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One of Mississippi's most notorious renegades

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by White Flint Bill, Jul 7, 2018.

  1. White Flint Bill

    White Flint Bill Corporal

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    I came across this story recently. There seems no end to the fascinating stories and characters from this era.

    MILFORD G. COE was born in 1828 in Claiborne County, MS, second son of Thomas and Jane (Glasscock) Coe. He was destined to become one of Mississippi's most notorious renegades during the Civil War.

    Listed in his father's home in the 1850 census of Madison Parish, LA, he also appears as a 22-year-old overseer in the 1850 census of Claiborne County, MS. He first appears on record in Claiborne County in the tax list of 1849. In Bolivar County, MS, in 1860, he was overseer of Egypt Plantation, belonging to the Lobdell estate.

    He served with Company G, 2nd Mississippi Infantry, during the Mexican War, and as a private, Company A, 1st Mississippi Cavalry, Confederate Army, during the Civil War. At the Battle of Belmont he "demonstrated himself a constitutional coward."

    He returned to Bolivar County and was engaged as overseer by Rhodes Estill, whose plantation was situated on Lake Bolivar, three miles from Bolivar Landing, opposite the lower end of Island No. 76 in the Mississippi River. Estill, a chronic invalid, on several occasions sent Coe to the gunboat Marmore, stationed near Bolivar, to present gifts to the officers and to solicit protection for himself and property. Coe was and always had been very fond of "John Barleycorn," and this, with other motives, induced him to turn his back on the South and desert to the cause of the North.

    He became a notorious renegade and bandit during the remainder of the war. In 1863 he was located on Island 76 with about fifty fugitive slaves under his command. There were also other renegade white men with him. A tall, powerful Negro named Tom, who had been foreman on the plantation of Colonel Christopher Fields near Bolivar, acted as his first lieutenant. Here in this island fortress these miscreants dwelt with a woodyard to supply Uncle Sam's war boats.

    Occasionally Coe would have a boat put him and his men on the Mississippi side of the river. There they would raid the countryside, collecting mules, herds of cattle and fugitive slaves. Transported back to his island home, he would dispose of the property at his leisure.

    On one of his forays he swept everything from the Estill plantation and cursed and abused his former employer with rancor and bitter hatred. He also on this raid took all of the mules from the plantations of William Sellers and others. He never stole from Egypt Plantation nor the Burrus or Gibson plantations, stating that W.S. Gibson and Mr. Burrus had always treated him kindly, Burrus having once nursed and cared for him throughout a long and dangerous illness.

    Here on this island, in command of a band of misfits and fugitives, Coe became a perpetual menace to the welfare of citizens within a wide radius of Bolivar. His name became more of a terror to area inhabitants than that of Malinda Coe' s Confederate guerrilla son George "Beanie" Short to Union sympathizers in Kentucky.

    Sometime in late 1863 or early 1864 six men belonging to Evans' Scouts, Ross' Texas Brigade, commanded by Bob Lee, sent a 16-year-old Negro boy named Holt Collier, a servant of Howell Hines, as a spy to the island. After joining Coe's band and remaining several days, he returned with full information as to the location of the camp, numbers, etc. He also collected important intelligence that Coe's arms, when not in use during a foray, were by Coe' s order kept in the house occupied by Coe and his white associates.

    Some nights after this an old flat-bottom bateau containing six white men and this Negro boy moved with muffled oars through the darkness and fog, silent as a phantom, across the murky waters of the Mississippi. It was as gallant and desperate mission as was ever undertaken by men who realized the issue to be success or death to every man of that silent group.

    Quietly they landed on the bar below the camp. Stealthily, Indian file they approached the hut occupied by Coe. Quickly the door was forced and by the flash of a dark lantern Coe and his white comrades in crime looked into the nearby muzzles of six Army Colts. "Hands up; no noise!" was uttered by a voice, the quiet intensity of which was sufficient to make one's hair rise and goose bumps crinkle one's flesh.

    Quickly Coe and his white companions were bound and gagged. Leaving two men to hold the hut and arms, the other five soon captured and corralled the Negroes. They then moved the entire group away from the camp and into an open place in the woods. They were bunched with the stern assurance that the first one to move or make a noise would also be the first to die.

