Archive for the Mississippi Unionists Category

The State of Jones, by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer: A Review, part one

Posted in Mississippi Unionists, Political sentiment of Southern Unionists, Works that focus on Southern Unionists with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2009 by renegadesouth

By Victoria E. Bynum, author of The Free State of Jones (University of N.C. Press, 2001)

http://www.Renegadesouth.com

The State of Jones, by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer (Doubleday, 2009), aims to please, delivering a stirring narrative, lively and passionate prose, and richly-detailed Civil War battle scenes. For many readers, particularly those drawn to Civil War battlefields, this book will make the past come alive. Others, particularly students of the “Free State of Jones,” will find problematical the authors’ stretching of the evidence to support highly exaggerated claims that Newt “fought for racial equality during the war and after,” and “forged bonds of alliance with blacks that were unmatched even by Northern abolitionists” (pp. 3-4).

The history that Jenkins and Stauffer re-tell is well-known to Mississippians and familiar to many southerners and Civil War historians. It is certainly well-known to regular readers of this blog, for whom Newt Knight needs no introduction. As we all know, from October 1863 until war’s end, Newt was the leader—the captain—of the Knight Company, a band of deserters and draft evaders who led an armed insurrection against the Confederacy.

In this version of an old story, readers are treated to vivid depictions of Corinth, Vicksburg, and Kennesaw Mountain, all battles in which the 7th battalion Mississippi Infantry (in which the majority of Knight Company members served) fought. The final two chapters of the book recount the tragic history of Mississippi Reconstruction, an era riddled with violence and marked by the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist campaigns that brought an unrepentant slaveholding class back to power. The authors give special attention to carpetbag governor Adelbert Ames, from whom Newt Knight received several important political appointments, and redeemer governor Robert Lowry, the same Col. Lowry whom Newt battled during the war in the Leaf River swamps.

Stauffer and Jenkins also re-tell one of the most fascinating, if long-known, elements of Newt Knight’s history: his long and intimate relationship with Rachel, the former slave of his grandfather. After the war, Newt lived openly with Rachel and their numerous children, bestowing property and affection on white and multiracial kinfolk alike.

As I began writing this review of State of Jones, I quickly realized it would have to be written in installments, as I could never critique the book in one post. This then is the first installment of what will be an ongoing series of reviews and discussions of the book’s various themes, topics, and arguments. I hope the reviews will become interactive, with readers joining in to discuss what they like or don’t like about the book.

The obvious place to begin is by assessing the startling assertions by Jenkins and Stauffer that Newt Knight rivaled northern abolitionists in his views about slavery and that he forged “alliances” with slaves during the war. Due to a maddening endnote style, however, it is often difficult, sometimes impossible, to determine the source for a particular conclusion. Add to this the authors’ use of “parallel stories” to take fanciful journeys into what “might” have happened, or what Newt “likely” would have thought or done, and you have a narrative that allows readers to easily glide past what is documented history and what is pure conjecture (reminiscent of Ethel Knight’s Echo of the Black Horn, minus the racism ).

Take, for example, the authors’ argument that Newt was likely raised a Primitive Baptist whose religious devotion led him to condemn slavery. Such conjecture is based on a single statement by Newt’s son, Tom Knight, who published a biography of his father in 1946. But Tom never stated that his father was raised a Primitive Baptist, only that he joined the Zora Primitive Baptist Church around 1885-86 (p. 14). Newt Knight may well have hated slavery, but the only definitive statement to that effect appears in Anna Knight’s 1952 autobiography, Mississippi Girl.

A problem that runs throughout this book is the authors’ uncritical use of Tom Knight’s biography whenever it suits their purposes. If there’s one thing that past historians of the Free State of Jones have agreed upon (including myself, Rudy Leverett, and Kenneth Welch), it’s that Tom’s words must be used with great care. Quite simply, The Life and Activities of Captain Newton Knight is shot through with errors. Tom’s determination to present his father as a devout Christian (like Tom himself), a loving father, and a sincere defender of the United States government led him to take great liberties with his father’s life story.

