By Ed Payne
In 2009 Renegade South moderator Vikki Bynum posted a roster compiled in 1870 by Newton Knight that listed many of the men who served with him during the Civil War. The Knight Company consisted of men from the Piney Woods region of Mississippi who in October 1863 organized to resist Confederate units attempting to force their participation in a cause they had rejected. The roster was part of Newt’s petition to Congress for compensation for men who joined him in supporting the Union. This and subsequent attempts failed. The 1870 roster did not include all members of his company. Newt explained that he omitted those who, in his opinion, had fallen away from the Union cause after the war.
As is often the case with the Knight Company, the 1870 roster is not the final word. Two other versions of the Knight Company muster roll appeared in later years. Newt’s son, Thomas Jefferson Knight, wrote an account of his father in the mid-1930s entitled The Life and Activities of Captain Newton Knight. On pages 16-17 he listed men who enrolled in what he termed “Salls Battery.” Thomas later turned over his materials to a cousin, Ethel Boykin Knight. She wrote her own novelization of events in The Echo of the Black Horn, published in 1951. Her version of the Knight roster appeared on pages 89-90 of that book.
The rosters vary in their content. Newt Knight’s list is the shortest with 55 names (7 officers, 48 enlisted men). As noted, he culled those who he deemed to have abandoned Union support during Reconstruction. Thomas J. Knight’s version, apparently drawing from his father’s war time records, included 94 men (7 officers, 73 enlisted men, 14 later enlistees). Probably by oversight, Thomas Knight omitted the name of his father’s second in command, J.M. Valentine. Census records also suggest he recorded Richard Calvin Reeves as two men “Colvan Reeves” and “R.C. Reeves.” Without this error his count would be 93. Ethel Knight drew upon the same records as Thomas but made several additions and deletions. Also, she did not separate later enlistees from earlier ones. Ethel named 93 men (7 officers, 86 enlisted men).
To compare the three lists, I compiled a spreadsheet that includes every man found on at least one of the versions. I separated out the later enlistees on Ethel’s roll to provide consistency with Thomas’s groupings. Names are rendered as they appear in the sources and, within each group, are arranged in alphabetical order using Ethel Knight’s list as my guide. The “Ord” column indicates the (sometimes non-alphabetic) order in which names appeared on each roll. Where Thomas and Ethel Knight mentioned a man in their text, the “Pg” column cites the page number.
After organizing the roster spreadsheet, I attempted to locate each man on the federal censuses of 1850 – 1870. The results are shown in the second set of spreadsheet images, below. “NF” indicates I could not find a matching census record. In several cases, persons not located on the 1870 census turned up in the 1880 enumeration. This is noted in the 1870 column. The “Co” column abbreviates the Mississippi county (or other state) in which the person was enumerated. “Age” notes the age listed on the census. Those known to have died during the war are identified. “DEAD N.O.” identifies men in the Knight Company who later enlisted in the Union army at New Orleans and died during their service. The following abbreviations are employed for sources concerning deaths: “EK” – Ethel Knight; “TK” – Thomas Knight; and “VB” – Victoria Bynum.
Note: The census spreadsheet is an imperfect but good faith effort to locate matches. The rosters frequently provided only first and middle name initials and the spelling of surnames varied, and there might be multiple people on census records with the same name. I relied heavily on the supplemental information about men in the Knight Company found in Vikki Bynum’s Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War, but any errors are my own.
Mysteries remain. Newt and Thomas Knight both recorded “W.P. Turnbow” as an officer (2nd Sgt) in the Knight Company, while Ethel included him as an enlisted man. On his 1870 petition, Newt Knight requested $350 for Turnbow’s services. I could not find any clear match for him on census records, but a “William Joseph Turnbow” appears on the 1850 and 1880 censuses of Smith County. Also uncertain is the identity of the man Thomas Knight cited as “Tom Colman,” but who does not appear on the other two rolls. Silman Coleman appears on all three rosters as “S.C. Coleman.” He and his younger brother Noble, both teenagers, were identified as hanged by Confederate troops commanded by Col. Robert Lowry in April of 1864 (Noble’s execution is in dispute). Because they had no sibling named “Tom” or “Thomas,” Vikki Bynum suggests that Thomas Knight may have mistakenly substituted the name of their father, Thomas J. Coleman, whose 1858 death she described in The Free State of Jones (pages 72-73).
As the above discrepancies suggest, my compilations are not the final word on one’s membership in the Knight Company, but hopefully will assist family researchers curious about ancestors rumored to have participated.
ADDENDUM: “Webcrawlers” employed by internet search engines such as Google cannot index text on image files such as those used for the spreadsheets above. To allow indexing, the following is a list of names from all versions of the Newt Knight roster in text format:
Officers (8): Newton Knight; J.J. Collins; Simeon Collins; Alpheus Knight; S.T. Owens; W.W. Sumrall; W.P. Turnbow; J.M. Valentine.
