Big Thicket jayhawkers

Lone Star Unionism: Warren J. Collins profiled in New Civil War Anthology

By Vikki Bynum

Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance: Other Sides of Civil War Texas, the much-anticipated anthology edited by distinguished historian Jesus F. de la Teja,*  makes its debut from the University of Oklahoma Press on March 9, 2016.

About the book: Most histories of Civil War Texas—some starring the fabled Hood’s Brigade, Terry’s Texas Rangers, or one or another military figure—depict the Lone Star State as having joined the Confederacy as a matter of course and as having later emerged from the war relatively unscathed. Yet as the contributors to this volume amply demonstrate, the often neglected stories of Texas Unionists and dissenters paint a far more complicated picture. Ranging in time from the late 1850s to the end of Reconstruction, Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance restores a missing layer of complexity to the history of Civil War Texas.

Lone Star Unionism

Lone Star Unionism, Edited by Jesus F. de la Teja

I’m delighted to have contributed an essay about guerrilla leader Warren Jacob Collins to this volume. From the Big Thicket swamps of East Texas, Warren Collins headed a band of Confederate army deserters labeled “jayhawkers” because of their support for the Union. My essay, “East Texas Unionism: Warren J. Collins, Big Thicket Jayhawker,”** adds a new twist to this story—Warren, it turns out, hailed from Jones County, Mississippi, and had personal connections to Newt Knight and his famed guerrilla band, the Knight Company.

Although the Big Thicket jayhawkers are well known in Texas lore, few readers know that Warren Collins was born and raised in Jones County, or that his Mississippi brothers, Jasper Collins, Riley Collins, and Simeon Collins, as well as his brother-in-law, James Morgan Valentine, were “officers” in the guerrilla uprising headed by Newt Knight and known as the Free State of Jones.***  Clearly, there were intimate connections between these two legendary insurrections that erupted in two different states!

More about the book: The authors—all noted scholars of Texas and Civil War history—show that slaves, freedmen and freedwomen, Tejanos, German immigrants, and white women all took part in the struggle, even though some never found themselves on a battlefield. Their stories depict the Civil War as a conflict not only between North and South but also between neighbors, friends, and family members. By framing their stories in the analytical context of the “long Civil War,” Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance reveals how friends and neighbors became enemies and how the resulting violence, often at the hands of secessionists, crossed racial and ethnic lines. The chapters also show how ex-Confederates and their descendants, as well as former slaves, sought to give historical meaning to their experiences and find their place as citizens of the newly re-formed nation.

Concluding with an account of the origins of Juneteenth—the nationally celebrated holiday marking June 19, 1865, when emancipation was announced in Texas—Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance challenges the collective historical memory of Civil War Texas and its place in both the Confederacy and the United States. It provides material for a fresh narrative, one including people on the margins of history and dispelling the myth of a monolithic Confederate Texas.

Featuring the groundbreaking research of both established and rising scholars, Lone Star Unionism is an important contribution to the burgeoning field of Civil War dissent and home front turmoil, providing the perfect showcase for the story of Warren Jacob Collins, and reminding us of the breadth and depth of human struggle during Civil War. –vb

 

*Dr. Jesus F. de la Teja is Regents’ Professor of History and Supple Professor of Southwestern Studies Director, Center for the Study of the Southwest, Texas State University, San Marcos.

**Portions of this essay were previously published in chapter 5 of Victoria Bynum, The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

**The movie, The Free State of Jones, is set for release on May 13, 2016, and stars Matthew McConaughey as Newt Knight.

22 replies »

  1. My Grandfather (Edmond Jasper Collins), son of Ulysses Collins, said his Great Uncle Warren was so mean he once shot a dog because it wouldn’t stop barking.

    • Interesting! I’m curious, however. It’s my understanding that Ulysses lived in Mississippi all his life, whereas Warren J.Collins lived in Texas from 1852 until his death in 1926. When would Ulysses’s son, Edmond Jasper Collins, have witnessed this shooting? Did he ever live in Texas? Or might he have had another great uncle named Warren?

      Vikki

      • From what I understand Edmond (1894-1980) probably heard about it from his father, Ulysses, and didn’t witness it. I guess Ulysses did but I don’t know when the dog was shot. I was told the story many times by my Daddy, Edmond’s son.
        Edmond lived in Ellisville/Laurel area until he married my Grandmother in 1922 then he moved to New Orleans. He moved to Hattisburg when he and my Grandmother separated sometime in the 1940’s while Daddy was in service in WWII so he never lived in Texas. Off topic funny thing: both my big brothers now live in Houston. My oldest brother was born in Houston while my parents lived there for a short time but we all grew up in Baton Rouge, LA. Some Collins’ just naturally gravitate towards Texas!

      • Maggie, those Mississippi to Texas roads are for sure well-traveled by Jones County folks! Many Bynums made the trek, too. But you’re right, the Collinses were especially inclined to head for Texas.

