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I’m excited to announce that my new book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies, has been released!  Click here to see its table of contents.

The Long Shadow of the Civil War

To purchase a copy directly from the University of North Carolina Press, click on the title, above. You may also order it from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

To learn more about The Long Shadow of the Civil War, watch for my next post on Renegade South, which will feature my recent Question & Answer interview with the University of North Carolina Press.

Vikki Bynum

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Note from Moderator Vikki Bynum: Author and independent historian Ed Payne will give a talk on “Sarah Collins and the Free State of Jones,” in Hattiesburg at the South Mississippi Genealogical and Historical Society (SMGHS) on January 5, at 7 p.m. The SMGHS Library is located on Park Avenue (rear of the Water Dept. Building).
 
The life of Sarah Collins provides insights into the harsh conditions faced by Piney Woods settlers and the circumstances that prompted a number of them to not only abandon the Confederate cause, but to take up arms against it. In the following essay, Ed shares some of his recent and broader research on the impact of the Civil War on the people of Jones County, Mississippi

Introduction—Collateral Damage:  Civil War Widows of Jones County

By Ed Payne

            Researching post-Civil War Jones County has led me to develop an interest in the women who were left widows as a result of the conflict and how they dealt with their often radically altered circumstances.  But compiling even a partial list of Jones County women who lost husbands in the Civil War is difficult.  The most basic product of war is death and the Civil War produced more deaths than all other pre-Vietnam American conflicts combined.  But Confederate records are notoriously incomplete.  A report submitted in 1866 cited a figure of 6,807 Mississippians dead or wounded, an absurdly low number.  Ben Wynne in Mississippi’s Civil War, on the other hand, states that of 78,000 Mississippians who served in the CSA, 27,000 never returned home.  Another calculation is that Confederate states suffered a death rate, on average, equal to about 2.84% of their 1860 free population.  The 1860 free population of Mississippi was 354,674 which would yield a death estimate of 17,627.  The same estimate applied to the 1860 population of Jones County (2,916) produces a casualty figure of approximately145.  

Going strictly by census data, there are some hints that Jones County men, largely non-slave owners and outside the cotton economy that had brought prosperity to other sections of Mississippi, may have died in disproportionately high numbers.  In September of 1860, seven months before the outbreak of the Civil War, the U.S. Census tallied 502 white males in Jones County who were native-Mississippians and born between 1820 and 1849—the prime age group to be impacted by the coming conflict.  A decade later the population of Jones County remained essentially static, with a total count of 3,313 persons versus 3,323 in 1860.  However, native-born males within the 1820-1849 timeframe now numbered only 257, a decline of 48.8%.  For Mississippi as a whole, the decline in men having the same criteria amounted to 12,061 (from 41,892 to 29,831), or 28.8%. 

Unfortunately, these numbers are insufficient to make the case, since other factors such as post-war migration out of the county could account for some of the disparity.  But other data can be used to infer some of the toll that the war took on Jones County males and, as a result, on their surviving spouses.  The 1860 census listed 482 household of which only 29 (6%) were headed by females.  Ten years later the household count, which now included those of freedpeople, stood at 562.  Of these, the number headed by white women had expanded to 94 (17%).  Even in 1880, 15 years after the end of the war, it stood at 82. 

Jones County Cabin

Another factor to consider is that Jones County women lost husbands and sons not only in service to the Confederacy, but in opposition to it as well.  There were casualties among those who fought with the renegade bands, including 15 hung during the campaign lead by CSA Col. Robert Lowry, and among those who joined Union regiments in New Orleans, at least 13 of whom died of disease after enlisting.

For decades after the end of the conflict, Mississippi war widows—with the exception of the few whose husbands died in the Union regiments—received no governmental compensation.  The state’s economy was shattered.  It is an oft repeated fact that in 1866 one-fifth of the state budget was earmarked for the procurement of artificial limbs for veterans.  The first state pension for Confederate veterans and their survivors was not instituted until the late 1880s.  By 1894 a mere 44 Jones County citizens were receiving modest pro rata shares (ranging from $20 to $30 per annum) from the $64,200 allocated for veterans who had lost a limb and war widows of limited financial means (property worth less than $500).  Later legislative pension acts, primarily passed during the period from 1916-30, raised the total number of Jones County veteran and widow claims to 395.  It should be noted that this count includes claims by surviving wounded veterans and later claims by their widows as well as claims by the same individuals under separate legislative acts.  Also, a number of these claims were filed by persons who relocated to Jones County during the turn-of-the-century timber boom.

