Col. Robert Lowry’s Raid on the Knight Company

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!—vb

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


            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.


[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


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]

39 replies »

  1. I am a descendant of Jeff Ainsworth whose daughter, Arrena Renee Ainsworth, was married to William McNeil. Can anyone tell me or show me exactly what happened to him. It appears from piecing together several of the letters about the Lowry Campaign that he was one of the deserters from Smith County that was hanged. I would like to know more details it that is possible.

  2. Ms Bivins: I am very happy you read the contemporary letters and articles concerning the Lowry Raid and found the mentions of the hanging of your ancestor, William McNeil. As Vikki noted, it is clear that the renegades of the Piney Woods included many more than just those recorded on the various Knight Company rosters. Other groups and individuals existed not only in Jones County, but also in Perry and Smith counties and elsewhere.

    At present I am attempting to compile as complete a list of Piney Woods renegades as surviving records will allow. Part of this involves examining the muster rolls of the 1st New Orleans Infantry, in which a number of south MS unionist enlisted in the wake of the Lowry campaign. In some cases these were relatives of persons killed earlier. It may be difficult to find out more about the activities of William McNeil and exact circumstances leading to his hanging, but he is on my list. If you provide your email to Vikki, she will forward it to me. Also, Vikki and I would both be interested in any family documents or lore about William McNeil and his possible associates. Thanks for your interest and hope we can find out more.

    • I just want to note here that Tom Tramel, a gg-grandson of William McNeil, has contacted me in hopes of learning more about him. If any one out there can add to this discussion of McNeil, please do submit a comment.


  3. I believe I am descended from the above-mentioned James Ates who was hanged as a deserter. Several years ago I was in touch with Dr. Bynum and she was a gracious responder. Although I have no written documentation the story fits with what I was always told–that there was an ancestor who was hung somewhere near Covington County as a deserter from the Civil War. My greatgrandfather was James Isom Ates (he also had a brother named Thomas)–his dad was John Washington Ates and JW’s dad was that James Ates who was hanged.

  4. Thanks so much for posting your comments, Ann! I remember very well our email exchanges of some years ago–I still have copies in my research files. You had discovered my book quite unexpectedly (way up North!) and were excited to discover your Ates ancestors within, along with the story of Jim Ates being hanged for desertion, a story long-told within your family.

    As you point out in your other post (see “1870 Knight Company Roster”), the Ates brothers are listed as James and Thomas Edward “Yates” on the 1860 federal manuscript census for Covington County, MS. James, b. 1828, was living as a laborer in the household of Daniel and Elizabeth Coleman Knight. Also in that household was Elizabeth Knight’s mother, Mary Coleman. Mary Coleman’s grandson, Sil Coleman, was also hanged during Col. Lowry’s raid on the Jones County region.

    Incidently, Tom Ates, the other brother hanged by Lowry, was connected to the colorful Sullivan family of Sullivan’s Hollow through his marriage to Martha Ann Sullivan.

    Good to hear from you,


  5. I’ve recently begun researching my family tree and have found your site very interesting. A post that mentioned Daniel and Elizabeth Coleman Knight caught my attention.

    I’ve been trying to determine if my Great-Grandmother Corena Elizabeth Knight was in fact their child. Daniel’s death according to Acenstry.com and headstone picture’s indicate he died in 1863. But Corena wasn’t born until 1867 based on similar information. So, I’m obviously perplexed.

    Corena married James Terrell Tisdale who was the father of Anse J Tisdale, my grandfather.

    Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

    • Clark,

      Thanks for your post; I’m glad you’re enjoying reading Renegade South.

      I don’t recall Daniel and Elizabeth Knight having a child named Corena, and you’re right, Daniel died before 1867. I’ll have to check my files on this and get back to you.

      In the meantime, perhaps one of our readers will have an answer for you. I’ll comment again in a few days; hopefully with the insights you’re hoping for.


      p.s. I’m a Tisdale, too, through my great-grandmother, Sophronia Tisdale, who married William Bynum.

      • Wow, that’s interesting. I’ll have to look into Sophronia.

        To follow up slightly on Corena, I’ve also seen her name spelled Corina and Corine, even in my own family’s records.

        Also, the 1880 census finds Corine Knight, 13 named as the sister of the head of household (Sanfranco Knight, 25) with his wife (Sarah A. Knight, 20) and baby (Creola Knight, 3months) and mother (Elizabeth E. Knight, 55).

        I’m also related to the Sullivans, Anse J Tisdale married Eunice Mayfield whose mother was Mollie Lenore Sullivan who was Loughton “Loten” Sullivan’s daughter.

      • Clark.

        You certainly have a colorful ancestry: Knights and Sullivans!

