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Martha Rushing Walters Sumrall

by Ed Payne

The life of Civil War widow Martha Rushing Walters Sumrall was short.  Born in 1844, she would be laid to rest in a now forgotten Texas grave in the mid-1870s.  It might well have been otherwise.  When she married George Warren Walters in late 1860, the event seemed a promising union between the offspring of two of the more prominent families in the area:  the Powell and Walters lines.  In the Piney Woods ‘prominent’ did not equate to ‘wealthy’ in any sense that the term would have been understood in, say, Natchez.  But both families had risen to the upper rungs of the yeoman-farmer society of Jones County.

Martha was the grand-daughter of John Hathorn Powell, who was born in Edgefield County, South Carolina, in 1800.  By 1819 he had moved to central Georgia, a way station for many who would eventually settle in the Mississippi Piney Woods.  There he married and continued to live until 1843, when he resettled in Jones County.  He served as post master for three years before moving to the Gulf Coast.  But after several years he returned to Jones County, where he remained until events forced him to leave the state.

Martha’s husband was a member of the large Jones County Walters clan.  Originating with the arrival of four males from South Carolina into the Piney Woods in the early 1800s, it had expanded by 1860 to 125 individuals in 21 households.   One of the four progenitors was Willoughby Walters.  His son, George Willoughby Walters, had married Sarah Collins in 1830.  The couple prospered for two decades, to the extent that by 1850 their livestock holdings and agricultural yields were among the largest in the county.  This even though George Willoughby, like the majority of those in the Walters and Collins lines, did not own slaves.  But during an 1853 epidemic, George Willoughby Walters and three of the six children died.  His widow then undertook a brief, disastrous marriage to James Parker.  She abandoned Parker after one year and operated her own farm with her sole surviving son, George Warren, and hired men.  When faced with the prospect of her son’s marriage, Sarah Collins Walters Parker purchased a slave couple as farm laborers.  She thereby entered the small circle of Jones County slave owners that also included John H. Powell.

Like her new husband, Martha Rushing Walters had experienced the childhood loss of her father.  Her mother was Samantha Powell, born in Georgia in 1824, who married Joel Eli Rushing there around 1840.  Based on the birth states listed for their children, the couple remained in Georgia until sometime after 1846.  They then followed the trail of Samantha’s father to Jones County.  By the time of the 1850 census, however, Joel had died and left Samantha as the head of household with five children ranging in age from one to ten years old.  The middle child was Martha, age six.

Within two years Samantha had embarked on a new marriage.  And, compared to the second marriage of George Warren’s mother Sarah, this one proved more successful.  Samantha wed widower Marton W. Owens around 1852 and the couple started a second family.  Three of her unmarried daughters by Joel Rushing moved in with their grandfather, John H. Powell, with whom they were recorded living on the 1860 census. A short time after the October census enumeration, Martha Rushing married George Warren Walters. She had just turned seventeen; he was nineteen.

Although John H. Powell was a minor slave owner—he possessed a female slave and two children—he opposed secession.  When voting was held to elect delegates to the state convention on secession in December of 1860, Powell ran on an anti-secessionist platform and won by 166 to 89 over his secessionist opponent.  Upon his arrival in Jackson, however, he quickly judged that the sentiment for secession was overwhelming.  After siding with his fellow anti-secessionist on two test votes, Powell joined with the majority in the final 84-15 vote for secession—much to the displeasure of those who had elected him.

Once war became a fact in the spring of 1861, the opportunity to test one’s courage in combat which often motivates young men resulted in the formation of several volunteer companies in Jones County.  But most males in the Walters and Collins families were not swept up in this initial wave of enthusiasm.  George Warren and his bride had given birth to a daughter, Isabelle, in February of 1862.* When the Confederate conscription law went into effect that April, however, he had little option but to enlist.  He joined Company K (the Ellisville Invincibles) of the 8th Mississippi Infantry regiment.  After nine months of service, he returned home for the holidays in late 1862.  This brief stay produced a second child, Warren Vinson Walters, who would be born in August of 1863.