Although fewer in number, the pension files of those who enlisted in the 1st and 2nd New Orleans Union regiments offer abundant detail.  Thus far Union pension files have been located for forty Piney Woods enlistees or their survivors.  Their files, housed at the National Archives, average 20-40 documents each—but in some cases run to over 150.  As this indicates, the bureaucratic paperwork necessary to prove one’s eligibility was formidable.  But those who persevered received compensation well in excess of that provided under state Confederate pensions.  Eli F. Rushing, who deserted from the 8th MS Infantry in February of 1864 and then enlisted in the 1st New Orleans Union regiment in May, was receiving a monthly disability payment of $10 shortly before his death in 1903.  The availability of this rich deposit of Union pension material should not, however, obscure the fact that the vast majority of Jones County war widows lost husbands who served in Confederate units and thus have left us only a thin trail of records.   

Despite these problems, a list of Jones County Civil War widows is slowly emerging.  Over the coming months I hope to post brief portraits of some of these surviving spouses.   Since women held decidedly secondary roles within 19th century society, the information available is primarily derived from census and pension files.  And, even then, their stories necessarily come to us largely as reflected in the lives of the men around them.  Those who are familiar with Jones County will not be surprised to learn that several of the widows I have studied are connected through kinship or marriages.  None of the biographical and genealogical vignettes will be offered as definitive.  Indeed, I hope that family members with more specific information will be prompted to comment on, expand upon, and correct the information which I post. 

In the series I plan to provide information about widows of combatants on both sides of the conflict.  Although “Renegade South” deals primarily with those who rebelled against the Confederacy, Jones County owes its special place in history due to the fact that an isolated population in the Deep South was brought into conflict with itself by the same forces that divided a nation.  As noted, while the majority of the county’s Civil War casualties occurred among those who served in the Confederacy, members of renegade bands and Union enlistees also contributed to the toll of widows.  These deaths were emblematic of the way in which the war splintered the Piney Woods community.  In its aftermath, a stark commonality that bound women of the region was their effort to survive.  If men were the principle casualties of the Civil War, these widows represent its collateral damage.

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THE LONG SHADOW OF THE CIVIL WAR, forthcoming, UNC Press, Feb., 2010

I am delighted with the cover designed by University of North Carolina Press for The Long Shadow of the Civil War, forthcoming February 2010. The cover’s shadowy figures and shrouded landscape not only suggest the enduring importance of place, family, and kinship in the South, but also the clandestine, rural world of Civil War Unionists.  Hazy outlines of a makeshift structure put me in mind of the deserter hideouts in the North Carolina Piedmont woods, the swamps of Piney Woods Mississippi, and the Big Thicket forests of East Texas that inspired the essays contained within (to learn more about the book, click here).

My thanks to UNC Press, long known for the high quality of its publications and the highly effective “first impression” quality of it’s book jackets, for showcasing so beautifully The Long Shadow of the Civil War.

Vikki Bynum

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Reading Renegade South, one might gain the impression that all of Jones County supported the Union during the Civil War. That was certainly not the case, although the county did give a substantial majority of its votes–166 out of 255–to John H. Powell, the county’s anti-secession delegate to Mississippi’s secession convention of 1861. The other 89 of those votes went to the pro-secession candidate, 33-year-old John M. Baylis.

John McCormick Baylis was from one of Jones County’s wealthiest families. His father, George Baylis, was a Methodist preacher who, in 1850, owned fifteen slaves. Only two men in the county–William Duckworth and Isaac Anderson–owned more slaves. In 1860, John himself owned seven slaves; his brother Wyatt owned five. 

