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Part 3: True Faith & Allegiance: Piney Woods enlistees in the Union 1st N.O. Infantry

By Ed Payne

 

The Mississippians who joined the Union 1st New Orleans Infantry Regiment  in late 1863 and 1864 signed enlistment documents pledging “true faith and allegiance to the United States of America.”  The agreement specified a three year term of service and stipulated their military duties would be restricted to “the defences of New Orleans.”  In the wake of Gen. Nathaniel Bank’s failed Red River campaign, Southern forces remained active in central and northern Louisiana.  But the Union had achieved control of entire Mississippi River and New Orleans was secure.  Thus the Mississippians had every reason to feel confident that they would not have to shoulder their weapons against Confederate units.

Upon enlisting, the recruits received a bounty of $25.  An additional $75 would be collected when discharged.  In hardship cases soldiers could also request an advance on their first month’s pay of $13.  In July of 1864 the base pay for privates was raised to $16 per month.  However, payroll was issued at irregular intervals and sometimes months elapsed between payments.

The Piney Woods men came from a sparsely settled region where much of the population wrestled a frugal living from herding and small scale agriculture.  Several times a year herders drove their surplus livestock to Mobile, Alabama, so the soldiers may have had some exposure to city life.  But Mobile’s population of less than 30,000 paled in comparison to New Orleans’s 175,000.  Strong traces of the city’s French-Spanish heritage remained, combined with African-American influences from both slaves and a community of free persons of color.  During the 1840s and 1850s the city’s dominant role in the cotton trade prompted an influx of Northern businessmen and emigrants from Germany and Ireland.

The Mississippians serving in the 1st New Orleans Infantry performed their duties amid the many strange and unfamiliar aspects of life in New Orleans.  Records suggest they were housed in newly constructed barracks just north of the city.  Other soldiers in their regiment were a roughly equal mixture of Northerners and foreign-born recruits.  Military reports show that the 77th U.S. Colored Troops were under the same general command, suggesting at least some interaction between the two regiments.  Their normal duties also required the Mississippians to interact with the citizenry of an occupied city.  The fact that they were Southerners in blue uniforms meant many New Orleanians viewed them as traitors and scoundrels—and probably had little compunction about expressing this view.     

When all this is taken into account, it is not surprising that some Piney Woods men had second thoughts about their Union enlistment and departed; the actual wonder is that so many stayed.  And, by and large, they did stay.  Before delving into their service histories, it is pertinent to compare the Mississippi recruits with their compatriots.  We might suspect that the Piney Woods men, being mostly independent-minded yeoman—many of whom had deserted Confederate service—would not measure up to their fellow soldiers.  Such suspicions turn out to be wrong.

Military records reveal that, as a group, the 203 Mississippi soldiers performed better than their counterparts on two key measures.  A random sampling of 470 (40%) of the 1,174 soldiers with no Mississippi connection was used to make the comparisons.  Despite the alien environment and their proximity to home, far fewer Mississippi men failed to report for muster or desert prior to the end of the war.

The relative performance of the two groups is depicted in Table 1:

Service outcome comparison

MS

Other *

Not taken up on muster rolls

3.9%

8.1%

Deserted BEFORE end of war

8.4%

20.2%

Deserted AFTER end of war

21.7%

27.9%

Died in service

27.6%

4.5%

TABLE 1:  Service performance of 203 Mississippi enlistees in the 1st New Orleans compared with random sampling of 470 (40%) of 1,174 non-Mississippians.

Service outcomes are categorized as follows:  1) enlisted but failed to appear for muster; 2) deserted before the end of the war (defined by later Congressional acts as May 22, 1865); 3) deserted after the end of the war; 4) granted medical or other discharge; 5) died during term of service; and 6) completed service and discharged when the 1st New Orleans was decommissioned on June 1, 1866.  A breakdown of these outcomes is shown in Table 2:

MS service outcomes

No.

%

   Not taken up on muster rolls

8

3.9%

   Deserted BEFORE end of war

17

8.4%

   Deserted AFTER end of war

44

21.7%

   Medical discharges

12

5.9%

   Other discharges

2

1.0%

   Died in service

56

27.6%

   Completed service

64

31.5%

         Total enlistees

203

100.0%

TABLE 2:  Service outcomes of Mississippi soldiers who served in the 1st New Orleans Infantry.

Now let’s take a closer look at these outcomes and some of the men who exemplified each:

FAILURE TO REPORT FOR MUSTER – After a recruit signed his enlistment papers, there was often an interval of several days before he reported for muster.  Some men simply pocketed the $25 bounty payment and disappeared, resulting in a file entry of “Not taken up on muster rolls.” Eight Mississippians enlisted but were not mustered, or 3.9% of the total.  As shown in Table 1, this was less than half the rate found in the sampling of non-Mississippians.

It is doubtful any of the Piney Woods men enlisted with the intention of bounty jumping.  A more probable explanation is that these recruits experienced a culture shock which they could not tolerate.  Men such as James Dearman, John W. Rester, and William Spradley decided to take their chances with Confederate troops and headed back home.

DESERTION – In the period between their enlistment and the end of the war, 17 of the Mississippi men deserted.  Two of them, Irvin E. Elzey and Marion H. Ellis, left after serving only 93 and 99 days, respectively.  Marion Ellis, who enlisted at age 18, deserted on June 2, 1864 only to be arrested six days later.  He was charged with being absent without leave, having stolen a gold watch from a prisoner of war, and using insubordinate language.  Sentenced to 18 months confinement, he was released under a general order and given a dishonorable discharge on December 29, 1865.  At the other end of the age range, Irvin Elzey was grey-haired and 43-years-old when he signed up on April 28, 1864.  He received a promotion to Corporal on June 1, but was listed as having deserted on July 30.  Descendants report that he died in November 1864 as a result of a train derailment in New Orleans.

The remaining 15 men who deserted prior to the war’s end did so only after serving an average of 288 days.  Many made the unfortunate decision to leave in the early months of 1865.  The choice was unfortunate because in the 1890s Congress passed increasingly lenient pension legislation to curry favor with Union veterans.  Provisions were added allowing those who deserted on or after May 22, 1865 to apply to have the charges removed, paving the way for pension eligibility.  General Baron DeKalb O’Neal deserted on February 27 and Henry F. Davis on April 1 of 1865.  Both later sought to have their desertion charges removed, but their requests were denied.

The case of Albert Walters, on the other hand, illustrates how capricious military justice and the Federal pension bureaucracy could be.  On November 27, 1864, Albert left his company.  The 38- year-old Jones County native was apprehended a few days later, charged with desertion, and sentenced to one year’s confinement at Fort Jefferson, in the Dry Tortugas islands off the coast of Florida.  A few days shy of completing his sentence, he was subject to the general release of December 29, 1865.  Transported back to New Orleans, he was mustered out of service on February 21, 1866.  However, because his sentence did not stipulate a dishonorable discharge, forty years later he received approval for an invalid’s pension.

When the war ended, the Mississippi soldiers remain bound by their three-year enlistments.  For most that meant serving until the spring of 1867.  Wanting to return to their families, 44 Piney Woods men abandoned their posts between May 22, 1865 and June 1, 1866—when the 1st New Orleans was decommissioned.  Of these, 31 later made successful applications to have their post-war desertion charges removed.

Some men deserted and later returned to service.  All such cases have been counted among the desertions.  Robert Spencer  left his post on July 14, 1865 after learning that his step-father, who killed his mother in 1862, had returned to Jasper County.  Two weeks later Spencer turned himself in, was sentenced by a court martial panel to three months at hard labor, and afterward rejoined his company.  Seaborn Tisdale, detached to Mobile, deserted on June 17, 1865.  On November 6, he voluntarily surrendered in New Orleans.   He was sentenced to two months in the city jail and then completed his service.

MEDICAL DISCHARGES – Fourteen men received discharges prior to the end of their term of service, 12 of which were for medical disability.  An example is 18 year-old Harro Bellman from Jackson County.  On May 10, 1865, six months after his enlistment, he was admitted to the U.S. General Hospital for treatment of an unspecified illness.  Less than a month later, on June 6, he was discharged from the hospital and military service in compliance with recently issued general orders requiring those with chronic illnesses to be expeditiously removed from the military rolls.  Harro Bellman recovered, later qualified for a pension, and died in Mobile in 1920 at age 71. 

 DEATHS IN SERVICE – The death rate among Piney Woods men of the 1st New Orleans disputes arguments that recruits were motivated by the lure of U.S. greenbacks and easy duty.  Between April of 1864 and January of 1866, a total of 56 men died—27.6% of all who enlisted. 

The first recorded death was that of 25-year-old Augustus Lambert from Jasper County, who enlisted at Fort Pike along with 27 other men on March 25, 1864.  Lambert died at the fort on April 17.  Deaths mounted over the following few months:  four in July, six in August, seven in September, and five in October.  November, 1864, proved to be the peak month for mortality, witnessing the demise of 10 men.  By the end of 1864 the death toll had reached 36.  Since many of these men had enlisted with kinsmen, the Mississippians were well aware of the price they paid for their service.

Enlistment Document of Augustus (“Gus”) Lambert

The causes of death, where recorded, were typically camp diseases: small pox, chronic diarrhea, and pneumonia.  The high mortality rate among the Piney Woods men compared to others in the 1st New Orleans—six times greater—is a point of curiosity.  The most likely explanation is that most of the other soldiers were urban residents and/or Union veterans.  By the time they joined the 1st New Orleans—which did not begin recruitment until September of 1863—the more susceptible of their cohorts had already succumbed.  Although over half of the Mississippians had previously served in Confederate units, they clearly arrived in New Orleans more vulnerable to disease than their counterparts.

