…a follow-up to the Police Court article
In the previous posting, it was noted that an original document was happily found in a private collection, mostly genealogical, that gave some insight into the functioning of official Hancock County during Civil War years.
Now another document has been observed, this being a ledger recording circuit court proceedings. It begins some years before the war, and essentially lists plaintiffs, defendants, and amount of awards. Not much detail is included, but even so, a cursory review proved some important information: nothing was listed for the years 1861 to 1865.
That discovery was not accidental. It had been observed previously that some activity in the community must have been severely curtailed, and that war demands extended to official duties of various organizations.
We may reasonably assume that the Civil War affected many facets of life in the Confederacy. Perhaps a study of primary documents that are already in our purview can give us at least a partial understanding of some of the concerns and changes of operation in Hancock County. Even though the county was never under the total control of Union forces, life of citizens and affairs of government were deeply impacted.
It was decided that a search of evidence, as contained both in our own studies as well as actual available documents, should be made.
The first step was a search of what was already on my computer. All of the quotes that follow are contained in writings by Marco Giardino and myself; mostly, they are posted elsewhere on this site.
It was this investigation that brought to light another possible consideration, that being that there may have been more activity than was meant to be recorded. A particular example of this will be discussed in what follows, but for immediate reflection I will say that it may well tie together the actions of the Police Court with those of a “citizens committee” which functioned as a kind of vigilante group.
Part A: Evidence stored on my computer
History of Andrew Jackson, Jr. in Hancock County.
When I made a study of his presence in the county before the war, it was observed in official records that he was sued by a number of people for non-payment of obligations in the May 1861. This legal action concerned four parcels of real estate within the county, but the sale by the sheriff was not offered until the first Monday of February 1870. Almost a decade had passed.
It is also notable that even before the commencement of the war, letters within the Jackson family in late 1860 reveal anxieties about the changing economics and politics of the time. Sarah wrote to Andrew her son on September 3rd, “There are a good many places for sale, at this time, land, negroes, stock, &c…abolitionism is I think alarming the negro holders, and many of them are anxious to realize a large sum of cash for them now, while prices are high.”
Similarly, Samuel in a letter to his mother on November 13th expressed growing panic. He wrote from Clifton: “Pa and I went over to the city on last Friday expecting to start up to the Ark. River & other places but on arriving in the city and hearing of the election news & finding so much excitement found it necessary one of us to return. We met several members of the court of Hancock County and they told us they intended putting in force the law requiring every owner of slaves to have some one to oversee or be on the place themselves or they would be subject to a heavy fine or other penalties.”
Both of these statements reflect panic and disruption of normal business in the community. In the second, it is evident that the “court of Hancock County” has taken an unusual step.
Details of vigilante activity in the Koch letters.
The Koch letters contain accounts of the Citizens Council formed essentially as a vigilante group. Because there was no one to guide them and direct their activity, they resorted to conferring with the Union commander at Fort Pike. He gave guidelines about having a fair trial and punishing those found guilty.
These letters reflect a severe disruption in the social structure of the community. In addition, there is hard evidence that the official administration of the county had fallen to such a lack of authority that advice from a union officer was sought.
Most activity was between September 1864 and February 1865. A report of September 18, 1864 says that seven or eight people had already executed. Some of the description is indeed gripping: “She reported that Jourdan Stuart <sic> and Jess Young were shot …over the Bioue…on Stewart <sic> they found letter from Charles Moody that he would steal cattle and deliver them to him at a certain place for 5 dollars a head…Lizzy McArthur is wife…she came down to see about having his body taken up and buried at home but she was persuaded to let it stay for some months first. They are buried just where they fell, on that road that we go by Whites just on the side of that hole we go around in the branch.”
In another poignant passage, Annette wrote: “I had a scene described to me by an eye witness, of a father and son who was shot close to Mr. Kimballs, how the son told standing by his father that he led in wickedness by his own father and that he had always been bad and he told his poor mother not to grieve for him but now that she would have the whole control of the other children to try and bring them up right and she was hardly out of hearing when they were both shot dead.”
Annette’s letter also told of how the Citizen’s Committee got its authority from the Union officer: “…the citizens, in each beat had to choose a Capt., and be ready…and Father Elers has joined them after they had got the Coll. at the Forts approval, they must give the criminal a trial, and must have positive [proof] that he is guilty then if the crime is sufficent <sic> for death he is to be shot….”
