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Posts Tagged ‘Southern Unionists’

I’m pleased to announce that Ed Payne’s long-awaited article on Sarah Collins (aka Sarah Collins Walters Parker) is now in print! Look for “Kinship, Gender, and Slavery in the Free State of Jones: the Life of Sarah Collins,” in the spring issue of the Journal of Mississippi History.

Sarah Collins was Ed’s GGGGrandmother, and Ed is one of the leading experts on the history of the Collins family of Jones County, Mississippi. Here, he tells the unique story of a woman who was the sister of several members of Newt Knight’s Knight Company. Prepare for some interesting surprises that remind us that history must be told in all its complexities, and with judicious use of evidence.

Congratulations, Ed!

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I’m pleased to announce that my current book-in-progress has a new title.  Southern Communities at War: Essays in Civil War Dissent and Its Legacies, is now The Long Shadow of  the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies.

I love the new title, suggested by book-launch wizards at the University of North Carolina Press to give a more accurate sense of the book’s breadth. (Several essays extend well beyond the Civil War, although all connect to the war.) 

If you’re unfamiliar with my new work,  click here for an overview. For the table of contents, click here,  for an excerpt from the introduction, here.

A few more months, and The Long Shadow of the Civil War will be a finished product!

Vikki Bynum

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

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

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

Vikki Bynum, Moderator, Renegade South

RELATED ARTICLES AND POSTS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vikki Bynum 

Transcribed and submitted by Ed Payne:

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

The Deserters in Smith County

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Col. Lowry and the Deserters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fresh from giving a presentation on the Free State of Jones at the Mississippi State Archives in Jackson, Ed Payne offered the following documents for publication on Renegade South. Together, they provide the most detailed descriptions–written from the perspective of the Confederacy–that we have of Col. Robert Lowry’s raid on Jones County during the Civil War.  I am posting the letters today and will post the newspaper articles in a few days. My thanks to Ed!

Vikki Bynum

 The following are transcriptions of a published letter and two contemporary newspaper articles dealing with Confederate actions against renegades in South Mississippi contained in the Civil War scrapbook of J.L. Power, housed at the MS Archives, Jackson.  The letter appeared in the Mobile Evening News and identifies the writer as a cavalryman who participated in the Lowry campaign in Jones, Perry, and Smith counties in the spring of 1864.  Unfortunately, the final line of type with his name is missing from the clipping.  Only significant errors are denoted by “(sic).” 

Ed Payne, Jackson, MS

Correspondence of the Evening News

LETTER FROM MISSISSIPPI

            Mr. Editor:  I see by your evening issue of the 24 inst., that, under “Mississippi Items,” you say that Capt. Newton Knight, of Jones, had sent in a flag of truce, &c., to Col. Lewis.  This is not so.  I am just from Jones county.  The expedition consisted of the 5th (sic) and 20th Mississippi Regiments and my cavalry company, the whole under command of Col. R. Lowry, of the 6th Mississippi Regiment.  We entered Smith county on the 27th of March, and on the 28th hung two noted deserters and leaders of squads, viz:  McNeil and Rain.  These were all the men who were hung in Smith.  There was a Union flag, or rather a ludicrous representation of the United States flag, captured at the home of one Hawkins (of Smith county); it was concealed on the person of Mrs. Hawkins, who would not deliver it until after much persuasion and a few threats.  The history of the flag is as follows:  After Gen. Polk’s army had retired from the State and the enemy were at Meridian, it was thought that the State had gone up, and that our forces would not again occupy it, at least not soon.  So old Hawkins called a meeting of the citizens of his part of the county and of the deserters who had straggled during the retreat of our forces.  He then made a speech to the assembly and urged them to stay at their homes and go to work, that they would not be molested, and told them that as the mill where he lived was all the property he had, that he had made a Union flag to fly on it as the rumor was they were burning all mills. – The worse feature was, that several good citizens were compelled by the deserters to attend the meeting.  Old Hawkins is in custody, and will remain so until his case can be property disposed of.  While in Smith several hundred deserters were arrested and sent forward.  On the night of the 12th of April a party of infantry, under a Lieutenant, out on a scout, were being rested on the piazza of Mr. D. McLeod’s house, in Covington county; after dark a shot gun was discharged in their midst, killing a sergeant and wounding the Lieutenant and a corporal.  The perpetrator of the act was soon discovered.  On the 15th we moved into Jones.  That day the man who fired into the party on the piazza was arrested, after being wounded and run down by dogs, and promptly executed.  His name was D. Reddock.  A young man by the name of Gregg was with him, was shot while running, and soon died from the wound.  The same day another party of our boys was ambushed near Newton Knight’s home by deserters – only wounding one man, not seriously, however.  Our boys promptly charged the ambush and captured two, Ben. Knight and a lad, Silman Coleman, and shooting one other.  Knight and Coleman were promptly executed.  The same day four others were caught and brought in – they were put before a court martial, and on their own confession of resisting with arms military arrests, wereon (sic) the morning of the 16th nit. (sic), executed by hanging.  Many men said to belong to Knight’s company have reported.  We pursued a vigorous policy, but the condition of the community required it.  Terror was struck among them, and they came flocking in asking for mercy.  Just about this time General Polk’s proclamation of pardon reached us.  We relaxed not, however, the vigor of our campaign, and with the proclamation and our activity we have succeeded in getting all but five of the deserters of Jones county.  Newton Knight, it is thought, will report if he can be found and see the proclamation by his friends and relatives, who are hunting him.  Sim Collins and boys have reported.  There never has existed any organizations of men in Jones.  The deserters who were prominent in their neighborhoods led their squads, not consisting generally of more than six or seven men.  Jones is no worse than her surroundings.  The people are very poor and very ignorant, and the enemy traversing the State without opposition induced to believe the county had gone up.  So by the advice of some older citizens they were induced to believe they were the strong party, so they would defy the Government and stay at home.  We have changed the status of things in Jones, Perry and Smith, and expect to re-establish in all South Mississippi a healthy loyalty to the Powers that be.  If you see proper to extract from the above you can do so.