    About daylight the next morning a sutler trading boat, commanded by a Captain Booker, landed at the woodyard landing. Leaving two men to guard the prisoners, the other five, disguised in Yankee overcoats, walked aboard and in less than five minutes the boat and crew were captured and secured. They then used the boat as a ferry to cross their captives to the Mississippi side and made the boat pay a large stipend not to burn her. Luckily, the Yankee's gunboat was away on some mission.

    The mules and property that could be identified were restored to the planters from whom they had been taken. Mr. Estill and Mr. Sellers regained most of their stock. The fugitive slaves were released with the command to return to their masters, which most of them obeyed. Coe was taken before Mr. Estill, where he again demonstrated his cowardice by agonized prayers, pleading for his life to be spared. Coe, one of the other white men and Tom were immediately shot. Thus was the end of Milford Coe and his band.

    Interestingly, Coe's brother, Thomas Jefferson Coe, who served under Jefferson Davis during the Mexican War, was employed by the Confederate president as overseer of his home known as Brierfield, located near Bolivar. Coe's other two brothers served in the Confederate army.
     

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  3. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger 1st Lieutenant

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    This is interesting because @Stiles/Akin recently posted a short documentary on Holt Collier in the Campfire Chat forum.
    He was an interesting character, albeit not the one your thread is about. Lots of interesting characters in this story @White Flint Bill .
     
  4. east tennessee roots

    east tennessee roots Captain

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    Only a matter of time until Hollywood tries to make a hero out of this "miscreant", the same way they did Newt Knight.
     
  5. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger 1st Lieutenant

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  6. east tennessee roots

    east tennessee roots Captain

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  7. 7th Mississippi Infantry

    7th Mississippi Infantry Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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  8. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Lt. Colonel

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    Why is simeone who freed slaves and opposed the Confederacy a miscrent? What did Knight do that was so terrible? Why is fighting for the Confederacy a righteous cause?
    What U.S. laws did either Estil or Knight violate?
    Should movies portray the Confederacy as a model of what a righteous society shoukd be?
    Leftyhunter
     
  9. archieclement

    archieclement Sergeant Major

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    Both Coe and Knight enlisted in and served in the Confederate army, interesting your taking a tack that isn't in violation of US law. We know Knight volunterrily enlisted and then reenlisted to stay with comrades, As far as Coe the battle of Belmont is well before the Confederate Conscription act.

    Collier is a fascinating character and the Mississippi video on him was good. After watching the vid good to see Mississippi is recognizing him, he was practically a black Danial Boone/Davey Crockett rolled into one as far as hunting folklore, its sad his name isn't as well known as theirs.

    One of the more bizarre aspects of this story is fugitive slaves would band together with an overseer, weren't overseers supposed to be hated? And would think that Coe wouldn't allow the fugitives to keep their arms would made his motives questionable.... Much less very poor strategy for an irregular force to keep the bulk of its force unarmed.
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2018
  10. archieclement

    archieclement Sergeant Major

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    I don't know, that he was coward for both sides, might be hard for even Hollywood to spin

    Imagine a ending to Braveheart where a scared and cowed William Wallace pleads and begs for his life instead taking a stoic stand for a cause he believed...….be pretty anti climatic....and kills any heroic portrayal
     
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  11. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Lt. Colonel

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    Both Coe and Knight enlisted un an illegal army. Both men may or may not of voluntary enlisted. Both men deserted which is not a crime. Both men fought against the Confederacy which is not a crime. Both men did what they had to do to survive by foraging off of Confederate supporters. Knight was never convicted or tried for doing so.
    Both mrn freed slaves.
    How us either man a miscreant or evil?
    Leftyhunter
     
  12. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Lt. Colonel

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    Coe fought in the Mexican American War and yes he begged for his life. So did Davey Crockett at the Alamo. How do you know you would do different under similar circumstances?
    Leftyhunter
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2018
  13. archieclement

    archieclement Sergeant Major

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    Actually if Crockett did is debated, it has become a more accepted scenario in recent time, and theres plenty of figures throughout history and civil war who did meet their ends bravely to make movies about....If one truly believes in something, its worth dying for, guess if one doesn't believe they very well might beg.....I don't see me taking a outlaw path that I don't believe in for starters...…..Nor could have ever seen me enlisting in a army to desert my brothers in arms, although at this age its not really a concern
     