George Warren Walters remained with his unit throughout 1863 and 1864 as it took part in the Battles of Chickamauga and Atlanta.  But he was captured at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, and had the misfortunate to be shipped to Camp Douglas, Illinois.  The grim, protracted nature of the war had provoked increasing brutality on both sides and Camp Douglas mirrored some of the deadly aspects of its Southern counterpart, Andersonville.  Over the winter of 1864-65 Confederate prisoners were inadequately clothed and fed, which resulted in high death rates from exposure and disease.  George Warren Walters arrived in early December, 1864, and was listing as having died of “Genl Debility” on February 6, 1865.  He was buried in a mass grave along with 6,000 others who died at Camp Douglas.

Plaque showing George Warren Walters as among POWs who died at Camp Douglas, Illinois, during the Civil War

Martha’s brother, Eli Franklin Rushing, demonstrates the way in which Jones County Civil War paths could converge and diverge.  Eli was among the early volunteers in the spring of 1861, when he joined Capt. Samuel Prince’s company of the 8th Mississippi Infantry regiment.  It was the same company, re-designated as Company K, which George Warren Walters would join a year later.  In April of 1862 Eli re-enlisted for two years and was promoted to 3rd Corporal.  But on February 28, 1864, he deserted and within three months enlisted as a sergeant in the Union 1st New Orleans Infantry regiment.  He remained with the unit until his discharge in June of 1866.  He moved to Texas in 1869 and died there in 1903.

Excerpt from Eli Rushing’s Union pension file

At war’s end Martha Rushing Walters faced life as a 21-year-old widow with two children.  Her grandfather, who in late 1862 had been appointed to the thankless and hazardous post of Provost Marshall of Jones County, left for Texas before the end of the war.  Her mother Samantha had lost her second husband in the war and was now managing a household with four children, ages nine through fifteen.  The carnage of the war had affected a significant portion of the adult male population.  If widows hoped to remarry and thereby gain some measure of security for themselves and their children, their choice of men was limited.  The men who survived the war unscathed were often those who had been either too old or too young to serve as combatants.  May-December marriages, certainly not unheard of in the antebellum Piney Woods, became much more common in the years following the war.

Martha Rushing Walters was more fortunate than many of the war widows.  Within three years she was able to remarry to Jacob Sumrall.  On the 1870 census, Jacob listed himself as age eighteen.  This implies he was no more than thirteen at the end of the war and probably about sixteen, compared to Martha’s twenty-four, when they wed.  Perhaps trying to minimize this eight-year age difference, Martha deducted two years from her reported census age.  In addition to Martha’s two children by George Warren Walters, the couple had a one-year-old son, Joel.

The background of Jacob Sumrall (Jacob Theodore Sumrall, according to some genealogical accounts) remains something of a mystery, due in part to the frequency with which the members of the Sumrall line bestowed the names Jacob and Elisha.  The most reasonable lineage is that he was the son of an Elisha Sumrall who married Nancy McCary in Wayne County.  This Elisha Sumrall was a son of a Jacob Sumrall born circa 1804 in South Carolina who had married Mary Ann Friday.  Elisha was born in Mississippi around 1831.  Confusing things further is the fact that Elisha’s mother gave birth to a son named Jacob in 1849.  It seems likely that the Jacob Sumrall who married Martha Rushing was the eldest son of Elisha, rather than his uncle of the same name who was only three or four years older.  The 1860 census might have offered support for this hypothesis, but no records have been found for the Elisha Sumrall family.   However, it can be noted that on the 1870 enumeration Elisha’s widow, who had remarried to Moses Holyfield, was listed with four Sumrall sons just seven households down from the farm of Jacob and Martha.

Shortly after the 1870 census, Jacob loaded up his family and set out for Texas.  They settled in Kaufman County, southeast of Dallas.  It was less than 70 miles east of the community where Martha’s grandfather and family had settled.  John H. Powell had died in Alvarado, Johnson County, Texas in 1867 but his wife and several other members of the family continued to reside there.  The year before, in 1869, Martha’s brother Eli had moved to Falls County, about 90 miles to the south.  But rather than settling near either of Martha’s relatives, the Sumrall family chose to set up housekeeping in Kaufman County.