Riley J. Collins of Jones County was one of the fatalities.  Later informants spoke of his adamant opposition to secession.  When the first Confederate Conscription Act was enacted in April of 1862 he was exempted by age, being 36.  Later that year the act was amended to include men up through age 45, but he refused to enlist.  His wife Desdemonia died that same year, leaving him to care for their six children.  Nevertheless, when Col. Robert Lowry led troops into Jones County to force men into Confederate service, Riley Collins made his way to Fort Pike and enlisted on April 30, 1864.  He entered the U.S. General Hospital on August 20 and died 10 days later.  His orphaned children were taken in and raised by a brother.

The pre-war political views of John W. Axton are unknown.  A native of Alabama, he moved to Perry County where the 1860 federal census listed him with a wife and new-born son.  On April 4, 1862, John joined the 46th MS Infantry at Raleigh.  He was sent to a hospital in Brandon in November and deserted from there.  The next record of him is among the group of men who enlisted at Fort Pike on March 25, 1864.  The 28-year-old died at the regimental hospital on October 11 and was buried, like most of the others, in Chalmette Cemetery.  His widow successfully applied for survivor’s benefits.

As noted, many of the Mississippi soldiers shared kinship bonds.  There were several instances of two or more brothers joining and some cases of fathers and sons enlisting.  Disease and death did not respect such family ties.  David McBride, age 45, and his 18-year-old son William enlisted at Fort Pike on March 25, 1864.  In late May, David was admitted to the University Hospital where on July 24 he succumbed to chronic diarrhea.  One week later his son William died in the U.S. General Hospital of small pox.

COMPLETED SERVICE – Sixty-four of the Mississippi soldiers remained in the 1st New Orleans until mustered out on June 1, 1866.  The longest serving of the enlistees were Robert McIntire, who signed up on November 7, 1863 and Enoch E. McFadden, who joined two weeks later.  Within seven months of his enlistment Robert McIntire had gained a promotion to Corporal, only to be returned to the ranks in December of 1864.  Still, he displayed sufficient military tact to be assigned as an orderly at Regimental Headquarters in September of 1865.  After the war he was a peddler in Harrison County and died in Louisiana sometime after 1890.

Enoch E. McFadden exemplifies those whose military records indicate a dramatic shift in loyalties.  He enrolled as a 2nd Lieutenant in the “Gainesville Volunteers” on July 1, 1861 and was elected Captain on October 5.  The unit, thereafter identified as Company K or G, became a part of the 3rd MS Infantry.  When the company held a second vote for officers in May 1, 1862,   Enoch was not re-elected.  A muster card simply notes he was dropped from the rolls on that date.  Eighteen months later, on November 18, 1863, Enoch and two brothers, James and Milton, enlisted in the 1st New Orleans. Milton was 31 and Enoch 30, while younger brother James had just turned 18.

Milton H. McFadden, whose connection with the others I only recently uncovered, joined the CSA 8th Louisiana Infantry in March, 1862.  His regiment saw action in Virginia where he was taken prisoner and later exchanged.  In August of 1863 he was reported absent without leave and next appeared in New Orleans.  All three brothers were assigned to Company A of the 1st New Orleans.  In April, 1864, Enoch and Milton were both promoted to the rank of Sergeant.  On November 8 their brother James died of chronic diarrhea at Winn Island.  However, both Enoch and Milton completed their terms of service.  A pension application by his widow suggests Enoch died in 1894.  Milton moved to Texas, was granted an invalid pension in 1890, and died in 1922.

The McFadden brothers epitomize lingering questions about what motivated the Union enlistees.  Early organizers of Southern units felt entitled to command and, if elections for officers did not go their way, sometimes resigned as a point of honor.  But even if this were true of Enoch McFadden—and the evidence is meager—it hardly explains his change of allegiance.  Nor does it explain why his brothers demonstrated a similar rupture in Confederate loyalties.  For now, we can only publish these long ignored names of Union soldiers from the Mississippi Piney Woods and hope that further information will come to light.

 This concludes the first series of posts concerning research on the Mississippi enlistees in the 1st New Orleans Infantry.  At some point, I hope to return to this topic with a table listing those who died and, when known, their burial locations and also provide more stories about some of the individual soldiers.  E.P.

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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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Part 2: No better than runaway slaves:  Piney Woods enlistees in the Union 1st N.O. Infantry

 

By Ed Payne

Between November of 1863 and November of 1864, over two hundred Mississippi men—nearly all from the state’s southern Piney Woods region—trekked to Louisiana and joined the Union 1st and 2nd New Orleans Infantry regiments (Note 1).  The names of the men thus far identified and the methods used to discover them were discussed in Part 1 of this series Reviewing the list of names, a question naturally emerges:  what caused these men, many of them formerly in Confederate units, to join with the enemy?  

Descendants who acknowledge their ancestors’ service in the Union Army often cite financial motives, saying it was done purely for U.S. greenbacks.  While it is true that Confederate currency had collapsed, subsistence farmers and herders of the Piney Woods did not share our modern dependency on money.  Their lives were rooted in a self-sufficiency which we can scarcely comprehend.  The small amounts of money they obtained—usually from periodic sales of livestock in Mobile, Alabama—bought a few staple goods such as salt, sugar, coffee, flour and whiskey.  Larger amounts of money could buy land but, prior to the timber boom of the 1880s, the Piney Woods included large tracts of open range on which all livestock could be set loose to graze.  Yeoman herders only needed the modest acreage which they and their families could till.  Given the passions engendered by the war, if money played a role in their decision I think it was a minor one.   

It would be wonderful to discover a trove of letters or a diary written by one of these men.  Based upon the ability to sign their names on enlistment papers, it appears that 30% of the Mississippian enlistees had basic literacy skills. This did not imply, however, that they possessed either the capacity or desire to compose lengthy passages justifying their actions.  Elias Allen authored the single letter by a Piney Woods Union soldier that has come to my attention.  In it, he wrote his sister-in-law to report the death of her husband, Alvin Sumrall.  The letter contains a mere 180 words.

Elias A. Allen

Even without further documents from individual Union enlistees, the following factors emerge as motives for their change of allegiance:

UNIONISM (or at least anti-secessionism) – While the state of Mississippi ranked second only to South Carolina in secessionist fever, the fever did not afflict everyone.  Even so, it is difficult to identify those men who steadfastly held Unionist convictions simply because such opinions were rarely documented.  In Mississippi’s heated late antebellum period, voicing anti-secessionist sentiments could be dangerous—unless one lived in an area where such contrarian views were widely shared.  Several contemporary accounts point to Jones County as being one of those areas.  Researcher Jeff Giambrone recently uncovered a newspaper item describing an anti-secessionist meeting in the county. 

It should be noted that similar, if more muted, sentiments were also expressed by a number of wealthy slave-owners—although for very different reasons.  These individuals were dubious about Southern chances of winning a war and worried about the prospects for slavery in the event of a loss.  When the Mississippi Secession Convention was held in January of 1861, 15 delegates from 10 counties voted against leaving the Union.  These nay votes came from counties with both small and large slave populations (Note 2).

Evidence shows some pre-war Unionists among the men who signed up at Fort Pike and in New Orleans.  Riley J. Collins of Jones County was remembered by neighbors and kinfolk as an ardent defender of the Union, while documents found in the military file of Robert Spencer of Jasper County cast him in a similar light.  For many others, however, Union enlistment represented a drastic turnabout in loyalties.   

CONSCRIPTION & ENLISTMENTS – When the Civil War began in the spring of 1861, military service was—save for local social pressures—an entirely voluntary matter.  It seems reasonable to assume that men who enlisted in 1861 were motivated by “the cause” or at least by notions of participating in a brief, glorious military adventure.  One year later, an expanding war and mounting casualties forced the Confederate Congress to enact its first Conscription Act.  This law applied to able bodied men ages 18-35 and eventually extended to ages 17-50.  There were some occupational exemptions and provisions for hiring substitutes, but these applied to few men in the Piney Woods.  In the wake of the Conscription Act, men had three choices:  enlist in a locally raised company; await conscription, which was commonly viewed as dishonorable; or attempt to evade conscription, considered nearly unthinkable. 

Early on, I assumed that Mississippians who joined the 1st New Orleans had entered Confederate service in 1862 or later under pressure of conscription.  I expected an examination of Confederate records to verify this assumption.  Establishing matches can be difficult since the CSA files seldom recorded the soldier’s age or birthplace, and given names were often rendered as initials.  On the other hand, companies were typically raised within specific counties and retained their local identity.  Also, family members usually enlisted in the same company.  Using these clues, 101 strong matches were found between the New Orleans recruits and earlier Confederate enlistees (Note 3).

The Confederate records revealed—in utter disregard for my reasoning—that out of the 101 former Confederate soldiers, 31 enlisted in 1861.  These men joined local companies well before pressured to do so by conscription laws.  Another eight volunteered between January and March of 1862.  Of the 31 earliest volunteers, 14 joined Gulf Coast companies that became part of the 3rd MS Infantry in October of 1861.  Among them were  D.W. Bounds, Charles Cuevas, Enoch E. McFadden (Captain of the “Gainesville Volunteers”), G.T. Mitchell, Robert Page, and James L. Seal.  All would later serve in the 1st New Orleans.  Even in the heart of the Piney Woods, seven future Union recruits enlisted in the 8th MS Infantry regiment on May 4, 1861: Wiley Courtney, Hansford and James Dossett, William Holyfield, Eli Rushing, Martin V.B. Shows, and William Tippet.  To explain the change of heart in these men, we must examine their wartime experiences.