By 1860, John had been married to Mary Rawls for some five years; the couple’s household included three children, as well as John’s younger siblings, Wyatt and Catherine. Like their father before them, the Baylis brothers were among the wealthiest men in Jones County. John was a physician who owned real estate valued at $11,000, and personal property (which included slaves) valued at $8,300. Wyatt, though only 21 years old, owned real estate worth $4,000, and personal wealth worth $5,000. Catherine, still a teenager, claimed a personal estate of $4,000.

Like everyone else, the Baylis’s lives would soon be transformed by the Civil War. John and Wyatt both joined the 7th battalion Mississippi Infantry, infamous for having contributed a multitude of deserters to the Knight Company, including its notorious captain, Newt Knight.  John and Wyatt Baylis, however, were not among those men; in fact, after the war, John was foremost among those men who opposed Newt Knight’s rise to power. Wyatt, however, was dead by then from wounds sustained at Vicksburg. 

Shortly after enlisting in the army, John Baylis was appointed official surgeon of the 7th battalion, giving him the authority to recommend medical discharges for the men of his unit. In the aftermath of the searing battle of Corinth (1862), he was detached from his unit and remained in Corinth with wounded men from his battalion. By December of that year, he himself was reported sick and absent from duty. Following Vicksburg (and the death of brother Wyatt), John was reported AWOL. He later returned to service, and, on February 8, 1864, was once again assigned to detached service. 

In the immediate aftermath of the war, on July 30, 1865, John expressed his contempt for Knight band renegades in a personal letter to Gov. William L. Sharkey. In the wake of Confederate defeat, several Jones County Unionists, including Newt Knight, received plum appointments from the reconstructed government. Outraged, John declared the new appointees dishonorable men and little more than bandits. He specifically accused the new sheriff, T. J. Huff, of having

united with a band of outlaws who have been engaged in murder and pillage during the war and who have stated frequently that they would not submit to authority of any kind.

He was referring, of course, to the Knight Company. Jones County’s Unionists wielded power for only a brief few years. by 1872, pro-Confederate Democrats had turned back the tide of Reconstruction.

Although the war had impoverished many families, John M. Baylis remained a wealthy man. In a county where few people in 1870 claimed more than a few hundred dollars in property, Baylis’s combined real and personal property was assessed at a whopping $15,000. 

Now, bear with me while I take a bit of a detour with this story. One would logically conclude from all this that the families of John M. Baylis and Newt Knight were miles apart in wealth, ideology, and probably just plain hated each other’s guts.  But not so fast. Remember that Newt’s grandfather, Jackie Knight, was one of the largest slaveholders of neighboring Covington County before the war.

Remember also that Jackie’s son, Jesse Davis, took a different route in life than did Jackie’s son Albert (Newt’s father). Jesse Davis Knight owned slaves (one of whom was Rachel, Newt Knight’s accomplice during the war and lifelong companion); Albert chose not to.

Jesse Davis Knight also married Sarah Elizabeth Baylis, daughter of George Baylis and sister of John M. Baylis, connecting the Knight and Baylis families. Later on down the road, Jesse Davis and Sarah Elizabeth’s son, George Baylis Knight (nicknamed “Clean Knight”), married Elmira Turner, who was kin to Serena Turner, who married Newt Knight.

Well, with all those family connections, you can guess what happened if you don’t already know: the nephew of John M. Baylis ended up becoming one of Capt. Newt Knight’s closest lifelong friends! Clean Neck lived to be a hundred years old, just long enough to defend Newt’s reputation against the charges hurled against him in Ethel Knight’s Echo of the Black Horn. I love it when history defies the odds.

Vikki Bynum

[Records used include federal manuscript population and slave schedules, 1850-1870; Confederate army military records, governors' papers, and interview with Earle Knight]

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The State of Jones: The Small Southern County that Seceded from the Confederacy (Doubleday, 2009)

Those of you who have read my three-part review of State of Jones, by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer, might want to visit Kevin Levin’s blog, Civil War Memory, where he allowed the authors to respond to my reviews. Ms. Jenkins and Professor Stauffer open by accusing me of attacking their work in order to promote my own, and end by accusing me of launching a “turf war.” In between, in a long, long, dissertation on sources, they seriously misrepresent my work, suggesting that I have willfully distorted the history of the Free State of Jones in my own book and thus failed to produce “good scholarship.” Be sure and read the many comments that follow their post, which include remarks by readers, moderator Kevin Levin, the authors, and myself.

