FOREWORD

We felt it was important in an historical movie, especially a movie about such a crucial time in history, for the audience to know what was true and what was fictionalized, even if it was based on underlying source material.

In this site you will be able to navigate through the entire movie, click the areas that interest you, and see a brief explanation of the historical facts that informed the screenplay. If you are more curious about that part of the movie, we have footnoted the paragraph to see sources on which it is based. But footnotes themselves can be misleading, so if you want to see the entire primary source, you can click again and be transported to the original document. We hope this is helpful, maybe even fun. Some things need to be invented in a movie, but most things in Jones were not. I think it’s only right that you be able to tell which was which.


—Gary Ross, Director

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If you're curious about the source, click on the footnote which will take you to that note on the footnote page. Don’t worry when you X out, you’ll be right where you left off in the reading.

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“A powerful and poignant film about war, race, freedom and love—set in the past and present.”

- Cornell Brooks, President, NAACP

“A thrilling film rises from our Civil War buried in myth. Free State of Jones answers Gone With the Wind with truth, guts, and freedom.”

- Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize in History: Parting the Waters

“In Free State of Jones, these blacks and whites who were small farmers and slaves did not believe in slavery and did not want to own slaves or be slaves. It is critical that we view this film and honor the lessons learned: that we achieve more if we learn to work together amicably.”

- Andrew Young, UN Ambassador, Mayor of Atlanta, US House of Representatives

“This film is one for this moment. A forgotten history and reminder of the common cause between blacks and working class whites.”

- Sherrilyn Iffil, President, NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Free State of Jones challenges our many misconceptions of the Civil War and Reconstruction. It can promote a dialogue about what may have been possible more than a century ago - and what is very much possible in our own day. Free State of Jones suggests that there is a way forward in any society with deep divisions of class and race: that commitment, understanding, shared goals, and collective struggle can overcome prejudice, parochialism, and reaction. A new look at Reconstruction can help us see how the past can and must inform the present, and Free State of Jones is a rich, dramatic, and valuable lens into that past.”

- Steven Hahn, Pulitzer Price in History: A Nation Under Our Feet

“Free State of Jones is an honest and beautifully executed reminder of the price many honorable men and women paid for the right to be free from slavery and economic oppression- a place that America should never return to as we all are united in one nation under God.”

Marc Morial, President, National Urban League
ABOUT

This website was created as a companion reader for the research behind the film Free State of Jones, directed by Gary Ross and produced by STX Productions. It includes supplemental information related to the film.

CREDITS
Gary Ross—Director
Grant Hyun—Editor-In-Chief
Diana Alvarez—Executive Producer
Sandino Moya-Smith—Associate Producer
For Good Measure—Website Design & Development
STX Entertainment—Production
  • 01. Prologue —Gary Ross

    Historical films are an odd hybrid. They have constraints of traditional nonfiction writing and the dramatic demands of popular filmmaking. It’s no wonder that they occasionally wind up in the middle of an argument: How much creative license is legitimate? How much responsibility to history does the filmmaker have?

    In the modern world, where we get so much of our information from popular culture, the filmmaker is under even more pressure. Today, people read less and watch more, and whether we like it or not, academic history is often overwhelmed by popular history. Les Mis actually becomes the French Revolution, Homeland is somehow the “real” war on terror, and Lincoln is inevitably remembered as he was in Lincoln.

    On the other hand, it is of course impossible to craft a narrative film that adheres to every minute detail or factual incident of a historical subject. As filmmakers, we have to imagine the private moments, make sense of the character arcs and motivations, let the audience peek behind the sweep of history to glimpse the personal details that often don’t exist in the public record. This is doubly true in a movie like The Free State of Jones, whose protagonist, Newt Knight, left very little written record. We are forced to imagine what was in the mind of a man who led an audacious rebellion against the Confederacy and continued to struggle against his former adversaries all the way through Reconstruction.