        I have gone through my files and I too have found your ancestor, Corena Elizabeth Knight, listed in a household headed by Elizabeth Knight, widow of Daniel Knight. In the 1870 census for Covington Co., MS, dwelling #839, “E. E. Knight, age 45 is listed with three children, San Francisco, male, age 16; D. C., male, age 13; and female, C.E. (likely Corena), age 3.

        Based on the Leaf River Baptist Church records, it appears that Corena was the illegitimate daughter of Elizabeth, and was born a few years after the death of Elizabeth’s husband, Daniel Knight. I found “E.E. Knight” reported in the Leaf River church minutes as having been “received” from the Ocoha Church in Covington Co., on April 9, 1865. Just a few months later, on Nov. 11, 1865, the Leaf River minutes report that “E.E. Knight” was “manifestly guilty” of adultery, and that she was consequently “cut off” from the church. Could this post-marital affair have led to the birth of Corena, who appears on the 1870 census? It appears so.

        In regard to our mutual Tisdale line, My grandmother, Sophronia, was the daughter of Washington S. and Charity (Dickerson) Tisdale.


  6. Vikki,

    Thank you very much!

    I was coming to the same conclusion, but your additional details and confirmation are certainly appreciated.

    Also, thank you for the detail on Sophronia.


      • Vikki,

        William Pleasant Tisdale (1775-06-27 – 1848-05-??) and Susannah Carr (1785-09-20 – 1860-??-??) were the parents of Washington Sherwood (1822-10-22 – 1894-09-24) and John Appleton Tisdale (1826-03-01 – 1902-07-31). That seems to be the point where our genetic lines meet. Quite a way back!

        William and Susannah were born in SC, the boys in Jones County, MS; all four appear to have died in Jones County.

        John Appleton was my GGGrandfather.


      • Thanks for the update on our Tisdale ancestors! Washington Sherwood Tisdale was my GGGrandfather, so you and I are the same generation–4th cousins, I believe?


    • I got a look at “Who Married Whom in Jones County, MS” 1830-1880 by Patrica Edwards & Jean Strickland yesterday. It lists William Pleasant as born 1816 and marrying Martha Chatham in 1835. But also listed is William (Smt/D) with Susannah Carr and all dates mentioned previously. William (Smt/D) was also listed as previously married to La-Coh-Mah-La birth date (unproven). All of these entries were listed as based on family knowledge.

  7. Hi Vikki,

    Google has brought me back to your website once again. I was doing some online Tisdale research and it picked up the posts from Clark Tisdale. John Appleton Tisdale is my gr, gr, gr, grandfather and I would like to get in touch with Clark if you can make that happen. Please send him my email when you have the chance.


    Eric Rawls

  8. I have referred to this site often. Thank you…James and Thomas Ates were my gg uncles along with William and Calvin Jr. Their brother John W Langford Ates was my gg grandfather. JW Ates- George Ates-Charles Ates- Frederick L Ates Sr my father, born in Vicksburg 1912. I live in Nor Cal. Hello to any relatives.

    • Fredrick,

      Thanks for posting on Renegade South. I’ve always been interested in the Ates family–their connections to the Knights, the reasons they become Unionists. In regard to Northern California, I lived there many years, attended both Chico State and Sonoma State University in my my younger years.


  9. I would love to correspond with the Tisdale descendants. I am a DAR Registrar and joined under the Patriot John Tisdale who was the father of Pleasant. I descend from Pleasant and Lacohala through William P. and wife, Susanna Carr. I would love to know where you found exact birth dates of William P. and Susannah. I can be reached at bzbsmith@yahoo.com

  10. Silman Coleman was my great great grandmother, Cornelia Coleman Dickerson’s brother. I have your book, The Free State of Jones. I have just started reading this. I was told that Cornelia Coleman cut both of her brothers, Sil and Nobel, from the tree where they were hanged. Do you have any information on the Colemans? Thanks!!

    • Hi Missywilson; thanks for your comment. I hope you enjoy the book. I’ve never been certain that Noble (as well as Silman) was hanged by Col. Lowry’s men. Some accounts say that he was, but another researcher told me that he found evidence that Nobe was still alive after the war. I need to go back and check that for myself. As for the Colemans, I have quite a lot on them in the book. If you have specific questions, don’t hesitate to ask!


    • At my local LDS Family History Center, I ran across a little book by Minnie Spell Davis entitled “Confederate Patriots of Jones County”. She was a granddaughter of Cornelia Coleman, although Minnie referred to her as “Cornealious”. Minnie wrote that Cornelia drove an ox cart to the tree where the brothers Nobe and Sil were hung, cut them down, and carried them away in the cart for burial. Cornelia would have been about 16 years old in 1864. Of course, this was way before Minnie’s mother was even born, but this is the story Minnie had always heard. Note that Minnie referred to the brothers as Noble and Ceillian.

