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Posts Tagged ‘Warren Jacob Collins’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This is my first post since “Guerrilla Wars” that highlights the East Texas component of Long Shadow of the Civil War. The essay “Civil War Unionists as New South Radicals: Mississippi and Texas, 1865-1920″ links Warren J. Collins of Hardin County, Texas, to his brother, Jasper J. Collins, of Jones County, Mississippi. Newt Knight also makes regular appearances in this essay, since Jasper Collins was his 1st sgt. in the Knight band (See Knight Company roster, 1870).

This essay picks up after the Civil War, tracing the migration of Collins and related families to East Texas, but most especially tracing the political evolution of the brothers, Warren J. and Jasper J. Collins, into the 20th century.

Although Warren and Jasper lived in separate states, both became populists during the late 19th century, continuing their wartime rejection of conventional politics. In fact, Jasper and his son, Loren, founded Ellisville’s only known populist newspaper! Around the same time that Jasper joined the People’s Party, he also left the Baptist church to help found a Universalist Church in Jones County.

By 1910, Warren J. Collins was a socialist, although his son, Vinson, was a Democratic state senator in Texas.  I’ve found no evidence that Jasper joined the Socialist Party, but a small number of his Jones County kinfolk did.

I think you’ll be struck, as I was, by the fiercely independent political views of certain Collinses and Collins kin, during and long after the Civil War–and across state lines.

NOTE: For those interested in learning more about populists and socialists in Mississippi, I highly recommend the work of historian Stephen Cresswell. For Texas, see Gregg Cantrell, Lawrence Goodwyn, and James R. Green.

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This essay from my upcoming Long Shadow of the Civil War profiles the leaders of three guerrilla bands from three regions of the South known for Unionism and resistance to the Confederacy: the Randolph County area of North Carolina, the Jones County area of Mississippi, and the “Big Thicket” region of East Texas. The geographic and family ties that link the bands are fascinating. The parents of Newt Knight, leader of the Mississippi band, migrated west from North Carolina around the period of the American Revolution. The three Collins brothers who initiated the Texas band had North Carolina and Mississippi roots, and were the brothers of the three Collins brothers who served with Newt Knight back in Jones County!

Here are a few snippets from this chapter describing Bill Owen, Newt Knight, and Warren J. Collins, the respective leaders of the three renegade bands:

“Bill Owens . . . appears the most ruthless and least charismatic of the leaders. Owens’s Civil War exploits inspired no romantic tales of heroism.”

“Newt could be ruthless as well as charismatic.  The cold-blooded murder of Major Amos McLemore, Jones County’s most powerful Confederate officer, is universally attributed to Newt.”

“Warren Collins .  .  .  appeared more adept at eluding capture than murdering Confederate leaders.  .  .  .  An extensive folklore surrounds the life of this so-called “Daniel Boone” of East Texas.”

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