Just because your ancestors weren’t in military service during the Civil War, you can’t assume they weren’t in a fight. Many Southerners didn’t agree with secession and some even became renegades in running battles against Confederate authorities.

Mississippi's most famous anti-Confederate, Newton Knight

Mississippi’s most famous anti-Confederate, Newton Knight

Confederate taxes, regulations and hard times in Mississippi made many unhappy people in the Piney Woods region of Newton, Jasper and Jones counties. Some of its people fought back against the policies and local officials.

People in the region had long taken sides in political issues based on family ties or differences in religion or self-interest. Problems created by the war sharpened conflicts. A personal squabble could quickly turn into a test of loyalties and balloon into a local war.

This is what happened in the Piney Woods homeland of the Poore family. By early 1864 bands composed of Confederate deserters, Union supporters, men who didn’t want to be drafted into the army and, in some cases, even escaped slaves openly fought with state militia.

Relatives gave these guerrillas food and hid them from the sheriff and militia. It is unlikely that the Poores, with three sons fighting with the Army of Northern Virginia, sympathized with these bands. But the raids, skirmishes and killings by the bands no doubt affected the Poore family as it did their neighbors.

Officials estimated that one group of guerrillas from Jones County ranged in numbers from about 125 to nearly 300. Regardless of their number, the guerrillas vowed “to form a home defense band for resistance to oppression, by assassination, raiding, destruction, and other means to aid the Union, and at the same time to save our families from famine.” These men fanned out through Jones and surrounding counties to sink ferryboats, burn bridges and bushwhack Confederates.

Another band of deserters in Newton County escaped the grasp of sheriff’s posses and militia alike. Whenever the irregulars’ kin caught sight of authorities passing by their farms, they began blowing horns and trumpets in alarm. As neighbors heard the blasts they, too, sounded the alarm. Within a few minutes, the danger signal had been sent to forest hiding places miles away, giving the guerillas time enough to escape any possibility of capture.

How can you find out if such groups were active in your ancestors’ homeland, or maybe even if your ancestors were in such groups? Here are some possible sources to check:

Diaries and memoirs. These may mention local events.

Family stories. Some families hand down stories, or oral traditions, about how their ancestors opposed secessionists. Try to confirm those stories with documented sources.

Local histories and historical societies. Local writers may have already researched events in your ancestors’ town or county during the Civil War. Even if your ancestors aren’t mentioned in their accounts, you may get a good idea of what was happening around them.

Newspapers from the time. Don’t check for newspapers just in your ancestors’ home county. Some counties didn’t have papers and many small operations closed at the start of the war because they couldn’t get supplies. Check stories in the newspaper of the nearest big town or city. They often carried stories of towns from hundreds of miles away.

Official records. Search The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation Of The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1887). I found an entry, for example, of Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk sending a sharpshooter battalion, a unit of horse artillery and 200 cavalrymen to Jones County and surrounding areas to fight guerrilla bands.

Do you have Southern ancestors who was an anti-Confederate guerrilla? How did you find out about their activities?