    The more I researched Newt Knight, the more compelling he became to me. If he had only led an anti-tax rebellion in the Piney Woods of Mississippi, it would have been an engaging story. If he had then seceded from the Confederacy and declared Jones County an autonomous state, it would have been more remarkable still. But Newt Knight continued to fight white supremacists through the post-war era. He freed children from “apprenticeship” (a second form of slavery after the war). He joined and commanded a largely African American militia at the behest of Mississippi’s Republican governor, to protect the voting rights of freedmen from the terror of the Klan. Strong evidence suggests he burned down a school that refused to educate mixed-race children. By his own directive, he is buried in a mixed-race cemetery, in defiance of Mississippi’s racial codes at the time. If these are the facts, what were the personal details?

    We are left to speculate, but to do so responsibly. We are compelled to make sense of the rebellion and Newt’s post-war struggles from the facts we do know about him. Thus in these pages, we have done something a little out the ordinary for a feature film. We have attempted to footnote, substantiate, and justify not only the literal incidents depicted but also those fictionalized, arguing that they adhere to real facts about the era. We feel that where we have fictionalized, not only are we faithful to the larger history of the period, but in many ways we hope to illuminate it. In other words, we have fictionalized only to express a deeper truth—the essence of both the war and Reconstruction—and we substantiate that in these notes. When incidents are based on Newt’s direct experience (the vast majority of them are), we offer academic, primary-source citations. When we have fictionalized something to make sense of the narrative or to convey that deeper truth about Southern Unionism, slavery, the economics of cotton, Reconstruction, or a host of other issues, we will show what that is based on. It may not be literal, but it is always based on reliable evidence. Not only will we offer academic justification, but I will try to briefly explain the logic that went into the adaptation process.

    I know this violates the cardinal rule of “Let the work speak for itself.” But this is no ordinary topic, and it can fairly be held to a higher standard. Over 250 million people have seen D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. It is a racist film that misleads, rewrites, and obscures the truth about Reconstruction. (It is based on a novel called The Clansman.) It told the same story that almost every white historian at the time wrote about the era, and for decades it defined the way America perceived Reconstruction, a period that is just as crucial to understanding our history as the Civil War itself. Many film critics hail it as a breakthrough work of cinema, as if the technical expertise somehow excused the historical irresponsibility (lying) of Griffith and the historians on whom he relied.

    There aren’t many popular works on this topic, and when wading into these waters, I also felt there was an obligation to be not only accurate but comprehensive. It is not enough to chronicle the rebellion of poor white farmers in southeast Mississippi if one ignores the struggle of African Americans in the region. It is not enough to show the resistance inherent in Southern Unionism as it joins the larger Union victory if one ignores what happened to those sentiments in the post-war era. In fact, save for Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind (similarly problematic in its post-bellum romanticism), almost no movies have examined this era past the surrender at Appomattox. One can easily argue that the real Civil War ended in 1876, when federal troops were withdrawn from the South. Newt didn’t stop resisting in 1865, and I felt it was important to chronicle this post-war period as well, even if I included crucial historical events (such as the Union League or the creation of freedmen’s schools) that were not specific to Newt, so far as we know. Some characters have been invented in the film, but they are scrupulously faithful to what happened in the period and are never without historical precedent. Where I have departed from the literal facts of history, I have tried to cite and justify it in these pages.

    01. Prologue —Gary Ross

    Historical films are an odd hybrid. They have constraints of traditional nonfiction writing and the dramatic demands of popular filmmaking. It’s no wonder that they occasionally wind up in the middle of an argument: How much creative license is legitimate? How much responsibility to history does the filmmaker have?

    In the modern world, where we get so much of our information from popular culture, the filmmaker is under even more pressure. Today, people read less and watch more, and whether we like it or not, academic history is often overwhelmed by popular history. Les Mis actually becomes the French Revolution, Homeland is somehow the “real” war on terror, and Lincoln is inevitably remembered as he was in Lincoln.

