Thomas Goode Jones: Race, Politics, and Justice in the New South

Thomas Goode Jones: Race, Politics, and Justice in the New South

by Brent J. Aucoin

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This first comprehensive biography of Thomas Goode Jones records the life of a man whose political career reflects the fascinating and unsettled history of Alabama and the Deep South at the turn of the twentieth century.
Often overshadowed by the pharaonic antebellum period, the Civil War, and the luminous heights of the civil rights movement, the deceptively placid decades at the turn of the century were, in fact, a period when southerners fiercely debated the course of the South’s future. In tracing Jones’s career, Brent J. Aucoin offers vivid accounts of the great events and trends of that pivotal period: Reconstruction, the birth of the “Solid South,” the Populist Revolt, and the establishment of racial disenfranchisement and segregation.
Born in 1844, Jones served in the Confederate army and after the war identified as a conservative “Bourbon” Democrat. He served as Alabama's governor from 1890 to 1894 and as a federal judge from 1901 until his death in 1914. As a veteran, politician, and judge, Jones embodied numerous roles in the shifting political landscape of the South.
Jones was not, however, a reflexive conformist and sometimes pursued policies at odds with his party. Jones’s rhetoric and support of African American civil rights were exceptional and earned him truculent criticism from unrepentant racist factions in his party. His support was so fearless that it inspired Booker T. Washington to recommend Jones to Republican president Theodore Roosevelt as a federal judge. On the bench, Jones garnered national attention for his efforts to end peonage and lynching, and yet he also enabled the establishment of legalized segregation in Alabama, confounding attempts easily to categorize him as an odious reactionary or fearless progressive.
A man who both represented and differed from his class, Thomas Goode Jones offers contemporary readers and scholars an ideal subject of study to understand a period of southern history that still shapes American life today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817389888
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 07/15/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 825 KB

About the Author

Brent J. Aucoin is an associate dean and a professor of history at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of A Rift in the Clouds: Race and the Southern Federal Judiciary, 1900–1910.

Read an Excerpt

Thomas Goode Jones

Race, Politics, and Justice in the New South

By Brent J. Aucoin

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 2016 University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8173-8988-8


"Little Tommie"

As the sun drove away the Sunday morning mist, a gray-clad figure mounted a handsome bay horse and surveyed the scene before him. The young rider, who was not quite twenty-one years of age yet, then galloped across two hundred yards of hilly, smoke-enveloped Virginia countryside as minié balls flew by him from almost every direction. He urged his mount forward and raised his sword skyward, causing the large white napkin attached to it to flutter in the wind. A moment after the firing all around him came to a halt, a colonel from General George Armstrong Custer's cavalry rode out to escort him to General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the Union's hero of the Battle of Gettysburg. Before the rider even had a chance to speak, the colonel from Custer's cavalry shouted to General Chamberlain: "This is unconditional surrender! This is the end!" The young Confederate carrying a flag of truce on that Palm Sunday in 1865, Major Thomas Goode Jones, was then led to a series of Union generals, ending with General Philip H. Sheridan, to deliver the news of the South's capitulation. Once the deed was done, Major Jones rode back into the Rebel lines to where General Robert E. Lee sat on some rails near an apple orchard, about a mile from Appomattox Court House, and waited nearby until word arrived from General Ulysses S. Grant.

After spending his most formative years fighting for the Confederacy, Thomas Goode Jones mounted the same horse that had carried him to the Union lines on that momentous day and began the month-long journey back home to Montgomery, Alabama. The Virginia soil from which he was departing, and on which he had lived and fought for four years, had been the home of his ancestors for over one hundred and fifty years. Roger Jones, a captain in the British navy arrived in the colony of Virginia in 1680 to command a war vessel stationed in the Chesapeake Bay. His youngest son, Thomas, settled near Fortress Monroe. One of Thomas's descendants, John Jones, represented Brunswick County in the Virginia House of Burgesses before serving as a colonel in a Virginia regiment during the American Revolution. He suffered a severe wound at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse and later served a term as Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates. One of his sons, Thomas Williamson Jones (1788–1824), graduated from the University of North Carolina, returned to Brunswick County to practice medicine, and then married Mary Armistead Goode, the fifth daughter of Samuel Goode (1756–1822). Their eldest son, Samuel Goode Jones, became one of the pioneers of railroad building in the South and the father of Thomas Goode Jones, the subject of this biography.

