Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Free State of Jones

The map of the Union, Confederate, and Border states was wrong. Within the fully colored blue and red states that indicated Union or Confederate allegiances, were pockets of independent citizens whose loyalties were placed elsewhere. In Mississippi, a poor white farmer named Newton Knight led an extraordinary rebellion during the Civil War.

Newton Knight
In the spring of 1864, a group of men, who called themselves the Knight Company, overthrew the Confederate authorities in Jones County and raised the Unite States flag over the county courthouse in Ellisville. The March 2016 issue of Smithsonian Magazine presents the story of Newton Knight in an article "The Raging Rebellion of Jones County." 
Free State of Jones
Newton is either considered as a hero or outlaw depending on your political inclinations. He was "a primitive Baptist who didn't drink, didn't cuss, doted on children, and could reload and fire a double-barreled-muzzle-loading shot gun faster than anyone else around." Evidence suggests that he was "against secession, against slavery, and pro-Union."  
Like the predominantly German-American counties in my home state of Texas, Jones County voted against secession. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Newton, like many who opposed secession, joined the Confederate Army. Perhaps he did so for the excitement of the grand adventure. However,  after the Confederate defeat at Corinth, Mississippi in October 1862, Knight and many of his neighbors deserted. Their departure was caused by poor rations; incompetent leaders; exemption of wealthy slave-owners; confiscation of livestock, food and cloth; and the horrors of war.
Confederate authorities rounded up about one hundred deserters. In response to their capture, deserters from four counties organized themselves into a company called the Jones County Scouts and elected Knight as their captain.  In spite of efforts to subdue them and put down the rebellion, a core of hardened fighters survived and continued to wage war on the Confederacy.

In May 2016, the story gets the Hollywood treatment with the release of the Free State of Jones starring Mathew McConaughey as Newton Knight. 

(See Smithsonian Magazine "The Raging Rebellion of Jones County")

The Free State of Jones is available at

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