Yet Tom’s biography of Newt is the only source cited for many of the authors’ narratives about the activities of Newt Knight, particularly for the era of Reconstruction, for which archival records (with the exception of Newt’s multiple petitions for compensation as a wartime defender of the Union) provide only tantalizing glimpses of Newt’s political activities after the war.

Heavy reliance on Tom’s uncorroborated stories creates a problem for the authors that they are loath to admit. That is, if you’re going to use one Tom Knight story, why not another? Tom Knight certainly never presented his father as any sort of abolitionist, religious or otherwise. He also shared the common racist views of his generation and was deeply ashamed of Newt’s interracial relationships. As I have argued elsewhere, Tom’s shame may have motivated his claim that his father killed a slave while still a boy, or, even more shockingly, that Newt was responsible during Reconstruction for the disappearance (suggestive of a lynching) of a “young negro man” who was “slipping around the white women’s houses after dark,” (p. 37). For obvious reasons, the authors ignore this story. Their careless use of this deeply-flawed source is a luxury they cannot afford in a book that claims to be “Civil War history at its finest.”

To support their assertion that Newt formed “alliances” with slaves during the war, Stauffer and Jenkins leap far beyond his collaborative relationship with Rachel Knight. The authors provide an imaginative tale of Newt’s likely alliance with slaves while on the run from Corinth without a shred of concrete evidence to back them up. Appearing in the space of five paragraphs, the phrases “a fugitive slave who might well have stopped Newton as he groped his way,” (p. 146); or, “Newton would have come across men like Octave Johnson,” (p. 146); or, “Johnson could have shown Newton how to lure the dogs,” (p. 147); and “Newton would have learned how to hunt in the swamps,” (p. 147) are purely conjectural, drawn from published memoirs such as Rev. John Hill Aughey’s 1888 Tupelo (Aughey was a documented southern abolitionist), and Solomon Northrup’s Twelve Years a Slave, neither of which have any direct connection with Newt Knight. One can only hope that readers will turn occasionally to the vaguely-written endnotes at the back of the book to see that no primary sources are used to support what amounts to a subtle attempt to impose a northern abolitionist persona on Newt Knight.

Coming up in future reviews of State of Jones: Was Newt Knight at Vicksburg? What was the nature of Newt’s relationships with Serena and Rachel? And more–stay tuned!

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

Posted in Disallowed Claims, Examples of acts against Southern Unionists, Mississippi Unionists, threats made against Southern Unionists with tags , , , , , on May 15, 2009 by renegadesouth

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).

Harmon Levi Sumrall Testifies on Behalf of Newt Knight for the U.S. Court of Claims

Posted in Confederate soldiers who became Union soldiers, disaffected Confederates, Disallowed Claims, Mississippi Unionists, Southern Union soldiers, Works that focus on Southern Unionists with tags , , , , , , , on April 2, 2009 by renegadesouth

By Victoria E. Bynum

The following post expands upon the story of the Unionist Sumrall brothers of Mississippi’s “Free State of Jones,” recently posted on Renegade South,

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). He did not base his claim on civilian loss of property, but rather on military services rendered to the Union Army. He asked that he and each of his “officers” and “privates” be granted the pay due them as soldiers by the U.S. government which they had fought for during the Civil War.

The only problem was that no matter how many battles the “Knight Company” had fought against Confederate forces during the Civil War—and there were plenty—it was never granted official military status by the Union Army. In 1870, 1890, and 1895, defenders of the Knight Company submitted affidavits and depositions attesting to the activities of the company on behalf of the Union Army. In the end, however, Newt failed to convince the U.S. Government to issue his men what in essence amounted to military back pay.