        Vikki

  2. Warren Jacob Collins wascUncle to my Grandmother France’s Collins Loftin! Both lived near each other in Hardin Co . Warren with his parents Stacy &’Sarah Collins & other brothers settled in Hardin County in 1850’s near Honey Island community’s! Leonard & France’s with their two children plus other members of Leonard Lee ‘s Loftin family came in 1872 settled down in the Thicket community within ten miles of thecCollins families! My father Leonard Harrison was eighth of nine more children born to my Loftin grandparents in Thicket! All are buried there in Felps Cemetery with exception of a boy James Millard Loftin buried in Alto. Will hold additional history for now but there is so much more! Thanks for the blog!

      • So glad you discovered this site! Warren J. Collins and his siblings of both Texas and Mississippi were remarkable 19th century Southerners. Against type, Warren was a Unionist, Populist, and Socialist who was uncompromising in his principles. I’ve enjoyed researching the Collins family immensely, and it’s great to hear from another descendant!

  3. Warren J. Collins was my great great grandfather, his daughter Sara Margaret married Dan Overstreet my great grandfather. My grandfather Arthur Daniel Overstreet was born from that union.

    • Very nice to meet you, Walter. I quoted Warren’s grandson, Bud Overstreet, in this essay on Warren Collins (p. 90).

      Vikki

  4. Nice to be here and thank you Vikki. Yes, I remember Uncle Bud very well he had a beer joint North of Kountze for as long as I remembered when I was a small child. I’m thinking he was the oldest of my grandfathers brothers.

    • Nice to have you here, and thank you for the information about Bud Overstreet. My impression, based on extensive reading of early documents and essays, is that the Overstreets understood the Unionist beliefs of Warren J. Collins better than most other lines of descendants.

      Vikki

  5. Well Vikki, like Warren the Overstreets were hard people, but fair people and didn’t like seeing anyone or anything miss treated. The Overstreets might argue amongst themselves, but never go against one another with anyone outside the family. They reverend Warren as not only family, which he was, but as a folk legend and grandfather and great grandfather to most of them. Now to be honest, my grandfather said he was a mean man.

    Walter

    • Interesting, Walter. I read somewhere else (can’t remember where off-hand), that Warren was mean. That’s disappointing because it contradicts the characteristic of not liking to see anyone mistreated. But it’s also true that people can be kind in the universal sense, yet mean to their personal associates, and a reminder not to romanticize any individual, no matter how much we admire their political principles or public stance. Thanks again for your comments!

      Vikki

      • That was probably me. I was retelling a story my Daddy was told by his father, Edmond Jasper Collins, about his great uncle Warren shooting a dog who wouldn’t stop barking.

  6. You know Vikki, I wish as a young boy and man, I would have been as interested in my family history as I am now. I wish I had sit around and talked to my grandfather and father and all the uncles and older cousins instead of waiting until they were all gone to get interested. That’s my loss and my son’s loss.

    • I think we all wish that. It takes time to understand that what came before us opens so many doors to understanding not only the present, but also the people we have most loved. And many that we never knew existed!

      Vikki

  7. Well Vikki, you can be mean and fair at the same time. I’ve worked for people like that and also had family the same way. You have to get to know and understand that person for who they are. It allows you to respect them, where people who doesn’t know them will always fear them.

  8. Vikki, it was always my understanding, that the Jayhawkers were not Union sympathizers, or Southern sympathizers, but instead follower’s of Sam Houston and just wanted to be left alone.

    • Thanks Walter. Yes, that’s a popular understanding that I’m quite familiar with–and the same thing is said by many Jones County locals about the Free State of Jones. I detailed my own perspective on Big Thicket resistance in the above-cited Lone Star Unionism essay, as well as in my earlier book, The Free State of Jones (2001). Certainly, the men who joined these insurrections wished to left alone by the Confederacy, and for quite a few that’s all they wanted. It’s a perspective that doesn’t necessarily contradict my own analysis. However, I think it’s more complicated than that.

      In the case of core members of the Texas and Mississippi anti-Confederate bands—men like the Collins, Welch, Walters, Valentine, and Knight families—I found more than merely a desire to be “left alone.” There is good evidence that political views and class awareness drove the core band members’ refusal to be used by the slaveholding class as front line martyrs to save an institution (slavery) in which they were not invested, or at least not willing to risk their lives for. And the political behavior they displayed afterward—Jasper Collins as a Mississippi Populist; Warren Collins as a Texas Socialist—provided new means of expression for the same class-conscious awareness that made them refuse to fight a slaveholders’ war during the 1860s.

      I digressed on these views in my 2010 book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War; Southern Dissent and Its legacies. In that book I combined essays detailing my research on Southern Unionism and anti-Confederate insurrections in three different states–North Carolina, Mississippi, and Texas. As a historian, I am devoted to giving these families their due as having provided an alternative Southern white viewpoint to that celebrated in the Confederate myth of the “Lost Cause” that still holds sway today in popular media.

      Vikki

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