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

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

10 Responses to “The Pension File of Riley J. Collins, Union Soldier from Jones County, Mississippi”

  1. Amazing story of a loyalist from the deep south, amazing because he succeeded in reaching his goal of resistance to the Confederate States of America. The South, like the North, established a police state that made travel difficult without proper papers. Unfortunately, the Civil War has been romanticized and glamorized beyond all reality.

    • renegadesouth Says:

      Thanks for your comment, Antietam. Quite a few Jones county men made their way to New Orleans, where they joined the Union Army. But you’re right, the trip was fraught with danger, and disease killed many of those, like Riley Collins, who made it.

      Vikki Bynum
      Renegade South

  2. John Collins Says:

    Riley is buried at the Chalmette National Cemetery, LA. Simeon’s son James Madison “Matt” Collins was in the 7th Bn Miss Inf, was captured at Kennesaw Mountain and moved to Camp Morton, IN. Matt was my great-grandfather and is buried in a private cemetery in Polk County, TX. My other great-grandfather, Thomas Hall, was from Appling, GA and he enlisted in the 1st Florida Cavalry (Union). He moved to LA after the Civil War.

  3. thank you for the additional information, John. My new book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies, focuses quite a bit on the Collinses of both Jones County, MS, and Hardin and Polk Counties of Texas. Wish I’d had contact with you while I was conducting my research! I would like to know more about the Hall Unionist branch. Where and how, for example, did the Thomas Hall branch meet your Collins branch?

    Thanks for posting,

  4. […] posts, please don’t miss my post on the Union pension file of Riley J. Collins over at Southern Unionists Chronicles.  Riley was brother to Simeon and Jasper Collins and died serving the Union Army during the Civil […]

  5. […] Day morning. The first is of Chalmette National Cemetery in New Orleans. The second is the grave of Riley J. Collins from Jones County, MS. An avowed Unionist, Riley resisted service in the Confederate Army, and […]

  6. Joni McCreight-Clonts Says:

    My GGG grandfather was simeon Collins, I would like more information on him and my GGG grandmother Lydia Bynum. I have always heard that my family came to Texas during the Civil War because they did not beleive in the war. Is this what a Unionist is? I am very interested in this. If anyone has any information please e-mail me. Thanking you in advance.

  7. […] J. Collins of Jones County was one of the fatalities.  Later informants spoke of his adamant opposition to secession.  When the first Confederate […]

  8. […] tests for consistent Union loyalty.  Among them were 1st New Orleans Infantry enlistees Riley J. Collins and Robert […]

  9. […] Collins was born and raised in Jones County, or that his Mississippi brothers, Jasper Collins, Riley Collins, and Simeon Collins, as well as his brother-in-law, James Morgan Valentine, were […]

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