    02. Backstory

    On the eve of the Civil War, Natchez, Mississippi, was the richest city per capita in the country. Massive plantations sprawled across the rich soil of the Mississippi Delta. The planters who owned them were some of the richest Americans, the Silicon Valley billionaires of their day. Many owned hundreds and in some cases thousands of slaves, the most lucrative “commodity” in the nation. 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4

    By contrast, Jones County was a poor area populated by Yeoman farmers who owned no slaves. They had no personal stake in the war, and most resented the institution of slavery and the wealthy planters who profited from it. 1.5 1.6 1.7

    02. Backstory

    On the eve of the Civil War, Natchez, Mississippi, was the richest city per capita in the country. 2.1 Massive plantations sprawled across the rich soil of the Mississippi Delta. The planters who owned them were some of the richest Americans, the Silicon Valley billionaires of their day. Many owned hundreds and in some cases thousands of slaves, the most lucrative “commodity” in the nation. 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5

    By contrast, Jones County was a poor area populated by yeomen farmers who owned no slaves. They had no personal stake in the war, and most resented the institution of slavery and the wealthy planters who profited from it. 2.6 2.7 2.8


    03. The Beginning: Second Conscription Act

    When the Confederacy passed a law exempting rich slaveholders from the draft, but still drafting non-slaveowners, it was more than many could take. They called it “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” 3.1

    The indignation expressed by Jasper Collins in the scene above typifies the resentment that many poor farmers felt toward the planter class. Jasper was more “book smart” than Newt, and it was he who originally informed him of the Second Conscription Act and its clause exempting slaveowners from the draft. 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5

    03. The Beginning: Second Conscription Act

    When the Confederacy passed a law exempting rich slaveholders from the draft, but still drafting non-slaveowners, it was more than many could take. They called it “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” 3.1

    The indignation expressed by Jasper Collins in the scene above typifies the resentment that many poor farmers felt toward the planter class. Jasper was more “book smart” than Newt, and it was he who originally informed him of the Second Conscription Act and its clause exempting slaveowners from the draft. 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5

    04. Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight

    There is evidence that Newt Knight came from a family that opposed the slavocracy on ideological as well as economic grounds. His father had turned down the gift of a slave when he got married, and his declining the economic advantage is telling. Other relatives directly refer to the family’s ideological opposition to slavery. 4.1 Like many yeoman farmers, Newt resented a war in which he felt he was fighting to make the rich richer. 4.2

    As the war continued, class divisions were exacerbated and became increasingly hard to ignore. Even the common soldier was known to express anger at the planter class and the cotton economy of the slavocracy. In the film, Newt sarcastically goads Sumrall when he claims they are fighting for honor: “Well, that’s good, Will, 'cause I’d sure hate to be fighting for cotton.” It was hardly a rare sentiment. 4.3

    Threatened with the draft, Newt served in the Confederate Army but refused to fight. As he said “I didn’t want to fight. I told 'em I’d help nurse sick soldiers if they wanted.” 4.4

    04. Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight

    There is evidence that Newt Knight came from a family that opposed the slavocracy on ideological as well as economic grounds. His father had turned down the gift of a slave when he got married, and his declining the economic advantage is telling. Other relatives directly refer to the family’s ideological opposition to slavery. 4.1 Like many yeoman farmers, Newt resented a war in which he felt he was fighting to make the rich richer. 4.2

    05. The Field Hospital

    Special thanks to all the veterans, actual amputees, who helped us in this scene. Special thanks as well to the real orthopedic surgeons who performed as doctors. This was difficult and would not have been possible without you.

    While the Civil War was modern in weaponry and tactics, in medicine it was medieval. There was no knowledge of pathogens, sterilization was unheard of, and doctors rarely washed their hands or their instruments. Most soldiers who died succumbed to disease, often contracted after being examined by a doctor.

