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1st Lt. of Knight Company

1st Lt. of Knight Company

In 1864, with the nation at war, soldiers and civilians alike must daily have asked themselves, would life ever return to normal? At the same time, daily routines had to be continued if folks were ever to see better times. Resigned to the fact that hard-working people now must work harder than ever just to keep body and soul together, on a spring day in April, Indiana Welborn went to the family barn to milk the cow.

According to the story I heard some ten years ago, Indiana was milking the cow when she noticed to her horror that blood was dripping down on her from the barn loft above. She soon discovered that a wounded man had secreted himself in the family barn, and that it was his blood that dripped on her.  That man was James Morgan Valentine, Newt Knight’s 1st Lt. in the Knight Company. Morgan had been shot by Confederate Cavalry while swimming in a river, but had managed to make it to Lawrence Welborn’s barn, where he hid in the loft. After discovering him, Lawrence’s daughter Indiana took it upon herself to nurse Morgan back to health, and never told anyone about it until after the war. Or so the story goes.

Sometime in 2005, I had the good fortune to be contacted by Danny and Dwayne Coats, great-grandsons of Morgan Valentine. I eagerly ran this story by them, which they in turn confirmed had been told to them, too, by their own grandmother. According to Dwayne Coats, his grandmother told him “that the lady [Indiana Welborn] that took care of him told her the story herself. My grandmother also said that he had lost so much blood that his earlobes were completely white.”

As 1st Lt. of the Knight Company, Morgan Valentine was one of the band’s most important members, and obviously very close to Captain Newt Knight.  Like most of the Knight Company, Morgan also came from a strongly Unionist family, evidenced by the four Valentines, in addition to Morgan, who appear on Newt Knight’s roster (see Knight Company roster).  In addition, Morgan’s father Allen, like William Wesley Sumrall’s older brother, Harmon Levi, signed a letter of defense of Newt Knight in 1870, when Newt filed his first petition for federal compensation for the men of the Knight Company (see 1870 Letter of Support for Newt Knight’s Compensation Claim).  

Demonstrating once again the seamless personal and political ties that bound the Knight Company men to one another, I should note that Morgan’s second marriage was to Newt Knight’s niece, Mary Mason Knight. And that Morgan’s sister, Tolitha Eboline Valentine, married another stalwart Unionist, Warren Jacob Collins, brother of Jasper, and leader of the Hardin County jayhawkers of East Texas (see Collins Family Unionism, Mississippi to Texas).  

In 1895, James Morgan Valentine testified on behalf of Newt Knight in Newt’s third and final claim for compensation (see  Newt Knight vs. the U.S. Court of Claims). In the next few days, I will abstract that deposition and post it on Robert Moore’s Southern Unionist Chronicles. I’ll cross-list it on Renegade South, so please watch for it!

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Note, Oct. 18, 2009: The title of this book has officially been changed to The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies.

I’m pleased to announce that my forthcoming book, Southern Communities at War: Essays on Civil War Dissent and Its Legacies, is now officially in press. On May 6, the editorial board of the University of North Carolina Press met and approved it for publication. After a long, arduous process of research, writing, submission, revision, and resubmission, it now enters the (also arduous) copyediting  and production stages. It should be available by spring 2010. To see a description of the book, click here, for an excerpt from the introduction, here, and for the table of contents, here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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For those of you interested in learning more about the role played by Harmon Levi Sumrall in the Free State of Jones, please visit Robert Moore’s  Southern Unionists Chronicles .  There, I have posted and analyzed excerpts from depositions provided by H.L. Sumrall on behalf of Newt Knight for the U.S. Court of Claims in 1890 and 1895.

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William Wesley Sumrall is the only man with the Sumrall surname listed on Newt Knight’s roster (see related post, “1870 Knight Company Roster”). He and his brother, Harmon Levi Sumrall, were nonetheless among Jones County’s strongest Unionists.

Being over the age of military conscription, Harmon Levi never joined the Knight band, but was every bit—perhaps more—of a Unionist than his younger brother. Born in 1817, H.L. was 23 years older than W.W., and may have been more like a father to him than a brother, especially given that W.W. lived with him and his family in 1860. It’s quite possible that H.L. influenced W.W.’s views on secession and his decision to ditch the Confederate Army and join the Knight band. In fact, H.L. seems to have been one of those “old and influential” citizens described by Confederate Col. William N. Brown (of Col. Lowry’s raid) as having imbued the younger generation with “Unionist ideas” based on the principles of the “agrarian class.”

If by that remark, Brown meant independent and prosperous nonslaveholding farmers who believed secession was madness, Harmon Levi indeed fits the description. He was also one of five men, all past the age of conscription, who signed a letter of support for Newt’s claim in 1870 (see related post, “1870 letter of support for Newt Knight”). Those five men were of an older generation that opposed secession and likely encouraged their sons, nephews, and younger brothers to desert the Confederate Army, just as Col. Brown reported. They also fed, hid, and even helped arm those young men during the war. After the war, they supported their petitions for federal compensation for having served as unofficial Union soldiers in the Knight Company. Again in 1890 and 1895, H.L. Sumrall testified on behalf of Newt Knight’s claim (on Newt’s claim, see related post “Newt Knight vs. the Court of Claims”).

