From October 1863 until the end of the Civil War, an inner civil war raged in Mississippi’s “Free State” of Jones County. According to Ed Mauldin, the log cabin of William Harrison Mauldin, built in 1850 near what is today highway 84, was likely the scene of a noted killing that occurred during that famous anti-Confederate uprising.
One of the many stories told about clashes between Jones County deserters and Confederate militia and vigilantes is that of Tapley Bynum, killed in January 1864 by Confederate forces as he visited his wife, Mary Elizabeth Mauldin, and their newborn daughter, Amanda. The story goes that Tapley, who was a member of Newt Knight’s band, was ambushed after sneaking home to visit his wife and daughter. Ed Mauldin speculates that the home he visited was the cabin, pictured below, in which Mary Elizabeth—the daughter of William Harrison Mauldin—grew-up. It certainly makes sense that she would have lived in the home of her parents during the war, what with her husband on the run, and having recently given birth to the couple’s only child.
The story of Tapley Bynum’s short life helps to explain why I never heard of this distant relative until I first read of his death in the works of Tom Knight and Ethel Knight. With the help of other Bynum researchers, I soon learned that Tapley, born in 1836, was the child of my great, great, great grandfather’s (William Bynum, b. 1763) second marriage, making him the half-brother of my great-great grandfather, William II (b. 1795).
The elder William was already in his seventies at the time of Tapley’s birth, and left to raise to him alone after his wife died in childbirth a few years later. Consequently, one of old William’s grown sons, Benjamin Bynum, and Benjamin’s wife, Margaret “Peggy” Collins, raised Tapley alongside their own children, Dicey, Benjamin Jr., and Prentice Bynum.
Note that Peggy Bynum’s maiden name was Collins. This was important during the Civil War because the Collins family was Jones County’s most visibly pro-Union family. Three of Peggy’s brothers–Riley, Simeon, and Jasper–joined the Knight Band rather than fight for the Confederate cause.
In preparation for Mississippi’s 1861 secession convention, Jones County voted in favor of the anti-secessionist candidate, John H. Powell (Jasper Collins’s father-in-law) over the pro-secession candidate, John M. Baylis. Nonetheless, once secession was achieved by pro-Confederate southerners and war broke out, most of Jones County’s eligible men joined Confederate units in hopes of the war’s short duration. Tapley and his younger nephew Ben Bynum Jr. joined together, but Ben died of disease following their participation in the Battle of Iuka. Like many men of the 7th Battalion who survived the battles of Iuka and Corinth, Tapley soon deserted the army and made his way home. With his other nephew, Prentice Bynum, Tapley joined Newt Knight’s guerrilla band in the woods.
Like Tapley Bynum, the men of the Knight Band visited their homes whenever safe to do so. Their wives and mothers are said to have warned them when Confederates were nearby by blowing on horns. Tapley, however, was particularly vulnerable to capture because the Confederacy knew of his daughter’s recent birth and correctly calculated that he would come in from the woods to see her.
My total ignorance of the tragic story of my own relative’s death until I decided to write a book about the Free State of Jones demonstrates how quickly and thoroughly one’s family history may be buried when it resides within a controversial episode of our nation’s history.
My thanks to Ed Mauldin for providing me a photo of his family’s ancestral cabin as well as pertinent details surrounding the death of Tapley Bynum.
Categories: The Free State of Jones