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Archive for the ‘The Free State of Jones’ Category

If you’re interested in Southern Unionism, especially within the Lone Star State, the upcoming symposium will be of great interest to you. Lots of great scholars and papers, and I’m honored to be included. My talk will be on Warren Jacob Collins, leader of the Unionist “Jayhawkers” of the East Texas Big Thicket. Warren was part of a Unionist family that included Jasper Collins of Mississippi, a member of the Knight Company of “Free State of Jones” fame.

Hope to see you there!

Vikki Bynum

Unionism symposium image

APRIL 5, 2014, SATURDAY   |   SYMPOSIUM
8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
LONE STAR UNIONISM AND DISSENT: The Other Civil-War Texas

Support for the Union in Texas and rejection of the Confederacy did not solely consist of Sam Houston’s famous refusal to take oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. Before, during, and after the Civil War, significant numbers of Texans of all social, economic, and ethnic groups actively opposed the dominant southern slaveocracy for a variety of reasons. This symposium explores the diversity of that opposition and challenges the myth of a monolithic pro-Confederate Texas.

Presented by Texas State’s Center for the Study of the Southwest, this all-day symposium offers two morning sessions and one afternoon session of three presentations each, followed by keynote address and a Q&A period.

8:00 AM—CONTINENTAL BREAKFAST

8:30 AM — OPENING REMARKS
J. Frank de la Teja, director of Texas State’s Center for the Study of the Southwest

8:45–10:15 AM — SESSION ONE

Gray Ghost: Collective Memory of a Confederate Texas 
— Laura McLemore 
The “collective memory” of Confederate Texas is as elusive as a ghost. It is as lacking in definite shape as any restless spirit, and tracing manifestations of it is a challenge worthy of any ghost hunter. This nebulousness, like so many aspects of Texas history and memory, is inextricably linked with Texan identity, in itself a loaded term. From a survey of primary and secondary sources, however, a few conclusions emerge, the first and foremost of which is that Texans viewed and many continue to view themselves as “Texan” first and foremost. A second is that vast differences of geography and ethnic heritage mitigated against the formation of a genuinely “collective” memory of a Confederate Texas. A third is that Texas men were much more interested in getting back to making money than they were in memorializing a lost cause. This left the cultivation of “memory” to the ladies. McLemore explores the evidence for and the nature of collective memory of Confederate Texas through time.

The Problem of Slave Flight Before and During the Civil War 
— Andrew J. Torget
This presentation will focus on the problem that slave fight posed for Anglo Texans and Confederates, as enslaved people during the 1850s and 1860s escaped from plantations. The position of Texas along the far-western frontier of the American South, alongside Mexico, presented unique opportunities for enslaved people to flee their masters, leaving the state’s planters particularly concerned about the problem of slave flight and rebellion. The outbreak of the Civil War threatened to destabilize slaveholding in the state as it brought new opportunities for Texas slaves to escape, even as slaveholders from other parts of the Confederacy began shuttling slaves into Texas to isolate them from Union armies (and the opportunity to run to freedom across Union lines). Dr. Torget will examine both how the course of the war affected slave escapes in the state, and how Anglo Texans thought about both the threat of emancipation and the central problem that their enslaved servants posed: unionists in their midst.

Slaveholding Refugees in Wartime Texas 
— Caleb McDaniel
As Union armies occupied New Orleans and moved up the Mississippi River in late 1862 and 1863, slaveholding refugees from Louisiana poured across the border into Texas, bringing with them tens of thousands of enslaved people. As these slaveholders rented land, hired out slaves, moved back and forth across the border, and sometimes straddled the line between commitment to the Confederacy and grudging acceptance of Union gains, their presence created tensions with many native Texans who questioned their loyalty or feared the influx of “strange” people of color. As “outsiders” who were neither Unionists nor fully accepted by Confederate Texans, these refugees and the enslaved people they brought with them did not always fit neatly into the categories historians have used to understand wartime Texas. They reveal the heterogeneous and shifting nature of the state’s population as well as the multiple motives—economic, practical, familial, and ideological—that brought many strangers to Texas during the War.

10:15–10:30 AM — BREAK

10:30 AM–12:00 PM — SESSION TWO

New Americans or New Southerners? German Texans 
— Walter Kamphoefner
Texas, which was home to more than a quarter of Germans residing in the eleven Confederate states, was the only place with an appreciable rural German element, one that was large enough to play a role in politics and war. Just what role they played, however, still remains under dispute. In the popular media, various characterizations of Germans have portrayed them as everything from “fire-breathing secessionists” to “virtually all Unionists.” The range of scholarly opinion is nearly as broad. Older accounts often reflect the characterization of antebellum traveler Frederick Law Olmstead, portraying Germans as largely abolitionist in sentiment. More recent scholarship has cautioned against generalizing from a few radical Forty-eighters to the bulk of ordinary German immigrants. Kamphoefnel re-examines the role and attitudes of Texas Germans (and smaller continental European groups often allied with them) toward slavery, the Confederacy, and Reconstruction, drawing particularly on evidence from letters and from voter behavior. It also explores personal factors which made individuals more or less sympathetic to the Confederate cause.

Although We Are the Last Soldiers: Citizenship, Ideology, and Tejano Unionism 
— Omar S. Valerio-Jiménez
Mexican Texan resistance to the Confederacy and Tejano Unionism along the South Texas border will be examined by Valerio-Jiménez. He argues that Mexican Texans’ reactions to the U.S. Civil War were rooted in the relationships Mexicans had established with African Americans in the villas del norte (towns along the Rio Grande) during the Spanish and Mexican periods. Following U.S. annexation, Tejanos assisted runaway slaves who sought freedom in Mexico and they also intermarried with African Americans. The paper demonstrates that Mexican Texans who joined the Union Army did so for various reasons including anti-slavery sentiment, opposition to pro-Confederate local politicians, and expressions of U.S. citizenship. Although they endured hardships during the war and were not politically rewarded afterwards, Tejanos invoked their military service as a claim to U.S. citizenship.

Coerced Unionism: African American Testimonies of Violence During Reconstruction 
— Rebecca Czuchry
Immediately following the Civil War in 1865, African Americans in the former Confederacy faced extremely brutal violence perpetrated by whites. This was particularly true in Texas, a state known during the period for both violence and racial intolerance. Texas has been viewed by Reconstruction scholars as one of the most violent of the former Confederate states. Even so, the violent experience of former slaves in the state has not been fully examined. Although white Texans used violence to injure, kill, or control individuals, violence also served the larger purpose of creating a climate of fear in order to more easily subjugate and control the entire black community. Despite this brutal atmosphere, black Texans risked their lives by reporting acts of violence that occurred in their communities. Kosary  examines the testimonies of African Americans as a form of resistance; in testifying to federal officials, black Texans resisted re-subjugation and established a degree of autonomy and power over their own lives.