The following are excerpts from depositions provided in 1890 and 1895 by Harmon Levi Sumrall, one of Newt Knight’s strongest supporters. Harmon was beyond the age of conscription in 1862, but his younger brother, William Wesley, joined the Knight Company in 1863 rather than serve the Confederate Army. Harmon supported his brother’s decision, and, prior to providing depositions for Newt’s second and third claims (#8013 and #8464), had signed an affidavit for the first claim that attested to the sincerity of Newt’s Unionist beliefs.

In 1890, seventy-two year old Sumrall appeared before the Jones County Chancery Court to lend support to Newt Knight’s second round of claims. The 1870 claim had long ago died in committee, but in 1883 Congress passed the Bowman Act, 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.”

Sumrall’s answers to questions posed by the government’s lawyers were brief and to the point. When asked what “Mr. Knight’s general standing” was in regard to loyalty to the U.S. government, he replied that “he was a union man all the time.” When asked whether Newt “commanded a company of men in your community during the war,” he answered that “he did.” When asked if he had any further “material” to offer the state, he responded that he had seen “Capt Knight’s company in time of battle twice but saw them in no other engagements.”

In 1895, for reasons not entirely clear, a new round of depositions were gathered and a new claim number assigned to Newt’s case (the claims would later be merged). Once again, Harmon Levi Sumrall was called on to testify on behalf of the Knight Company.
On January 29, 1895, at the Ellisville Court House in Jones County, Sumrall again recalled events that were now thirty years in the past.

Sumrall’s latest testimony began with his statement that he was not related to Newt Knight, but that his brother, W.W. Sumrall, had been a member of the Knight Company. When asked on “which side” Newt’s sympathies had been during the war, Sumrall stated, as he had in 1870 and 1890, that Newt “was on the Union side.” But this time, when asked whether he knew of any battles fought by the Knight Company, Sumrall was more specific. “Yes sir,” he answered, “He was in a battle with the Confederates. I know it. I was there with him. He fought Hensley, who was on the Confederate side.”

During the course of his testimony, Sumrall estimated that the Knight Company had consisted of about 60-65 men when it battled the forces of this “Hensley.” Hensley, he explained, was a Major who headed a “cavalry regiment, also some infantry.” (This may have been Major James O. Hensley of the 10th VA Battalion, Heavy Artillery.)

Sumrall replied “yes” to the government’s question of whether Major Hensley was “hunting up men who had deserted from the Confederate Army.” Most interesting of all, however, were his remarks about HIS own role in the skirmish that followed. He stated that “Hensley pressed me in to go with him to Knight. We hunted him all day; we found him in the evening when the fight occurred.” By his own testimony, then, Harmon Levi Sumrall was forced to join a search for a band of deserters that included his own brother! Major Hensley would not likely have known this; he was simply impressing the local population of men to assist him in a dangerous task.

Sumrall’s maddeningly brief remarks raise several questions about the complicated nature of home front battles between deserters and Confederate soldiers sent from outside the region. Did Confederate militia purposely enlist local men to search out deserters in hopes that those deserters would be less likely to fire on their own neighbors and possible kinfolk, or were they simply taking advantage of local manpower to lessen the dangers of their mission? And how did Sumrall respond to the task assigned to him? Did he just fake it, and hope that in the process he could somehow protect his friends and relatives from discovery? Does Sumrall’s testimony that it took them “all day” to find Knight suggest that he withheld knowledge of the band’s whereabouts? What, then, were his actions at the point of contact between Confederate forces and the Knight Company? And in the ensuing battle? I would love to hear from readers who may have encountered such scenarios in their own research on the Civil War home front.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I provide a detailed account of Newt Knight’s long struggle with the U.S. Court of Claims in “Fighting a Losing Battle: Newt Knight versus the U.S. Court of Claims, 1870-1900,” chapter four of my book-in-progress, Southern Communities at War: Essays on Civil War Era Dissent and it’s Legacies.

Shhhhhhhhhhhhh! Let’s not talk about this . . .