I stand by my three-part review of their book, and hope to get back to blogging here about the Civil War histories of North Carolina, Mississippi, and Texas very soon. I’m excited that my new book continues to move toward production, and I will be announcing its new title very soon.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator, Renegade South

RELATED ARTICLES AND POSTS:

1. John Stauffer responds (again) to my review of State of Jones on Kevin Levin’s blog, Civil War Memory, August 24, 2009:  http://cwmemory.com/2009/08/24/john-stauffer-responds/#comment-10678

2. Prof. David S. Reynolds Reviews State of Jones  for The New York Times, August 16, 2009: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/books/review/Reynolds-t.html

3. Kevin Levin, Civil War Memory:  “A Statement about the State of Jones Dispute ” http://cwmemory.com/2009/07/30/a-statement-about-the-state-of-jones-dispute/

4. “Civil War Fires Up Literary Shoot-out,” by Michael Cieply, New York Times, July 30, 2009, on The State of Jones vs The Free State of Jones controversy: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/30/movies/30jones.html?_r=2&hpw

5. Vikki Bynum,  “Confessions of a Small-Town Texas Gadfly.” Renegade South

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by Victoria E. Bynum, author of The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2001).

The following is the third and final installment of my review of State of Jones, by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer. To read part one, click here; for part two, click here.

In chapter seven of The State of Jones, Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer recount Newt Knight’s important role in the battle for power between the Republican Administration of Adelbert Ames and the reactionary forces of Confederate politicians and their Klan henchmen. They provide a moving account of Reconstruction in Mississippi, a violent and tragic episode in which basic human rights and the nation’s Constitution were trampled upon.

In so doing, the authors add to our current understanding of Newt Knight’s role in the post-war battle for Mississippi’s political future. Their discovery of part of a note from A. K. Davis, Governor Ames’s black lieutenant governor, counseling Newt to “appoint good men,” advances our sense of Newt’s political importance in a state beleaguered by white supremacist violence and political schemes that ultimately defeated Reconstruction and ended Newt’s political career in the process.

The authors’ inclusion of material from the depositions of Newt Knight’s federal claim files, 1887-1900, enriches our understanding that he was indeed a Union man and a determined foe of segregationist Democrats after the war—indeed, for the rest of his long life. But it is not the case that Stauffer and Jenkins “discovered” these depositions (p. 385). That distinction belongs to independent researcher Kenneth Welch, who first mentioned Newt’s federal claims in a 1985 Knight family genealogy (Knights and Related Families). The depositions from those claims are not discussed in my book, Free State of Jones, but not because I did not know about them. Based on Ken Welch’s references, I requested the files during a visit to the National Archives in Washington, DC, but was provided only the 1870 file folder by an archivist who, after an exhaustive search, could not locate claims 8013 and 8464. I reluctantly concluded that the documentary evidence for those claims was no longer extant. In early 2001, I learned otherwise from Ken Welch, who graciously copied the files for me from his own research collection. By then, my book was already in press, but I devote a chapter to analysis of the claims in my new book forthcoming from the University of North Carolina Press.  No doubt the files would have enriched my discussion of Newt Knight’s post-war political activities in The Free State of Jones, as they do in Jenkins and Stauffer’s State of Jones, but there is nothing in them that would have changed my argument.

Chapter eight of State of Jones revisits the history of the multiracial community founded by Newt, Serena, Rachel, and George Ann Knight. Jenkins and Stauffer’s addition of interviews with heretofore unheard from Knight descendants amplifies the story of this community. In particular, Barbara Blackledge’s description of her feelings of alienation as a multiracial child growing up in Jim Crow Mississippi provides poignant testimony to the stark racial boundaries that dictated a person must be either “black” or “white.”

