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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Vikki Bynum

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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