“RICH MAN’S WAR, POOR MAN’S FIGHT” – In October of 1862, six months after instituting conscription, the Confederate Congress passed the “20 Negro Law.”  The legislation granted planters one military service exemption for every 20 slaves owned.   In those sections of the South where slaves comprised a large percent of the population, whites were perpetually apprehensive over possible uprisings.  Lawmakers felt it prudent to retain a certain number of men on plantations to manage their bondsmen.  However, many non-slave owning soldiers took an understandably dim view of the law.  Those given to pondering such matters questioned whether the war had become one of poor men fighting to protect the slave property of rich men.  Some of these men began leaving the ranks in the winter of 1862. 

WAR FATIGUE AND FAMILY NEEDS – By the early spring of 1863 a scattering of yeoman farmers, now realizing the war would be a lengthy one, left their units to return home and plant crops—without which their families’ lives would be precarious.  The first report of a Piney Woods deserter problem came from 2nd Lieutenant H. C. Mathis of the 8th MS Infantry, who wrote Governor John J. Pettus on June 1, 1863 notifying him of “between seventy-five and one-hundred deserters” in Jones County.  Mathis, who had settled in the area prior to the war, said he received word of the situation from “responsible men” in his community. 

At the same time, other men from the region were huddled within the defensive perimeter around Vicksburg.  Confederate forces included the 7th Battalion MS Infantry and the 36th, 37th, 38th, 40th, and 46th MS Infantry regiments, all of which contained companies organized in the Piney Woods.  After enduring 47 days of constant bombardment and dwindling supplies, Confederate General John C. Pemberton finally surrendered on July 4, 1863.  Union commander Ulysses S. Grant, not wishing to assume responsibility for 30,000 prisoners, decided to offer paroles.  The parole documents pledged each man not to take up arms against the United States until properly exchanged for a Union prisoner (Note 4). 

The Piney Woods men saw a Union Army firmly in control of central Mississippi while contemplating the privations endured by their families.  These realizations caused a number of them to conclude that their obligation to the Confederacy had been fulfilled.   They began walking home.  Among them were later Union enlistees Richard D. Bound, John C. Culpepper, Asa Easterling, James Grantham, William McBride, Daniel Sumrall, and Hanson Walters.  Following the surrender, General Pemberton issued furloughs requiring the parolees to report to exchange camp by August 23.  The date appears in several records as the point from which these soldiers were considered absent without leave.

IN-KIND TAXATION – When war-weary soldiers returned home, they found another reason for distress.  In April of 1863 the Confederacy enacted in-kind taxation.  Regional quartermasters and their agents were authorized to seize 10% of agricultural produce and 10% livestock raised for slaughter.  They could confiscate more if they deemed the individual noncompliant.  The state troops enforcing these laws were frequently led by men of the planter class, who viewed the hard scrabble yeomen with disdain.  A Confederate officer who took part in Col. Robert Lowry’s campaign noted that such attitudes “have done more to demoralize Jones County than the whole Yankee army.” Since Federal troops made very few incursions into the Piney Woods, the poorer inhabitants began to view Confederate tax agents and state troops as greater enemies. 

HANGINGS AND DOGS – Desertions were a vexation for Confederate commanders, as they continue to be for Lost Cause devotees seeking unblemished Confederate pedigrees among their ancestors.  Because Southern military records grew more sporadic as the war continued, it is difficult to determine how many Piney Woods men left their units and how many remained in the ranks until the war’s end (Note 5).  By spring of 1864, however, reports describing the number of deserters and their influence goaded officials into ordering troops into the Piney Woods.  Back-to-back campaigns were mounted, the first led by Col. Henry Maury in March and the second by Col. Robert Lowry in April.  Their primary objectives were to restore Confederate authority and to force deserters back into service.

In a society grounded in a sense of personal honor, abandoning a military unit in which one’s relatives and neighbors also served must have been a wrenching decision.  Returning home to find one’s family in destitute conditions increased the strain.  Only a few years earlier these men had existed in a realm largely free of external authority.  Now they found themselves conscripted, taxed, and pursued by those who claimed to be protecting their rights.

Col. Robert Lowry felt stern measures were necessary.  His troops hanged seven men on April 15-16.  He took fathers hostage to coerce their sons into surrendering.  And he deployed dogs to track down the deserters.  Accounts handed down by member of the Newt Knight Band make frequent mention of these dogs—and for good reason.  Our modern sensibilities have been dulled by years of watching movie depictions of wily prison escapees eluding bloodhounds.  We fail to appreciate the way in which these men perceived the use of dogs.  Planters employed tracking dogs to hunt down fugitive slaves; now the same animals had been unleashed on those who took pride in being free white men.  The sounds of the pack hounds must have produced a bitter realization in the minds of the Piney Woods deserters:  Confederate authorities deemed them no better than runaway slaves. 

"Fugitive slave attacked by dogs" (Image reference NW0200; http://hitchcock.itc.virginia.edu/Slavery/index.php, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.)

 

The above factors help us to understand the stresses that caused some men to make profound breaks with their past.  The timing of the influx of Mississippians into the New Orleans Union regiments clearly reflects the anger and humiliation evoked by the Maury and Lowry campaigns.  In the end, circumstances forced two hundred Piney Woods men—including some of the earliest volunteers in the Southern cause—to conclude that the costs of Confederate loyalty had finally become too onerous to bear.

__________________________________

Note 1:  As described in Part 1, the 2nd New Orleans Infantry was disbanded in August of 1864.  All but three of the 2nd New Orleans Piney Wood enlistees subsequently appear on the 1st New Orleans rolls.  Therefore, this and future posts will focus exclusively on the 1st New Orleans recruits. 

Note 2:  The vote was 84 in favor of secession and 15 opposed.  Mississippi counties casting votes against secession were:  Adams, Amite, Attala, Franklin, Itawamba (split vote), Perry, Rankin, Tishomingo, Washington, and Warren (split vote).  Jones County elected a representative, by a 166 to 89 margin, pledged to oppose secession.  However, after realizing the declaration of secession would pass handily, he cast his vote in favor.  

Note 3:  More problematic matches with Confederate military records were found for 29 other 1st New Orleans recruits.  In eight cases the commonality of the names produced too many possibilities.  No CSA service matches were identified for the remaining 65 New Orleans recruits.  Of these, 36 (55.4%) were under age 21—suggesting that as the war continued, some Piney Woods youths reaching conscription age failed to report and had local support in doing so.

Note 4:  Five days after the surrender of Vicksburg, the fortress at Port Hudson, Louisiana capitulated on July 9, 1864 following a 48 day siege.  Among the surrendering forces was the 39th MS Infantry, composed mostly of companies mustered in the Piney Woods.  As was the case in Vicksburg, the men were released on parole.

Note 5:  Those who enlisted in the 1st New Orleans were a minority, even among the population of Piney Woods deserters.  If we assume that 90% of men ages 15-39 on the 1860 census ended up serving in Confederate military units, Union enlistees would comprise 2.7% of the number from Jones and its bordering counties (98 of 3,668).  Using the same calculation applied to just Jones, Marion, and Perry counties, the percent of Union enlistees is 7.1% (90 of 1,261).

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Crossing the Rubicon of Loyalties: Piney Woods enlistees in the Union 1st and 2nd New Orleans Infantry

By Ed Payne

Part I

Two years ago I gave a presentation in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a portion of which dealt with the Knight Band.  Afterwards, three attendees approached me saying they wished to register a complaint.  These ladies were not upset, as one might suspect, about my broaching the subject of Piney Woods dissent against Confederate authority.  Instead, they expressed good natured consternation that “Jones County gets all the attention.”  They told me there were family stories, more openly discussed in recent years, about men from Marion and Perry counties who also opposed the Confederacy and even enlisted in the Union Army.   I solicited names from them and, later, from others who made similar claims.  In each case, research into military and pension files proved the rumor to be true.

My small but slowly growing list of Piney Woods men who became Union soldiers was augmented by those uncovered by Shelby Harriel .  Even so, several contemporary accounts mentioned not dozens, but hundreds of renegades (see preceding article).  This raised two questions:  How extensive was opposition to Confederate authority within the Mississippi Piney Woods during the final years of the Civil War?  And can this resistance be accurately ascribed to the leadership of a single man?  Seeking a new frame of reference, I undertook a complete review of the two Union regiments most frequently cited as those in which Piney Woods men enlisted:  the 1st and 2nd New Orleans Infantry.  The results may be found in the list of names accompanying this article.

Readers of “Renegade South” will be familiar with the fact that in the spring of 1864 Confederate forces, most famously those of  Col. Robert Lowry, were sent into the Piney Woods to quell resistance and compel deserters back into their units.  Many of those not caught up in the Confederate dragnet fled south to the swamps of the lower Pearl River, a region known as Honey Island.  At this point the refugees were encamped a mere 10 miles from the Union garrison at Fort Pike, Louisiana. Communications were established and groups of men began arriving at Fort Pike.