    Field hospitals were filthy, fetid places that faintly resembled septic tanks. They ranged in structure from confiscated houses or hotels to blood-soaked barns. 5.1

    They were the place where poor enlisted men went when they got injured. Though the image above may look horrific, it was typical of an average field hospital trying to cope with a torrent of wounded men. 5.2 5.3 5.4

    In the image below, Newt has just stripped the jacket off a wounded soldier whose life he’s trying to save. Officers frequently got preferential treatment, and in the carnage and melee of the field hospital, any advantage helped. 5.5 5.6

    05. The Field Hospital

    While the Civil War was modern in weaponry and tactics, in medicine it was medieval. There was no knowledge of pathogens, sterilization was unheard of, and doctors rarely washed their hands or their instruments. Most soldiers who died succumbed to disease, often contracted after being examined by a doctor.

    Field hospitals were filthy, fetid places that faintly resembled septic tanks. They ranged in structure from confiscated houses or hotels to blood-soaked barns. 5.1

    06. On Daniel

    If the Twenty Negro Law was the breaking point for many Confederate soldiers, I felt it was necessary to show the real effects of conscription, so this “poor man’s fight” would not remain an abstraction. The character of Daniel was thus a whole-cloth creation to illustrate this.

    The Confederacy instituted the first wartime draft in U.S. history, and poor boys were the ones being taken. The first Confederate conscription act drafted men aged 18-35. A year later that age range would be increased to 17-50. 6.1 Livestock, cloth, corn, and able-bodied boys would be confiscated all in one fell swoop. 6.2 6.3 6.4

    I was moved by the remarkable work of historian Drew Faust, who chronicled the unimaginable human cost of the war. I felt that too many Hollywood movies made death faceless, the victims ciphers—unknown and forgettable. The character of Daniel was therefore a fictional invention to explore these issues: the outrage of conscription, the class division inherent in it, and the human cost of the war even to boys in their mid-teens. 6.5 Newt left the army because of this, and I wanted to put a face on that. Daniel seemed the best way to do it. I’m grateful to Jacob Lofland for what I feel is a sensitive and remarkable performance.

    06. On Daniel

    If the Twenty Negro Law was the breaking point for many Confederate soldiers, I felt it was necessary to show the real effects of conscription, so this “poor man’s fight” would not remain an abstraction. The character of Daniel was thus a whole-cloth creation to illustrate this.

    The Confederacy instituted the first wartime draft in U.S. history, and poor boys were the ones being taken. The first Confederate conscription act drafted men aged 18-35. A year later that age range would be increased to 17-50. 6.1 Livestock, cloth, corn, and able-bodied boys would be confiscated all in one fell swoop. 6.2 6.3 6.4

    07. Tax in Kind

    When Newt Knight came home to Jones County, he found a world that had been ravaged by tax collectors and the Confederate Army as their enforcers. The tax-in-kind laws allowed for the confiscation of just 10% of a farmer’s goods or produce, but abuses of the law were common. 7.1 Women farming the land alone were left to do so without the tools or the means necessary. 7.2 Their sons were taken. Often their mules were taken (though they were supposed to be protected). Their grain was taken, along with their pigs, chickens, and cloth. 7.3

    The tax-in-kind law galvanized Newt’s resistance to the Confederacy. It transformed him from a deserter who did not want to fight into a rebel who made war on the slavocracy. And it transformed thousands of other poor farmers from deserters to Southern Unionists as well. 7.4 7.5

    07. Tax in Kind

    When Newt Knight came home to Jones County, he found a world that had been ravaged by tax collectors and the Confederate Army as their enforcers. The tax-in-kind laws allowed for the confiscation of just 10% of a farmer’s goods or produce, but abuses of the law were common. 7.1 Women farming the land alone were left to do so without the tools or the means necessary. 7.2 Their sons were taken. Often their mules were taken (though they were supposed to be protected). Their grain was taken, along with their pigs, chickens, and cloth. 7.3