It is the intimate relationship of Newt Knight and former slave Rachel Knight (Newt’s wartime collaborator) that most captures the authors’ attention. Newt, they conclude, “came to belong more to Rachel than to his own wife, Serena.” Fair enough. In their zeal, however, to portray Rachel as the great love of Newt’s life, they come close to blaming Newt’s extra-marital affairs on Serena. With no evidence other than their observation about “the constant concerns and drudgery of farming,” they decide that Newt and Serena’s marriage “does not seem to have been a love affair,” and that “Newt’s life with Serena would be difficult” (p. 60). They also claim, with no evidence whatsoever, that Serena temporarily fled Mississippi during the war, leaving Newt to succumb to the charms of Rachel.

By once again taking liberties with their evidence, Stauffer and Jenkins encourage readers to believe that Newt’s philandering ways—and there is good evidence that he fathered upwards of four children by Rachel’s daughter George Ann as well as children by Serena and Rachel—were the result of an unhappy marriage to Serena, a “prematurely weary” and dispirited woman, broken by hard work and the Civil War (and perhaps by life with Newt?). In rendering Serena so pitiable a figure, the authors deliver the unkindest cut of all: they describe her as a “grim-faced” woman with a “thin face, downturned mouth,” and “jug ears” (p. 61).

The authors’ depiction of a homely, sour-faced Serena is based on a photograph taken of her and Newt together late in life. But since the photo does not appear in State of Jones (it does appear in Free State of Jones, p. 154), readers cannot know that it was snapped when the couple was well past their prime.  In the case of Rachel, however, the authors present photographs of two much younger and lovelier women. In contrast to Serena, Rachel is described as having “lustrous” hair, “blaze eyes,” and a bewitching manner. It’s worth noting that there is no reliably documented photo of Rachel Knight. To this day discussion of which of the photos reproduced in State of Jones is truly of Rachel evokes intense debate among her descendants.More important, it’s hard to believe that seasoned scholars would reduce a discussion of Newt’s sexual affairs to a debate over whether his wife or his lover was more attractive.

Far more interesting would be an exploration of the relationship between Serena and Rachel, whose children intermarried with one another. Because of the intermarriages between their children (Mat and Fannie, Mollie and Jeffrey), the two women were grandparents to many of the same children. Until Mollie’s death around 1917, Serena lived in her daughter and Jeffrey’s multiracial household. Like Newt, her living arrangements did not conform to Jim Crow standards.

This concludes my review of State of Jones. To summarize, in my opinion Jenkins and Stauffer have produced a lively and engaging but deeply flawed work of history. Too often they rely uncritically on suspect sources (for example, Ethel Knight and Tom Knight), stretch their evidence, and create scenes and conversations without any direct evidence at all. One wishes that the authors’ enthusiasm and passion for their subject had been accompanied by greater respect for the historical record.  With a story so riveting, I suspect that we have not yet heard the last word on “Mississippi’s Longest Civil War.”

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

This second installment of my review of Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer’s State of Jones (Doubleday, 2009), focuses on the book’s Civil War chapters.  To view the first installment, click here. To view the third installment, click here

The old tale that Newt Knight and his band of renegades drew up a Constitution during the Civil War that declared Jones County, Mississippi, to have seceded from the Confederacy has been a favorite of journalists, folklorists, and even a few historians, since the late nineteenth century. Until historians finally shattered this myth, its effect was to paint the men of the Knight Company as hyper-secessionists rather than Unionists; i.e. as good old Southern white boys on a tear against any and all authority—rebels against the Rebellion, if you will.

The subtitle of State of Jones: “The Small Southern County that Seceded From the Confederacy,” revives this myth for a modern audience, but one searches in vain for any description of the alleged imperium in imperio inside the book.  Instead, Jenkins and Stauffer forsake the promise of their subtitle and maintain that members of the Knight Company were staunch Unionists who in late 1863 declared their allegiance to the United States government before a county official. So why the false advertising? Why do the authors restore a distorted and thoroughly discredited image of this important Civil War uprising if they don’t believe it themselves?