Samuel Goode Jones was born on September 20, 1815, at his maternal grandfather's residence in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. In 1837, he graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts. Desiring to be a civil engineer, Jones studied for an additional year at Newark College (now the University of Delaware) before returning home to Virginia, where he gained employment as the superintendent in charge of constructing a dam across the James River. The next year, 1839, he moved to Georgia to take a job as assistant engineer on the Monroe Railroad. After being promoted to chief engineer of the railroad in 1841, Samuel married his first cousin, Martha Ward Goode, on November 8, 1842. The Goodes, more so than the Joneses, were a prominent Virginia family, tracing their ancestry back to John Goode, who arrived in Virginia, via Barbados, sometime before 1661 and established a tobacco plantation in Henrico County. One of his direct descendants, Samuel Goode (the maternal grandfather of Samuel Goode Jones) of Chesterfield County, Virginia, fought as a lieutenant in the American Revolution and served in both the Virginia House of Delegates (1778–1785) and the United States House of Representatives (1799–1801). His son, Thomas Goode (1780s–1858), a trained physician, married Mary Ann Knox and together they purchased the hot springs in Bath County, Virginia, in 1832 and developed it into a resort known as the Homestead. The marriage of their daughter, Martha Ward Goode, to Samuel Goode Jones took place there.

Soon after their wedding Samuel and Martha moved to Griffin, Georgia, where in addition to his engineering duties for the Monroe Railroad, Samuel started a stagecoach line connecting Griffin, Georgia, to Franklin, Alabama. This venture soon proved unsuccessful and the young couple was forced to sell their home to pay the creditors. The agent hired to handle this matter absconded with the money rather than using it to pay Jones's debts. In addition, the Monroe Railroad, Jones's employer, soon thereafter declared bankruptcy. The Jones family quickly found itself in debt and without sufficient income. It was under these circumstances that the couple's first son, Thomas Goode Jones, was born on November 26, 1844, in Vineville (now Macon), Georgia. Just a few weeks later, Samuel, Martha, and their infant son moved to Leaksville, Georgia. There, Samuel Jones directed the rebuilding of the Monroe Railroad, which had been sold under a decree of the courts and renamed the Macon and Western Railroad. While there, he also found the time to properly lay out the town. In response, the inhabitants of Leaksville renamed their humble village Jonesboro in his honor.

The Jones family moved quite often as Samuel surveyed and directed the construction of tracks for various railroads in Georgia and Tennessee. But in 1849, after being offered the position of engineer of the Montgomery and West Point Railroad, Jones and his family made Montgomery, Alabama, their home. Samuel Jones quickly established himself as one of the leading industrialists in the state. He helped to establish the Chewacla Lime Works, the Montgomery and Talladega Sulphur Mines, and the Muscogee Lumber Company. In the mid-1850s he became the chief engineer of the Alabama and Florida Railroad, which was completed just in time for it to become the primary supply line for the Confederate Navy Yard in Pensacola. Even in the midst of the Civil War, Samuel Jones, who by this point was a "well-respected engineer of national stature," continued to build railroads, completing a line connecting Montgomery to Selma, Alabama, just as the war drew to a close.

Although the Civil War hurt him financially, the revenue from Samuel Jones's job and business ventures provided a comfortable existence for the Jones family, both before and after the war. Census records for 1860 show that Jones owned $52,000 of real estate and thirty-two slaves. His overall wealth at the time was estimated to be nearly $120,000. The Jones family resided in a large home near the Alabama River on the northwest edge of town, next door to the first Episcopalian bishop of Alabama, R. H. Cobbs. During the war, a portion of the residence served as a hospital, while after the war the congregation of St. John's Episcopal Church used it as a place of worship after federal authorities prohibited them from meeting in their sanctuary due to the fact that their pastor, Bishop Richard Wilmer, refused to instruct the Episcopal churches in Alabama to pray for President Andrew Johnson. A devout Episcopalian, Samuel Jones served as a vestryman at St. John's from 1852 to 1862. In addition to contributing significantly to the construction of a new sanctuary for the church in 1855, he also donated fourteen acres of land for the creation of Hamner Hall, a school established under the auspices of the Episcopal Church of Alabama.

