James Morgan Valentine Testifies on Behalf of Newt Knight Before the U.S. Claims Commission

By Victoria E. Bynum

The following post expands upon the story of James Morgan Valentine, Newt Knight’s 1st Lt. in Mississippi’s “Free State of Jones,” posted last week on Renegade South, http://www.renegadesouth.wordpress.com. Like Hiram Levi Sumrall of my earlier post on this site, Valentine testified in 1890 and 1895 on behalf of Newt Knight’s claim for compensation for members of the Knight Company. A summary of Newt’s claim, below, is followed by excerpts and analysis of Valentine’s depositions.

For thirty years, Newt Knight, Captain of Mississippi’s most notorious band of deserters, the Knight Company of Jones County, pursued compensation from the federal government for himself and his company. Newt initiated his first claim in 1870, before the Southern Claims Commission had been established (RG 233, Box 15, HR 1810). That claim had long ago died in committee when Congress passed the Bowman Act in 1883, followed by the Tucker Act of 1887, which allowed individuals to resubmit rejected or tabled claims. With lawyers now representing his case, Newt renewed his efforts to win pay for his “soldiers.” Newt’s two final claims, #8013 and #8464, were eventually merged into one.

On November 20, 1890, fifty-year old James Morgan Valentine appeared before the Jones County Chancery Court to lend support to Newt Knight’s claim. The first question posed to him by the government’s lawyers was whether Newt Knight had “commanded a company of men known as Union men,” and whether they were “equipped as soldiers during the war and what part did they act as such?” Valentine replied that he knew Newt Knight to be the captain of a company, “armed and equipped,” that “acted in opposition to the rebel forces.”

To further questions, Valentine answered that the Knight Company had operated in Jones, Smith, Jasper, and Covington counties from October 13, 1863 until September 5, 1865, and that he had been with them “all the time except about a month while I was in prison.” Here, Valentine was referring to his capture by Col. Robert Lowry’s Confederate forces during its raid on Jones County. In his 1895 deposition, he specified that he was captured on April 16, 1864 and sent to Shubuta, MS, where he was imprisoned until June of that year. (Information included on Newt Knight’s roster of 1870 corroborates this.)

When asked if he engaged in any battles as part of the Knight company, Valentine replied that he participated in three, those of Saul’s Battery (Sal’s Battery), Tallahala, near Ellisville, and Knight’s Mill, the battle in which he was wounded and captured by Col. Lowry’s forces.

When asked whether the Knight Company was ever mustered into the Union Army, Valentine replied unequivocally, “They were not.” Despite that fact, he believed all the men remained loyal to the Union throughout the war. He reiterated this testimony in his second deposition of January 29, 1895.

In 1895, Valentine also testified that despite the company’s failure to become an official unit of the Union Army, it nonetheless had collaborated directly with Union forces. His examples, however, which lawyers were quick to note, occurred in July 1865, shortly after the war had ended. Valentine recalled that Lt. H. T. Elliott of the U.S. Army had ordered Newt Knight and his men to “seize and hold in possession certain cloth and wool in the hands of one Amos Deason” (Deason was Jones County’s Confederate representative to the state legislature), that the Knight Company had also captured a “stand of arms in the court house,” and turned them over to Capt. A. R. M. Smith of the federal army post at Ellisville in Jones County, and that U.S. Gen’l William McMillan had once supplied the company with rations. (All of these actions are verified by documents submitted to the government in 1870 by Newt Knight.)

When government lawyers asked Valentine whether these interactions occurred “after the Confederate armies had all been disbanded and returned to their homes,” Valentine replied, “I could not tell you sir whether they were all disbanded or no.” When reminded that Generals Lee and Johnston had surrendered in May, 1865, Valentine reminded the lawyers that “there were Ku Klux in this country after the surrender that we had to contend with.”