Martha gave birth to another son, Eli Theodore, soon after their arrival.  In May of 1873 she gave birth to a daughter, Mary Magdalene.  But within two years, as later census records reveal, Jacob had remarried to Lucy Jane Williams.  It is apparent that Martha Rushing Walters Sumrall, mother of five and Piney Woods Civil War widow, had died of unknown causes.  Efforts to find any information concerning her burial site have thus far been unsuccessful.

Jacob Sumrall with second wife, Lucy, and daughter Martha Elizabeth, about 1898. Courtesy of Timothy Sumrall

The two Walters children who accompanied their mother and step-father to Texas remained there for several years, but by 1880 were back in Mississippi living with their 70-year-old grandmother, Sarah Parker.  Also listed in the household was two year old Carley (Charley) Walters, born in Texas.  He was cited, like Isabelle and Warren, as Sarah’s grandchild, but circumstances suggest he was Isabelle’s son.

Isabelle Walters married James Bush and gave birth to another thirteen children.  The couple did not attempt to obscure the chronology of Charley Bush’s birth.  On the 1900 census they identified themselves as having been married for eighteen years, while Charley’s age was given as twenty-one.  Isabelle Walters Bush died on March 4, 1915 at age fifty-three.  Her brother Warren Vinson Walters married Jessie Hattie Pack in 1890.  They had two children, only one of whom survived to adulthood.  Warren Walters served in various elective posts in Jones County before moving to Hattiesburg, where he died on August 26, 1937 at age seventy-three.

Although the two families of Martha Rushing Walters Sumrall had separated in Texas nearly sixty years before, there is evidence in Warren Walter’s obituary of his continuing bond with his half-sister.  It listed Mrs. W. E. Roundtree of Vera Beach, Florida as his surviving sister.  Mrs. Roundtree’s maiden name was Mary Magdalene Sumrall.

* Note:  On the 1900 census, Isabelle Walters Bush gave her birth month and year as February, 1863.  On the same census Warren Walters gave his birth month and year as August, 1864.   However, their gravestones list 1862 and 1863, respectively, which other circumstances suggest are the more reliable dates.

Eli Theodore Sumrall with wife, Lenora Rountree, and family. Courtesy of Timothy Sumrall.

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Note from Moderator Vikki Bynum: Author and independent historian Ed Payne will give a talk on “Sarah Collins and the Free State of Jones,” in Hattiesburg at the South Mississippi Genealogical and Historical Society (SMGHS) on January 5, at 7 p.m. The SMGHS Library is located on Park Avenue (rear of the Water Dept. Building).
 
The life of Sarah Collins provides insights into the harsh conditions faced by Piney Woods settlers and the circumstances that prompted a number of them to not only abandon the Confederate cause, but to take up arms against it. In the following essay, Ed shares some of his recent and broader research on the impact of the Civil War on the people of Jones County, Mississippi

Introduction—Collateral Damage:  Civil War Widows of Jones County

By Ed Payne

            Researching post-Civil War Jones County has led me to develop an interest in the women who were left widows as a result of the conflict and how they dealt with their often radically altered circumstances.  But compiling even a partial list of Jones County women who lost husbands in the Civil War is difficult.  The most basic product of war is death and the Civil War produced more deaths than all other pre-Vietnam American conflicts combined.  But Confederate records are notoriously incomplete.  A report submitted in 1866 cited a figure of 6,807 Mississippians dead or wounded, an absurdly low number.  Ben Wynne in Mississippi’s Civil War, on the other hand, states that of 78,000 Mississippians who served in the CSA, 27,000 never returned home.  Another calculation is that Confederate states suffered a death rate, on average, equal to about 2.84% of their 1860 free population.  The 1860 free population of Mississippi was 354,674 which would yield a death estimate of 17,627.  The same estimate applied to the 1860 population of Jones County (2,916) produces a casualty figure of approximately145.  