After settling down in Montgomery, Samuel and Martha Jones gave their son, Thomas, and their daughter, Mary, who had been born in Atlanta in 1847, seven more siblings, although two of them did not survive beyond infancy. Thomas, who was five when the family moved to Alabama, only spent eight years with his three brothers and three sisters before being sent to Charlottesville, Virginia, to study at the preparatory academies of University of Virginia professors Charles Minor and Gessner Harrison. In the summer of 1860, Jones left Charlottesville to enroll at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), where his eighty peers immediately selected him to serve as a sergeant of the cadets.

Before Jones had even donned a VMI uniform of red and gray for a full semester, the state of South Carolina had seceded from the Union. A few months later in 1861, Virginia followed suit. On the first day of May 1862, Jones and about two hundred of his classmates left Lexington to join forces with their former professor, Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, whose army of seventeen thousand Confederates was about to commence its famous Shenandoah Valley campaign, in which they prevented the sixty-two thousand Union soldiers in the area from linking with Gen. George B. McClellan on the outskirts of the Confederate capital. Although the cadets were "anxious to get a shot at the enemy" when the first major action of the campaign (the Battle of McDowell) occurred just a week after their arrival, they were not only kept away from the fighting but were also assigned the gruesome duty of burying the dead. Years later, in a Memorial Day address given at the tomb of General Ulysses S. Grant, Jones reflected upon the experience:

I was once a member of a burial party on a field left in the hands of Jackson's men. ... We had not yet become accustomed to the sights of war, and the memory of that day will be with me always. Among the dead was an Ohio boy, hardly old enough to carry a musket. ... Near him was a Bible and a letter. ... The letter from the Ohio grandmother startled me. It was almost word for word the letter which had come to me by the last army mail from my grandmother in Virginia. ... Both breathed in every line, trust in God and love of country, and the righteousness of the cause the absent ones were serving. I could not sleep that night. As I lay upon my blanket ... thought after thought came to me. Why was the dead boy there? Why was I there? What enmity did we bear against each other? How was it possible that men of the same race, who worshiped the same God, read the same Bible, spoke the same language, and lived under the same institutions, which their forefathers, under the same flag in the past, had made such fearful sacrifice to create and sustain, could become embroiled, in a day as it were, in the deadliest struggle of modern times? Then and there the conviction came to me, to abide forever, that the dead boy was actuated by motives as pure and high as mine, loved his country as well, and sacrificed himself to as noble ideas of truth and manhood as animated those who gave him a soldier's burial; that he and I were but types of all the rest, and behind us in the hostile lands were millions good and true as the grandmothers who wrote the letters.

After wrestling with these weighty matters throughout the night, the next morning Jones, Jackson, and the cadets resumed their effort to defeat the dead Ohioan's compatriots who had escaped the day before. Jones and the VMI cadets marched with Jackson through the Shenandoah Valley until May 16, when the Board of Visitors summoned them back to Lexington.

Awarded an honorary degree from VMI, Jones returned to his hometown of Montgomery where he signed up as a private in a company known as the Partisan Rangers, which was officially classified as Company K of the Fifty-Third Alabama Regiment. The men of Company K called Jones Little Tommie, because he was the youngest member of the group. Despite his age, Jones quickly demonstrated his competency and skill in military matters and was promoted after just a few weeks of service to the rank of orderly sergeant. Although "a strict disciplinarian," Little Tommie soon "won ... the love of the company for the boys had found that he was kind-hearted, impartial and never ordered them to go where he would not go himself."

Jones and the Fifty-Third Alabama Regiment engaged in their first real battle at Thompson's Station, Tennessee, on March 5, 1863. The twenty-four men from Company K who were able to fight that day had been positioned near the center of the battle line behind a stone wall. The fighting was fierce and in the course of being pushed away from the wall and up the hill behind them, the company lost two men and suffered six wounded. Although Jones was one of the wounded, the command of Company K devolved upon him after both the captain and the lieutenant of the company were compelled to abandon the field due to illness and exhaustion, respectively. In commenting on Jones's performance as a company commander in his first-ever battle, Captain Whetstone wrote that he "proved a fit successor to Lieutenant [A. M.] Brown and though wounded, refused to leave the field." Although not serious enough to force him out of the battle, by April 3 Jones's wound had become infected, "bringing on an attack of erysipelas which nearly killed him." It was while Little Tommie was in the hospital recuperating from his wound and illness that he was notified by the Confederate War Department that he had been promoted to first lieutenant and aide-de-camp to General John B. Gordon of the Army of Northern Virginia. His appointment resulted from the fact that Thomas Watts, who happened to not only be Samuel Goode Jones's neighbor in Montgomery but also attorney general of the Confederate States of America, secured a letter of recommendation for Jones from Stonewall Jackson and forwarded it, along with a letter of his own, to General Gordon.