    08. The Call of the Horn

    According to numerous accounts, Newt used to the sound of cow horns to communicate from farm to farm, sounding alarm when the tax collectors were coming. 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5

    08. The Call of the Horn

    According to numerous accounts, Newt and his company used the sound of cow horns to communicate from farm to farm, sounding the alarm when the tax collectors were coming. 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4

    09. Home Front

    Besides farming the land alone, most women of the era were proficient with a gun. 9.1 The scene at right, in which Newt helps a woman defend her farm from a tax agent, is the beginning of a conflict that would culminate in the Free State of Jones. 9.2

    09. Home Front

    Besides farming the land alone, most women of the era were proficient with a gun. 9.1 The image at right, in which Newt helps a woman defend her farm from a tax agent, is the beginning of a conflict that would culminate in the Free State of Jones. 9.2

    10. The Swamps

    It didn’t take long for Newt’s resistance to gain the attention of the Confederate authorities. He took shelter in the swamps, where both horses and conventional tactics were useless. 10.1 Extensive documentation exists of Newt hiding in the swamps while being aided and supported by Rachel and others. 10.2

    10. The Swamps

    It didn’t take long for Newt’s resistance to gain the attention of the Confederate authorities. He took shelter in the swamps, where both horses and conventional tactics were useless. 10.1 10.2 Various narratives exist of Newt hiding in the swamps while being aided and supported by Rachel and others. 10.3

    11. Maroons

    In the film Newt is harbored and cared for by a small group of maroons 11.1 living deep in the swamps. This is typical of cooperation between deserters, Unionist resisters, and runaway slaves. Not only were they hiding from the same people, but they frequently organized and fought in opposition to a common foe. 11.2

    Numerous examples exist of mixed-race bands actively and forcefully resisting Confederate forces everywhere from Arkansas to the Carolinas down to Gainesville, Florida. 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6

    11. Maroons

    In the film Newt is harbored and cared for by a small group of maroons 11.1 living deep in the swamps. This is typical of cooperation between deserters, Unionist resisters, and runaway slaves. Not only were they hiding from the same people, but they frequently organized and fought in opposition to a common foe. 11.2

    Numerous examples exist of mixed-race bands actively and forcefully resisting Confederate forces everywhere from Arkansas to the Carolinas down to Gainesville, Florida. 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6

    12. On Moses

    The character of Moses is a fictional invention, but one based on research and ample precedent. There are numerous examples of cooperation and alliance between maroons (escaped slaves living autonomously in the wilderness) and white deserters who resisted the Confederacy. This occurred in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas. So the characters of Moses and the handful of maroons who forge an early alliance with Newt are both factually supported and entirely consistent with Newt’s evolution. Though it began as an economic rebellion, Newt’s struggle would eventually embrace the rights and the struggle of former slaves as they fought for their freedom. But Moses is present in the film for another reason. It would be irresponsible to simply tell a story of white yeoman resistance to the Confederacy without depicting African American resistance as well. The extent to which African Americans were agents in their own emancipation has been too often understated in both historical texts and films. Whether fleeing to Northern lines to eventually become Union troops, sabotaging Confederate war efforts, aiding and abetting resistance through intricate slave networks, or allying with deserters to rebel overtly, African Americans were not just vital to Union victory; they demanded and seized freedom for themselves 12.1

    Too many Hollywood movies (and even some historians) have depicted emancipation as a gift handed to black people by beneficent whites. It is important to understand that the character of Moses is not a slave. He is a former slave who refuses to accept the subjugation of chattel slavery. At no time in the film is he subordinated to the slavocracy.

    But perhaps more importantly, the creation of Moses’s character allows the film to depict the role of freedmen during Reconstruction, when they organized, fought to vote, created political organizations, and in many cases died fighting to participate in their democracy. Few films have been made about Reconstruction, and almost none have been accurate. There is a responsibility to depict how freedmen acted to seize emancipation and how hard they fought after the war to realize it.