Going strictly by census data, there are some hints that Jones County men, largely non-slave owners and outside the cotton economy that had brought prosperity to other sections of Mississippi, may have died in disproportionately high numbers.  In September of 1860, seven months before the outbreak of the Civil War, the U.S. Census tallied 502 white males in Jones County who were native-Mississippians and born between 1820 and 1849—the prime age group to be impacted by the coming conflict.  A decade later the population of Jones County remained essentially static, with a total count of 3,313 persons versus 3,323 in 1860.  However, native-born males within the 1820-1849 timeframe now numbered only 257, a decline of 48.8%.  For Mississippi as a whole, the decline in men having the same criteria amounted to 12,061 (from 41,892 to 29,831), or 28.8%. 

Unfortunately, these numbers are insufficient to make the case, since other factors such as post-war migration out of the county could account for some of the disparity.  But other data can be used to infer some of the toll that the war took on Jones County males and, as a result, on their surviving spouses.  The 1860 census listed 482 household of which only 29 (6%) were headed by females.  Ten years later the household count, which now included those of freedpeople, stood at 562.  Of these, the number headed by white women had expanded to 94 (17%).  Even in 1880, 15 years after the end of the war, it stood at 82. 

Jones County Cabin

Another factor to consider is that Jones County women lost husbands and sons not only in service to the Confederacy, but in opposition to it as well.  There were casualties among those who fought with the renegade bands, including 15 hung during the campaign lead by CSA Col. Robert Lowry, and among those who joined Union regiments in New Orleans, at least 13 of whom died of disease after enlisting.

For decades after the end of the conflict, Mississippi war widows—with the exception of the few whose husbands died in the Union regiments—received no governmental compensation.  The state’s economy was shattered.  It is an oft repeated fact that in 1866 one-fifth of the state budget was earmarked for the procurement of artificial limbs for veterans.  The first state pension for Confederate veterans and their survivors was not instituted until the late 1880s.  By 1894 a mere 44 Jones County citizens were receiving modest pro rata shares (ranging from $20 to $30 per annum) from the $64,200 allocated for veterans who had lost a limb and war widows of limited financial means (property worth less than $500).  Later legislative pension acts, primarily passed during the period from 1916-30, raised the total number of Jones County veteran and widow claims to 395.  It should be noted that this count includes claims by surviving wounded veterans and later claims by their widows as well as claims by the same individuals under separate legislative acts.  Also, a number of these claims were filed by persons who relocated to Jones County during the turn-of-the-century timber boom.

Although fewer in number, the pension files of those who enlisted in the 1st and 2nd New Orleans Union regiments offer abundant detail.  Thus far Union pension files have been located for forty Piney Woods enlistees or their survivors.  Their files, housed at the National Archives, average 20-40 documents each—but in some cases run to over 150.  As this indicates, the bureaucratic paperwork necessary to prove one’s eligibility was formidable.  But those who persevered received compensation well in excess of that provided under state Confederate pensions.  Eli F. Rushing, who deserted from the 8th MS Infantry in February of 1864 and then enlisted in the 1st New Orleans Union regiment in May, was receiving a monthly disability payment of $10 shortly before his death in 1903.  The availability of this rich deposit of Union pension material should not, however, obscure the fact that the vast majority of Jones County war widows lost husbands who served in Confederate units and thus have left us only a thin trail of records.   

Despite these problems, a list of Jones County Civil War widows is slowly emerging.  Over the coming months I hope to post brief portraits of some of these surviving spouses.   Since women held decidedly secondary roles within 19th century society, the information available is primarily derived from census and pension files.  And, even then, their stories necessarily come to us largely as reflected in the lives of the men around them.  Those who are familiar with Jones County will not be surprised to learn that several of the widows I have studied are connected through kinship or marriages.  None of the biographical and genealogical vignettes will be offered as definitive.  Indeed, I hope that family members with more specific information will be prompted to comment on, expand upon, and correct the information which I post. 