12:00 –1:30 PM — LUNCH BREAK

1:30 –3:00 PM — SESSION THREE

East Texas Unionism 
— Victoria Bynum
During the Civil War, Warren Jacob Collins of Hardin County, Texas, led a band of guerrillas that hid out in East Texas’s Big Thicket. Collins’s occasional appearance in Texas folklore as a backwoods, bare-knuckled fighter or, alternatively, the “Daniel Boone” of East Texas, has long obscured the deeply-held political views that led him (and six of his brothers) to support the Union against the Confederacy. A careful study of the Texas Collins brothers and the Big Thicket uprising reveals the uprising’s yeoman roots as well as its direct ties to the more famous yeoman uprising in Mississippi known as the “Free State of Jones.” The political postwar evolution of Warren J. Collins in turn provides a window on connections between Southern Unionism and the rise of third party challenges to the Democratic Party.

A Texas Reign of Terror: Anti-Unionist Violence in North Texas 
— Rick McCaslin 
Despite popular lore that tends to focus on events reinforcing common perceptions of Texan exceptionalism and virtues—which leads many Texans to assume their state emerged from the Civil War virtually unscathed—facts reveal many regions were deeply scarred by wartime experiences, and the violence did not come from invasions.  Confederate Texans proved just as intolerant of dissenters as Southerners in many other states, and they reacted just as violently to internal challenges. North Texas became the arena for many brutal operations against Unionists, which undermine claims of both exceptionalism and virtue by Texans concerning the Civil War. Instead, residents of the Lone Star State, like Southerners who lived elsewhere in the former Confederacy, had to reflect on a divided legacy that included not just the heroism of units such as Hood’s Texas Brigade, but also the viciousness of events such as the Great Hanging at Gainesville.

Three Cheers to Freedom and Equal Rights to All: Juneteenth and the Meaning of Citizenship 
— Elizabeth Hayes Turner
Occupying Union troops entered Texas in June more than two months after the Civil war had ended, but it was on June 19 (Juneteenth) that a portion of the 250,000 slaves—the last within the Confederacy—learned of their freedom. The emancipation announcement, made by General Gordon Granger in Galveston, tested the resolve of slavery supporters and began in earnest the development of a freedom tradition that has lasted to this day. During Juneteenth’s evolution from 1865 to the turn of the century, black communities came together annually to celebrate their liberation and to honor the president who had freed them. Over time, leaders and social justice activists used Juneteenth gatherings as a pragmatic way not only to remember with pride black state office holders but also to launch important goals for African Americans. The creation of Reconstruction government demonstrated that democracy could be carried out by a black and white voting populace, a memory that would later be suppressed by whites seeking to disfranchise black voters. As Reconstruction faded and Redeemers returned to state office, African Americans, through Juneteenth celebrations, kept alive the meaning of freedom, the history of their political participation, and the quest for full citizenship under the law.

3:00–3:15 PM — BREAK

3:15–3:45 PM — KEYNOTE ADDRESS
Edmund J. Davis: The Radicalization of a Texas Unionist 
— Carl Moneyhon
Edmund J. Davis was a prominent Texas politician in the antebellum era who supported the Union in the secession crisis of 1860-1861, fled the state and became a general in the Union Army, then returned after the war to become an important figure in the state’s Republican Party and ultimately the state’s governor. In the latter position he urged a new course for Texas, even supporting full rights for the state’s newly freed slaves. Moneyhon examines Davis’s course during these years, assessing the causes for the decisions he made. This examination shows, ultimately, the plight of an individual whose constitutional and legal views precluded his endorsement of the actions of the state’s Democratic majority. It illustrates how the uncompromising stance of the latter and their refusal to tolerate any wavering on the issue of secession and their justification of it following Confederate defeat forced unwanted decisions on a fundamentally conservative man. The fanatical position held by the Democratic leadership, in the end, radicalized Davis and accounts for the emergence of an individual willing to challenge their leadership and even the socio-economic status quo in Texas.

3:45 PM — GENERAL Q&A

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“Always the Gentleman”: Senator Blanche K. Bruce and Newt Knight’s Relief Bill of 1880

By Ed Payne

It’s unlikely that United States Senator Blanche Kelso Bruce of Mississippi ever met Newt Knight, the man on whose behalf he submitted a bill of relief in February of 1880.  Bruce only settled within the Magnolia State in 1869 and his Delta political base in Bolivar County was a world removed from the heavily forested Piney Woods of south Mississippi where Newt Knight lived.  A state Republican probably prevailed upon the senator to perform this favor.  Still, the 1880 relief bill is emblematic of a unique point in American history when an African-American U.S. Senator born in slavery and representing a Deep South state could put forth a claim on behalf of a white man who led local opposition to Confederate authority.

Largely forgotten today, Blanche Bruce left the Senate in 1881 as the only African-American to serve a full six-year term.  He retained this distinction until Edward Brooke of Massachusetts completed his first term in 1973 (Note 1).

Senator Blanche K. Bruce of Mississippi. (Library of Congress)

Bruce was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia in 1841.  His mother, Polly, worked as a domestic slave in the household of Pettus Perkinson and his wife, Rebecca Bruce Perkinson.  Previously, Polly had been owned by Rebecca’s father, Lemuel Bruce.  In addition to having two children with his wife, Lemuel produced five children with Polly.  Since Lemuel Bruce died in 1836, it is has been assumed that Pettus Perkinson was the father of Blanche and several of his siblings.  Throughout his public career, commentators noted that Bruce’s appearance suggested a lineage that was at least three-quarters white.

Blanche Bruce grew up in a twilight world between slave and slave-owner.  He and his half-brother Henry Clay Bruce later recollected childhoods mostly removed from the harsh realities of life for field slaves.  Before their white mistress Rebecca’s early death, she and Pettus had one child together, a son named William.   Blanche, only a year younger than his white half-brother, served as William’s playmate and received instruction from the same tutor.  Following his wife’s death, Pettus Perkinson moved his household to Missouri, back to Virginia, then to Mississippi before finally re-settling in northern Missouri.  Blanche remained with William until the latter enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861.  Only then did he make his way to Lawrence, Kansas, and thereby gain emancipation.  He became a school teacher, but after narrowly escaping the bloody raid on Lawrence led by Confederate renegade William Quantrill, moved to Hannibal, Missouri, where he established that state’s first school for African-American students.