In his Reminiscences of the Civil War, Gordon recalls that when Jones arrived at his headquarters in May 1863, just days after the Battle of Chancellorsville, that he was "a very young soldier, a mere stripling" who "was at that awkward, gawky age through which all boys seem to pass." After experiencing a few minor engagements, in mid-June Jones and Gordon's brigade accompanied the Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac through Maryland and into Pennsylvania. When General Lee learned on June 28 that the Army of the Potomac had also crossed into Maryland, he ordered Gordon to move south — toward Gettysburg.

After marching fourteen miles on the first of July, Gordon's men arrived at Gettysburg around mid-afternoon and joined their compatriots who had already engaged Union troops in the area. Gordon's men attacked the right flank of the Federals, and in a matter of hours his twelve hundred men had captured about eighteen hundred Union soldiers (at the cost of 380 casualties) and had pushed the right flank through the town and up Cemetery Hill. Gordon sent aide-de-camp Jones to get permission from Gen. Richard S. Ewell to attack Cemetery Hill, but the request was denied. That night Gordon's tired men were sent to the rear to rest and were never again seriously engaged in the three-day battle of Gettysburg. After attacking the Federals' left flank on July 2, and its center on July 3, Lee failed to push the Yankees from the heights south of the town — the hills Gordon wished to attack on the first day — and was compelled to retreat back into Virginia. Gordon's men served as the rear guard on the long march back to the Old Dominion.

With the turning of the calendar to May 1864, the two titanic armies of the eastern theater awoke from their winter slumber and began the maneuvering that would eventually lead to the siege of Petersburg. At the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, Jones barely avoided being killed by a Union sharpshooter and participated in Gordon's flanking maneuver that completely surprised the Federals and compelled Grant to retreat under cover of darkness. At Spotsylvania Court House, the next major engagement, Jones and Gordon were positioned in the center of a salient known as the "Mule Shoe," where the fighting was so terrible in one place that it became known as the "Bloody Angle." Gordon received a promotion to major general for holding the salient, and both armies moved again. After the next engagement, Cold Harbor, General Lee sent Gordon's brigade to the Shenandoah Valley to deal with the Union threat there. In the valley that summer, Jones witnessed the fierce fighting that took place at Monocacy, an aborted effort by Confederates to capture Washington, DC, and the despair that came with defeat at the Battle of Winchester (September 19, 1864). But the climax of the fighting that fall for Jones and Gordon's brigade came with the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864.

Union General Philip Sheridan, commander of the Federal infantry in the Shenandoah Valley, had encamped just north of Cedar Creek, Virginia. Gordon decided to attack and had men march single-file throughout the night along a precarious mountain path to get into their appointed position by morning. The suddenness of the attack and ensuing retreat by Union forces made it so that some families living in the area found themselves unexpectedly caught in the crossfire. Allegedly, at this point in the battle, Jones noticed "a young child in night clothes, cowering in terror behind a wooden building and exposed to shots from both lines." He galloped toward her, grabbed her and lifted her to his saddle and then rode back to the safety of the Rebel lines. A Confederate observer of this incident commented that "when the enemy saw what he was doing, they ceased to shoot at him, giving him cheer instead of bullets, which were joined in by our own men."


Excerpted from Thomas Goode Jones by Brent J. Aucoin. Copyright © 2016 University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Contents Acknowledgments Introduction 1. “Little Tommie” 2. “Apostle of Unity” 3. Colonel Jones 4. Governor Jones 5. “The De-Facto Governor Jones, the Little” 6. “Poor Tommie” 7. “Plain Tom Jones” 8. “A Patriotic and Courageous Citizen” 9. “As Good a Friend to the Negro as Any White Man in This Country” 10. “The Whole Country Is Your Debtor” 11. “The Best Hated Man in Alabama” 12. Conclusion Notes Bibliography Index

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