good, he replied that his battalion was “captured at Blakeley, Ala. and taken thence to Vicksburg as prisoners at which place we were released and disbanded and returned to our homes, the war being over.”  His military records bear him out, reporting the date of his capture as April 9, 1865, and that of his transfer to Vicksburg as May 1, 1865.

O.C. Martin was called by the U.S. government to testify against Newt Knight’s claim, probably because of his wartime loyalty to the Confederacy at a time when many of his neighbors turned to guerrilla warfare or Union service. But unlike those defense witnesses who painted Newt Knight as an outlaw with no known Union affiliations, upon cross-examination Martin portrayed Newt and his band as having “fought our cavalry and certainly against the South”—hardly what the government was hoping he’d say! Furthermore, when asked by Newt’s lawyer whether it was not a “notorious fact” that Newt Knight had “raised a company of Infantry in opposition to the Confederacy and in favor of the Union,” Martin replied, “that was my understanding; heard it often and believed it.”

Lending credence to Martin’s statements was the obvious care he took to answer questions accurately. He had known Newt since boyhood, he said, but “never knew his political sentiments.” And, since he and Newt belonged to different companies of the same battalion, he declined to identify Newt’s military rank, or to comment on whether or not he had “evaded all duty and refused to go into any battles against Union troops.”

An important component of Newt’s case was an 1870 affidavit claiming he had been sorely abused by Confederate authorities because of his Unionist beliefs. Martin claimed to have no knowledge of such abuse, or the related claim that Newt’s “dwelling house and its contents” had been burned down by his enemies. Still, Martin said, he did remember a time when “the captain threatened to have him shot.”

The careful, precise, and confident nature of O.C. Martin’s responses to questions administered under oath lends credence to his remark that Newt Knight’s final desertion from the Confederate Army occurred at Snyder’s Bluff, Mississippi, the 7th battalion’s last place of engagement before Vicksburg.  Martin’s recollection is particularly important because Newt’s own military record is blank between February and June 1863, thus omitting the time period when the 7th battalion was pinned down at Vicksburg.

Really, none of this should matter, since Newt himself never claimed to have served at Vicksburg; nor did any of his contemporaries report him there. The reason it does matter is because that gap in his military record allowed Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer, in their 2009 book, State of Jonesto feature fifteen pages detailing Newt’s allegedly grueling experiences at—yes, Vicksburg.

O.C. Martin’s deposition is a reminder that federal and state records, many gathered years after the Civil War, often yield information about the lives of soldiers and their families that might otherwise never come to light. Only because Martin was asked point blank about his political views do we learn that this Confederate veteran, once a “right smart” secessionist, had at some point been “converted.” And only because the U.S. government was intent on learning whether or not Newt Knight was a true Unionist do we learn, inadvertently, that Newt Knight deserted the Confederacy at Snyder’s Bluff, Mississippi–and not at Vicksburg.

*O. C. Martin deposition, March 6, 1895, Newt Knight claim file, Records of the U.S. Court of Claims, 1835-1966, Record Group 123, Committee on War Claims, Claims of Newton Knight and Others, #8013 and 8464, National Archives, Wash. D.C.

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During the past six months, I have received several messages from independent researcher Jeff Giambrone, who sent me a number of Civil War letters and newspaper articles that he has uncovered through his research. The following two selections seem particularly appropriate as a way of introducing Ed Payne’s upcoming post on men from the Mississippi piney woods who joined the Union Army at New Orleans during the Civil War. The newspaper articles are followed by a letter uncovered by Ed in the course of his research for that upcoming post.

The first article, published 11 March 1861, comes from the Times Daily National Intelligencer, a Whig newspaper that in 1860 supported pro-Union, Constitutional Union Party presidential candidate, John Bell:

“Anti-Secession in Mississippi”

There was an anti-secession meeting at Smith’s Store, Jones County, Mississippi, on the 16th of February. We learn from the [staunchly pro-Confederate] Brandon Republican, says the [pro-Union] Nashville Patriot, that “there were many speeches made on the occasion protesting against secession and the increased taxation of the people on the part of the State, and calling for a still larger meeting at Tallahoma.” The proceedings of the meeting were furnished the Republican for publication, but were declined on the ground that the will of the majority of the State as expressed for secession ought to be respected. It has come to a pretty pass that the freedom of the press must be denied to any portion of the people because the majority is believed to be against them.