After the Civil War, Blanche Bruce worked for a period as a porter on a steamboat plying the upper Mississippi River before resuming his education at Oberlin College in Ohio.  His scant finances did not permit him to obtain a degree and he left after a year.  But he began to hear of opportunities opening up for ambitious, educated African-Americans in the Deep South.  Changes achieved during Congressional Reconstruction included enfranchising freedmen, thereby causing a dramatic shift in the political equation.   Bruce arrived in Mississippi in February, 1869, with little more than the clothes on his back.

Blanche Bruce entered a Mississippi which had experienced a decade of warfare and social turmoil.  In the antebellum period the state’s economy centered on cotton and the slave-labor deemed necessary to produce it.  By 1860 slaves comprised 55.2% of the state population of 791,305, a percentage only exceeded by South Carolina (57.2%).  Slave ownership resided in the hands of 30,943 persons, but kinship and economic ties produced a much larger circle of those dependent upon the Peculiar Institution.  Nevertheless, as elsewhere in the South, there were regions of sparse slave ownership, usually hilly lands not conducive to plantation agriculture.  Mississippi had two such areas: the northeast corner of the state and the Piney Woods.

Following close on the heels of South Carolina, Mississippi seceded from the Union in 1861 and began mobilizing for war.  A minority of citizens retained loyalty to the Union, but soon found it prudent to keep such views to themselves.  Thousands of young men joined military companies which formed in the spring and summer of 1861.  Those less infected with martial ardor and with families dependent on their labor, rather than that of slaves, often did not enlist until confronted with passage of the Confederacy’s first Conscription Act in April of 1862.

By summer of 1863, Union troops had penetrated the interior of the state and on July 4, after a 47 day siege, captured Vicksburg and gained control of the Mississippi River.   A number of Confederate soldiers who lacked an economic stake in slavery decided they had done their duty and returned to their small farms.  In desperate need of manpower, Confederate troops made periodic attempts to round up these deserters and compel them back into service.  In some cases they were met with armed resistance.  Newt Knight’s compensation claim stemmed from such circumstances.

The war ended in April 1865, having devastated the state’s economy and resulted in the death of approximately 25,000 of its men.  But political leaders conceded little beyond military defeat.  That fall legislators, unnerved by a majority population of newly free slaves and heedless of Northern opinion, passed the South’s first Black Codes.  These codes sought to retain many of the legal and social restraints of slavery.  They and other evidence of Southern intransigence galvanized Northern voters, who increased Republican strength in the Congressional elections of 1866.  Congress subsequently imposed Military Reconstruction across the South.

General Adelbert Ames, a native of Maine, was appointed provision governor of Mississippi.  He implemented the Congressional mandates to remove ex-Confederates from offices and to assemble a convention to draft a new state constitution—one which repealed the Black Codes and enfranchised freedmen.  Ames assumed leadership of the state’s radical Republican faction.  However, his uncompromising policies generated growing animosity among moderate Republicans led by former slave-owner turned scalawag James L. Alcorn.

Bruce arrived amid this political maelstrom and quickly came to the attention of Alcorn, then campaigning for governor.   True to rumors that led him to the state, Bruce found quick entrée into Republican politics.  Alcorn won the governorship and supported Bruce in obtaining the post of Sergeant-at-Arms in the Mississippi legislature.  The legislature elected Ames as U.S. Senator, with moderate Republicans no doubt delighted to see him relocated to Washington, D.C.  (Until 1913 U.S. Senators were chosen by state legislatures rather than by popular vote.)

Governor Alcorn next named Bruce as tax assessor for Bolivar County, in the fertile Mississippi Delta.  Since tax assessors received a 7% commission, it promised to be a lucrative post.  African-Americans composed 80% of the county’s population, while land ownership remained concentrated in the hands of white planters.  The planters resented Republican efforts to shift more of the tax burden onto their shoulders.  Inserted into this volatile environment, Bruce proved to be honest, industrious, and a model of tact.   So much so that within a short time several white planters came forward to post the $15,000 bond necessary for Bruce to run for the combined office of county Sheriff and Tax Collector.  Bruce won the election and also received an appointment as county superintendent of education. In the latter role he achieved notable improvements in the Bolivar County school system and managed to convince key planters that a labor force with at least rudimentary education would be more productive.

Over the course of a few short years Bruce proved himself to be what many white Southerners emphatically insisted could not exist: an energetic, educated, and efficient African-American public official.  Historian William C. Harris noted:

“In view of the political and racial hostilities of the postwar South and the continuation of the white-dominated plantation economy in the Delta, [Bruce’s] success in allaying local planter fears was a remarkable achievement.”

Planter confidence in Bruce further increased when, in 1874, his growing prosperity enabled him to purchase 640 acres of land and establish his own plantation operation.

The careful efforts of Bruce to maintain cordial relations with both the moderate and radical factions of his party ended during the 1874 gubernatorial race.  In November 1871 James Alcorn resigned his post of governor to serve as a U.S. Senator alongside his nemesis Adelbert Ames.   The two men returned to Mississippi in early 1873 to battle for political dominance in the governor’s race.  The Alcorn moderates sought a biracial constituency, whereas the Ames radicals felt they could win by solely appealing to the state’s black majority—a constituency who had grown suspicious of the moderates’ intensions.  With both candidates offering serious enticements to garner Bruce’s support, he was forced into a decision.  He sided with the Ames faction.

As Bruce had correctly deduced, overwhelming support from African-American voters, combined with sullen non-participation by many whites, allowed Ames to defeat Alcorn.  Bruce had made his ambitions known and in February of 1874 claimed his reward when the Republican dominated legislature elected him as U.S. Senator.  His term did not commence until thirteen months later in March of 1875.

Bruce hardly had time to savor his victory before his power-base within the state began to crumble.  Sensing that Northern commitment to Reconstruction was waning, Mississippi Democrats made an all-out push for power during the summer of 1875, combining appeals for white racial solidarity with a well-organized campaign of voter intimidation.  A mere eight months after Bruce took his seat in the Senate, the November 1875 elections effectively ended Republican control at the county and statewide level.  Faced with a bill of impeachment, Governor Adelbert Ames negotiated his resignation from office in March of 1876 and left the state.

Senator Bruce sought to reverse the tide by supporting a Congressional investigation of the 1875 Mississippi elections and protesting the removal of federal troops at a time of increasing racial violence in the state.  But these efforts yielded no concrete results.  Turning his attention to more productive avenues, Bruce consistently supported claims for pensions and bounties due African-American soldiers and their families for Union service.  He aided his region through membership on the Committee on the Improvement of the Mississippi River and its Tributaries.  In 1879 he spoke out against the Chinese Exclusion Bill, noting his “large confidence in the strength and assimilative powers of our institutions.”  Ever the voice of conciliation, he formed a mutually cordial relationship with L.Q.C. Lamar—the man who had drafted the Mississippi Ordinance of Secession and was elected junior Senator by the now Democrat-controlled state legislature in 1877.