      • Thank you for pointing this out, Cathleen. I referenced Minnie S. Davis’s book in my own study, The Free State of Jones. I especially found useful her stories about the Coleman boys’ sister, Cornelia, who is said to have ridden a horse across the swollen river with food for the deserter camp held high above her head. Davis also describes how Cornelia and other women went and cut their men down from the trees they were hanged on as deserters—that’s a scene that made it into the movie, Free State of Jones.


      • Thank you, Vikki, for your reply! I greatly appreciate your work, have bought your books, and follow here for updates. I am a Knight and Coleman descendant (although in different lines from those stated above) and am also searching for further Coleman history.

      • Thanks, and great to meet you, Cathleen. I meet so many folks that I wish I’d met while I was writing books about their families!


    • Anita Simmons, Thank you for your question regarding the Hawkins couple and the hoisting of the Union flag during the Civil War. (I totally overlooked your question back in February when you posted it).

      And Ann Krischer, thank you for providing such good information on Benjamin Hawkins–how fascinating (and appropriate) that he and his wife came from Randolph County, NC, one of the major Unionist strongholds of the South! Together, parts of Randolph, Montgomery, and Moore Counties, about which I’ve written a good deal here on Renegade South and in two of my books, were the apex of a fierce inner civil war against the Confederacy that was at least as widespread as that in Piney Woods, Mississippi.

      We really need to know more about this man and his wife, Elizabeth Varney. I conducted a recent online search in old newspapers that yielded several out-of-state articles about Mr. Hawkins’s work on behalf of the Union, and specifically on behalf of the “suffering” “poor whites” of Smith County, Mississippi, during the war. At some point, I will write a post about the Hawkins, and I’ll draw from your excellent research, Ann, as well as my own.

      My thanks to both Ann and Anita for drawing attention to yet another near-forgotten figure of Civil War history.


  11. I think it was Benjamin Hawkins b. 1803 Randolph NC d. 1865 Williamsburg, Smith Co., MS. He owned a mill in Smith County. “It is believed that Benjamin died on May 24, 1865 just before his 62nd birthday while returning home to Smith County, MS. from a trip to New Orleans. He died at the home of the Eaton’s, likely H.C. Eaton, an old family friend,at Williamsburg, Mississippi (near Collins) and is buried in their family cemetery. It is believed by some that the Eaton Family Cemetery is the Old Williamsburg Cemetery.” from Find A Grave.
    He was my 4th greatgrandfather. His wife, who was his second, was Elizabeth Varner, also from North Carolina. Their oldest son, John Hawkins, is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery near Jackson MS.In the 1860 Census for Scott Co., MS Benjamin is listed as a mechanic and his son Charlie is a miller.
    Let me know what you think about this possibility.

  12. Another bit indicating Benjamin Hawkins as old Hawkins: By the beginning of the Civil War, Benjamin and his eight sons had amassed over 700 acres. The 1850 census however, indicates that he was a blacksmith. On the other hand, the following census shows his occupation as ‘mechanic’. Whatever the case, he owned a grist mill located near the small town of Lingle. Benjamin was a businessman and both he and his sons did a bit of traveling to the state capital and other business centers including one trip to Illinois where he spoke before the legislature. Benjamin died on May 24, 1865 while returning from a trip to New Orleans. He died at the home of the Eaton’s , old family friends, at Williamsburg Mississippi (near Collins) and is buried in their family cemetery.

  13. Hello everyone! My dad is James K. Ates, father was Waiteous Ates, brother to George Kenneth Ates and Waidean Ates Williamson. My dad and mom (Elizabeth Ann Ates) live in Magee, MS (Simpson County.) I have longed to find more information regarding the Ates name. My name is Bethany Ates Percy. SO very fascinating to read everyone’s comments and learn more about our family. I was told Ates originated in the Netherlands. Does anyone know if this holds true?

  14. Very interesting. Of course I heard stories when I was a child, but as children do, didn’t pay much attention nor ask more questions, as it seemed boring then. Hearing here about the hangings, and shootings; it’s harsh to envision. My Great (times several) Grandfather was Governor/Col. Robert Lowry. I’ve read a bit about him on the internet. Seems to have been quite the Confederate Leader and Governor of Mississippi. I’m certainly not of the same mindset of some of the practices of the old South (I was raised in the Mississippi Delta) , but this is history and am very interested in the stories and lives; how they rose and how they fell; where we all came from and how we got here. Thank you for sharing! Look forward to reading more information, or seeing any photos.

    • Joan, welcome to Renegade South! And thank you for your interest in stories from “the other side” of the Confederacy.


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