Posted in Alabama Unionists, Confederate conscription, descendants of Southern Unionists, Mississippi Unionists, Southern Union soldiers, Southern Unionists who became Union soldiers with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2009 by Robert Moore

The following post is actually a re-post (having originally appeared on August 27, 2007) from Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi: A Weblog by Terry Thornton. I’m thrilled to be able to post it here again, with Terry’s permission. It’s an absolutely wonderful piece of Civil War “memory” and it fits extremely well within the environment of this blog. Note that this piece is copyright protected and used only with permission. Thanks again Terry!

Monday, August 27, 2007
Shhhhhhhhhhhhh! Let’s not talk about this . . .
by Terry Thornton

I am a Mississippian by birth and I am a Mississippian by choice. Of the forty-seven years that have passed since I turned twenty-one years of age, I have spent the majority living in other states electing to return to inside the Magnolia Curtain to live out my retirement.

I am a Southerner.

Growing up in the Hill Country of eastern Monroe County during those peaceful decades prior to the turbulent 1960s, I learned some about our region’s history and heritage but little about my Thornton family history. My father was somewhat distant to his larger family both in temperament and in geography — that, combined with the Thornton tendency to withhold information mitigated against my learning much about my ancestors.

I got most of my information from overhearing snatches and snippets of conversations while listening from the chimney corner. And as I grew older I learned that perhaps not all of the solid Southern unity was as it was rumored and taught to be — that perhaps there were cracks in the solidarity in the Hill Country Confederate unity during that difficult time some seventy-eight years before I was born.

Some things didn’t add up.

But when I would ask, I was told, “Shhhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about that.”

One of my favorite places to play during those safe years when children were permitted to play unsupervised away from home was at the New Hope Cemetery which was about one-half mile west of my home. Down the gravel road we would walk (no soccer moms with vans back then — nor any other vehicle; kids walked or rode bicycles) sometimes eight or ten or more to play all afternoon among the cool stone markers in the graveyard. Although the graveyard then was kept free of grass (as was the custom for most Hill Country houses: the yards were bare of grass), the cemetery had overgrown with trees creating large dense shaded places. And our favorite game to play in one of the large ornately decorated plots at the cemetery was “Civil War draft dodger.”

The older kids taught us how to play the game; they had been taught the game from the generation just older than them; and they in turn probably heard the stories from those who lived the experience upon which we had made a game. To play the game, one had to hide from the CSA draft enforcers. The place to hide was a special room underground at the cemetery in a specific family plot which had a false grave built for the purpose of hiding out. When the enforcers were in the area, you had to hide in the grave; when the enforcers were not close by, you had to hide in the dense woods and creek bottom just to the south of the cemetery.

When I was a child playing there, the family plot had been modified; the false grave had been used for an actual burial. So when we hid in the special “room” we just lay between the graves crowded into that family burial plot with its interesting stones and low fencing all around.

If the enforcers came and stayed a few days, the ones hidden in the grave were nourished by “grieving” mothers, sisters, or girlfriends who would come to the graveyard with baskets of flowers which contained food and water. And as the grieving females knelt there “praying” they were really whispering the latest news to those hidden just below.

I could never decide which role I enjoyed playing best: enforcer on horseback charging up and dragging folks off to fight or dodger lying there in the cemetery while all the pretty girls brought me food, water, and flowers and whispered directions to me as I rested in the perfect pacifist position.

To play “draft dodger” when I was a child involved a large cast of characters. There were roles for everyone no matter who all came to play that day — and we played the game often. But as I grew older, I listened to my teachers who were of the opinion that all true Southerners were loyal and 100% committed to fighting the Yankees!

If that were the case, I thought, then why were there hidden rooms in the graveyard at Parham? Maybe I had it mixed up; maybe those hidden men were really good brave loyal Southerners hiding from the Yankees.

Again came the, “Shhhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this” from the adults in my life.

But the older kids checked the story out with the older ones who would tell us the straight of it — the ones hiding were hiding from the Southern draft enforcers.