Aerial view of Fort Pike as it appeared prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005

Fort Pike was one of a series of fortifications, including Fort Sumter, built by the federal government in the wake of the War of 1812 for coastal defense.  The massive brick and mortar structure was completed in 1827. Situated on a peninsula of land, it guarded the Rigolets—a strait connecting Lake Pontchartrain with the Gulf of Mexico.  Louisiana militia occupied the fort at the outbreak of the Civil War, but it was abandoned by the Confederacy after New Orleans fell into Union hands in April of 1862.

When Piney Woods men made the decision to be ferried across the Rigolets and enter Fort Pike, they were also crossing a personal Rubicon of loyalties.  Henceforth, they were no longer simply resisting Confederate conscription and taxation; they were joining a Union Army whose mission, in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation, was to banish slavery.  If any were unclear about this fact, the sight of United States Colored Troops training at Fort Pike must have quickly educated them.

In counterintuitive military fashion, the 2nd New Orleans began enrolling troops in October of 1863, six months prior to the 1st New Orleans.  Never reaching full strength, it was disbanded in August of 1864 and its men transferred into the 1st New Orleans.  The 2nd New Orleans Infantry rolls cover 267 men, totaling 1,813 documents.    Those of the 1st New Orleans Infantry account for 1,377 men and comprise 20,829 documents.  The military files have been digitized and are available via the subscription service Footnote.com.  For purposes of this study, the records of every man in the two regiments were reviewed and summarized on spreadsheets.

At the outset my expectations were modest.  Several decades ago researcher Jean Strickland compiled information on 34 Union Army pension applications filed from Jones County.  During preliminary research, I located nine additional applications filed from other counties.  It seemed possible that by reversing the focus and examining all 1st and 2nd New Orleans records, perhaps another 30 or 40 names might be revealed.  But this proved to be a sizable miscalculation.  The records yielded the names of 206 Mississippians who enlisted in these regiments between November of 1863 and November of 1864.  Out of this total, 201 (97.6%) can be identified as inhabitants of the Piney Woods region (see note 1).

The names in the accompanying tables were ascertained by several methods: first, a table was created of all enlistees who reported Mississippi nativity.  It should be emphasized that enlistment documents recorded the birthplace of the recruit, not his pre-war residence.  Therefore, an attempt was made to crosscheck names against the federal censuses of 1850 and 1860.  It was not possible to establish matches in all cases, but the effort revealed the first evidence of kinship ties mirroring those explored by Victoria Bynum in Free State of Jones:  Mississippi’s Longest Civil War.  Of the 178 men whose military records identified them as native Mississippians, 170 reported Piney Woods nativity and census records indicate three others had apparently settled in the region by 1860.  These individuals are listed in Table 1 (see note 2).

To identify enlistees from Mississippi who had been born elsewhere, or whose files lacked nativity information, required delving deeper into census records.  Nearly all the military files recorded the date and location of enlistment.  It became evident early in the study that a large majority of Mississippians (84%) enlisted at Fort Pike, whereas other enlistees more typically joined at the New Orleans recruiting depot.  Therefore, census crosschecks were done on all men who enlisted at Fort Pike between January and August of 1864 using name, age, and state of birth.  This method identified men born in other states, but who later settled in the Piney Woods.  An example is John W. Axton, a 28 year-old farmer who enrolled at Fort Pike on March 25, 1864.  His enlistment papers state he was born in Morgan County, Alabama.  Census research shows that by 1850 his family had moved to Lauderdale County, Mississippi.  In 1860 he is found residing in Perry County with a wife and infant son.

Enlistment doc. of John W. Axton, who resided in Perry Co., MS in 1860, joined the 1st N.O. Infantry on 25 Mar. 1864, and died the following October.

About one-third of the regimental files are missing nativity information.   Still, the names and ages of those who enlisted at Fort Pike from January to August of 1864 provided some basis for crosschecking against 1850-1870 federal censuses of Mississippi.  In practice this method was less capricious than it may sound.   Common names that yielded too many possible candidates were excluded.   Of the names included, 70% can be verified through later pension applications.  Table 2 lists the 25 Mississippi recruits ascertained by these methods, along with census identification.  All lived within the Piney Woods region.

To determine if reliance on enlistment at Fort Pike as an indicator had been too exclusionary, a further check was made.  This focused on 63 men, all with records lacking nativity information, who enrolled between January and August 1864 at locations other than Fort Pike.  Among this group, only one emerged as a possible Piney Woods resident.

Fifty-one of the Mississippians identified on the 1st New Orleans rolls were initially assigned to the 2nd New Orleans.  As mentioned, this unit was disbanded in August 1864 and the men transferred to the 1st New Orleans.  However, the 2nd New Orleans records proved useful in establishing nativity for several men whose birth information was missing in the 1st New Orleans files.  Only three Piney Woods men appear in the 2nd New Orleans files but not subsequently on the 1st New Orleans rolls.  Their names are listed in Table 3, but they were excluded from all analysis pertained to the 1st New Orleans Piney Woods enlistees.

Finally, Table 4 lists other men who reported southern or even Mississippi nativity, but who are currently excluded from the count due to lack of supporting evidence.  While most probably resided in neighboring states, a few may be candidates for inclusion pending further research.  For example, Benjamin B. Patricks joined the 1st New Orleans at Fort Pike on March 25, 1864, stating he was 45 years-old.  Also attempting to enlist that same day was Edward Patricks, who claimed to be 17.  Both reporting being natives of Orangeville, South Carolina.  While Edward was rejected as underage, Benjamin was accepted and served until his desertion after the war.  The 1860 census of Jones County listed Richard Patrick, age 45, and a son named Edward, age 12—both natives of South Carolina.  Did Richard adopt “Benjamin B. Patricks” as a nom de guerre and if so why?  He later successfully applied for a pension and his file may provide an answer.

It should be kept in mind that the 206 men thus far identified formed a distinct minority among all those from their region who served during the Civil War.  Many others remained within the Confederate ranks, however faithfully or begrudgingly.  But the current research suggests that dissenters were more numerous and diffuse than previously thought.  While some might have harbored Unionist sympathies from the outset of the war, most probably developed growing resentment towards Confederate authority as the war dragged on.  The campaigns by Col. Henry Maury and Col. Robert Lowry in the spring of 1864, aimed at forcing them back into southern service, instead provoked a final severing of loyalties.

There is surprisingly little overlap between the men listed on the Newt Knight rosters and those who joined the Union regiments.  Of the 99 names associated with the Knight Band, only ten appear on the rolls of the 1st New Orleans.  In the years following the war, Newt Knight stated that he periodically revised his roster to eliminate men whom he felt had not maintained a proper Unionist stance.  Perhaps so, but given his efforts to obtain federal compensation for himself and his men, Knight may have also culled those he knew to be eligible for pensions based on their service in New Orleans.  This would help explain why over two dozen names on Union pension applications filed from Jones County are absent from Knight Band rosters (see note 3).

If Newt Knight chose to rewrite history according to his own dictates, he was neither the first nor the last to do so.   But the re-discovery of these 206 names provides testimony that opposition to Confederate authority in the Piney Woods extended well beyond the ranks of the Knight Band and far outside the boundaries of Jones County.  Newt Knight can be accurately credited with organizing the largest band of renegades in the region; however, it seems increasingly counterfactual to portray him as the sole prophet of Piney Woods dissent.

I believe that the list of names is substantially complete.  As noted, I am working to clarify the status of several other recruits, but possible additions are likely to number less than a dozen.  It seems worth noting that, even at the present count, the Piney Woods enlistees account for nearly 15% of all 1st New Orleans Infantry recruits.

In future posts in this series I will discuss some of the general characteristics of the enlistees, compare their performance as soldiers with others in the 1st New Orleans, and delve into some of the many individual and family stories that are coming to light.  I hope that by sharing the names of these Union enlistees, more descendants may come forth to share family lore and possibly documents which will help us to better understand this little known but intriguing chapter of Civil War history in the Deep South.

Note 1:  There are differing definitions of the area that comprises the Mississippi Piney Woods.  For purpose of this study, I included all Mississippi counties traversed by or south of a line from Vicksburg to Meridian, with the exception of those directly bordering the Mississippi River (Adams, Claiborne, Jefferson, Warren, and Wilkinson).  This encompasses 23 counties:  Amite, Clarke, Copiah, Covington, Franklin, Greene, Hancock, Harrison, Hinds, Jackson, Jasper, Jones, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Marion, Newton, Perry, Pike, Rankin, Scott, Simpson, Smith, and Wayne.

Note 2:  As a general rule, enlistees reporting Mississippi nativity but found to be residing outside the state on pre-war censuses were excluded from the list.  Exceptions were made in three cases, all owing to kinship ties with other enlistees.  In the first case, the family of Ellis Bounds moved to St Helena Parish, Louisiana shortly before the 1860 census. Ellis was related to several other Bounds men who enlisted.  The other two cases involved brothers Martin Van Buren Parker and Thomas Jefferson Parker.  Their family moved from Jones County, Mississippi to Washington County, Alabama (across the state line from Wayne County, Mississippi) in the late 1840s.  The censuses of 1850 and 1860 show them residing there.  However, they were cousins of several other Parkers who enlisted in New Orleans and Martin Parker resettled in Jones County after the war (his brother Thomas died while serving in the 1st New Orleans).