Censorship of pro-Union activities by pro-Confederate newspapers such as that described above helped, of course, to create the image–still popular today–of a “Solid South.” It’s worth noting that the location of the above anti-secession meeting, Smith’s Store, Jones County, was also the location where, in October 1863, members of the Knight Company pledged their loyalty to the U.S. government, according to testimonies provided before the U.S. Claims Commission in regard to Newt Knight’s three petitions for financial compensation (1870-1900).  An earlier pro-Union meeting in Jones County was described in 1936 by Benjamin Sumrall in an interview by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). According to Sumrall, his ancestor, Riley James Collins (who later joined the Union Army in New Orleans), called the meeting at Union Church, where he delivered a passionate anti-secession speech (see Bynum, Free State of Jones, pp. 98-99).

The second article, published 23 March 1864, is from the Springfield Republican (Mass.):

 “Devastation in Mississippi”

Internal reports are given by a Union Scout, lately arrived at New Orleans from a trip through Hancock, Marion, Perry, Jones, and Jasper Counties, Mississippi. He had been absent a month, and as the fruit of his visit to these counties he had recruited 115 men for a Union regiment. He also brought away several women and children. He states that the Union sentiment now predominates and that the Union men have things their own way, completely turning the tables upon their enemies. Instead of being driven to the swamps and other hiding places for shelter, they have driven the secessionists to those places to preserve their lives. They had declared a war of extermination and hunted down the rebels and shot them wherever found. This man is a native of Mississippi, and well acquainted throughout the region through which he passed. He states that most if not all of the old men of his acquaintances are in their graves, shot in their very own homes.

The above article dovetails with events known to have taken place in the Jones County region in early 1864. On 2 March, Col. Henry Maury was sent to Jones County to quell an anti-Confederate uprising. That mission failed, and, just a few days after this article’s publication, on 29 March 1864, Confederate Capt. W. Wirt Thompson reported on the “deplorable” state of affairs in Jones County to Secretary of War James Seddon. Yankees, Wirt lamented, were “frequently among” the Jones County deserters. And, only one week before Col. Robert Lowry’s famous raid on Jones County took place, Jones County deserters were reported to have “gone down Pearl River to and near Honey Island where they exist in some force . . . openly boasting of their being in communication with Yankees.” (see Bynum, Free State of Jones, p. 117)

And there’s this, recently discovered by Ed Payne: a request from Lieut. Col. Eugene Tisdale of the 1st New Orleans Vol. Infantry to Major George B. Drake, Assistant Adjutant-General of the Dept. of the Gulf, for passage by one James L.  Seals into the state of Mississippi for the purpose of guiding recruits back to the 1st New Orleans Infantry.

To Major George B. Drake, A.A. Gen, Hd. 2nd D. of G,

I would most respectfully ask that permission be granted Private James L. Seals, 1st Regiment New Orleans Vol. Infantry to pass into the state of Mississippi via Fort Pike, LA, for the purpose of guiding within Federal lines a party of recruits already engaged for the Regiment. And I would further respectfully ask that the families of the Recruits of this Regiment be allowed to come at the same time from Pearl River and Honey Island, Mississippi, via Fort Pike to the City of New Orleans.

This same private James L. Seals has already aided in bringing into the 1st New Orleans Vols. Nearly one hundred and fifty men of Mississippi; but now, on account of existing orders, he cannot go beyond Fort Pike without a pass from the Commanding General of this Department.

I am Major

Very Respectfully

Your Obedient Servant

Eugene Tisdale

Lieut. Col., 1st New Orleans Infantry

With these documents as a point of reference, we may eagerly anticipate Ed Payne’s upcoming article on Mississippi piney woods men who joined the 1st and 2nd New Orleans Infantry.

My deep thanks to Ed and Jeff Giamborne for providing the above documents for publication on Renegade South!

Vikki Bynum

Moderator

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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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