                                                            Respectfully,       

[last line with name missing]

[The following letter, dated 5 May 1864, was sent to Governor Charles Clark.  It describes the campaign of Col. Robert Lowry against deserters in Jones and Smith counties.  The letter is listed on the governor’s calendar as from “Concerned citizens of Jones County.”  Unfortunately, the concluding portion of the letter is missing from the file.  But evidence supports the contention of Rudy Leverett that the author was Col. William N. Brown, commander of the 20th MS Infantry.  The 20th MS participated in the campaign along with Lowry’s 6th MS under Lowry’s overall command.  The writer provides a remarkably evenhanded account of conditions in Jones County at the time of the incursion.  Portions of the letter were quoted in Legend of the Free State of Jones by Rudy H. Leverett and Free State of Jones:  Mississippi’s Longest Civil War by Victoria E. Bynum.  This, however, is a new transcription made directly from the extant text of the very faded original in the Mississippi Archives.  Ed Payne, Jackson, MS]

Letter to Gov. Charles Clark

From a Confederate Officer in Jones County

            Comp. 20th Miss. Regt Knights Mills Jones Co Miss.

                        May 5th of 64

Gov

            Presuming upon personal acquaintance and a high personal regard for you which has been often times manifested I have under taken to give you a short sketch of our operations in this part of the State, thinking it would be of some interest to you and perhaps may result in some benefit to this country.

            As you are perhaps aware my Regt composes part of a detachment of Lorings Division now engaged in arresting and returning deserters to their commands from South Miss. and East La. under the command of Col. Robt Lowry of the 6th Miss.  We have been at this duty since the 23rd March and in that time have been over the country including Smith Co, Scott, Jasper, Jones and a part of Wayne, Perry, and Covington counties. We have arrested and sent to Department Hd about 500 men.  Several hundred more have eluded us or reported to their commands rather than be charged and sent under arrest.  Lt. Genl Polk estimates that 500 had reported to one Brigade alone and that this one success would no doubt do much towards determining and achieving the great object of the War (This information is a digression as my object is more particularly to refer to what is yet to do rather than boast of what has been done.)

            From representations made to us we had expect[ed] to find [irregular] organizations among the disloyal {pg 2} for the purpose of resisting our authority.  During the first five days operations we obtained a Flag from the family of one Hawkins who lives on the line of Smith and Scott Co, this led us to believe they had “Hung out the banners on the outer wall” and bitter stubborn resistance [scratch through] might be expected.  In one or two cases this proved to be true.  A small party under Lt. Evans of the 6th Miss was fired into and one man (Srgt Tillman) was killed, two others were

wounded including Lt. Evans who we since have learned is dead.  This was done by a single man, Daniel Reddoch who was afterwards caught and executed.  Another party under Maj. Borden of the 6th Miss was ambushed and one man of my Rgt wounded

this was done by Capt Newton Knight with 5 men two of which were captured and executed on the spot and Capt Knight narrowly made his escape.