Note 3:  The figure of 99 names associated with the Knight Band comes from my cross-compilation of three rosters:  1) The 1870 roster Newt Knight submitted as part of his claim for federal compensation, 2) the roster included in Thomas J. Knight’s Life and Activities of Captain Newton Knight (p 16-17), and 3) the roster published in Ethel Knight’s Echo of the Black Horn (p 89-89, 161).

TABLE 1:  1st New Orleans enlistees with Mississippi nativity recorded in their military files (refer to Note 2).

Died

  Name

Enlisted

Co

Age

  Birth Co

CW

  Elias A. Allen

05/19/1864

E

34

  Perry
  Willey Allen

05/19/1864

E

30

  Lawrence
  Elisha Anderson

05/23/1864

G

31

  Perry

X

  John Anderson

05/23/1864

G

29

  Perry
  James W. Arnold

06/11/1864

H

20

  Jackson
  Nora Belland

02/20/1864

F

20

  Jackson
  Harro Bellman

11/04/1864

I

18

  Jackson
  James O. Bennett

07/02/1864

H

22

  Jasper
  Henry Bond

06/24/1864

H

24

  Harrison
  William Boon

05/29/1864

H

19

  Marion

X

  Addison Bounds

03/30/1864

D

21

  Marion
  Daniel W. Bounds

06/24/1864

H

24

  Perry
  Ellis Bounds

05/23/1864

G

20

  Perry

X

  James Bounds

03/30/1864

D

23

  Marion
  John Bounds

04/21/1864

G

20

  Hancock

X

  Richard D. Bounds

03/25/1864

D

20

  Jasper
  William Bounds

04/21/1864

I

28

  Hancock
  William P. Boutwell

06/15/1864

I

18

  Pike
  James F. Braddy

06/21/1864

E

26

  Jones
  William Braddy

05/29/1864

H

20

  Covington
  Daniel Breland

05/19/1864

E

34

  Perry
  Meridy Broome

05/19/1864

E

27

  Covington
  John R. Burge

04/28/1864

E

19

  Hancock
  Prentice Bynum

05/26/1864

E

18

  Jones
  Joseph Byrd

12/23/1863

F

30

  Jasper
  Thomas Cameron

05/29/1864

H

19

  Marion
  James Clark

03/25/1864

C

19

  Perry

X

  Joel T. Clark

05/15/1864

H

20

  Perry
  Newton R. Clearman

04/18/1864

D

24

  Newton
  Riley J. Collins

04/30/1864

E

37

  Jones

X

  Isaac Cook

03/30/1864

D

19

  Newton
  Wylie C. Courtney

05/22/1864

G

24

  Smith
  Jacob Cox

04/18/1864

D

38

  Jones
  Elisha Crane

07/05/1864

H

19

  Rankin

X

  Rankin Crane

07/05/1864

H

18

  Rankin
  Charles J. Cuevas

02/02/1864

F

21

  Harrison
  John Culpepper

03/25/1864

D

18

  Jones
  Jessie Cunningham

05/19/1864

E

37

  Jasper

X

  William Dailey

04/28/1864

E

23

  Wayne

X

  Able Davis

05/26/1864

E

30

  Jones
  George W. Davis

05/23/1864

H

20

  Perry

X

  Henry F. Davis

06/29/1864

H

22

  Copiah
  James A. Davis

05/23/1864

G

23

  Perry

X

  Leroy T. Davis

05/03/1864

G

23

  Harrison
  James Dearman

05/29/1864

#

26

  Perry
  Allen DeBose

06/24/1864

H

23

  Jefferson *

X

  Riley DeBose

08/23/1864

H

30

  Perry

X

  Andrew Dement

04/19/1864

D

26

  Jones

X

  Hansford Dossett

03/25/1864

D

23

  Jones
  James A. Dossett

05/22/1864

G

24

  Jones
  Johnson Ellis

03/14/1864

A

36

  Lowndes *

X

  Marion H. Ellis

02/23/1864

C

18

  Lauderdale
  Asa B. Esterling

04/30/1864

E

21

  Perry
  William J. Finney

12/29/1863

C

32

  Pike

X

  Jessie T. Ford

06/11/1864

I

18

  Perry
  John Fortinbery

05/21/1864

E

24

  Marion
  Eugene Garcia

02/02/1864

F

16

  Hancock
  James Grantham

06/24/1864

H

24

  Perry

X

  Jesse R. Grice

04/18/1864

D

31

  Rankin
  John W. Gummell

06/15/1864

H

20

  Harrison
  Rutilles Harold

04/21/1864

G

25

  Jasper
  Jordan Harrington

04/28/1864

E

20

  Jones

X

  William J. Hatley

04/15/1864

G

25

  Lawrence
  Jeremiah Henley

05/19/1864

E

38

  Hancock
  Samuel D. Herron

06/25/1864

H

31

  Marion
  John Hester

06/14/1864

H

20

  Harrison
  John Hickman

06/14/1864

G

20

  Harrison
  William Hickman

05/03/1864

G

21

  Harrison
  George Hogan

05/03/1864

G

20

  Jasper
  John Holder

05/26/1864

E

18

  Jasper
  Brasille Holliman

05/12/1864

E

18

  Perry

X

  James Holliman

05/12/1864

E

18

  Perry

X

  Oliver Holliman

05/12/1864

E

26

  Smith
  Thomas Holliman

03/25/1864

D

33

  Perry

X

  William Holyfield

05/26/1864

E

24

  Jones
  Alexander Inman

06/20/1864

K

25

  Clarke

X

  Stephen Jenkins

03/25/1864

D

23

  Wayne
  Thomas Johnston

05/15/1864

E

24

  Jones

X

  William Jones

03/25/1864

D

32

  Marion
  William Knight

04/28/1864

E

24

  Jones
  Henry Landrum

03/25/1864

D

18

  Jones
  John Landrum

03/25/1864

D

19

  Jones

X

  Thomas Landrum

03/25/1864

D

43

  Jones
  William P. Landrum

03/25/1864

D

28

  Jones
  Nathaniel Lathiner

07/10/1864

H

18

  Hancock
  James W. Lee

04/13/1864

D

29

  Wayne

X

  Uriah Lee

05/03/1864

G

20

  Marion
  Ezekial Loftin

05/26/1864

E

23

  Lauderdale
  Thomas Loftin

05/26/1864

E

18

  Jasper
  Rutilles Loper

04/23/1864

G

32

  Jones
  Francis M. Lott

06/14/1864

H

20

  Harrison
  Bailey Martin

05/21/1864

E

18

  Attala *

X

  Caleb Martin

05/27/1864

H

34

  Perry

X

  Loth McArther

03/05/1864

H

18

  Hancock
  Enoch E. McFadden

11/18/1863

A

30

  Hancock
  James W. McFadden

11/18/1863

A

17

  Hancock

X

  Daniel McInnis

03/25/1864

D

19

  Greene
  George T. Mitchell

06/29/1864

K

21

  Hancock
  Mark W. Mitchell

03/30/1864

D

27

  Clarke
  John P. Myrick

04/21/1864

G

20

  Jasper
  William C. Nelson

07/05/1864

H

41

  Lowndes *
  John J. Newell

05/12/1864

E

26

  Perry
  Jacob Nicholson

04/28/1864

E

25

  Hancock

X

  General D. O Neal

07/08/1864

H

39

  Perry
  William Oadum

04/30/1864

E

18

  Perry

X

  Hezekiah Page

05/26/1864

G

22

  Jones
  Louis Page

05/26/1865

G

20

  Jones
  Robert Page

05/20/1864

G

24

  Jones
  John W. Parker

05/26/1864

E

23

  Newton
  Little B. Parker

07/13/1864

H

19

  Jasper
  Marion Parker

12/20/1863

F

27

  Jasper

X

  Obediah Parker

12/20/1863

F

40

  Wayne
  Pearson Parker

05/19/1864

E

34

  Coahoma *
  Thomas J. Parker

05/14/1864

B

19

  Clarke

X

  Elisha Perkins

07/08/1864

H

22

  Perry
  Daniel Pitts

03/25/1864

D

19

  Jones
  Elias Polk

03/25/1864

C

23

  Marion
  Calvin Raburn

05/21/1864

E

29

  Covington
  Thomas Redman

05/25/1864

G

20

  Jasper
  John W. Rester

06/14/1864

#

20

  Marion
  Ashberry Reynolds

05/12/1864

E

19

  Perry
  Charles Roberts

05/21/1864

H

19

  Lawrence
  Joseph Rowell

06/25/1864

#

25

  Marion
  William Rowell

06/25/1864

#

33

  Marion
  Samuel Sanders

05/26/1864

E

30

  Jasper
  Randolph Saucier

05/26/1864

G

21

  Harrison

X

  Anthony Seals

05/19/1864

#

18

  Hancock
  Thomas Shivers

06/25/1864

K

22

  Marion
  Martin V. Shows

03/25/1864

D

22

  Jones
  Jesse Slade

05/29/1864

B

19

  Marion

X

  Samuel Slade

05/29/1864

H

27

  Marion
  Andy Smith

04/19/1864

D

19

  Clarke
  Asbery Smith

03/25/1864

D

18

  Clarke
  Ira Smith

04/19/1864

D

18

  Clarke
  James Smith

05/12/1864

E

23

  Perry
  John L. Smith

06/20/1864

H

22

  Harrison

X

  Thomas R. Smith

05/26/1864

G

21

  Harrison
  William Spradley

06/14/1864

#

22

  Simpson
  Joshua Stafford

05/27/1864

#

26

  Perry
  William Steavenson

03/25/1864

D

19

  Wayne

X

  Alvin Sumrall

06/11/1864

F

29

  Perry

X

  Daniel Sumrall

06/11/1864

H

19

  Perry
  James Sumrall

03/25/1864

C

23

  Perry
  James Taylor

06/15/1864

H

29

  Monroe *
  Jones R. Temple

06/25/1864

K

33

  Marion
  Henry Thomas

05/29/1864

#

28

  Perry
  William M. Thompson

11/11/1864

I

18

  Marion
  Joseph Tillman

07/13/1864

H

20

  Jasper
  Seaborn Tisdale

04/30/1864

E

23

  Perry
  James Truss

03/25/1864

C

19

  Jones
  Dreyden Tucker

03/25/1864

D

19

  Jones
  James Tucker

05/15/1864

E

18

  Jones
  John Tucker

05/15/1864

E

36

  Jones

X

  Martin Tucker

05/15/1864

E

23

  Jones
  John Underwood

05/18/1864

E

30

  Covington

X

  Robert Underwood

05/19/1864

E

35

  Warren *