Given his support of Civil War claims on behalf of African-Americans veterans, his Republican Party affiliation, and perhaps also his lame duck status, Senator Bruce seemed a logical choice to introduce the Newt Knight claim in 1880.  Not being a member of the Committee on Claims, however, he could do little more.

Blanche Bruce had a mixed reputation among African-Americans during and after his senatorial term.  His mild manner and amiable disposition did not compare favorably with the strident oratory of his contemporary Frederick Douglass.  After his marriage in 1878 to Josephine Wilson, a light-skinned African-American socialite, the black press charged that Bruce seemed more interested in advancing into white high society than addressing the plight of African-Americans in the South.  William C. Harris noted:

“Ever the harmonizer, Bruce refused to admit, what the black masses and their local leaders knew, that the Reconstruction dream of black assimilation into white American society had died with the collapse of Reconstruction in the South and the abandonment of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the Constitution.”

Facing the loss of his political base in Mississippi, Bruce cultivated Republican Party connections in Washington, D.C.  After his senatorial term ended in 1881, he gained a presidential appointment as Register of the Treasury.  Bruce noted with delight and satisfaction that his signature now appeared on U.S. paper currency.  He later opened a law practice and lectured widely on racial matters.  During two Republican administrations Bruce served as Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia, the position he held when he died of diabetes on 17 March 1898.

Blanche K. Bruce, Frederick Douglass, and Hiram R. Revels, “Heroes of the Colored Race,” 1881 lithography (Library of Congress)

A eulogy published in The Colored American delineated the ambiguous legacy Bruce left within the African-American community:

“His strong point as a politician lay in the fact that he was a consummate strategist, one who made politics the study of his life, and who applied all the arts known to practical politics to compass his ends . . . . He was the personification of courtesy and courtliness, and his well known tact in emergencies saved him from many embarrassments.  These qualities endeared him to white men, particularly those who believe that the Negro has a place and should keep it.  Mr. Bruce was not an aggressive leader.  He believed rather in moral suasion and the arts of diplomacy… (Frederick) Douglass and (John M.) Langston were his superiors in intellect and scholarship, but he was a better politician than either…”

The Deep South where he first rose to power had embraced the policies of Jim Crow segregation and disfranchisement of African-Americans.  Nevertheless, the Raymond, Mississippi, Hinds County Gazette felt the obligation to note Bruce’s passing and describe him as “always the gentleman, graceful, polished, self-assured and never humble.”

Note 1:  Two notable African-American contemporaries of Blanche K. Bruce were Hiram R. Revels and John Roy Lynch.  Hiram R. Revels completed the unexpired senatorial term of Jefferson Davis and John Roy Lynch was elected to three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Against Southern Reconstruction stereotypes, all three were conceded even by hostile contemporaries as highly capable.  After John Roy Lynch presided as Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1872, it was a white Democrat who moved for the adoption of a resolution in his honor.  The Jackson, Mississippi Clarion observed, “His bearing in office has been so proper, and his ruling in such marked contrast to the partisan conduct of the ignoble whites of his party… that the conservatives cheerfully joined in the testimonial.”  Lynch later authored The Facts of Reconstruction.  [Clarion quote from James Wilford Garner, Reconstruction in Mississippi (New York: MacMillan, 1901), 296.]

Sources:

The most thorough scholarly assessment of the life of Blanche K. Bruce is Sadie Daniel St. Clair, “The National Career of Blanche Kelso Bruce” (PhD diss., New York University, 1947).  Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertation Express. (AAT 0000938).

Other academic studies include William C. Harris, “Blanche K.  Bruce of Mississippi: Conservative Assimilationist,” in Southern Black Leaders of the Reconstruction Era, ed. Howard N. Rabinowitz (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1982), 3-38; Melvin I. Urofsky, “Blanche K. Bruce: United States Senator, 1875-1881,” Journal of Mississippi History, Vol 29, No 2 (May, 1967), 118-141; Kenneth Eugene Mann, “Blanche Kelso Bruce: United States Senator without a constituency,” Journal of Mississippi History, Vol 38, No 2 (May, 1976), 183-198.

A recent popular account of the life of Blanche K. Bruce, his wife, and their descendants is Lawrence Otis Graham, The Senator and the Socialite (New York: Harper, 2006).

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Recently, Dean Collins, a descendant of Stacy and Sara Anderson Collins, shared with me several photos that I am pleased to post on Renegade South. Dean is descended from Stacy and Sara’s son, Vinson A. Collins of Jones County, Mississippi.

Vinson, (not to be mistaken for his nephew and namesake, Vinson A. Collins of East Texas) is pictured here:

Vinson A. Collins of Jones County, MS. Photo courtesy of Dean Collins

Born January 16, 1815, Vinson Collins was past the age of conscription during the Civil War. He was nonetheless as important a figure in Jones County’s anti-Confederate uprising–popularly known as the “Free State of Jones”–as were his numerous brothers, nephews, and cousins who took up arms against the Confederate Army. Even Vinson’s sister, Sarah Collins Walters Parker, is famous for having sheltered pro-Union family members at the expense of her own safety during the Civil War (Sarah’s own son, George Walters, served and died for the Confederate cause during the war).

Soon after the Civil War ended, on July 15, 1865, many of Jones County’s anti-Confederate citizens petitioned Mississippi’s provisional governor, William L. Sharkey, to overturn the county’s 1864  “rebel” elections of probate judge and sheriff and fill those offices with Unionists. Governor Sharkey compromised by allowing dual appointments of both the pro-Union and pro-Confederate candidates. His decision resulted in pro-Union Vinson A. Collins serving alongside pro-Confederate William Hood as probate judge of Jones County.

Three years later, during Reconstruction, Vinson briefly served as delegate to the 1868 Mississippi Constitutional Convention from Smith and Jones County. (Note: the state legislature had previously renamed Jones “Davis County” in honor of Jefferson Davis, but the name “Jones” was restored in 1870).

Below is the back side of the same photo of Vinson A. Collins. Dean reports that the inscription was likely recorded by his grandmother, Bertie Wigington Collins.

Inscription on back of photo. Courtesy of Dean Collins

The following group photograph includes Clay Crittenden Collins (1853-1940), a son of Vinson and Nancy (Bynum) Collins, and his wife Clarissa, “Classie,” (1864-1950). Dean’s grandmother, Bertie Collins, speculated that the photo was taken at the old Lebanon school/church house. Dean believes that it is “most likely a Collins family gathering” since so many members of the Collins family seem present. Following the photograph is  a diagram that identifies a few of the people who were gathered that day. Readers are welcome to offer opinions of who’s who by keying additional names to the diagram numbers.