In the series I plan to provide information about widows of combatants on both sides of the conflict.  Although “Renegade South” deals primarily with those who rebelled against the Confederacy, Jones County owes its special place in history due to the fact that an isolated population in the Deep South was brought into conflict with itself by the same forces that divided a nation.  As noted, while the majority of the county’s Civil War casualties occurred among those who served in the Confederacy, members of renegade bands and Union enlistees also contributed to the toll of widows.  These deaths were emblematic of the way in which the war splintered the Piney Woods community.  In its aftermath, a stark commonality that bound women of the region was their effort to survive.  If men were the principle casualties of the Civil War, these widows represent its collateral damage.

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Bumper sticker
“Free State of Jones” bumper sticker, courtesy of DeBoyd Knight

Newt Knight was an important leader in Jones County’s Civil War insurrection, but he did not create Mississippi’s most famous inner civil war. Ed Payne, one of my favorite Mississippi historians, recognizes this better than most, having researched Jones County records for over four years now.

At 12:00 noon, November 18, Ed will address the Kiwanis Club of Laurel at the Laurel Country Club.  The meeting will begin with a luncheon, followed at 12:30 pm by Ed’s thirty-minute presentation, “Civil War Jones County:  Free State or Just Different?”

Those attending, who will include members of the Jones County Genealogical and Historical Organization as well as the Kiwanis Club, can expect a multi-faceted treatment of Jones County’s economic profile, elaborate kinship networks, and the complicated issue of the county’s divided loyalties during the Civil War.

The audience will be treated to the work of a first-class researcher who favors truth over myths, facts over fantasies. Perhaps Ed should have titled his talk, “Beyond Newt Knight.”

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Fresh from giving a presentation on the Free State of Jones at the Mississippi State Archives in Jackson, Ed Payne offered the following documents for publication on Renegade South. Together, they provide the most detailed descriptions–written from the perspective of the Confederacy–that we have of Col. Robert Lowry’s raid on Jones County during the Civil War.  I am posting the letters today and will post the newspaper articles in a few days. My thanks to Ed!

Vikki Bynum

 The following are transcriptions of a published letter and two contemporary newspaper articles dealing with Confederate actions against renegades in South Mississippi contained in the Civil War scrapbook of J.L. Power, housed at the MS Archives, Jackson.  The letter appeared in the Mobile Evening News and identifies the writer as a cavalryman who participated in the Lowry campaign in Jones, Perry, and Smith counties in the spring of 1864.  Unfortunately, the final line of type with his name is missing from the clipping.  Only significant errors are denoted by “(sic).” 

