Mississippi's Longest Civil War
Between late 1863 and mid-1864, an armed band of Confederate deserters battled Confederate cavalry in the Piney Woods region of Jones County, Mississippi. Calling themselves the Knight Company after their captain, Newton Knight, and aided by women, slaves, and children who spied on the Confederacy and provided food and shelter, they set up headquarters in the swamps of the Leaf River. There, legend has it, they declared the Free State of Jones. The story of the Jones County rebellion is well known among Mississippians, and debate over whether the county actually seceded from the state during the war has smoldered for more than a century. Adding further controversy to the legend is the story of Newt Knight's interracial romance with his wartime accomplice, Rachel, a slave. Newt and Rachel's relationship resulted in the growth of a mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. The ambiguous racial identity of their descendants confounded the rules of segregated Mississippi, as vividly evidenced by the 1948 miscegenation trial of great-grandson Davis Knight. In this book, Victoria Bynum pierces through the haze of romantic legend, Lost Cause rhetoric, popular memory, and gossip that has long shrouded the story of the Free State of Jones. Relying on exhaustive research in a wide range of sources, she traces the origins and legacy of the Jones County uprising from the American Revolution to the modern civil rights movement. In bridging the gap between the legendary and the real Free State of Jones, Bynum shows how the legend -- what was told, what was embellished, and what was left out -- reveals a great deal about the South's transition from slavery to segregation; the racial, gender, and class politics of the period; and the contingent nature of history and memory.
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