Not only do the authors resurrect the old myth of secession-within-secession in their subtitle, but they also eagerly offer a new myth: that Newt Knight served at Vicksburg. Jenkins and Stauffer offer no evidence for this assertion; in fact, they dismiss evidence that disputes it. In 1870, five men of the community swore before a court official that Newt Knight had deserted the army once and for all by May 1863. If their sworn letter was true, Newt could not have been at Vicksburg. Furthermore, Newt himself never claimed to have been at Vicksburg, nor do his military records place him there. In fact, no one before Jenkins and Stauffer ever suggested such a thing. The authors concede that “a case can be made” that Newt was not at Vicksburg, but press their claim anyway, arguing that Newt was “purposely vague on the subject of his Confederate experiences” because it was “in his best interest to minimize his rebel service as he pursued a federal pension as a Union soldier.” Likewise, they postulate, his friends “may have wanted to aid him [in winning federal compensation] by understating his time in rebel uniform” (note 99, p. 344). In other words, the authors suggest, Newt and his friends lied about his military service.

This unfounded, surprising claim presumes a conspiracy of silence among a multitude of men who testified on behalf of Newt Knight before the federal Court of Claims over a thirty-year period. For the authors, though, it serves a purpose: to justify their stirring fifteen-page foray into the battle of Vicksburg. Their narrative of Vicksburg is only one example of their continual efforts to provide a context for the Jones County insurrection which instead takes the reader far afield. Perhaps if the authors had written their history more as a community uprising, as their title suggests, rather than the saga of one Great Man, they would have found it unnecessary to distort Newt Knight’s military record. After all, many future members of the Knight Company indeed WERE at Vicksburg. These men, however, appear only fleetingly as bit-players in this paean to the book’s leading man.

Several factual errors suggest that State of Jones was written in haste. For example, Jenkins and Stauffer give the wrong figures for Jones County’s secession vote. Relying on Tom Knight’s error-ridden biography of his father rather than official returns available at the Mississippi State Archives, they claim that there were 374 votes for the anti-secession candidate and 24 for the pro-secession candidate (p. 73). The official numbers are, respectively, 166 and 89.

Their erroneous statement that Stacy Collins, who died in 1853, “had spoken out vehemently against secession” (p. 15), reflects a careless misreading of their cited sources, Bynum, Free State of Jones p. 59, and Tom Knight, Life and Activities of Captain Newton Knight, p. 60.

The list goes on. On pp. 50 and 195, the authors misidentify James Reddoch as William Reddoch. On p. 155, they inexplicably claim that Newt’s wife, Serena, fled the state during the war, erroneously citing Bynum, Free State of Jones, p. 100, as their source (I did not argue this, and I’ve never before encountered this story). On p. 198, they mistakenly claim that Newt’s brother, Franklin, was executed by Col Lowry’s troops. On p. 249, while quoting from Ethel Knight’s Echo of the Black Horn, they mistakenly refer to her as a descendant of Newt Knight.  On p. 307, they state that Newt’s son Mat helped to bury him, when in fact, Mat predeceased his father (here, the authors uncritically used the statement of a Knight descendant; on Mat’s death, see Bynum, Free State of Jones, p. 168).

Finally, the authors claim that on October 13, 1863, “the men chose a name for their unit: they would be the ‘Jones County Scouts’” (p. 138). They cite no primary source for this assertion. My own research indicates that this name was first applied to Newt’s band of guerrillas in 1887, when lawyers representing Newt’s federal claim case inserted it in place of the “Knight Company.” Apparently, the lawyers thought the new name had a more authentic Unionist ring to it. When Newt Knight’s case was closed in 1900, the name “Jones County Scouts” seems to have disappeared, too—until now.

State of Jones was clearly written to appease the insatiable public appetite for Civil War history. Serious students of that war, however, will be disappointed in a book that decidedly is not the “investigative account” promised on the book’s dust jacket.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vikki Bynum 

Transcribed and submitted by Ed Payne:

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

The Deserters in Smith County

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Col. Lowry and the Deserters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Today I posted excerpts and analysis of James Morgan Valentine’s two depositions on behalf of Newt Knight’s Unionist petitions to the U.S. Court of Claims, 1890 and 1895. To see them, click here: Southern Unionist Chronicles.

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