  Andrew Walker

12/24/1863

B

37

  Warren *
  Albert Walters

04/28/1864

E

38

  Jones
  Archy Walters

05/15/1864

E

19

  Jones

X

  Drury Walters

05/15/1864

E

25

  Jones

X

  Joel W. Walters

03/25/1864

D

26

  Jones
  Hanson A. Walters

05/24/1864

G

27

  Jones
  Marada M. Walters

05/15/1864

E

23

  Jones

X

  Richard Walters

05/15/1864

E

22

  Jones
  James P. Watts

07/02/1864

H

21

  Covington
  Frank Weatherbee

05/29/1864

H

26

  Lawrence

X

  Richard T. Welch

04/28/1864

E

21

  Jones
  Elijah Wilborn

04/30/1864

E

20

  Smith
  Tolbert F. Wilborn

05/26/1864

E

20

  Jasper

X

  William Wilborn

05/26/1864

E

32

  Jasper
  James Williams

04/21/1864

G

23

  Marion

X

  John Williams

07/02/1864

H

21

  Jones
  Joshua G. Williams

05/04/1864

G

26

  Perry

X

  Thomas Williams

05/03/1864

G

22

  Perry
  Frank Wilson

07/20/1864

H

28

  Lawrence
  John Worden

03/30/1864

D

19

  Marion
  Benjamin F. Young

05/23/1864

G

21

  Jackson
  Thomas Young

05/14/1864

G

20

  Jones

X

A pound sign (#) in the regimental company (“Co”) column on this and subsequent tables indicates the enlistee failed to report for muster and therefore was never assigned to a company.

An asterick (*) appearing after the nativity county indicates that it is located outside the Piney Woods region.  The 1860 census records suggest that Bailey Martin, James Taylor, and Andrew Walker had relocated to the Piney Woods.

TABLE 2:  1st New Orleans enlistees with Mississippi residency established through cross-checks of the 1850, 1860, and 1870 federal census records.

Census

Died

  Name

Enlisted

Co

Age

Year

  County

CW

  John Adams

03/25/1864

D

19

1860

  Jones
  John W. Axton

03/25/1864

D

28

1860

  Perry

X

  Irvin E. Elzey

04/28/1864

E

43

1860

  Jones
  William Ford

06/11/1864

K

43

1860

  Jasper

X

  Hamilton Haden

03/25/1864

D

24

1860

  Clarke
  John M. Jones

04/30/1864

E

19

1860

  Jones
  Willis B. Jones

04/30/1864

E

21

1860

  Jones
  Augustus Lambert

03/25/1864

D

25

1860

  Jones

X

  Blakely Lambert

03/25/1864

D

32

1860

  Jasper

X

  James C. Law

05/05/1864

E

26

1860

  Jones

X

  William Martin

05/26/1864

H

40

1860

  Perry

X

  William Mauldin

04/30/1864

E

27

1860

  Jones

X

  David McBride

03/25/1864

D

45

1860

  Jones

X

  William McBride

03/25/1864

D

18

1860

  Jones

X

  Robert McIntire

11/06/1863

C

35

1850

  Smith
  Lorenzo D. Nobles

03/14/1864

C

33

1860

  Jackson
  Martin Parker

12/20/1863

F

28

1870

  Jones
  Eli Rushing

05/23/1864

G

23

1850

  Jones
  James L. Seals

04/28/1864

D

27

1850

  Hancock
  Robert Spencer

05/03/1864

G

22

1850

  Clarke
  James Swilley

06/20/1864

K

37

1870

  Harrison
  Henry F. Taylor

04/30/1864

E

19

1860

  Perry
  Pleasant P. Terry

04/18/1864

D

34

1860

  Newton
  William J. Tippet

03/14/1864

C

44

1860

  Smith
  Aaron T. Wilborn

05/23/1864

G

27

1860

  Jones

TABLE 3: 2nd New Orleans enlistees with Mississippi nativity who did not subsequently appear on the 1st New Orleans rolls.

Died

  Name

Enlisted

Co

Age

  Birth Co

CW

  Elijah G. Brown

05/23/1864

B

31

  Perry
  James R. Davis

05/22/1864

B

29

  Perry

X

  Thommas Simons

05/23/1864

B

22

  Perry

TABLE 4:  Other 1st New Orleans enlistees who reported southern nativity, but for whom evidence of later Mississippi residency is currently lacking.

  Name

Enlisted

Co

Age

  Birth Co / State
  John A. Allen

01/23/1864

A

20

  Franklin, AL
  Josiah A. Allen

06/13/1864

H

32

  Columbus, MS
  Thomas  Bonner

03/30/1864

D

19

  Monroe Co, AL
  William Cameron

05/29/1864

#

na

  (Not listed)
  John  Cody

03/30/1864

C

25

  Mobile, AL
  John  Cotton

07/05/1864

#

18

  Mobile, AL
  John A. Graham

03/25/1864

D

20

  Butler, AL
  William  Graham

04/30/1864

H

18

  Montgomery, AL
  John W. Haley

04/17/1864

D

19

  Pike, AL
  David D. Hanscum

06/06/1864

#

na

  Natchez, MS
  William  Hull

02/18/1864

C

26

  Augusta, GA
  Joseph  Kelly

04/12/1864

D

23

  Carroll Co, TN
  Thomas  Kelly

02/23/1865

E

19

  Natchez, MS
  John Martin

05/02/1864

G

20

  (Not listed)
  John P. Moseley

02/23/1864

A

24

  Butler Co, AL
  Frank  Nata

10/09/1863

B

20

   Biloxi, MS
  Edward  Patricks

03/25/1864

#

17

  Orangeville, SC
  Benjamin B. Patricks

03/25/1864

D

45

  Orangeville, SC
  Warner B. Pittman

03/25/1864

E

47

  Washington, GA
  William  Pittman

03/25/1864

E

17

  Washington, GA
  Stephen H. Tourne

04/17/1864

D

19

  Macon Co, AL
  William  Wasdon

03/12/1864

C

23

  Jefferson Co, GA
  John H. Watson

04/27/1864

E

20

  Perry Co, AL
  Jucalion  Wedgeworth

07/08/1864

H

20

  Green Co, AL
  Jacob W. White

03/25/1864

D

34

  Steward Co, Ga
  Pleasant L. Williams

04/14/1864

G

28

  Hinds Co, MS
  William J. Williams

03/11/1864

G

20

  (Not listed)

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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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Nancy Stevens wrote the following memoir some months after we began communicating about our mutual descent from the Bynum family of Jones County, Mississippi. Nancy was kind enough to send me excerpts from the Bible of her distant ancestor, Drury Bynum (b. circa 1806), the brother of my own ancestor, William Bynum II (b. circa 1795). A discussion of  our ancestral roots followed, and, soon, Nancy decided to read my book, The Free State of Jones. Like so many descendants of families that participated in Jones County’s inner civil war during the nation’s Civil War, including myself, Nancy had very little knowledge of this incredible time of upheaval, or of the cultural and political history that led our ancestors to take the stands they did.  Her reflections remind us that history not only shines a light on how we got to this place in time as a society, but also illuminates who we are as individuals by stimulating memories that place us in the stream of that very history.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

 

The history of the Free State of Jones has given me so much insight into the ways that my values were formed and why.  My family never fully bought into the “Lost Cause” mentality as did so many of our neighbors and my peers.  I always thought that my mother’s being from Appalachia was the reason for our family being a bit more “liberal” than our neighbors; however, I now realize that my thoughts on this were much too simplistic. 

I was born in 1945 and grew up on a farm in Clarke County.  We had to build a new house “up on the road” (gravel) so that the school bus could pick me up and take me to school.  Daddy was a farmer and had 2 black tenant families living on our land.  Because our house was so far back in the woods and my playmates all black, I did not realize the significance of my being white and my best friend being black until it was time for us to start first grade.  When mother told me that because my best friend was black she therefore would not be attending my white school, I threw a fit.  I can still remember our school bus passing the black school and my wishing I could be in that school with my best friend. 
 
Florene left Mississippi for Chicago when she graduated from high school and has remained there living in a middle class neighborhood.  We continue to keep in touch and visit each other from time to time for we alone share a common history that we share with no one else.  Recently, Florene reminded me of how much she always enjoyed going into Quitman, the county seat, with my mother because mother would take her into all the white establishments with us – even have her eat at our table in restaurants!  I guess my mom was considered a “foreigner” by Clarke County standards!
 