            At Knights Mill Jones Co on the 16th four men two brothers named Ates and two others named Whitehead were found guilty of desertion and of armed resistance to the civil and military law and were sentenced to death by hanging before our military court.

Accordingly the four men were executed.  This made ten who have forfeited their lives for treason.  All of them were clearly guilty and some of them had been wounded in skirmishes with the cavalry which had been sent to this country at different times.

This for there has not been an example made from the citizens of the county, all have been soldiers and yet these men have often been mislead by some old and influential citizens perhaps their fathers or relatives who have encouraged and harbored them.  {pg 3}  We find great ignorance among them generally and many union ideas that seem to be [prompted] by by demogauges of the agrarian class.

            Among the women there is great relunctancy to give up their husbands and brothers and the reason alleged is the fear of starvation and disinclination to labor in the fields.  More than half, I might say nearly all the soldiers wives are reduced to this strait.         

            Provisions are now scarce particularly corn.  We estimated the supply inadequate for the maintenance of the poorer classes and particularly the females of such as are in the army.  If something could be done to ameliorate their condition by State authorities it would be productive of a much proved moral and political sentiment.  It would [convince] them that we have a government, a fact which they are inclined to doubt. A few wagon loads of corn distributed through this country from the most convenient depot on the Mobile & O Rail Road would not only improve the political [tone] of the people here but would greatly encourage the men in the army from this quarter and in my opinion would greatly lessen desertion and the excuses to desert.  Could not a train of wagons be organized for this purpose?  I make the suggestion which [from me] I hope you will not take as [offensive] and will not pretend to argue the case to one of your [noble] administrative ability.  Some complaint has been made of the commissioners whose duty it is to provide for the destitute families of soldiers.  Of this I am not able to say except that very little seems to have been done by any one, and what was done is said to be for the families of particular favorites.

            Another important item to which I would {pg 4} call the attention of your Excellancy to the importance of [supplying] women of this country with cotton and woolen cards.  The females are decidely of the working part of the population and are greatly in want of these necessary articles.  There seem to be considerable wool and enough cotton to keep them engaged, as they are now provided they manage to clothe the soldiers from this country and if encouraged would add greatly to the comfort of many more a good article of jeans sometimes sells for $6 per yard.  I found today a widow of a soldier who was killed by the cavalry and having no cards she had taken to working [horn] combs.  A specimen I send to you which for workmanship and ingenuity compares favorably with the “yankee.”  The husband of this woman having been killed by our cavalry perhaps by mistake call to mind the many outrages that have been committed by several small commands of cavalry sent into this country on the duty now assigned to our command.  Such at least are the many complaints we hear every day. 

In several circumstances improper [shirking], robbing, stealing [which] the houses, cutting the cloth from looms, taking horses [Et C].  These acts have done more to demoralize Jones County than the whole Yankee army.  We have been particular to try and have our [_______te] conduct themselves properly and all have endeavored to be civil and kind to citizens Col. Lowry has done himself great credit in the management of the expedition – By alluding to the acts of the cavalry which has been on duty here.  I do not mean to hold all the cavalry responsible for the [letter ends]

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1st Lt. of Knight Company

1st Lt. of Knight Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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james-a-keith-reward1

One of the grisliest mass murders of Southern Unionists occurred in 1863 in Madison County, North Carolina. Popularly known as the “Shelton Laurel Massacre,” this Civil War story was told by the late historian, Philip Paludan, in his moving book, Victims: A True Story of the Civil War (1981). Robert Moore revisited the story on Southern Unionist Chronicles in 2008, and you can also find detailed descriptions of the murders on the Southern Unionist Forum hosted by Genforum.

Back in 1983, while researching my first book, Unruly Women, at the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh, I transcribed and copied several documents detailing this case that I would like to share with you.  In the Governors’ Papers, for example, I found S. A. Merrimon’s report of Feb. 24, 1863, to Governor Zebulon Vance. Merrimon told Vance that at least 13 men and boys were taken into the woods, made to kneel down, and shot to death on the mere suspicion that they had participated in a robbery in the town of Marshall. Three of the murdered “men” were described as 13, 14, and 15 years old. Merrimon added that “several women were severely whipped and ropes were tied around their necks.”

