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