After reading The Free State of Jones, I now realize that intermingling of whites and blacks in remote areas of MS was not such a radical thing.  Although by the 1950s, intermingling on an “equal” basis was quite controversial and not socially acceptable.
 
I also remember an old judge, last name Fatheree, speaking to our Methodist congregation in the ’50s about the supposed racial and intellectual inferiority of blacks, citing the difference in the white brain vs. the black brain.  Now, my mother forbade my brother and me from attending this lecture, but we walked up to the church anyway and stood under the windows listening.  I left quite puzzled and frightened; but because I had disobeyed them, I could not ask my parents about Judge Fatheree’s comments.
 
Reading about the Free State of Jones has brought all this back so clearly.  I have so many tales to tell; maybe I should jot them down.  I realize how fortunate I was to have been raised by parents with an accepting value system although I did conform to most cultural rules in order to survive.  However, to quote Van Buren Watts:  “As soon as I realized where I was, I got out” (Free State of Jones, page 177).
 
Nancy Stevens
 

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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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The following essay is crossposted on the special Civil War Sesquicentennial website hosted by the University of North Carolina Press.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

 

Reflections on the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War

Victoria Bynum

As a historian of the Southern Civil War home front, I am continually confronted by the destruction of communities, as well as the deaths on and off the battlefield, that the Civil War visited upon the United States.  As we commemorate such an important event on its 150th anniversary, it is important to remind ourselves that our system of government is capable of stunning failures of leadership as well as inspiring moments of greatness.

A popular sound bite among our politicians today—one repeated ad nauseam—is that Congress should no longer “kick the can down the road” in regard to this problem or that problem. Well, slavery was the “can” that our antebellum politicians kicked down the road. Slavery did not emerge suddenly as a problem during the sectional crisis of the 1850s, it was a problem–a contradiction of our Revolutionary principles–from the nation’s inception. Over time it became ever more thoroughly embedded in our national economy, so fundamental to the wealth of slaveholders and cotton merchants that they employed the most virulent racism to justify its continuance.

Yet despite the thousands of books written about the Civil War, one wonders if the lessons of this war will ever truly be understood or agreed upon. In today’s political discourse, we hear debate over whether or not the flying of the Confederate flag is inherently racist, or whether individual states might nullify an act of Congress. In fact, we even hear talk of secession movements in the name of protecting state sovereignty against the so-called tyranny of a federal government that just happens to be headed by the first African American president. 

This return to Confederate principles is pushed by the new “tea party” wing of the Republican Party—the same party that symbolized Big Government in the 1850s; the same party that urged the federal government to use its power to limit slavery’s expansion into the western territories of the United States. While neither that Republican Party, nor its presidential nominee, Abraham Lincoln, advocated slavery’s abolition in 1860, the party’s belief in the superior power of the federal government, coupled with an aggressive abolitionist movement that urged party leaders to end slavery once and for all, finally convinced southern proslavery Democrats to secede.

Over 150 years ago, Northern warnings of a “slave power conspiracy” were met by Southern warnings about the North’s determination to dominate and transform cherished southern institutions. Southern concerns about the effects that a wage-based, industrial society would have on a rural society of independent farmers effectively masked slavery as the preeminent cause of war. And so, southern white soldiers, the majority of whom owned no slaves, fought for principles of liberty, honor, and a way of life that seemed threatened by a too-powerful federal government.

Still, southerners were never unified in their support for the Confederate cause. In regions throughout the South, Unionists, dissenters, and deserters—not just men, but neighborhoods of men, women, children, and slaves, engaged in inner civil wars against the Confederacy. Newt Knight, the leader of a band of deserters in piney woods Mississippi, is the most famous of these renegades. For well over a century, people have debated whether he was a traitor and an outlaw, or a Unionist and patriot.

I believe such debates miss a larger point: that Newt Knight was only one of a sizable minority of nonslaveholders throughout the South who concluded it was the Confederacy that threatened their way of life—in fact, their very lives. With crucial support from their families, many of these men organized and armed themselves to fight against the Confederacy.  Others joined the Union Army.

Unless we believe that the Confederate cause—and make no mistake, its ultimate cause was the preservation and expansion of slavery—was a just one that served the interests of the Southern people, most of whom either owned no slaves or were slaves, how can we help but be inspired by those who refused any longer to serve?

In commemorating the American Civil War, I hope that we will reflect on what lessons the Civil War teaches us about political motives, people’s economic interests, and the meaning of dissent—and that we apply those lessons to the similarly toxic and dangerous political environment that threatens us today.

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While conducting his ongoing research on men who joined the Union Army from the Piney Woods region of Mississippi, Ed Payne discovered the following story buried in the military files of one Robert Spencer.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

 

Unionism and a murder in the family: Robert Spencer

By Ed Payne

 

On a Friday in the middle of July, 1865, Sergeant Robert Spencer, while serving in the Union 1st New Orleans Infantry, abandoned his post. Oddly, he left conspicuously dressed in his uniform. It later emerged that word reached him that his stepfather, who killed his mother three years previously and fled, had returned to Jasper County, Mississippi. Robert headed north with a kinsman, hoping to apprehend him. After an absence of two weeks, they returned to their regiment and turned themselves in.

Fourteen months earlier, on May 3, 1864, Robert Spencer had joined the 2nd New Orleans Infantry Regiment at Fort Pike, Louisiana. His enlistment papers describe him as a 22 years-old native of Clarke County, Alabama. He had brown eyes and black hair, stood five feet eight inches tall, and was able to sign his name. Robert was just one of over two hundred individuals, ranging from teenagers to men in their forties, who had fled the Mississippi Piney Woods in the wake of Confederate Col. Robert Lowry’s campaign during the spring of 1864. After regrouping at Honey Island on the lower Pearl River, many crossed the river and enlisted in the Union Army at nearby Fort Pike. Robert was mustered on May 11 and given a $25 bounty plus $13 advance pay. Apparently viewed as good soldier material, he was enrolled as Corporal in Company B. That August the 2nd New Orleans Infantry was disbanded and its men reassigned to the 1st New Orleans Infantry. Robert joined Company G and in December received a further promotion to 4th Sergeant.

Following more than a year of unblemished service, Robert Spencer left his unit on July 14, 1865. However, unlike those who deserted after the war’s end to return to their farms and families, he reported back to his company commander on July 28. He was reduced to private and placed in confinement. On August 12 a court martial panel convened to hear the case against him. The charges were desertion and being absent without leave. Apparently no defense was offered at the trial. It was only several weeks later, in the interim between the hearing and the anticipated publication of sentences, that a lawyer representing Spenser wrote to describe mitigating circumstances. This letter, transcribed below, provides evidence that the Unionist stance of some Piney Woods men produced deadly consequences within their families (key passages appear in italics):

Brig General Sherman

Commanding Post of New Orleans

Dear Sir.

I would respectfully (on behalf of Private Robert Spencer of the 1st New Orleans) represent that he was tried on the 12 of August 1865 by general court martial convened by your orders, upon a charge of desertion. The sentence of said court martial has not yet been published, and he is ignorant thereof.

But apprehending that the circumstances of his case have been or will be misunderstood to his prejudice, I request your indulgence for a statement of the facts.

At the beginning of the war he was unfortunately in the southern states and when the conscript law was passed he was forced to hide in the woods, or take up arms against his principles; during this time he was harboured by his mother but persecuted by his step father, who finally killed his mother, for her kindness to her son, and fled from justice. Just before leaving his regiment he received information that his step father had returned to home, to settle his business and in hopes of bringing him to justice he left immediately in order to loose no time, in making sure of this desirable object, fearing that if he delayed for the usual formalities of obtaining permission to go that he would loose forever the opportunity of causing his mother’s murderer to be punished. He left in uniform and returned in same. He reported at Jackson, Miss and obtained a pass to return, showing he had no intention of deserting.

I also have the honor to enclose herewith the recommendation of one of his officers, who is well aware of his general character.

And respectfully submit that his previous good character, and the cause of his absence, should go far in mitigating his sentence of punishment. I hope in your decency you will cause his sentence to be as light as possible, and published as soon as practical that his imprisonment, already since the 3 of August may be abbreviated to the shortest time.

I have the honor to be

Very respectfully

 your obd srvt

Anderson Miller

Counsel for Spencer…

The letter, which was placed in Spencer’s military file, was accompanied by a character reference submitted by Lieutenant James E. Bissell, commander of Company G, dated September 21, 1865. On October 2 Robert Spencer was sentenced to three months at hard labor. The plea letter apparently had been effective since those found guilty of desertion during this period commonly received a year’s imprisonment. In January 1866 Robert rejoined his unit, where he served as a cook until the regiment was disbanded on June 1, 1866.

 —————-

Antebellum census records provide only a small amount of information about Robert Spencer. The 1850 census listed a Robert Spencer, age 7, residing in Clarke County, Mississippi—not Alabama. He is found in the household of 24 year-old Nancy Spencer, along with Elizabeth, age 4, and Silas Nelson, age 9. Since there was no adult male in the household, it would seem that young Nancy was already a widow.