The man who ordered the murders was Lt Col. James A. Keith of the same county. In his defense, Keith claimed that Brigadier General Henry Heth had directed him to kill the Madison County Unionists and deserters, to take no prisoners, and to file “no reports” of the matter. Heth responded that he had advised Keith to take no prisoners only in the event that there was an “engagement” between forces, but denied that he had authorized maltreatment of prisoners, women, or children. (Some believe that Gen’l Heth was indeed complicit.)

The Governors’ Papers also contain a petition signed a few months later, on May 1863, by eleven Shelton Laurel women who requested that Gov. Vance appropriate money for them to buy provisions, “being as we will be bound to suffer on account of [Confederate] troops eating up all our provisions & killing our men and property and destroying the country.” The women included seven with the surname Shelton–Judah, Sarah, Marthy Jane, Rachel, Elizabeth, Polly, and Margaret–as well as Rody Hall, Nancy King, Liney Norton, and Emeline Riddle.

Efforts to prosecute James A. Keith dragged on for years. You can clearly see Sheriff S.G. Brigman’s frustration and desperation to apprehend Keith in the two letters he wrote to Provost Marshal Edward W. Hinks on September 18, 1867 (the letters are quoted below). Those letters apparently resulted at long last in Keith’s arrest on several counts of murder.  On February 22, 1869, however, Keith escaped from the Buncombe County Jail along with two other prisoners (see reward notice, above). Keith was never recaptured. But even had he not escaped, President Andrew Johnson’s Amnesty Act of 1868 caused all charges against him to be dropped.

[Excerpt from letter #1 from Sheriff S.G. Brigman to Provost Marshal Edward Hinks]:

Col: In compliance with your request endorsement Sept. 3, 1867 I have the honor to make the following report of James A. Keith – He is full six feet high, Dk hair, and very heavy black beard, generally wears his beard long,–weighs 180 to 185 lbs,–rather slow spoken but very intelligent and well posted on matters of history, etc.—was in the Mexican War and practicing physical while in this county. Age, about 43 or 45 and, while talking or interrogated, keeps one eye shut. The said James A. Keith was at one time a Col in the Rebel Army but was dismissed for robbery, murder, and a general plunder. He then organized a band of robbers and went about plundering & murdering on his own hood. He remained in the county (Madison Co) until about the time of the surrender, when he left and went to Greenville Dist., South Carolina, where he now lives.—Keith formerly lived in this County, in fact he has lived here all his life until he left about the [time of the] surrender. He bought the farm formerly owned by Col. L. M. Allen on South Tiger River 3 miles or 6 miles from Weavers old factory .— He bought this farm with property stolen from this country   —.

                His residence is 18 miles from Greenville C.H. North near the Spartanburg Dist. Line, not very far from the foot of Blue Ridge – Near a road leading from Henderson, N.C. to Spartanburg C. H., S. C.— Lives in a nice small white house [with] a portico in front, stables, and out houses below, stairway going up in center. It appears from the statement that the officer who made the search did not go near the directions, as this man Keith who he arrested lived in Pickens Dist., while James A. Keith lives near the Spartanburg line, the opposite direction. South Tiger River is very noted and he lives ¼ of a mile of said river. This same man Keith was seen but a few weeks ago lurking in this county and is well known and feared by every man in Western Carolina.

                Keith has a wife and one or two small children, his wife’s maiden name was Jones and lived in Tenn – Keith was [arrested?] one time before the war for forging a Bank Check.

                Keith’s Post Office is Travellers Rest.—I forwarded you last Mail affidavits of his guilt and Certificates of Clerks. I have capias, State warrants, and all manner of papers against Keith. He would likely be very easily arrested now, but soon he will commence his  ramble of plunder.

                If anything further is required of me you will advise me of the same.

                                                I am Col Very Respectfully

                                                Your Obdt Servant

                                                S. G. Brigman

                                                Sheriff of Madison Co., N.C.

[Excerpt from letter #2]:

I have the honor to forward affidavits of Several persons in regard to James A. Keith murdering several union men in this county. I can if you require send more than fifty affidavits of this kind. There are several true bills against him in the courts of this county for murder and one for arson for burning Thos. S. Denver’s mills long after the surrender. The said James A. Keith . . . intended to burn and destroy every union man in the county –commencing on T. S. Denver, a leading union man.—Denver has again rebuild his mills at the cost of several thousand dollars. Keith has since been seen lurking about and has said they should not stand long. I have had capias and papers against him and have them now but he is [beyond?] our search. If Keith could be arrested and brought to the county there is sufficient charges against him to hang 500 men.

S.G. Brigman, Sheriff of Madison Co., N.C.

                                                               

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