Enlistees (76): Jack Arnold; Allen Blackledge, Jim Blackledge; J.M. Blackwell; Montgomery Blackwell; P.M. Bynum; Tapley Bynum; B.F. Cawley (Corley); M.M. Coats; B.F. Collins; J.M. Collins; M.C. Collins; R.J. Collins; S.C. Coleman; Enoch Davis; Math Davis; James Ewlen; Tom Flynt; Drew Gilbert; Tucker Gregg; Charley Gunter; J.M. Gunter; John Gunter; John Harper; G.M. Hathorn; J.W. Hathorn; B.H. Hinton; John Hogan; Green Hoskins; John Jones; W.B. Jones; Berry Jordan; M.W. Kervin; S.W. Kervin; B.F. Knight; Dickey Knight; H.C. Knight; J.M. Knight; T.F. Knight; Will Laird; Blake Lambert; Guss Lambert; Jeff Lee; Lazrous Mathews; Ausberry McDaniel; Morge Mitchell; C.F. Prince; Dave Prince; Levy Prince; Daniel Reddock; (Richard) Calvin Reeves; Mose Richardson; Jack Smith; Jesse Smith; Jim Tiner; Aaron Todd; J.J. Valentine; M.B. Valentine; Patrick Valentine; R.H. Valentine; Archy Walters; J.L. Walters; Elijah Welborn; Turner Welborn; W.T. Welborn; Younger Welborn; H.R. Welch; R.J. Welch; T.T. Welch; W.M. Welch; D.W. Whitehead; T.J. Whitehead; N.V. Whitehead; James Yates; Thomas Yates; Joseph Yawn.
Later enlistees (14): Scott Bush; Bill Cranford; B.F. Dykes; Bill Elzey; Bill Holifield; Jack Holifield; Jim Holloman; Tom Holloman; Giles Lofton; John Willis Musgrove; D. Pridgen; Daniel Wade; Elisha Wade; Mose Walters.
Categories: The Free State of Jones
Thank you, Ed Payne for this beautiful labor.
My great grandfather, Lazarus Mathews is on the list. The family is from SoSo Mississippi with many still in the area. My dad went to Shady Grove school. There is still a Matthews Baptist Church, cemetery and small museum there is Shady Grove. Lazarus is buried there along with great GrandMa, and my grandparents. Unfortunately my father is buried in the Ruston cemetery.
At 75 I believe I am a member of the oldest generation still living. Great Grand Pa Lazarus spelt his name with only one T. Somewhere along the line a second T was added. We are also related,shirttail, to some of the Bush, Holifield and Valentine. Wow it;s neat to view some history and know that your family was involved.
Edwin Blanks Matthews Jr.
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Was your Lazarus Mathews/Matthews married to a Jane Simpson whose family was from North Carolina?
Mr Payne thank you for the hard work that you put into this. Like I said in my email it’s special to see your family listed as part of history. They say that history repeats it’s self. Let’s all pray that that doesn’t happen in this case. It was a terrible time in our country’s growth. I don’t think we grew much during this period. In fact we may have slipped backwards a touch.
Edwin Blanks Matthews Jr.
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Great Vicki, I have heard so many of those names from my grandparents such as Collins, Valentines, and others. Of course, I think you know the Sumralls are relatives of mine. Thank you.
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Yes, if I remember correctly, Dorothy, you are descended from Harmon Levi Sumrall, W.W. Sumrall’s older brother. Harmon was beyond the age of draft, but he nonetheless supported Newt and the Knight Company along with the other older Unionist men of the community.
A very illustrious ancestry!
Thank you, Ed. Thomas “Tom” Holoman (Holliman) (Later Enlistees) is a 1st cousin 4x removed. He joined the 1st New Orleans Infantry. As noted above he died on September 9, 1864 and is buried in the Chalmette National Cemetery. He married Elizabeth B. Landrum, a cousin of Linson B. Landrum. To my knowledge she never remarried. His brother James “Jim” is also listed as “Later Enlistees”. Jim also died in New Orleans on October 7, 1864 and is buried in the Chalmette National Cemetery. His mother Matilda Oliver Holliman filed for his pension. I also see a John “Hollomon” listed on the census chart. This could be their brother John Oliver who joined the 1st New Orleans Infantry on May 12, 1864. He died on October 4, 1922 in Harrison County, MS and has a US Government issued headstone. He attained the rank of sergeant.