As we’ve come to expect, ties of marriage and kinship bound the Sumrall brothers to other men and families who joined or supported the Knight Company. And, again, the Collins family was their strongest kinship tie with the band. In 1861, the same year the Civil War erupted, William Wesley Sumrall married Nancy Emeline Collins, daughter of Simeon and Lydia. That meant that he joined the Knight Company along side a father-in-law and three brothers-in-law.

Long after the war ended and his first wife had died, W.W. Sumrall married Mary Olivia (Mollie) Knight, daughter of Newt Knight’s cousin, George Baylis (Clean Neck) Knight. At the time of their marriage, W.W. was 68; Mollie was 24. The couple had one son together.

Harmon Levi Sumrall also had close ties to the Collins family. One of his daughters, Sarah Palestine (Pallie), married Thomas Jefferson (Jeff) Collins; another, Lucinda, married Morgan Collins. Both Jeff and Morgan were sons of Simeon and Lydia Collins. H.L.’s son, Benjamin Franklin, also married a Collins (Sabra), while other of his children married into Unionist branches of the Mathews and Valentine families.

The Sumrall brothers’ immersion in the Knight Company reinforces two important points about the Jones County Civil War uprising: first, that branches of at least eight area families—including Collinses, Bynums, Valentines, Mathews, Welborns, Welches, Walters, and Knights—exhibited strong Unionist views traceable to an older generation of pioneers born before 1820; second, that this network of families intermarried extensively, reinforcing cultural and economic principles that would predispose them to oppose secession in 1861.

By late 1863, many men from these families were not only unwilling to serve in the Confederate Army, but had organized and armed themselves to fight for the defeat of the Confederate Government. Their Knight Company did not secede from that government, however, as “Lost Cause” legends claimed. In their minds they had never signed on in the first place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We’ve all the heard the cliché “truth is stranger than fiction,” but it’s always amazing to find an historical event that one can only imagine happening in a novel. That’s the way I felt when I discovered that six Collins brothers, from Mississippi to Texas, were divided into two different deserter bands that fought against the Confederacy. It doesn’t seem so strange to me now, knowing the strong Unionism of the Collins family, but it struck me at the time as kind of like mining for ore and striking gold.

You see, I was simply seeking additional genealogical information about the Collinses when I shifted my research on The Free State of Jones to Texas. I had stumbled on a small, self-published history of the Texas Collins family written by Vinson Allen Collins, whose name I immediately recognized since he was named for his Unionist uncle of Jones County, Mississippi. I wanted to know more about this branch of the family, especially since the family patriarch, Stacy Collins, had moved to Texas with this branch before dying shortly thereafter.

So then I found yet another family history of the Collinses, this one written by Carr P. Collins Jr., a grandson of the above Vinson Collins. From both works, I learned that the parents and four brothers of the Collinses who later joined the Knight band in Jones County had moved to East Texas around 1852. One of those sons, the great-grandpa of Carr P. Collins Jr., was Warren Jacob Collins, dubbed the “Daniel Boone” of East Texas.

What you won’t learn from either of these Texas family histories is that Warren Jacob Collins, joined by brothers Newton and Stacy, Jr., was the leader of the Big Thicket “jayhawkers” of Hardin County, Texas. Nor is there any mention of “The Free State of Jones” in either book, although Warren’s brothers, Simeon, Riley, and Jasper, were instrumental in forming the Knight band back in Jones County. Only by turning to Texas folklore and local histories did I learn this vital aspect of Texas Collins family history.

And that, my friends, is a perfect example of how thoroughly the Unionism of many of our southern forebears has been buried. The subsequent glorification of the Confederate “Lost Cause” by most Southern (and a good many Northern) writers and politicians in the wake of North/South “reconciliation” during the late-nineteenth century turned all “good” Southerners into diehard supporters of the Confederacy. Many southern families, although thankfully not all, were ashamed to find Unionism in their family backgrounds and felt compelled to hide it.

Much of my motivation for writing The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies is my determination to “reconcile” the histories of two branches of the Collins family whose Unionist convictions crossed state lines and survived the Civil War. I’m betting there are many more such families of the South. For now, the example of the Collinses demonstrates the ideological strength of Unionism as one important motivation for deserting the Confederate Army.

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

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

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

Captain Newton Knight

1st Lt. J. M. Valentine

2nd Lt. Simeon Collins

1st. Sgt.  J.J. Collins

2nd Sgt. W. P. Turnbow

1st Corp. Alphus Knight

2nd Corp. S.G. Owens

Tapley Bynum

P.M. Bynum

Montgomery Blackwell

J.M. Blackwell

J.M. Collins

B.F. Collins

M.C. Collins

M.M. Coats

S.C. Coleman

B.F. Cawley

R.J. Collins

James Ewlen

J.M. Gunter

Tucker Gregg

R.H. Hinton

John Hogan

J.M. Hathhorn

G.M. Hathhorn

W.B. Jones

M.W. Kurven

S.W. Kurven

J.M. Knight

G.F. Knight

H.C. Knight

B.F. Knight

Lazrous Mathews

Ausberry McDaniel

C.F. Prine

Daniel Redock

W.W. Sumrall

John Ira Vallentine

Paterick Vallentine

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

R.H. Vallentine

Eliga Wilborn

T.L. Welch

R.J. Welch

W.M. Welch

H.R. Welch

Younger Welborn

W.T. Welborn

N.V. Whitehead

T.J. Whitehead

D.W. Whitehead

James Yates

Thomas Yates

Joseph Youghn

Moses Richerson

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

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