Ed Payne, Jackson, MS

Correspondence of the Evening News

LETTER FROM MISSISSIPPI

            Mr. Editor:  I see by your evening issue of the 24 inst., that, under “Mississippi Items,” you say that Capt. Newton Knight, of Jones, had sent in a flag of truce, &c., to Col. Lewis.  This is not so.  I am just from Jones county.  The expedition consisted of the 5th (sic) and 20th Mississippi Regiments and my cavalry company, the whole under command of Col. R. Lowry, of the 6th Mississippi Regiment.  We entered Smith county on the 27th of March, and on the 28th hung two noted deserters and leaders of squads, viz:  McNeil and Rain.  These were all the men who were hung in Smith.  There was a Union flag, or rather a ludicrous representation of the United States flag, captured at the home of one Hawkins (of Smith county); it was concealed on the person of Mrs. Hawkins, who would not deliver it until after much persuasion and a few threats.  The history of the flag is as follows:  After Gen. Polk’s army had retired from the State and the enemy were at Meridian, it was thought that the State had gone up, and that our forces would not again occupy it, at least not soon.  So old Hawkins called a meeting of the citizens of his part of the county and of the deserters who had straggled during the retreat of our forces.  He then made a speech to the assembly and urged them to stay at their homes and go to work, that they would not be molested, and told them that as the mill where he lived was all the property he had, that he had made a Union flag to fly on it as the rumor was they were burning all mills. – The worse feature was, that several good citizens were compelled by the deserters to attend the meeting.  Old Hawkins is in custody, and will remain so until his case can be property disposed of.  While in Smith several hundred deserters were arrested and sent forward.  On the night of the 12th of April a party of infantry, under a Lieutenant, out on a scout, were being rested on the piazza of Mr. D. McLeod’s house, in Covington county; after dark a shot gun was discharged in their midst, killing a sergeant and wounding the Lieutenant and a corporal.  The perpetrator of the act was soon discovered.  On the 15th we moved into Jones.  That day the man who fired into the party on the piazza was arrested, after being wounded and run down by dogs, and promptly executed.  His name was D. Reddock.  A young man by the name of Gregg was with him, was shot while running, and soon died from the wound.  The same day another party of our boys was ambushed near Newton Knight’s home by deserters – only wounding one man, not seriously, however.  Our boys promptly charged the ambush and captured two, Ben. Knight and a lad, Silman Coleman, and shooting one other.  Knight and Coleman were promptly executed.  The same day four others were caught and brought in – they were put before a court martial, and on their own confession of resisting with arms military arrests, wereon (sic) the morning of the 16th nit. (sic), executed by hanging.  Many men said to belong to Knight’s company have reported.  We pursued a vigorous policy, but the condition of the community required it.  Terror was struck among them, and they came flocking in asking for mercy.  Just about this time General Polk’s proclamation of pardon reached us.  We relaxed not, however, the vigor of our campaign, and with the proclamation and our activity we have succeeded in getting all but five of the deserters of Jones county.  Newton Knight, it is thought, will report if he can be found and see the proclamation by his friends and relatives, who are hunting him.  Sim Collins and boys have reported.  There never has existed any organizations of men in Jones.  The deserters who were prominent in their neighborhoods led their squads, not consisting generally of more than six or seven men.  Jones is no worse than her surroundings.  The people are very poor and very ignorant, and the enemy traversing the State without opposition induced to believe the county had gone up.  So by the advice of some older citizens they were induced to believe they were the strong party, so they would defy the Government and stay at home.  We have changed the status of things in Jones, Perry and Smith, and expect to re-establish in all South Mississippi a healthy loyalty to the Powers that be.  If you see proper to extract from the above you can do so.

                                                            Respectfully,       

[last line with name missing]

[The following letter, dated 5 May 1864, was sent to Governor Charles Clark.  It describes the campaign of Col. Robert Lowry against deserters in Jones and Smith counties.  The letter is listed on the governor’s calendar as from “Concerned citizens of Jones County.”  Unfortunately, the concluding portion of the letter is missing from the file.  But evidence supports the contention of Rudy Leverett that the author was Col. William N. Brown, commander of the 20th MS Infantry.  The 20th MS participated in the campaign along with Lowry’s 6th MS under Lowry’s overall command.  The writer provides a remarkably evenhanded account of conditions in Jones County at the time of the incursion.  Portions of the letter were quoted in Legend of the Free State of Jones by Rudy H. Leverett and Free State of Jones:  Mississippi’s Longest Civil War by Victoria E. Bynum.  This, however, is a new transcription made directly from the extant text of the very faded original in the Mississippi Archives.  Ed Payne, Jackson, MS]

Letter to Gov. Charles Clark

From a Confederate Officer in Jones County

            Comp. 20th Miss. Regt Knights Mills Jones Co Miss.

                        May 5th of 64

Gov

            Presuming upon personal acquaintance and a high personal regard for you which has been often times manifested I have under taken to give you a short sketch of our operations in this part of the State, thinking it would be of some interest to you and perhaps may result in some benefit to this country.

            As you are perhaps aware my Regt composes part of a detachment of Lorings Division now engaged in arresting and returning deserters to their commands from South Miss. and East La. under the command of Col. Robt Lowry of the 6th Miss.  We have been at this duty since the 23rd March and in that time have been over the country including Smith Co, Scott, Jasper, Jones and a part of Wayne, Perry, and Covington counties. We have arrested and sent to Department Hd about 500 men.  Several hundred more have eluded us or reported to their commands rather than be charged and sent under arrest.  Lt. Genl Polk estimates that 500 had reported to one Brigade alone and that this one success would no doubt do much towards determining and achieving the great object of the War (This information is a digression as my object is more particularly to refer to what is yet to do rather than boast of what has been done.)