Group gathering including Clay and Clarissa Collins. Photo courtesy of Dean Collins.

Outline of group photo, courtesy of Dean Collins. Please help identify if you can!

Below is a close-up of Clay Crittenden Collins, son of Vinson A. and Nancy (Bynum) Collins, standing with wife Clarissa around the year 1917:

Clay and Classie (Clarissa) Collins, circa 1917. Photo courtesy of Dean Collins

Here is a 1925 photo of a school class of Soso, Mississippi. Bennie Crittenden Collins, son of John Calhoun and Francis (Hinton) Collins, grandson of Clay and Clarissa Collins, and great-grandson of Vinson A. and Nancy Collins, is kneeling in front row, second from left:

Soso School Days, circa 1925, courtesy of Dean Collins. Bennie Collins is in front row, 2nd from left. Can anyone identify any of the others?

Thank you so much, Dean Collins, for sharing these family photos with Renegade South!

Vikki Bynum

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Would you like to know the true  story of the Free State of Jones, but don’t have time to read the long version? Good news! The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (published 2001) has just been released by the University of North Carolina Press as part of its new “e-Book Shorts” series.  This excerpted digital version contains the original book’s introduction, epilogue, and two Civil War chapters.  Entitled Rebels Against Confederate Mississippi, it’s available from Amazon’s Kindle store for $4.99 (currently on sale for $3.99). For those who prefer the long version, it too is available from Kindle.

For details, or to order, click here.

Between late 1863 and mid-1864, an armed band of Confederate deserters battled Confederate cavalry in the Piney Woods region of Jones County, Mississippi. Calling themselves the Knight Company after their captain, Newton Knight, and aided by women, slaves, and children who spied on the Confederacy and provided food and shelter, they set up headquarters in the swamps of the Leaf River. There, legend has it, they declared the Free State of Jones.

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Littlefield Lecture poster

The Littlefield Lectures, UT Austin

I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be delivering this year’s Littlefield Lectures for the History Department of the University of Texas, Austin.  The lectures are based on research from my last two books, The Free State of Jones, and The Long Shadow of the Civil War:
“The Free State of Jones: Community, Race, and Kinship in Civil War Mississippi,” March 6, 4-6 p.m., Avaya Auditorium, ACE 2.302

“Communities at War”: Men, Women, and the Legacies of Anti-Confederate Dissent,” March 7, 4-6 p.m., Avaya Auditorium, ACE 2.302

If you’re in the area, I hope to see you there!

Vikki Bynum

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Free State of Jones, by Victoria Bynum

Gregg and I are excited to be heading off to Kansas City on January 26, where I’ll be a featured speaker for the 2012 Richard D. McKinzie Symposium.

The McKinzie Symposium will take place Thursday, January 26 – Friday, January 27, 2012, and will explore the topic, “Confederate Disunion: The War Beyond the Battlefield”

On  Thursday at 6:30 pm, Dr. Stephanie McCurry will present the keynote address, “Confederate Reckoning: The Politics of the ‘Homefront’ in the Civil War South.” Two plenary sessions, including my own, follow on Friday:

9 am–“Recalculating the Price of Freedom: Women and the Civil War”
Dr. Thavolia Glymph

10 am–“The Free State of Jones: Community, Race, and Kinship in Civil War Mississippi”
Dr. Victoria Bynum

For complete information on the symposium, including registration instructions, click here:

McKinzie-Program-2012

A Brief History of the McKinzie Symposium:

This year marks the 17th year of the Richard D. McKinzie Annual Research Symposium. The symposium is co-sponsored by the UMKC College of Arts and Sciences, the Kansas City Public Library, and the Organization of American Historians, the largest professional body of American historians in the country. Thanks to the generous support of the Bernardin Haskell Program, the McKinzie Symposium has grown into a highly anticipated event for our campus. The symposium offers a special opportunity for the participating faculty in the High School College Program—as well as UMKC faculty, students, and the broader Kansas City community—to interact with some of the nation’s leading scholars of American history and culture

If you’re in the area, I hope to see you there!

Vikki Bynum

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James Richard Welch died on 6 September 1879 at the age of 62.  Like most of his Jones County contemporaries of modest means, he left no will.  Fortunately, his son-in-law Prentice M. Bynum was literate and, having once served as clerk in the Ellisville courthouse, knew a fair amount about the law.  Prentice petitioned the court to be appointed administrator of the estate.  As part of his duties, he compiled a list of all heirs. That list, which I’ll return to later, provides a useful vantage point from which to examine the political stances taken by ordinary families in Jones County, Mississippi, a county that gained notoriety during the Civil War for its rebellion against Confederate authority. 

 Early in the nineteenth century, Bryant Welch, the father of James Richard Welch, followed the same migration path to Mississippi Territory as did many other early Piney Woods settlers.  He left South Carolina and lived for several years in Georgia where, around 1817, James R. Welch was born.  The family’s first stop in Mississippi was in Wayne County.  Tax rolls reveal that Bryant next moved his family to the section of Covington County from which Jones County was formed in 1826.  For the rest of their lives, Bryant and his wife, Sabra “Sally” Martin, lived in Jones County, where they raised a family of nine children (see Note 1).

 Their son, James R. Welch, fit solidly within the mold of the yeoman herders who predominated in the central Piney Woods.  After marrying Mary Marzilla Valentine around 1836, he engaged in raising livestock and planting subsistence crops.  Fairly typical of their place and time, James and Mary produced children at a rate of one every two years—for a total of thirteen born between 1837 and 1862. 

 In 1860, James estimated the worth of his real estate at $1,000 and his personal estate at $1,165.  Typical of yeoman in that region, he did not own slaves.  But like most Southerners, the Civil War left him in greatly reduced circumstances.  In 1870, at age 53, he judged his land to be worth $466 and his personal affects at $875.  This might seem like a meager amount, but among the seventy-three households in Township 10 where James resided, only seven surpassed this total while eighteen reported no assets at all. 

 Following James’s death, Mary Welch received her allotted widow’s share of the estate, valued at $168, and a year’s worth of provisions.  The court then granted authority for a sale of the remaining property.  The sale failed to cover outstanding claims against the estate and administrative costs.  Nevertheless, Prentice Bynum submitted a second and more detailed list of heirs:

 W.M. Welch; Tabitha J. Walters; Elizabeth Jackson and James Jackson [her] husband; Geo. B. Welch; Joel Welch; Matilda Clark and John H. Clark, her husband; Virginia and B.T. Hinton, her husband [all of whom] reside in Jones County.  Martha Lard [Laird] and E.W. Lard her husband who reside in Smith County; Arsella Bynum and Mary M., James B. Bynum, minors who reside in Covington County; and James Collins and two other children… who are heirs to Ebaline Colins… and H.T. Collins (their) father… (who) reside in the State of Texas.