    As is evident from the citations in the “Maroons” section, 12.2 Unionist collaboration was extensive all around the area. Personifying this phenomenon in a character who demanded his freedom and continued to fight for it long after the war was over seemed an essential part of the Civil War narrative.

    12. On Moses

    The character of Moses is a fictional invention, but one based on research and ample precedent. There are numerous examples of cooperation and alliance between maroons (escaped slaves living autonomously in the wilderness) and white deserters who resisted the Confederacy. This occurred in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas. So the characters of Moses and the handful of maroons who forge an early alliance with Newt are both factually supported and entirely consistent with Newt’s evolution. Though it began as an economic rebellion, Newt’s struggle would eventually embrace the rights and the struggle of former slaves as they fought for their freedom.

    13. Serena

    As depicted in the film, the war took a toll on Newt’s first wife, Serena. Newt’s role as an outlaw exacerbated this. When her farm was burned out, she fled to live with other family in Georgia. Newt remained in Jones County as the actions and resistance of the Knight Company grew more militant. 13.1

    13. Serena

    As depicted in the film, the war took a toll on Serena. Newt’s role as an outlaw exacerbated this. When her farm was burned out, she fled to live with other family members in Georgia. Newt remained in Jones County as the actions and resistance of the Knight Company grew more militant. 13.1

    14. The Slave Collar

    The barbaric collar pictured above was one of the many grotesque punishments and impediments to escape that were forced on slaves who tried to flee to freedom. As he explains to Newt, Moses has tried to escape several times, ever since his wife and child were sold to a slaveowner in Texas. 14.1

    14. The Slave Collar

    The barbaric collar pictured at right was one of the many grotesque punishments and impediments to escape that were forced on slaves who tried to flee to freedom. As he explains to Newt, Moses has tried to escape several times, ever since his wife and child were sold to a slaveowner in Texas. 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4

    15. The Hidden Bridge

    The hidden “bridge” across the swamp (pictured here) is not a cinematic invention. Networks of slaves who aided Unionist deserters (in this case in northern Alabama) actually built this clever means of crossing miles of dismal swamp. 15.1

    15. The Hidden Bridge

    The hidden “bridge” across the swamp (pictured at right) is not a cinematic invention. Networks of slaves who aided Unionist deserters (in this case in northern Alabama) actually built this clever means of crossing miles of dismal swamp. 15.1

    16. The Paddy Rollers

    Slave catchers also known as Paddy rollers were a constant present throughout the south. A massive infrastructure was created to enforce the police state that was chattel slavery. Slaves could not move without a pass and teams of dogs as well as slave patrols were always on the search for runaway slaves. Though most young men were drafted into the slave patrols, “professional” slave catchers (like the ones depicted below) prowled the countryside looking for runaways. 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4

    16. The Paddy Rollers

    Slave catchers, also known as paddy rollers, were a constant presence throughout the South. A massive infrastructure was created to enforce the police state that was chattel slavery. Slaves could not move without a pass, and teams of dogs as well as slave patrols were always on the search for runaway slaves. Though most young men were drafted into the slave patrols, “professional” slave catchers (like the ones depicted at right) prowled the countryside looking for runaways. 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4

    17. The Knight Company

    Though the Free State of Jones has been a controversial topic for over a hundred years, its existence is now hard to deny. The weight of historical evidence proves that a rebellion occurred and it was organized and effective. Numerous primary sources point to the declaration of an independent state in southeastern Mississippi. 17.1

    The Knight Company was astonishingly successful in fighting the Confederacy, despite suffering considerable losses. Using the swamps as their base camp, both in Jones and along the Leaf River, they attacked Confederate troops, confiscated their supplies, and then disappeared back to their base—sometimes referred to as “Devil’s Den.” 17.2 17.3