In a separate letter of the same date, Elers defended to his father his personal membership in the Citizens Committee: “You said you did not want me to join the company that has been got up by the citizens to put down these robbers that pretend to be acting under Federal Authority. They are robbing citizens upon there <sic> own hook, I have joined the company…and think it no more than every good citizen should do, you think that Charles Moody was a harmless man, but he had stolen a lot of cattle up the county which he owned when he was sentenced to be shot. George Holloman is Captain of our company, he got permission from Col. Hall through Col. Claiborne’s hands, You think them a lot of cowardly murderers [illegible, possibly jackass]. Some of them are but if they should have come and robbed you of every thing you had you would want to shoot them to <sic> … one of the robbers confirmed before he was shot that they had made a plan to rob every house between Bobichito [probably Hobolochito] and Pearlington in one night.”
Possible hidden activities of Police Court
A curious dynamic is apparent in Elers’ statement. While it was previously observed that the residents, though Mississippians, had sought advice from the Union officers at Fort Pike, it has now become evident that Claiborne’s straddling the line had to be obvious to all parties. Moreover, Elers’s mention of George Holloman as Captain of this company is significant.
Looking back on the study of the Minutes book after some conjecture about the possible connection of the Police Court to something more sinister, I began to contemplate that what I read was really quite vanilla; as Marco would say of soil at a dig, it was “sterile.” Of course, the function of raising funds for destitute was both noble and necessary, but there is so little commentary in the minutes of other important functions.One wonders whether there were other activities, not mentioned in the minutes for whatever reason.
Evidence is clear from the above letters that George Holloman was the man to get Union permission to do the work of the Citizens Committee. That occurred in October o 1864. Just a couple of months later, the Police Court minutes show that he became its president. It should be noted that those documents also make clear that captains and overseers were being appointed regularly. Once more, the Koch letters show relevant information, that being that he was “Captain of our Company.”
The question arises, was the Police Court one and the same with the Citizens Committee. Certainly there are parallels in structure; Holloman obviously served in both, if in fact they were different.
While no such conclusion can be drawn from the minutes, it must be considered that there would have been good reasons not to record in writing about activities of an illegal nature, even during war time, but especially in that advice was sought by an officer of the other side.
Virtual Paralysis of Local Government
A number of other considerations come to mind, as outlined below. In considering these circumstances, one must wonder whether the functions of the community and of the official bureaus of government in Hancock County came to a virtual paralysis.
Starvation and disruption of the social fabric from Cloaborne papers
In the summer of 1862 Claiborne wrote Governor John J. Pettus to deplore the starving condition of the inhabitants of the seaboard counties, as well as the depredations of Yankee invaders. Affirming his own fidelity, he wrote: “We are now proving our loyalty by starvation – by the tears of our women and the cries of our children for bread!!” and begged permission to import essential foodstuffs from enemy-held New Orleans in order to preserve the lives of loyal supporters of the Confederacy living along the coast.”
A few months later, however, in a memorandum to Banks, Claiborne did not speak kindly of his neighbors: “Few of them can be addressed through their moral sense or convictions of duty. They are essentially animals…. When Civil War broke out they eagerly volunteered…with the hope of plunder. But the mortality that has occurred among them…has disgusted them with the service. Most of all, they feel the pressure of want in their families…They are now subsisting on sweet potatoes; that crop will be exhausted by 1st Feb…. The Union sentiment is spreading…A vigorous exclusion would bring this whole seaboard to its allegiance in 3 months."
In other correspondence, Claiborne told Banks that he was “confiding in the U.S. military authorities for the protection of my property” and that he had “maintained confidential relations” with Union officers at Fort Pike. Further, he stated that he was “surrounded here by armed men, mostly of desperate character & fortunes, my person in danger and my property liable to be plundered, I have been compelled to be circumspect. But I have neglected no means to further the cause. I have created a strong Union sentiment, which is rapidly developing.”
Spying for the Union
Claiborne must have known that the protection he sought from Banks and the officers at Fort Pike did not come gratis. He reported the twenty wagon loads of salt sent to Confederate General Joe Johnston; he told of fortifications built at Mobile; his information detailed smuggling between New Orleans and Mississippi coastal towns involving the schooners Alice and Venus and other vessels “that regularly bring out contraband.”