Then I overheard a conversation between my father and one of his relatives.

What? Some of the Thorntons were in the Union Army? Whoa! I thought. How did that happen? And no one would talk to me about the event or even acknowledge what I had overheard.

“Shhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this.”

As I got older I also questioned why the given name Sherman was widely used in my family: my grandfather had Sherman as one of his given names; my father had Sherman as one of his given names; my brothers has Sherman as one of his given names; and I have at least two cousins with Sherman as one of their given names. Somehow this choice of given name didn’t square with my conception of the turmoil that ripped through the Hills of Alabama and Mississippi some seventy-five years before I was born.

General Sherman was not one of my favorite people — he was not presented in any favorable light in any of the lessons in history I had at Hatley School. So what was I doing in a family with so many males named for Sherman? Oh well, I was told, they are named for someone else but that someone was never identified.

And if I persisted, out came the, “Shhhhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this.”

About 1970, my father asked my wife and me to go with him to Lann Cemetery, Splunge, Monroe County, Mississippi, to visit the grave of James Monroe Thornton. James Monroe Thornton was my father’s grandfather — James Monroe Thornton was the one who first named a son with the moniker “Sherman” — in 1865 he named a son John Sherman Thornton.

And while at the cemetery, my father told my wife what he had never told me: James Monroe Thornton served in the Union Army. Basically all he would or could tell me was that his grandfather, he had been told, was on the staff with General Sherman, had attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and so admired the General that he vowed to name the first of his sons born after the war for the general.

James Monroe Thornton survived the war and when the first child born after the war was a son, he named him John Sherman Thornton.

Be damned if I would listen to another “Shhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this” again!

During the next year or two, I started my reading and researching of the Thornton family. I learned that during the awful war years, both before and after, that they lived in the general area of Walker and Fayette Counties, Alabama. The Thornton family did not arrive in Mississippi until between 1905 to 1910. I discovered the gem of a book, Tories of the Hills, by Wesley S. Thompson (Winfield, Alabama: The Pareil Press. 1960). [My edition is the Civil War Centennial Edition, a limited-re-printing from Northwest Alabama Publishing Company, Jasper, Alabama.]

Thompson states in his Introduction “those opposed to the Secession . . . were called . . . Tories from the hills. . . met in a Convention July 4, 1861, and drew up resolutions to secede from the State [of Alabama]. When this . . . failed [the Tories] took to the coves and mountains for hiding rather than go to the Confederate Armies . . . there followed one of the bloodiest struggles of guerrilla-warfare ever fought on American soil.”

Suddenly the region known as “Freedom Hills,” a rugged area that spreads across the hill country of Alabama and west into Mississippi took on a new meaning.

Freedom! . . . no “Shhhhhhhhhh, let’s not talk about this” was going to stop me now.

So obviously the opposition to serving in the Confederate cause was as far west as the Hill Country in Monroe County, Mississippi, if hide-outs and resisting the draft were so commonplace that children’s games were organized and played almost 100 years after those sad events unfolded.

But learning more information from my father or from his larger family of their time in Alabama and of the Union Army connection to General Sherman was not to be. My father died a few years after telling me about his grandfather; the other older family members either didn’t know the family history or were not willing to talk about it. Some were of the opinion that we should not talk about the possibility of such an involvement!

And there I was, blocked in with “Shhhhhhh, let’s not talk about this” from cousins far and wide. But upon probing deeper, it was obvious that my cousins knew less than I about this part of our family’s history. The “Shhhhh, let’s not talk about this” mentality had prevented some of the most basic of family information from filtering down.

Several years went by and I began an email correspondence with a cousin, Lori Thornton, who was an experienced genealogist and computer expert. Lori and I compared notes and within a few months, I had the first documented evidence that my great-grandfather [and Lori's great-great-grandfather] James Monroe Thornton had indeed served in the First Alabama Cavalry USA.