 A comparison of the Welch household census records from 1850 through 1870 with the court documents indicates that three children—Cynthia, J.E., and James—died childless prior to 1879.  The estate papers identified Frances Bynum as the deceased wife of Prentice Bynum and listed three children as her heirs.  Frances apparently died around 1876. 

 The identity of daughter “Ebaline Collins” is a bit more difficult to establish.  Like her sister Frances, she seems to have died prior to 1879, leaving several children as her heirs.  Best evidence suggests her full name was Samantha Eboline Welch.  The 1870 Jasper County census listed 19 year-old “Emaline Collins” in the household of H.T. Collins, age 21.  The couple had a one-year-old son named James.  By 1880, Harrison T. Collins had moved to Texas and remarried, all of which conforms to the information provided by Prentice Bynum. 

 Thus the estate papers of James R. Welch offer us the identities of six children who entered adulthood during and just after the Civil War—one son and five daughters.  The court documents also provide the names of the men whom these daughters married.  From this starting point, what does an examination of war records of the males within this group reveal?

 1)  Born on 1 November 1837, WILLIAM M. WELCH married Amanda Coats sometime before 1860.  Two years later, on 13 May 1862, following passage of the first Confederate conscription act, he enlisted with many of his fellow Jones Countians in Co F of the 7th Battalion MS Infantry.  But on the July-October 1862 muster roll he is listed as AWOL, suggesting he deserted before or just after the battles of Iuka and Corinth.  William’s name appears on Thomas Knight’s version of the Knight Band roster (as “W.M. Welch”).  He was also identified as one of the men captured by troops under command of Confederate Col. Robert Lowry on 25 April 1864 (see Note 2).  Col. Lowry’s men had been deployed to the Piney Woods region to suppress renegade activity.  Due to chronic manpower shortages in the Southern army, the men they arrested were simply forced to return to their unit which shortly thereafter was pressed into the defense of Atlanta. 

 The last major battle prior to the siege of Atlanta took place at Kennesaw Mountain, about 25 miles north of the city.  Situated behind a strong defensive line, the Confederate forces of Gen. Joseph Johnson scored a tactical victory over Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union troops.  However, on 3 July 1864, at least twenty-three men from the 7th Battalion became Union captives.  Of these, eleven can also be found on the Knight Band roster—including William Welch.  He was processed and assigned to Camp Douglas, Illinois, on 17 July 1864.  His muster records, as well as those of four other men belonging to Co F and sent to Camp Douglas, include the following comment:

 Claims to have been loyal, was forced to enlist in Rebel Army to avoid conscript, and deserted to avail himself of amnesty proclimation [sic] etc.

William M. Welch, prisoner of war

William Welch managed to survive the harsh conditions at Camp Douglas, although four of his fellow captives did not (see Note 3).  He was discharged on 16 May 1865 and returned to Jones County where he spent the rest of his life.  William’s wife Amanda died on 13 October 1895.  He died on 24 September 1908.  Both are buried in Union Line cemetery.

2)  TABITHA J. WELCH was born on 19 April 1840.  Union pension files document that she married JOEL W. WALTERS on 26 Sep 1860, shortly after he was granted a divorce from his first wife.  On 13 May 1862 a “J.W. Walters” enrolled in the 7th Battalion, Co F.  It is unclear if this was Joel W. Walters, but the soldier was AWOL as of the January-February 1863 muster roll and never returned. 

What is clear is that Joel W. Walters enlisted in the Union 1st New Orleans Infantry on 25 March 1864.  He earned promotions to corporal and then to sergeant.  A month after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Joel deserted and returned home.  He died of tuberculosis on 28 July 1868.  Tabitha raised their three surviving children and never re-married.  In 1885 changes in the pension laws permitted the desertion charge against Joel to be removed and the next year Tabitha was approved for a pension, effective from the date of her husband’s death.  Tabitha died on 23 November 1924.

Tabitha/Tobitha J. Welch Walters, Antioch Methodist Church, Jones County, MS. Author's photograph

 3)  MARY ELIZABETH WELCH was born around 1842.  She married JAMES EULIN (aka Yulin / Youlin) shortly before the 1860 census.  Little is known about Eulin’s family background.  A James Youlin, possibly his father, can be found on the 1840 census of Scott County.  The 1850 census listed 10 year-old James Eulin in the family of Abraham Laird, residing in Smith County.  By 1860 the Laird family had moved to Jones County where James Eulin apparently met and wed nearby neighbor Mary Elizabeth Welch.

On 13 May 1862, James also enrolled in Co F of the 7th Battalion.  Like his brother-in-law William Welch, James Eulin appeared as AWOL on the July-October 1863 muster roll.  And his name also appears on the Knight Band roster (as “James Ewlin”).   Another name on the Knight Band roster was “Elijah Welborn.”  In actuality, he was Elijah Welborn Laird—a son of Abraham Laird.  Adding yet another strand to this web of yeoman connections, Elijah would later marry Martha Welch. 

Captured by Col. Lowry’s troops on 25 April 1864, James and the others were shipped back to the 7th Battalion.  He, too, was captured by federal forces on 3 July 1864 and sent to Camp Morton, Indiana.  By this date, prisoner exchanges had largely ceased except for those in very poor health.  James Eulin seems to have fallen into this category, because he was selected for exchange on 19 February 1865.  However, he died at Piedmont, West Virginia, on 23 February 1865 while en route to the exchange point.  James and Mary Elizabeth had one daughter, Mahala Jane.  Mary Elizabeth’s efforts to cope with her post-war status as a Piney Woods widow will be the subject of a future article.

4)  MARTHA M. WELCH was born on 27 March 1846.  She married ELIJAH WELBORN LAIRD after the Civil War.  As noted, Elijah was the son of Abraham Laird whose family had adopted James Eulin.  Elijah enlisted in the 20th MS Infantry on 13 January 1863 and was listed as AWOL on 8 February of same year.  He is found under the name “Elija Welborn” on the roster printed in Thomas Knight’s book.  When Confederate forces moved into the area, he fled south and joined the 1st New Orleans Infantry as “Elijah Wilborn” on 30 April 1864.  He served until the regiment was disbanded on 1 June 1866 and then returned to Jones County where he married Martha M. Welch on 14 March 1867. 