            From representations made to us we had expect[ed] to find [irregular] organizations among the disloyal {pg 2} for the purpose of resisting our authority.  During the first five days operations we obtained a Flag from the family of one Hawkins who lives on the line of Smith and Scott Co, this led us to believe they had “Hung out the banners on the outer wall” and bitter stubborn resistance [scratch through] might be expected.  In one or two cases this proved to be true.  A small party under Lt. Evans of the 6th Miss was fired into and one man (Srgt Tillman) was killed, two others were

wounded including Lt. Evans who we since have learned is dead.  This was done by a single man, Daniel Reddoch who was afterwards caught and executed.  Another party under Maj. Borden of the 6th Miss was ambushed and one man of my Rgt wounded

this was done by Capt Newton Knight with 5 men two of which were captured and executed on the spot and Capt Knight narrowly made his escape.

            At Knights Mill Jones Co on the 16th four men two brothers named Ates and two others named Whitehead were found guilty of desertion and of armed resistance to the civil and military law and were sentenced to death by hanging before our military court.

Accordingly the four men were executed.  This made ten who have forfeited their lives for treason.  All of them were clearly guilty and some of them had been wounded in skirmishes with the cavalry which had been sent to this country at different times.

This for there has not been an example made from the citizens of the county, all have been soldiers and yet these men have often been mislead by some old and influential citizens perhaps their fathers or relatives who have encouraged and harbored them.  {pg 3}  We find great ignorance among them generally and many union ideas that seem to be [prompted] by by demogauges of the agrarian class.

            Among the women there is great relunctancy to give up their husbands and brothers and the reason alleged is the fear of starvation and disinclination to labor in the fields.  More than half, I might say nearly all the soldiers wives are reduced to this strait.         

            Provisions are now scarce particularly corn.  We estimated the supply inadequate for the maintenance of the poorer classes and particularly the females of such as are in the army.  If something could be done to ameliorate their condition by State authorities it would be productive of a much proved moral and political sentiment.  It would [convince] them that we have a government, a fact which they are inclined to doubt. A few wagon loads of corn distributed through this country from the most convenient depot on the Mobile & O Rail Road would not only improve the political [tone] of the people here but would greatly encourage the men in the army from this quarter and in my opinion would greatly lessen desertion and the excuses to desert.  Could not a train of wagons be organized for this purpose?  I make the suggestion which [from me] I hope you will not take as [offensive] and will not pretend to argue the case to one of your [noble] administrative ability.  Some complaint has been made of the commissioners whose duty it is to provide for the destitute families of soldiers.  Of this I am not able to say except that very little seems to have been done by any one, and what was done is said to be for the families of particular favorites.

            Another important item to which I would {pg 4} call the attention of your Excellancy to the importance of [supplying] women of this country with cotton and woolen cards.  The females are decidely of the working part of the population and are greatly in want of these necessary articles.  There seem to be considerable wool and enough cotton to keep them engaged, as they are now provided they manage to clothe the soldiers from this country and if encouraged would add greatly to the comfort of many more a good article of jeans sometimes sells for $6 per yard.  I found today a widow of a soldier who was killed by the cavalry and having no cards she had taken to working [horn] combs.  A specimen I send to you which for workmanship and ingenuity compares favorably with the “yankee.”  The husband of this woman having been killed by our cavalry perhaps by mistake call to mind the many outrages that have been committed by several small commands of cavalry sent into this country on the duty now assigned to our command.  Such at least are the many complaints we hear every day. 

In several circumstances improper [shirking], robbing, stealing [which] the houses, cutting the cloth from looms, taking horses [Et C].  These acts have done more to demoralize Jones County than the whole Yankee army.  We have been particular to try and have our [_______te] conduct themselves properly and all have endeavored to be civil and kind to citizens Col. Lowry has done himself great credit in the management of the expedition – By alluding to the acts of the cavalry which has been on duty here.  I do not mean to hold all the cavalry responsible for the [letter ends]

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Independent historian Ed Payne, of Jackson, will present “Sarah Collins: Pioneer Woman in the Free State of Jones” before the Jones County Genealogical and Historical Society at the Laurel-Jones County Library on Saturday, March 28, at 10:00 a.m.