And upon learning about this documented fact, I had relatives to send me word, “Shhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this.”

The first evidence I had of James Monroe Thornton’s military service in the First Alabama Cavalry U.S.A. was from Glenda McWhirter Todd’s in-depth study, First Alabama Cavalry USA: Homage to Patriotism (Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, Inc. 1999). There on page 368 is this entry, the first evidence I had of my great-grandfather’s involvement:

Thornton, James M., Pvt., Co. A, age 38, EN 3/23/63 & MI 3/24/63, Glendale, MS, on daily duty as teamster, MO 12/22/63, Memphis, TN.

James Monroe Thornton enlisted in the First Alabama Cavalry USA at Glendale, Mississippi on March 23, 1863. The next day he was mustered into service. He was assigned to Company A; he was given the rank of Private. He was 38 years old. He served daily duty as a teamster and was mustered out of service just before Christmas, December 22, 1863, in Memphis, Tennessee.

My father had been misinformed about James Monroe Thornton’s rank — there had been some huge and grand promotions for Private Thornton to have attained the lofty status of Lieutenant Colonel — whether that embellishment in rank was done by James Monroe Thornton himself (he lived to the ripe old age of 88 years) or by others is unknown.

Lori and I ordered the service record and the pension file for our common ancestor — and there learned for the first time the extent of his military service. James Monroe Thornton indeed was in the First Alabama Cavalry USA; he was a Private. He was at home in Alabama hiding out from the Confederate enforcers most of the time he spent in the service of the Union. He accompanied a small group in June who was returned to Walker and Fayette County and while there became ill. His family hid him in the woods from July through early December when he returned to camp.

James Monroe Thornton was absent with leave from June 29, 1863 through about December 13, 1863 when he returned to duty just in time to be mustered out on December 22, 1863.

He was not, however, a Lieutenant Colonel nor was he an aide-de-camp to General Sherman! He drove a team of mules or horses and hauled materials with a wagon as a Private doing teamster duty.

In all of this research, however, the harsh reality of what happened to my Thornton family in the Hills of Alabama has been slowly uncovered. Lori and I are continuing to examine records that are telling us the painful story of our family — a story that heretofore had been so suppressed within the family that our generation had no clue to its reality. Here is a brief summary of some of the major discoveries.

Two of James Monroe Thornton’s brothers also served in the First Alabama Calvary USA. Those two brothers died in service. No one in my family of my generation had any knowledge of these men. As far as I know, their names were not known as family. The grave of one has been located at the Nashville National Cemetery where I conducted a memorial on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of his death. It is believed that the first time that any of this young man’s family visited his grave site was 140 years after his death.

The “Shhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this” time was over.

A third brother may have been killed by Confederate enforcers as he was making his way to the Union lines to volunteer. Lori and I are still working on this possibility. We know that a third brother disappears from all records during the Civil War years and we are intrigued by a statement recently discovered in his mother’s federal pension file about this possibility. More work is needed.

And perhaps the saddest chapter in all of this that was never talked about in my family is evidence that three of James Monroe Thornton’s brothers also served in the Confederate Army. One was captured in battle in Kentucky and eventually exchanged/released in Mississippi. We think he returned straight to North Alabama, visited briefly with his wife and child and other family nearby, and then with his older brother, James Monroe Thornton, walked over to Glendale, Mississippi and enrolled together. James Monroe survived; the brother he enlisted with died.

The youngest brother in that large family also died in the service of the Union Army. He and another brother had enrolled in the Confederate Army and both are listed as deserting at Tuscaloosa. The younger brother shows up on the First Alabama Cavalry USA enlistment rosters a month later; the other brother disappears from the records. It is presumed that he is the one his mother later states was killed by enforcers while making his way to the Union line.

So I can’t tell you about a great-grandfather who was a Lieutenant Colonel in General Sherman’s army — but I can talk a bit about his service as a Private, as a teamster, during a few short months during the Civil War. I can tell you a bit about the history of the South and can confirm that the solidarity and Confederate unity wasn’t what we’ve been taught in the public schools of Mississippi.