Elijah moved his family to Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, around 1890.  He obtained a Union pension for an injury to his right hip.  His pension file documents that he died at the home of “S. Barnes” in Covington County, Mississippi on 31 March 1897 and was buried in the Barnes Cemetery (see Note 4).  Martha died on 21 September 1898 and was interred in the Provencal Cemetery, Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana.  At the time of her death, Martha was attempting to obtain a widow’s pension.  Although the couple left three minor children, they apparently never received any pension benefits.

5)  Born around 1847, FRANCES S. WELCH married PRENTICE M. BYNUM in 1866.  Prentice was the son of Benjamin F. Bynum and Margaret (“Peggy”) Collins.  When the first Confederate conscription law went into effect in 1862, Prentice was sixteen and so temporarily exempt.  Eighteen months later he joined the Knight Band.  In the aftermath of the Lowry campaign he enlisted in the 1st New Orleans Infantry.  Within six months he became seriously ill and entered University Hospital.  He was transferred to New York General Hospital on 1 April 1865 and discharged from McDougall Hospital on 20 May 1865. Prentice returned to Jones County and served as Clerk for the Jones County courts under the Reconstruction administration.  As noted, Frances died circa 1876.  Prentice re-married to Nancy C. Rawles in Perry County on 4 December 1878.  He moved to Marion and Lamar counties where he farmed and participated in Populist politics.  He died in Lamar County in 1906.

6)  The estate documents suggest that the deceased wife of HARRISON T. COLLINS was SAMANTHA EBOLINE WELCH, born circa 1849.  Harrison Collins, also born around 1849, apparently avoided conscription on account of his age.  As the son of Simeon Collins and grandson of Stacy Collins, however, Harrison belonged to Jones County’s most avowedly Unionist family.  Simeon Collins, like his brother Jasper, deserted the 7th Battalion following the Battle of Corinth and became a member of the Knight Band.  He was among those who surrendered to Lowry’s troops and were transferred back to the 7th Battalion—and then were captured at Kennesaw Mountain on 3 July 1864.  Along with two other sons, Simeon spent the remainder of the war in Camp Morton.  He was released under oath on 18 May 1865 but died soon thereafter. 

Harrison T. Collins would have been around sixteen years old when his father died.  The estate papers and census records suggest Samantha Eboline Collins’s death occurred circa 1876.  During this same time period Simeon’s widow Lydia (nee Bynum) and several of the sons moved to Texas, with Harrison among them.  He married twice more before dying in Polk County, Texas in 1936.

This inquiry into a single branch of the Welch family demonstrates the links between Civil War dissent and marriages within the Jones County yeoman class.  Rudy H. Leverett’s pioneering Legend of the Free State of Jones made a brief reference to kinship ties between the Knight Band and the surrounding population.  But Victoria Bynum’s Free State of Jones offered the first comprehensive exploration of these intricate kinships and the yeoman culture that set Jones County apart from much of the rest of Mississippi.  Among the early settlers she investigated were the Bynum, Collins, Knight, Sumrall, Valentine and Welch families.  Tracing nineteenth century female lines is, as any genealogist can tell you, far more difficult than tracing male lines.  County records of marriages, even when they were recorded, often fell victim to courthouse fires.  Without family Bible records or other documents, female lines often became lost.  Yet, the marriages of females tell an important half of the story—or, as in the case of these five daughters of James R. Welch—over 80% of it.

By simply recording the names of the men that the Welch daughters married, Prentice Bynum permitted us to unravel the extent of Unionist ties found among the older children of James R. Welch.  This is not to imply that exploring other Jones County female lines would invariably expose a similar preponderance of Unionist connections.  What can be said is that the records of the older children of James R. Welch demonstrate a web of anti-secessionist activities that rivals that of the Collins family.

But it is reasonable to question the relationship between war time dissent and the selection of marriage partners.  It seems highly unlikely that during their pre-war courtships Tabitha and Mary Elizabeth Welch—or Amanda Coats, who married William Welch—engaged in probing conversations to discern the attitudes of their suitors about slavery, states’ rights, and secession.  Unlike much of the antebellum South, these issues meant little to the yeoman herders of Jones County.  Slave-ownership was rare, the population widely dispersed, literacy rates low, and newspapers few.  Nor is it likely that Martha, Frances, or Samantha Welch accepted post-war marriage proposals based on their husbands’ Civil War records.  What seems more probable is that these young people belonged to a common yeoman culture; and that the Civil War brought a number of young men steeped in that culture into conflict with slave-owners, secessionists, and Confederate authorities of the larger South.

The records of the son and sons-in-law of James R. Welch demonstrate the shortcomings of attempts to depict the revolt in Jones County as emerging from the leadership of a single individual: Newt Knight.  This scenario has been put forth with Newt Knight assigned the role of  nefarious villain (Ethel Knight, Echo of the Black Horn) and, alternatively, socially enlightened hero (Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer, State of Jones).  The limited records available to us suggest that Newt Knight was decisive, shrewd, and—if the circumstances required it—deadly.  There are situations in which such characteristics are highly esteemed, from bar fights to wars.  But unless we are prepared to grant Newt Knight the role of preeminent molder of antebellum Piney Woods society, the fallacy of applying a Great Man theory to events in Jones County becomes apparent.  Rather, research into the children of James R. Welch provides further evidence of the underlying cultural roots of Piney Woods dissent during the Civil War.

Notes:

 I would like to express my appreciation to Randall Kervin, whose inquiry about Mary Elizabeth Welch on “Renegade South” led me to explore the web of Unionist connections among the children of James Richard Welch.

 1)   Tax records indicate that James R. Welch’s grandfather, Richard Welch, arrived in Wayne County in 1813 with 2 slaves.  However, the Welch families of Jones County are recorded as owning no slaves from the time of the 1830 census forward.

 2)  Thomas J. Knight’s The Life and Activities of Captain Newton Knight, was first published in 1934.  The revised 1946 edition has recently been reprinted by Carolyn and Keith Horne of Laurel, MS.  Thomas Knight’s version of the Knight Band roster appears on pages 16-17.  The men captured by Col. Lowry’s troops on 25 April 1864 appear on pages 18-19.

 3)  Those members of the 7th Battalion MS Infantry, Co F, captured on 3 July 1864, who died while prisoners of war at Camp Douglas, Illinois, included Thomas N. Coats, William A. Lyons, Henry O. Parker, and William P. Valentine.

 4)  Census records suggest that “S. Barnes” was Sebastian Barnes, Elijah’s son-in-law.  He had married Elijah’s daughter Jena C. Laird in 1886.