He named names: “Arrangements are making to run the blockades to Havana from two points on this coast. The parties engaged in it have all been in or are in the Confederate service. They have two men in New Orleans – a Capt. Dane or Dean & one Asa Weed…employed to give them information about your movements…. Dane and Weed communicate with one of the parties here, by means of a schooner (The Venus) which makes a weekly trip from the city to Toomer’s Mill near Fort Pike, and the information they give is duly sent to Jackson. Weed of Dane, or both of them are soon to visit your camp at Port Hudson.”
Dysfunction among county leaders
Names Claiborne might have mentioned but apparently did not were those of Poitevent, Toulme and Smylie. One month after his report to Banks about Weed and Dane, Major Smylie wrote a letter to J. V. Toulme, mayor of Shieldsboro in 1860.It was dated April 28, 1863, and may have been part of an operation similar to above. It is contained on copy form in Claiborne’s own papers; if he did not report it, perhaps the reason would be that he must have been on very close terms with the addressee, Toulme as well as Poitevent, who was mentioned in the letter. The former was a leading citizen of Shieldsboro, and the latter of the Pearl River area. The letter reads as follows:
“I have the authority from Richmond to carry our cotton, see Capt. Poitevent and let us go in with him. I think arrangements can be made with some parties on the other side to carry cotton to Havana & from there I care not where it goes. I have full authority to carry our cotton from any port in our possession to any place New Orleans and Memphis excepted. See Capt. Poitevent and let him know what can be done, I am in for it and will be with you. Send a runner up (if we go in) regardless of expense. I will risk all, loose or make something.”
The fact that this letter found its way into Claiborne’s hands suggests that he may have been the instrument of cooperation “with some parties on the other side.”
Within a few days of the above letter, Claiborne was able to obtain a pass from Union Admiral Farragut allowing him to transport cotton through the lines. As he had continued to grow cotton during the war, this included his own production as well as cotton bought from growers along the Pearl. To complete the arrangement, he had become, representing the Confederacy, the purchasing agent for the Belgian consul in New Orleans. This connection, according to Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin, was patently illegal.
The Problem of Money
Another study could be made about what kinds on money, whether coin or paper, and from what source. The actions of the Police Court as reflected in its minutes mostly have to do with money for destitute families of those in service. Unfortunately, no reading of the minutes gives any clue as to whether Confederate money was used.
Perhaps this is to be assumed, but a story told years ago gives one pause. It was that the city of Shieldsboro paid its employees during war years with chits, promissory notes to be redeemed sometime in the future. These could be used in commerce, but obviously at a discount.
Though the minutes offer no light on the kind of money, it is the Koch papers once again that give a great deal of insight into the problem. In various letters, the following are mentioned:
20 $ gold, 5 $ paper
Louisiana Bank money
Greenbacks (Christian: “pay out city money and save greenbacks.…”)
City money (Annette: “needed city money, not Confederate money….”
Bank of New Orleans currency (“worthless”)
One wonders, by “city money” were the Koches referring to chits issued by the city of Shieldsboro?
Part B: Documents in Court House and Chancery Clerk Office
After long last some original documents saved from Katrina have been returned to Hancock County. On balance, it appears there is scant original documentation in the county that predates the Civil War. Little can be blamed on hurricane Katrina, as advance preparation successfully removed the important files and ledgers. Little was lost.
Some that have been examined for their relevance to the question of activity during war years follow:
Sectional Index of County Lands – I find one 1854 mention of US transfer of a parcel to Mary Favre and another from the US to the State of Mississippi in 1850. There are no listing during the war years, the next being one of JFH Claiborne in 1867. Other dates in near succession: 1877, 1890, 1875.
Record of Tax Lands – Earliest in Vol. 1 is 1875.
Record of Tax Lands sold to Individuals – Begins 1893.
Early Deeds –Those that have been scanned have been studied on county computers. First to be found is certainly pre-war. It is the transfer to Daniells of the Boisdore tract, dated 9-5-1826. Following this are a few index pages, but no more early deeds are to be found until one dated 1878, describing a parcel bordering on Deblieux land. Some older deeds apparently were not scanned. It is hoped that other early deeds which have been studied in the past may one day again be available.
Township Maps: a beautiful book, with all maps preserved and covered in plastic, but the earliest date is 1872.
In summation, very little can be found to tell the story of Civil War years in the county. Perhaps more diligent searches can be made in future years, given the fact that not all documents saved from the hurricane have yet been returned to Bay St. Louis. In addition, there may be other sources which have not come to the attention of this writer.
Any suggestions will be welcomed and will be pursued.