    They inspired the formation of other Unionist militias in surrounding counties. They raided the warehouses at Paulding and Augusta, where Confederates stored tax-in-kind goods (especially corn that they and their neighbors had grown), keeping some for themselves and distributing the rest to poor farmers and fellow Unionists in the area. 17.4 17.5 They placed armed pickets around a farm during the harvest, then disappeared with the produce once it was picked. 17.6 They blew up bridges and railroads, hamstringing Confederate transport. 17.7 And there were reports of collaboration between blacks and whites near the Pearl River. 17.8

    Additionally, they sought support from General Sherman, whose army was nearby at Meridian. Sherman told Union General Henry Halleck that the Knight Company had issued a “declaration of independence.” 17.9

    Mississippi papers reported that forces in Jones County had seceded from the state and formed their own government. 17.10 High-ranking Confederates, calling them “tories,” said they had formed a government of their own. The letters and documents cited here describe a war-torn area in southeast Mississippi where the Knight Company, now swelling militarily, controlled the area with a formal command structure. In the words of one letter, “they hold the countryside in awe.” 17.11 By the end of the war, the entire Piney Woods region, over one-fourth of the state, was controlled by Southern Unionists.

    This is not the stuff of lore, legend, or anecdote. The extent of the Knight Company rebellion is chronicled in contemporaneous correspondence that can be found in the The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, the most reliable primary source of information on the war. 17.12 17.13 17.14 17.15 17.16 17.17 17.18 17.19 17.20 17.21

    17. The Knight Company

    Though the Free State of Jones has been a controversial topic for over a hundred years, its existence is now hard to deny. The weight of historical evidence proves that a rebellion occurred in southeastern Mississippi that was both organized and effective. Numerous primary sources point to the declaration of an independent state as well. 17.1

    The Knight Company was astonishingly successful in fighting the Confederacy, despite suffering considerable losses. Using the swamps as their base camp, both in Jones and along the Leaf River, they attacked Confederate troops, confiscated their supplies, and then disappeared back to their base—sometimes referred to as “Devil’s Den.” 17.2 17.3

    18. The Blue Speller

    The image above depicts a subplot in the film: Rachel’s quest for literacy and the Webster’s blue speller that helped her to attain it. As Ta-Nehisi Coates observed in his brilliant 2012 essay on the Civil War, learning to read was a political act. He noted how the enslaved constantly opposed and struggled against their captors by “refusing to work, breaking tools, bending a Christian God to their own interpretation, stealing back the fruits of their labor, and, in covert corners of their world, committing themselves to the illegal act of learning to read.” He adds, “Southern whites also understood they were in a state of war, and subsequently turned the antebellum South into a police state.” 18.1 18.2

    The planters knew that knowledge was indeed power, and they sought to deny the slaves the ability to read at all costs. Webster’s blue spellers were frequently hidden in slave quarters, and reading was learned in secret by the light of a pine oil lamp. Once the war ended, the first priority of the freedmen was to attain literacy, and the freedmen’s schools—among the shining lights of Reconstruction—were attended by former slaves aged six to sixty. Though we don’t know with specifity about Rachel’s relationship to reading, this seemed vital to include in the narrative for all the above reasons. 18.3 18.4

    18. The Blue Speller

    The image at right depicts a subplot in the film: Rachel’s quest for literacy and the Webster’s blue speller that helped her to attain it. As Ta-Nehisi Coates observed in his brilliant 2012 essay on the Civil War, learning to read was a political act. He noted how the enslaved constantly opposed and struggled against their captors by “refusing to work, breaking tools, bending a Christian God to their own interpretation, stealing back the fruits of their labor, and, in covert corners of their world, committing themselves to the illegal act of learning to read.” He adds, “Southern whites also understood they were in a state of war, and subsequently turned the antebellum South into a police state.” 18.1 18.2