Ed’s article on Sarah Collins is scheduled to appear in the April issue of the Journal of Mississippi History.

Those who have been following my recent posts about the Collins family may already know that Sarah (Sallie) Collins (1810-1889) was the daughter of Stacy and Sarah (Anderson) Collins, among the first settlers in the area that would become Jones County. Ed offers the following profile of Sarah Collins:

Sarah’s family connections and personal decisions placed her at the center of events in Civil War Jones County. Although she was a slave owner, Sarah is documented as having assisted the Newton Knight band—which included three of her brothers and four nephews. At the same time, her son and a son-in-law were fighting in Confederate units. Thus the life of Sarah Collins offers a unique prism through which to view the legacy of the Free State of Jones.

Sarah also exemplifies the strength and grit of the pioneer women of the Piney Woods: single-handedly killing a bear in her teens, enduring the death of her husband (George Willoughby Walters) and three children in her early forties, strongly contesting a divorce suit filed by her second husband, and then struggling to operate her own farm over the next three decades.

NOTE: Kinship ties between the Collinses and other area families who ended up on opposing sides during (and after) the Civil War will also be discussed. These allied families include ANDERSON, POWELL, WALTERS, and WELBORN.

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Perhaps the longest-lived participant in the Free State of Jones, Alzade is middle person of middle row, 1926

Perhaps the longest-lived participant in the Free State of Jones, Alzade is middle person of middle row, 1926

I first discovered Southern Unionists while doing research on women in pre-Civil War North Carolina. Women, I soon realized, were central to the ties of kinship that bound together people who opposed the new Confederate nation. When I dug into the letter files of the state’s governors, I was immediately struck by how many women wrote to them during the Civil War: plaintive letters, desperate letters, angry letters.

As the long and bloody war dragged on, women’s letters became only more angry. Many of their voices appear in my first book, Unruly Women, and many more will play starring roles in my upcoming book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War.  Martha Sheets, who lived on the border of Montgomery and Randolph Counties in N.C., is one of my favorite renegade women. In early 1865, Martha threatened Montgomery County Sheriff Aaron Sanders with a visit from deserters if he did not supply her family with corn, “and make that good corn,” she added.

When I expanded my research from the North Carolina Quaker Belt to Mississippi’s Free State of Jones,  I was introduced to more extraordinary women–the fact is, renegade women existed in every state of the Confederacy. Many of them simply placed loyalty to family and neighborhood above all else, including the new Confederate government. Enslaved women, such as Rachel Knight of Jones County,  assisted deserters and guerrilla bands in hopes of undermining the institution of slavery. Others came from Unionist families that had opposed secession from the beginning. I think of Sarah “Sally” Parker, the sister, aunt, or cousin of  many stalwart members of the Knight Company guerrilla band.  Sally was Sarah Collins before she married, and the Collinses were among the staunchest Unionist families of the Jones County region. She risked her own life to shelter the Knight Company from Confederate forces, even though her own son, George Warren Walters, fought and died serving the Confederate Army. The expert on Sarah Collins Walters Parker is her great great great grandson, Ed Payne. Watch for his biography of her in the April 2009 issue of the Journal of Mississippi History.

Alzade Courtney is another favorite of mine (see photo, courtesy of Ralph Kirkland). Separated from her husband, Alzade worked her fields alone during the war, and depended on the Knight Company for protection. She in turn opened her home to them. Alzade may be the longest-lived participant in the Free State of Jones. Although in her late nineties by 1934, she provided Tom Knight with a testimonial that year for his famous biography of his father, Newt Knight. You can learn more about Alzade–and the Free State of Jones–on the wonderful website administered by her great-great grandson, Ralph Kirkland: http://www.squidoo.com/freestateofjones

I ‘m sure many of you have Civil War renegade women in your family history. I hope you’ll tell us about them here!

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