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  14. archieclement

    archieclement Sergeant Major

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    Actually about every country recognizes enlisting in a hostile army as a crime, they also consider desertion a crime, You certainly don't know they didn't voluntarily enlist, And yes both enlisted in illegal armies also by joining outlaw bands, Milford G Coe appears on no Union roster roll, as neither does Newton Knight, that they certainly were members of the Confederacy easily proven, they were members of outlaw bands easily proven, as far as Union troops, no evidence whatsoever...…

    Supposing the rolls were lost which may have been possible, do you have any other evidence such as official correspondence recognizing them as in service by issuing them actual orders that were followed or by rank? Perhaps fighting along side regular forces as part of an organized army? Anything?

    Lack of prosecution just proves one wasn't charged, suppose you will now argue now that since no guerrilla was convicted for crimes at Lawrence, that is evidence that no crimes took place there? Or that only one was ever even charged and he was acquitted in 10 minutes even proves it more?

    No, not being charged, just proves there was an attitude of lets move on, and not keep dredging up the past to inflame either side postwar by some.

    Somehow committing a crime during a war doesn't make one a member of whoever your at war with...….they are still just criminals, they are obviously miscreants by definition by violating both US and CSA laws.....as far as evil, haven't said being criminal makes one "Good or Evil"

    Though if meant to ask my opinion.....Lets see...... one who chooses slave overseer as a career, is a drunkard, commits treason against one country to join another, then commits treason again against that country by desertion, then becomes an outlaw robbing civilians, exhibited cowardice twice......would wager character wasn't his strongest suit...…Still not sure if I'd say Evil, but would think its towards that side of the scale
     
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  15. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Lt. Colonel

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    I never argued that Coe and Knight were enlisted in the Union Army. I am merely asked @east tennessee roots why Coe and Knight are miscreants for freeing slaves and fighting the Confederacy?
    True no one was convicted for the Lawrence Massacre. By the same token no one was convicted of any crimes relating to Order #11 or Palmyra .
    I am not understanding how freeing slaves and fighting thw Confederacy is morally repugnant.
    Leftyhunter
     
  16. archieclement

    archieclement Sergeant Major

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    Well you replied to me, if meant to East Tennessee...…post 10

    And you simply asked how "How us either man a miscreant or evil?"

    As miscreant is "a person who behaves badly or in a way that breaks the law" would think committing treason against both countries would certainly apply, although being an overseer, a drunkard, robber, murderer, and abandoning your comrades would all also meet a standard of behaving badly to me, even exhibiting cowardice could be construed as "behaving badly"

    Murderer is debatable as story doesn't mention specific deaths, but am assuming to be considered a terror and notorious,, it probably went with the irregular warfare, it generally did on both sides
     
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  17. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Lt. Colonel

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    The account of Crockett begging for his life is as accurate as the one for Coe. Both accounts are from those who killed them.
    We can't know how we would act under the circumstances of those who actually participated in historical events. It just seems a pit presumptuous to criticize Coe unless we were in his shoes.
    Leftyhunter
     
  18. archieclement

    archieclement Sergeant Major

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    If thats the case we cant criticize any historical figure or event since we weren't in their shoes..
     
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  19. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Lt. Colonel

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    The Confederacy met no legal standard of a country therefore under U.S. law deserting the Union Army is not a crime. @east tennessee roots specifically called both Coe and Knight miscreants. Maybe Coe was not an Eagle Scout but freeing slaves and fighting the Confederacy allows him redemption.
    Leftyhunter
     
  20. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Lt. Colonel

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    I specifically mentioned begging for one's life at the point of a gun. We can criticize those who do so but it's a bit presumptuous to do so if we are not in their shoes.
    Interestingly enough American children are not taught that the heoric Davey Crockett who died fighting for slavery begged for his life.
    Leftyhunter
     
  21. archieclement

    archieclement Sergeant Major

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    No it doesn't, committing crimes against civilians doesn't redeem or excuse anything, its just digging a even bigger hole of criminal behavior
     
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