Chuck: I appreciate your additional information. You seem to have caught an error in my census tracking spreadsheet. As you noted, “Tom” and “Jim” Holliman appear as “later enlistees” on the rosters of Thomas and Ethel Knight. And in the spring of 1864, four Holliman men from the Piney Woods enlisted in the Union 1st New Orleans Infantry: Brasille (full name William Brasille), James, Oliver, and Thomas. Only Oliver survived his enlistment, while the others died of disease. My understanding is that James, Oliver, and Thomas were all sons of James and Matilda Holliman, while Russell and Martha Holliman were the parents of William Brasille.
I accidentally followed “John Holliman” instead of “Jim” (James). For James Holliman, the census track is:
– 1850: James Holloman – age 8 – Greene County (James and Matilda Holloman, parents; Oliver and Thomas, brothers)
– 1860: NF (James was not in the household with his parents in Wayne County, although brothers Thomas and Oliver were enumerated there.)
– 1870: DEAD N.O. 10/07/1864. Died at University Hospital, New Orleans.
Side note: John Oliver Holliman and his wife Elizabeth Ann Mitchell named one of their sons James Sherman Holliman.
Ed: I concur with your findings. William Brasille was a 3rd great uncle. His parents Russell and Martha are my third great grandparents. My dad was born in the cabin that William’s brother Thomas built. I believe his mother’s maiden name was Martha Ann Miller.
I just purchased your book, The Free State of Jones, and I am so very happy to have found it. John Ira Welch was my great-grandfather. Timothy Lawrence Welch was my second great-grandfather. Mark Bynum was my 4th great-grandfather. My grandfather was Earl “Lee” Welch, Senior. I am fascinated with the family’s history and was so excited to discover your book! I look forward to learning more about the history of Jones and the part the Welchs and the Bynums might have played.
So nice to hear from you, Ramona! Mark Bynum was my GGgrandfather’s brother, and he was one of the two leading Unionist brothers, along with Benjamin Bynum. Both the Welches and the Bynums were a big part of the Free State of Jones.
HI, Romana! My name is Amanda Welch- descendant of Hiram “Harrison” Rankin, John Ira’s son. I believe he and Timothy Lawrence were brothers. Hiram is my 3rd great grandfather. I just recently discovered the connection to the Free State of Jones! Pretty exciting!
I am wondering if you have any solid information on Timothy’s great grandfather Richard J Welch? Aslo do you have any idea who Isabella Welch (1728-1822) is? She is buried in the Welch/Graham Cemetery along with Bryant, his father and some of his uncles. I can’t find any information on her.
Thanks in advance for any help! 🙂
Thank you for your stalwart research.
As an update: You mentioned somewhere that Jeff Lee was probably related to James W Lee.
-After years of research by several folks, we find that the Jeff Lee of the Knight Company was in fact Jefferson Lee, son of Old Sam Lee of Wayne Co MS.
-He is found in the 1850 Wayne Co MS Census listed as Jefferson West, living in the home of his half-brother, Stephen West.
-He is found in the 1860 Jones Co MS Census as James W Lee married to Delphine Dorcus Landrum. daughter of Jesse Marion Landrum. Thus, he was part of the Landrum herd.
-He enlisted in the 1st Louisiana Infantry at Ft Pike where he died of disease.
Again, thank you for shedding light on the complicated History of Slavery, Succession, and changing loyalties.
-We Southerners are not a monolithic group.
-Hopefully, we aspire to be led by “the better angels of our nature.”
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Thank you so much, Charles Lewis, for filling us in on the history of Jeff Lee! So, he wasn’t just related to James W. Lee, he WAS James W. Lee. That’s some good detective work.
I also appreciate your kind words and hopeful thoughts (which I share) about the history I strive to share here on Renegade South.
Charles: Let me add my thanks to those of Vikki.
You are correct that James West Lee joined the 1st New Orleans (Union) Infantry and died while serving. His widow Delphine filed for a pension in 1867 and received payments until her death in 1884. On some of the pension documents the original name “Jefferson Lee” was crossed out and replaced with “James W. Lee” (the name under which he enlisted). I did not link the “Jeff Lee” on the Knight Band rosters with James W. Lee on the census records (but suggested instead Thomas Jefferson Lee of Covington County) because of a factual problem — several documents in the pension file cite Lee has having enrolled on 28 Jul 1862. This was over a year before the Knight Band formed. However, other records list him as having enlisted on 13 Apr 1864. Not sure what accounts for the discrepency. If the Apr 1864 enlistment date is the correct one, then James W. could well have been the “Jeff Lee” listed on two of the Knight rosters.
As you probably know, James and Delphine named their final child, born 12 Mar 1863, Abraham Lincoln Lee
If you are not familiar with the contents of the widow’s pension file, please contact me. Vikki can supply you with my email address.
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Thank you so much, Ed, for adding the details on Jeff Lee from your research–and the Abraham Lincoln connection, which I forgot to mention!