Valentine’s uncertainty about whether the war was truly over in July, 1865, reflected ongoing battles over power throughout the South, including in Jones County. That very month, Newt Knight and his supporters petitioned provisional Governor William Sharkey to overturn Jones County’s 1864 elections on grounds that local Unionists had been denied the vote. Pro-Confederate citizens soon retaliated against several appointments and elections of Unionists to office by successfully petitioning the Mississippi State Legislature to change the name of Jones County to Davis County (in honor of Jefferson Davis). Valentine’s testimony reflected his memory that, for Newt Knight, and the Knight Company, battles over local political power remained fierce in the aftermath of the Civil War.

NOTE: Newt Knight’s long struggle with the U.S. Court of Claims, as well as Jones County’s Reconstruction and New South political struggles, are analyzed in my forthcoming book, Southern Communities at War: Essays on Civil War Era Dissent and it’s Legacies, scheduled for release by the University of North Carolina Press in spring, 2010).

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11 Responses to “James Morgan Valentine Testifies on Behalf of Newt Knight Before the U.S. Claims Commission”

  1. [...] May 16, 2009 by renegadesouth Today I posted excerpts and analysis of James Morgan Valentine’s two depositions on behalf of Newt Knight’s Unionist petitions to the U.S. Court of Claims, 1890 and 1895. To see them, click here: Southern Unionist Chronicles. [...]

  2. jim Power Says:

    Several years back I wrote a book, “A Respectable Minority in the South during thee Civil War”. My great grandfatherr who lived in MS.& fought in the 1812 War remained loyal and court records prove his loyalty. In researching for the book, I was surprised how many Mississippians (the primary focus of the book) were loyal, including Natchez planters who moved to New York City and bought Union bonds. Some of the clergy, the n/w corner of the state and along the gulf coast there were loyalists. The Free State of Jones was not a union force as much as a group led by Knight who brought terreor to Jones County in south MS.. The book is still available @ Amazon and gives many such researched stories.

    • renegadesouth Says:

      Hello, Mr. Power,

      I appreciate your taking the time ot respond to my post on James Morgan Valentine, and am interested to learn about your own work on Natchez and N.W Mississippi Unionists. However, you end your post by making an blanket assessment of the Free State of Jones being as a force for terror rather than Unionism in the Jones County region of southeastern Mississippi. May I ask you what your research on this region has been that would lead you to make such a conclusion? Indeed, have you conducted any independent research in primary sources on the subject? Have you read my book, THE FREE STATE OF JONES (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2001), which offers ample evidence that Newt Knight did indeed lead a viable Unionist movement from the Jones County region? If you have no evidence of your own to cite, please don’t insult the ideas of someone (that would be me) who has been researching and publishing works on the Free State of Jones since 1998.

      Vikki Bynum
      http://www.renegadesouth.com

  3. Vikki,

    Really enjoyed reading the account by Mr. Valentine about Newt. Looking forward to you new book!!

    Steve Knight

  4. jim Power Says:

    Yes, I did independent research in the MS. Archives in Jackson. I’ve read your book and if you want my analysis, I wrote “A Respectable Minority” about the many in MS. who remained loyal to the Union or were desrfters from the Confederacy. There is a new book on the subject: see Dr. Ballard’s review in the WSJ. I had your book when I wrote mine. Perhaps we looked at Jones County in different ways. Could we all be biased?

  5. I made no claims that you or anyone else was biased, Mr. Powers. I just wondered what your reasons were for dismissing the Unionism of the Jones county deserters when so much evidence to the contrary is presented in my book, FREE STATE OF JONES.

    Vikki Bynum

  6. jim Power Says:

    i AM ADMITTING THAT I HAVE A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF BIAS AS DOES EVERYONE, BUT i DID HONESTLY TRY O BE FAIR IN MY BOOK.

  7. Jim, that’s all that any of us can do–try to be fair to one another. I certainly don’t begrudge you your opinion! Thanks for your post.

    Vikki

  8. carolyn valentine johnson Says:

    Dont under stand all this, but I am relative living in la. my dad was born and raise in soso,miss.

  9. Illinois Court Records…

    [...]James Morgan Valentine Testifies on Behalf of Newt Knight Before the U.S. Claims Commission « Southern Unionists Chronicles[...]…

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