But, listen, someone is saying, “Shhhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this!”

[Editor's (Terry's) Note: This recollection was submitted to the current Carnival of Genealogy. The 31st Carnival has as its topic Confirm or Debunk: Family Myths, Legends, and Lore, and is being hosted by Craig Manson at GeneaBlogie.]

The Pension File of Riley J. Collins, Union Soldier from Jones County, Mississippi

Posted in Mississippi Unionists, Southern Union soldiers, Southern Unionists who became Union soldiers with tags , , , , on February 22, 2009 by renegadesouth

In keeping with my recent Renegade South posts about the Unionist Collins family of Mississippi and Texas, I am posting here information from the pension file (#120091) of Riley J. Collins. Riley was the ninth of Stacy and Sarah Collins’s 14 children. Born around 1825, he was their fourth son.

Riley, who publically opposed secession, was a founding member of the famous Knight Band of the “Free State of Jones” County, Mississippi. In the immediate aftermath of Confederate Col. Robert Lowry’s attack on the guerrilla band, he and several other members fled to New Orleans where they joined Co. E of the 1st New Orleans Regiment. Mustered into service on May 4, 1864, Riley died on August 31, 1864, less than three months later. Like so many soldiers, he died of disease rather than battle wounds.

Riley’s pension file is relatively short and uncomplicated since he had evaded rather than deserted Confederate service before joining the Union Army. What his file papers reveal most clearly are the personal tragedies that accompanied the Civil War for the Welch and Collins families of Jones County.

Several affidavits attest to the death of Riley’s wife, Desdemonia Welch, on September 25, 1862. Her fatal illness, which left him with four motherless children, ages 3 to 10, would surely have reinforced Riley’s decision to evade conscription. If not for Lowry’s raid on his neighborhood, he no doubt would have remained an outlier for the duration of the war. Instead, he died serving the Union Army, leaving his children orphans in the process. Older brother Vinson A. Collins was appointed their guardian, and applied for and received Riley’s pension.

Pension records are replete with stories of soldiers who, like Riley Collins, died in appalling numbers from disease. Reading Riley’s papers, one is struck by the senseless death of a 37-year-old widower with four children who felt his only choice was to fight for the Union against men of his own divided community rather than fight for the “Lost Cause” of secession that he so adamantly opposed.

As I noted in my last post, Riley’s brother, Simeon, equally Unionist in principle, made a different choice. Facing execution for desertion, he surrendered to Col Lowry, rejoined the Confederate Army, and ended up in a Yankee POW camp. The end result was the same. As that post noted, Simeon died from illness shortly after his release from prison in 1865.

Victoria Bynum

http://www.renegadesouth.wordpress.com

Frank P. Haywood’s Disallowed Claim

Posted in Disallowed Claims, Florida Unionists, Focuses on Southern Claims Commission applications, Mississippi Unionists, North Carolina Unionists with tags , , , on December 21, 2008 by SouthernUnionists

After a little surfing on the Web, I came across the claim of Frank P. Haywood, of Franklin County, North Carolina. However, Haywood lived, at the time of the war, in Jackson County, Florida. His wife, on the other hand, owned a farm just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. Because of service with the home guard, Haywood’s claim was disallowed. It’s an interesting read, and can be found at this Franklin County, North Carolina GenWeb Site.

Note that this is just a portion of the original claim. Additionally, an abstract from the claim of William H. Allen can also be found on this same page. Though both Haywood’s and Allen’s claims were disallowed, Allen’s was more “over the top” as he could provide no proof of having been a loyal Union man during the war.

The Haywood claim is a good example of the variances in understanding of what “Southern Unionism” meant to different Southerners during the war. Meanwhile, Allen’s claim shows how some Southerners who applied for claims lied in order to take a chance at landing some Federal money.

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