Internet genealogies, which must be utilized with caution, reference Abraham E. Spencer as Nancy’s deceased husband. According to these sources her maiden name was Nancy Nelson and she had been born in Georgia in the 1820s. This offers a partial explanation for the presence in her household of the child named Silas Nelson. These genealogies report that in 1851 Nancy married Shadrach Hogan. The 1850 census corroborates that a Shadrach Hogan, age 60, resided in Clarke County not far from the widow Spencer. Furthermore, a decade later “Shadric” Hogan is found in Jasper County with wife Nancy, a native of Georgia who reported her age as 38, and an eight year-old daughter, Sarah. Shadrach is purported to have died shortly after the 1860 census and Nancy to have wed recent widower John Angus McGilvray (sometimes rendered as “McGilvery” or “McGilberry”). No census record has been found for Robert Spencer in 1860, but since his mother and future wife resided in Jasper County, it is likely he was in the vicinity but overlooked.

The question that emerges is whether John Angus McGilvray was the unnamed stepfather who Robert Spencer claimed killed his mother. Genealogists report that Nancy died in Jasper County in 1862. ‘Family lore’ is cited for the information that John Angus McGilvray died in either Texas or Oklahoma in the mid-1860s. Whether dead or relocated, his absence from the Piney Woods is evident on the 1870 census, where his four youngest children are found living with relatives in Covington County.

Among the genealogies, however, one (“Haynes Ferguson Families”) contains an “Alternate Death” entry which matches Robert Spencer’s description of events. The entry states that Nancy Nelson was “Killed by 3rd husband John Angus McGilvray” and references the book Family, School, Church and Pioneer History by Reverend Angus G. Ferguson. A native of Jones County born in 1858, Rev. Ferguson published his book of recollections in 1935. Early on he provides this short summary of the life of Nancy Nelson:

Aunt Nancy married a Spencer. They had two children and he died. A little later she married a Hogan and they had two children, John and Sarah; both died. Then she married John McGilvery and not long after, in a heat of passion, he killed her with a stick cut from a clothes pole. (pg 11, my emphasis)

Rev. Ferguson’s account of his ancestry outlined the family connection: Nancy Nelson was his mother’s half-sister. Nancy’s widowed mother—Elizabeth McScrews Nelson—re-married to Robert P. Boyce and had three additional children by him. One of these was Catharine Boyce, who married John Ferguson, the reverend’s father, in 1857.

The book provides no further information concerning John Angus McGilvray, but other records show him to have been a son of Perry County settler Alexander McGilvray. The McGilvray clan did not differ markedly from their Piney Woods neighbors. Of Alexander’s five sons only one, William, owned slaves. Both the 1850 and 1860 Jones County censuses show him possessing six slaves. None of the five McGilvray men of military age in the spring of 1861 were early volunteers for military service. A year later, as the first Confederate conscription law went into effect, four of them joined the gray ranks: Angus and Joseph, sons of William, enlisted in cavalry units; two of their uncles, Daniel and Murdock, went into infantry regiments. John Angus McGilvray, approximately 46 years-old at the time, was exempted by age.

If Robert Spencer’s account is correct, John Angus McGilvray’s murderous rage stemmed from the knowledge that his new wife’s son sought to evade conscription—and that she had contrived to assist him. Once he had struck and killed Nancy, McGilvray apparently left the area to avoid judicial action or, perhaps more likely, revenge at the hands of Nancy’s relatives.

Robert Spencer, along with other Piney Woods men who were unwilling to join the Confederacy from the outset of the Civil War, lived a fugitive existence for the next two years. By the summer of 1863 he no doubt felt less wary as a result of the increasing number of deserters and Vicksburg parolees returning to the Piney Woods. It was during this time that he wed Mary Emeline Hogan. Emeline was a granddaughter of Shadrach Hogan, his late mother’s second husband.

But any sense of security was demolished when Col. Robert Lowry led his troops into the Piney Woods in the spring of 1864. The campaign was designed to quash the Knight Band and pump desperately needed manpower into the Confederacy. Men like Robert came to the conclusion that their options had dwindled to two: join either the Confederate or the Union Army. He joined the procession of men who headed south. One of those in the group was Emeline’s brother, George Hogan, who enlisted in the 2nd New Orleans the same day as Robert. A little over a year later George accompanied his brother-in-law on his trip back to Jasper County. When they returned, probably due to Robert Spencer’s assumption of responsibility, Private Hogan suffered only temporary confinement and the forfeiture of $20 in pay.

 —————-

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Robert remained in Louisiana. The 1870 census listed him as a farmer in St. Helena Parish with his wife and two sons, ages six and four. In 1895 he applied for and received an invalid pension for his Union service. The pension card and a Louisiana death record show that Robert Spencer died on August 16, 1925 in Zona, Washington Parish, Louisiana.

The plea letter in the military file left unanswered the tantalizing question of whether Robert was successful in his mission—suggesting that he was not. John Angus McGilvray disappeared from the records. If he eluded Robert’s efforts to take him into custody, the only trace remaining was the family story that he ended up in Texas (or Oklahoma) and died soon thereafter. The burial site of Nancy Nelson Spencer Hogan McGilvray seems similarly lost. But, given his presence in the area at the time of her death, her son surely knew the location. Thus, it is not unreasonable to imagine that while engaged in his quest for justice that July, Robert Spencer may have taken the time to visit his mother’s grave dressed in his blue Union uniform.

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Newt Knight by VB

Visitors to Renegade South often express interest in where Newt Knight and his band of deserters hid out during the Civil War; there’s even an essay devoted to the question on this blog. Recently, Jones County historian Ed Payne pointed out to me that a pretty good description of the location was provided by local citizen Ruby Huff during the 1930s. Huff was an unabashed admirer of the Knight Company, and I quoted liberally from her essay in my book, FREE STATE OF JONES, to demonstrate how vividly the story remained seared in the minds of  local people.

Ruby Huff’s essay was part of the Works Projects Administration’s (WPA) historical research on Covington County, Mississippi. My thanks to Ed Payne for suggesting that I reprint it on Renegade South. The section that describes the location of “Deserters’ Den” appears below in italics.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

 

“A Skirmish – Cavalry versus Deserters – Where in Newt Knights men raid Lowrey’s Raiders”

By Mrs. Ruby Huff

After the 20 Negro Act was passed, by the Confederacy, the men, to whom fighting (in so one side a struggle as the Civil War was) was abominable and seemingly very un-called for, became rebellious; therefore, after the damnable siege and slaughter at Vicksburg many officers, privates and younger recruits left the lines of battle to join a rank of men, who dare to rebel; these rebels were termed deserters, at many points in the south these men had haunts suitable for protection; because of this act of their desertion at so critical a period in the struggle enraged higher officers to the extent that orders were given to the cavalry to bring the men back or shoot them dead in their tracks.

Many skirmishes and drives were staged in Jones and Covington Counties because the notorious deserter leader, Newt Knight and his cohorts lived near the boundaries of these counties and the most outstanding hide out or secret haunt intersects the boundary between the two counties; this historical land mark (unorthodox) is known as Deserters’ Den Lake and is situated about .5 mile east of Leaf River (Reddoch’s Ferry) Bridge south of Highway 84; to the general public this unique natural feature is unknown, but in its course of time many a weird tale, many a heart rending sob and much beautiful bravery has centered around this particular protector.  The lake is situated so the entrance faced the old Reddoch’s Ferry, another mark of history now so contritely in the background.

While in the reminiscent trend let me retell of a skirmish or drive that marked quite a turning point in General Lowrey’s * dare-devil squad of Cavalry men.

In May of ’65, the Cavalry under the leadership of General Lowery * decided to break camp at Jimmy Knight’s old mill which was located on the Etahoma part of Big Creek above Gitano, to gain trail back toward Raleigh, the County seat of Smith where a Confederate Divisional Headquarter and a hospital (now Harrison Hotel) were located; in order to get to Raleigh from their location in Jones, they had to sallie forth to Reddoch’s Ferry, be ferried across Leaf River, then cross Cohay at the old Jackson Trail Ford near Hot Coffee (bridge now in construction at the point on U.S. Highway #35).

The Cavalry had done much harm while encamped at the old mill in the way of robbing helpless widows of their last bit of “grub”, chasing down and slaying innocent men who knew nothing of the Deserters, too, of unmercifully hanging and slaying the Deserters without so much as giving them a chance to return to service or make explanation.  This had enraged the Deserter Crew, so much that when the signal was given that Lowery’s bunch was crossing the ferry about fifty Deserters, who knew the lay of the land quite well, slipped hurriedly through the old Jackie Knight’s home field, swam to Cohay and rushed into secreted hiding places in and around the old Ford and when the tramp, tramp of the weary men in uniform about a thousand strong, neared the banks and ventured into the water one brave Deserter hollered “Newt here they air”, at which signal the Deserters shook the bushes and dispersed tumultuously into a panic and simultaneously Newt fired a few wild shots, the “rookus” was, so unexpected and so riotous the 1000 strong Cavalry did pretty much like ole’ sis’ cow in Uncle Remus’ tales “dey hist deir tales and away dey flewd.”

Sometimes this spirit of the South, gets so unsouthy as to want to clap my hands and say three cheers for the most daring troop that ever tramped the Southern soil—the Deserters

“The Deserters”

The Deserters, were men, honest good and true, men, who liked to live and let live as well as I or you.  Men, who were hounded in chase, like creatures of the lower animal race.  No home, no church, no school could withhold, The Cavalry from those ill-treated pioneers out in the cold.  So refuge these much abused citizens did take, in the protecting arms of Mother Nature’s (Deserters’ Den) Lake.

*Huff was referring to Col. Robert Lowry

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