Ed Payne

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The following is the latest online review of my recent book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies. I especially appreciate the careful and thorough analysis provided by Laura Hepp Bradshaw, a PhD candidate at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

http://www.civilwarmonitor.com/book-shelf/bynum-the-long-shadow-of-the-civil-war-2010

Vikki Bynum

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 Mixed Chicks Chat

Earlier this year, on February 16, I announced my upcoming interview on the award-winning show, Mixed Chicks Chat. This live weekly show, launched by co-producers and co-hosts Fanshen Cox and Heidi Durrow in 2007, addresses different aspects of mixed-race experience each week with guest authors, community leaders, and everyday people who share their own stories. So, I was excited to be a part of the show! Sadly, however, the interview scheduled to take place on Wednesday, March 2, 2011, had to be cancelled because of technical difficulties.

I’m happy to report that Fanshen Cox invited me once again to be a guest on the show, and this time things went beautifully. On August 10, I had a great time discussing Mississippi’s Newt, Rachel, and the “White Negro” Knight community with Fanshen and co-host Jennifer Frappier. I also enjoyed fielding questions from members of the audience, one of whom was Steven Riley from Mixed Race Studies: Scholarly Perspectives on the Mixed Race Experience.

If you’re not familiar with this program, I urge you to visit the Mixed Chicks site. If you find Renegade South’s posts about the history of mixed-race families interesting, you will surely find the “Mixed Chicks” interviews and dialogues fascinating!  

You may listen to interviews on Mixed Chick Chats by visiting Talkshoe.com and signing up as a listener.

My compliments to the hosts, and my thanks to them for rescheduling the interview. 

Vikki Bynum

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During the booksigning portion of my recent trip to the Laurel-Jones County Library, where I gave a presentation on Newt Knight and the Free State of Jones, I met Jan Dykes, who told me that the Dykes family had a photograph of Eliphar Chain, remembered for having provided supplies for Newt Knight and his Knight Company guerrilla band during the Civil War. Below is that photograph, as well as the story of Eliphar Chain. My thanks to Jan Dykes.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

 

 

In Ethel Knight’s imaginative restoration of the legend of the Free State of Jones, The Echo of the Black Horn, she tells the story of Eliphar (Elly Fair/Alafair/ etc.) Chain. “Elly Fair,” Ethel wrote, was likely the only woman from Jones County, Mississippi, to actually fight in the American Civil War. She “fought along beside her husband until he was killed,” Ethel claimed, and “carried ammunition in her checkered apron and kept handy a fresh load of powder for the nearest man that needed it.” (p. 107).

Eliphar Childs Dykes Chain, courtesy of Jan Dykes

Yet, despite fighting for the Confederacy, Ethel tells us that Eliphar returned to relatives in Bear Creek, Jones County, after her husband was killed and became an ally of the infamous anti-Confederate guerrilla band headed by “Captain” Newt Knight. In fact, one of Ethel’s most detailed stories of women’s role in the Free State of Jones is about Eliphar’s brave diversion of Confederate soldiers from the path of discovering Newt’s men, hidden in the swamps of the Leaf River. The story goes that Eliphar ran “smack into a gray uniformed officer” (p. 108) and had to think quickly to cover for the deserters. She ingeniously asked the officer if he’d seen a certain heifer that had strayed from the farm. When the officer replied he had not, Eliphar declared that she might as well change direction and seek the stray elsewhere. She then headed across the swamp as quickly as her mule could carry her and warned the Knight band that a cavalryman was scouting the area for them.

Despite Ethel Knight’s disdain for Newt Knight, she held women like Eliphar who supported him and his band to a different standard. Describing her as one of the “good women who aided the Deserters,” Ethel explained that such women “were only helping themselves.” She believed that Newt Knight was guilty of treason and even murder, but that his women supporters were loving wives and mothers simply trying to keep body and soul together. And in early 1864, Ethel explained, “people were looking upon Newt as a great benefactor of the community.”

Fair enough. But Ethel never addressed the question of why a woman who allegedly fought courageously alongside her husband for the Confederate Army would turn around and fight for an armed band of deserters bent on destroying that very Confederacy. Nor does she offer any evidence that Eliphar actually served alongside her husband on Civil War battlefields. Was this possibly an attempt by Ethel to claim a heroic figure for the Confederate side of Jones County (at least in part), as she had with Ben Knight when she claimed he had furlough papers in his pocket at the very moment that Col. Robert Lowry’s men hanged him as a deserter? In the absence of documentary evidence or published stories that predate Ethel’s 1951 book, we cannot know whether Eliphar Chain actually served on Civil War battlefields, although we know that at least 250 women did manage to do so (usually by disguising themselves as men).

We do know, however, that Eliphar’s husband, Isaac Newton Chain, died around 1863 while serving as a private in Co. B, 27th Mississippi Infantry, CSA. That fact does not preclude Eliphar having pro-Union sentiments, however. Her first marriage was to Louis Dykes, a woodcutter from Livingston, Louisiana, who was likely kin to Benjamin F. Dykes, Newt Knight’s friend and neighbor. During the war, Dykes and Newt deserted the 7th battalion Mississippi Infantry together. Both were reported AWOL on the Nov./Dec., 1862, muster, with the added sentence “lost in retreat from Abbeville.”

Nor were all Chains loyal to the Confederacy. Military records indicate that Isaac Chain’s brother, James Alexander Chain, deserted the 7th battalion in October 1862 after hospitalization for wounds sustained at the battle of Corinth. Although there is no direct evidence that James ever James never formally joined the Knight band, he remained AWOL until December 1863. Another Chain, first name uncertain, was similarly reported AWOL following the battle of Corinth, and again in early 1864. Like so many Piney Woods men, the Chains and the Dykes alternately served and deserted the Confederacy. By late 1863, many of these men (including Newt Knight) refused to go back, and joined the Knight band instead. By April, 1864, many more were joining the Union Army in New Orleans (see Ed Payne, “Crossing the Rubicon of Loyalties”).

Behavior that may appear erratic and politically confused today likely did not appear so during the Civil War. The main goal of these soldiers was to remain alive, but also to avoid being arrested by Confederate officers for desertion or imprisoned by Yankees after a battlefield defeat. For the most part, women shared the goals of their male kin. Some, but certainly not all, Jones County women had Unionist political views; others were simply loyal to family and friends. Although we don’t (yet) know Eliphar Chain’s views on secession and the Confederacy, she does appear to have been one of numerous women of the Mississippi Piney Woods who aided deserters and evaders of Confederate service in resisting capture by Confederate militia and home guard.

I encourage readers who have information on the life of Eliphar Chain (no matter how you spell her name!) and her kinfolk, to please consider sharing it with Renegade South.

Vikki Bynum

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