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Major Knox's untold story with Freedmen's Bureau



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August 11, 2010 - Second in a series on Major John Knox

BY AL HESTER

Special to the Clarkston News

Civil War history lovers in Clarkston may be familiar with his military exploits, but Johnnie Knox's work with the Freedmen's Bureau is mostly an untold story.

Several times Knox received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan. He traded shots with assailants at Meridian, MS, where he served the Bureau before coming to Athens in 1867. A renegade wanted for murder of an ex-slave near Athens vowed he would kill Knox when the Major tried to get civil authorities to take him into custody.

They never did, and the man left the county. In 1868, a detachment of Union troops from Atlanta answered his pleas for support in the face of Rebel opposition in Athens.

But Knox survived it all—although finally at the pleas of his brother in Oakland County and his own sense of assassination coming, he did head for more peaceful work.

Too, he was a loving father of twin sons, John and Charles, whose mother, Emily Davis Knox, died only three months after they were born during the war, in Plattsburg, New York, where Captain Knox was serving.

A nursemaid took the twins back to Oakland County, and his brother, William, and a sister, Mary, took care of the boys.

We have no clue concerning why Knox went to Mississippi to teach. But he returned to Meridian, Miss., Jan. 1, 1866, to head the Freedmen's Bureau Sub-District office about a year before coming to Athens.

Meridian made it hot for him a second time, as a group of men tried to shoot him while he was Meridian Sub-District Commissioner for the Freedmen's Bureau.

He wrote later that they fired on him, and he returned their fire. He said that regretfully he didn't hit any of them. They also did not wound him.

His records show he contracted chronic dysentery. He was forced by his disabilities to end his service, receiving his $8.50 monthly for partial disability. Army surgeons argued whether his disability should be partial or complete. He ended this part of his military life on June 23, 1863, as a captain in Company D, Fifth Michigan.

Knox was discharged but put into the Army's Invalid Corps Dec. 2, 1864. He would see various assignments including being a provost officer.

He next served in the U. S. Army's Volunteer Reserve Corps. His military service ended on Jan. 18, 1868, with a permanent rank of Captain and Brevet Major for his gallant and meritorious service.

He had been head of the Freedmen's Bureau in Athens nearly a year when his military service ended. He would continue to be a Freedmen's Bureau official until the end of 1868.

Next week, John Knox fights for freedom in Athens. Al Hester, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of the Journalism Dept. of the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, the University of Georgia. He was Journalism Dept. chair and director of the Cox International Center for Mass Communication Training and Research. He was a reporter and editor for the Dallas (Texas) Times Herald for 13 years.

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