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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yvonne Bivins has written extensively about her multiracial roots, and I am delighted to share her stories, insights, and family photos here on Renegade South. Because of the towering historical presence of Newt Knight, we’ve heard much about the children he fathered with former slaves Rachel and George Ann Knight, but very little about the multiracial families with which the descendants of these two women blended their family lines.

I’ve learned so much from reading Yvonne’s essays and notes. For example, I learned that Davis Knight, famous because of his 1948 miscegenation trial, was descended not only from Newt and Rachel Knight, but also from Martha Ann Ainsworth through his mother, Addie. Martha Ann was the slave of Sampson “Jeff” Ainsworth and also the mother of several of his children.

Martha Ann and Jeff Ainsworth’s daughter, Lucy Jane, forged the most extensive link between the Ainsworths, Smiths, and Knights.  According to Yvonne, after the war “Lucy married a nearly white man named Warren Edward Smith, who was born in Smith County to a mulatto slave named Jennie McGill.” Warren deserted Lucy around 1882, leaving her to raise their children alone.

Historically, impoverished women have been forced to look to men as protectors and providers. It was no different for Lucy, who also suffered the disability of race in segregated Mississippi (despite her white appearance). Writes Yvonne: “left with five children to support, Lucy began a relationship with Calhoun Anderson, a white man. . . . Anderson was the father of two of Lucy’s children, Quillie Calvin and Necia Abigail. “

As they reached adulthood, Lucy’s children intermarried extensively with the children of Newt and Rachel. According to Yvonne, “Lucy’s son Louis married Ollie Jane, daughter of Jeffrey Early Knight [son of Rachel] and Martha [Mollie] Knight, Newton Knight’s white daughter.” Her daughter, Mary Florence Magdaline (Maggie), married John Madison (Hinchie), Newt and Rachel’s son. Yvonne further notes that Newt and George Ann Knight also had a son together, John Howard, who married Lucy’s daughter, Candace Martha Jane. To top it all off, at the age of 38, Lucy Ainsworth Smith herself married a Knight: Floyd, another of Newt and Rachel’s sons, further entwining the Ainsworth, Smith, and Knight family networks.

Lucy's sons: standing, l to r: Wilder Knight & Warren Smith. Sitting l to r: Louis Smith & Quillie Anderson

Lucy’s sons: standing, l to r: Wilder Knight & Warren Smith. Sitting l to r: Louis Smith & Quillie Anderson

What makes Yvonne’s stories so valuable is that she LISTENED when her elders went on about the past—she particularly listened to her grandmother, Jerolee Smith. But she also asked questions of them, to the point that she was sometimes told to quit “digging.” Yvonne has also conducted her own research in federal manuscript censuses, court records, and old family manuscripts and photographs. Most important of all, she wrote down what she learned.

Present-day descendants of Lucy Jane Ainsworth: l to r, Yvonne Bivins, Flo Wyatt, Vicki Knight, Anita Williams

Present-day descendants of Lucy Jane Ainsworth: l to r, Yvonne Bivins, Flo Wyatt,  Anita Williams, Vicki Knight

There is much more to be learned about this network of families, and I’ve incorporated some of Yvonne’s research into chapter six of The Long Shadow of the Civil War. What I hope is that Yvonne will one day soon publish her own full-fledged history of the Ainsworth-Smith-Knight connections.

Vikki Bynum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On the advice of Kevin Levin, moderator of  Civil War Memory , I have restructured the sidebars on Renegade South’s home page. The search box now appears first, and I encourage you to use it to search for names or places that may appear in various posts, if you haven’t already done so. Next are the “Recent Posts” and “Recent Comments” boxes that allow you to quickly access the newest additions to the blog.

I have also expanded the categories list so that the posts are cross listed more effectively. Specifically, I added “North Carolina” and “Texas” categories to allow visitors to find those posts more quickly, especially given the multitude of “Free State of Jones” material contained on Renegade South.

I hope you find Renegade South to be more user friendly as a result of these changes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Independent historian Ed Payne, of Jackson, will present “Sarah Collins: Pioneer Woman in the Free State of Jones” before the Jones County Genealogical and Historical Society at the Laurel-Jones County Library on Saturday, March 28, at 10:00 a.m.

Ed’s article on Sarah Collins is scheduled to appear in the April issue of the Journal of Mississippi History.

Those who have been following my recent posts about the Collins family may already know that Sarah (Sallie) Collins (1810-1889) was the daughter of Stacy and Sarah (Anderson) Collins, among the first settlers in the area that would become Jones County. Ed offers the following profile of Sarah Collins:

Sarah’s family connections and personal decisions placed her at the center of events in Civil War Jones County. Although she was a slave owner, Sarah is documented as having assisted the Newton Knight band—which included three of her brothers and four nephews. At the same time, her son and a son-in-law were fighting in Confederate units. Thus the life of Sarah Collins offers a unique prism through which to view the legacy of the Free State of Jones.

Sarah also exemplifies the strength and grit of the pioneer women of the Piney Woods: single-handedly killing a bear in her teens, enduring the death of her husband (George Willoughby Walters) and three children in her early forties, strongly contesting a divorce suit filed by her second husband, and then struggling to operate her own farm over the next three decades.

NOTE: Kinship ties between the Collinses and other area families who ended up on opposing sides during (and after) the Civil War will also be discussed. These allied families include ANDERSON, POWELL, WALTERS, and WELBORN.

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For those of you following the Collins family posts, please don’t miss my post on the Union pension file of Riley J. Collins over at RSS Southern Unionists Chronicles.  Riley was brother to Simeon and Jasper Collins and died serving the Union Army during the Civil War.

Vikki

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I wrote the book Free State of Jones for professional and personal reasons. As both a historian and an individual, I am on the hunt for ordinary people who commit extraordinary acts. I am especially drawn to those who confront systems of power in unlikely ways alongside unlikely allies. In Civil War Jones County, Mississippi, deep in the so-called “solid” South, some 100 ordinary white farmers banded together to fight against the Confederate Army (a few of my distant kin were among them). Doing so earned them the label of outlaws. But outlaw means different things to different people. To pro-Confederate Mississippians, these were cowardly deserters. The core members of the Knight band, however, viewed themselves as principled Unionists. 

In my book, I struggled against writing a “Great Man” history; I did not want to portray Newt Knight as the “Rambo” of Jones County dissent. Rather, I dug deep into historical records from NC, SC, GA, and MS, to uncover the cultural and class roots of those families who contributed the greatest number of participants in the Jones County uprising. I emphasized how earlier historical events–for example, the American Revolution and the opening of the Southwestern frontier–shaped attitudes toward authority and government among these plain folks of the Old South.

The Civil War constituted a crisis of authority for many such Southerners, especially those who lived outside the plantation belt. Newt Knight did not singlehandedly create the Knight band, although he became its charismatic leader. By his own admission, the Civil War transformed his life and his character. Would Newt have developed an open relationship with his grandfather’s former slave, Rachel, one that led to creation of a mixed-race community that thrives today, had the war not erupted? Would he have become a New South Republican after the war? Like all important figures of history, Newt was as much shaped by his times as he in turn shaped them.  I hope that you are as fascinated by the history of this renegade county as I am. (On Newt Knight, see also “Did Jones County Secede From the Confederacy?”

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