    19. Slave Passes

    Most people have a misconception of American slavery, imagining a kind of prison where the enslaved were locked up at night. The truth is subtler but more ominous. The entire South was a prison, policed by slave patrols and enforced by a codified pass system. Slaves were allowed mobility from plantation to plantation (or even town to town) if a written pass had been issued. This was strictly enforced by the slave patrols—conscripted militias that kept the region a virtual police state. African Americans walking alone down a road would invariably be stopped and detained, their written pass demanded. Literacy was therefore a huge advantage to the enslaved and a threat to the plantation system, as it accorded the slave mobility and potential freedom. 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4

    19. Slave Passes

    Most people have a misconception of American slavery, imagining a kind of prison where the enslaved were locked up at night. The truth is subtler but more ominous. The entire South was a prison, policed by slave patrols and enforced by a codified pass system. Slaves were allowed mobility from plantation to plantation (or even town to town) if a written pass had been issued. This was strictly enforced by the slave patrols—conscripted militias that kept the region a virtual police state. African Americans walking alone down a road would invariably be stopped and detained, their written pass demanded. Literacy was therefore a huge advantage to the enslaved and a threat to the plantation system, as it accorded the slave mobility and potential freedom. 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4

    20. Burned Farms and Confederate Abuses

    The scene at right was all too common in Jones County during the rebellion. As tensions escalated between the Knight Company and the Confederates trying to rout them, burning out a yeoman farm was a common tactic of retribution and intimidation. 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4

    20. Burned Farms and Confederate Abuses

    The image at right was all too common in Jones County during the rebellion. As tensions escalated between the Knight Company and the Confederates trying to rout them, burning out a yeoman farm was a common tactic of retribution and intimidation. 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4

    21. You Cannot Own a Child of God

    There were essentially two reasons why a white person in America during the 1860s might be opposed to the Confederacy and slavery. One was economic; the other, moral and humanistic. It was easy for someone to oppose slavery who might still be racist and have no empathy for African Americans. Such a person could hate the economic advantage of the slaveowner, and oppose the slavocracy on a class basis, but have no concern for the enslaved themselves. But many others were opposed to slavery in moral terms. The abolitionist movement that grew through the 1850s and gave rise to white advocates like William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and even John Brown was born of a moral rather than economic concern. 21.1

    Newt Knight may have begun the war as an economic opponent of the Confederacy, but by the end of that war he became a staunch ally of African Americans and opposed slavery on moral grounds. There is simply no other way to make sense of his behavior during Reconstruction. The same man who freed African American children from apprenticeship, or defended the voting rights of freedmen in the 1870s, or lived in a mixed-race community and openly raised a mixed-race family (see sections 30–34), could not have turned a blind eye to the racial oppression inherent in American chattel slavery mere months before. As previously mentioned, Newt burned a school to the ground because it would not educate mixed-race children. 21.2 21.3 21.4

    The image above, in which Newt expresses the concept that “you cannot own a child of God,” is obviously a work of interpretation (we don’t know if he literally said those words). But it goes to the heart of the abolitionist creed itself—one based on freedom and equality. This was not necessarily true for all of Newt’s men, and we attempt to depict that division in the film. When Ward challenges Moses’s right to partake of their festive meal, or objects to fighting side by side with (or on behalf of) African Americans, we are glimpsing divisions that doubtless occurred. Once the war was over, Newt found few allies among his former band and withdrew from the white world to a mixed-race community with which he had found a new home (see section 33).

    Those in the Knight Company who fought only for class-based reasons were more likely to shy away from the racial issues inherent in Reconstruction.21.2 Newt, by contrast, engaged with those issues, and this speaks to his evolving and committed attitudes on race. When Newt eulogizes the hanged boys (section 22) and even suggests that the Confederacy viewed them as “niggers”, he is not equating the experience of white members of his company with the oppression endured by slaves. He is making a point to the white members of his community, who may still see themselves as separate from or superior to African Americans, that everyone can be under the heel of someone else’s boot, and that rather than indulge a feeling of white superiority, they should engage the struggle at hand—a struggle based on equality. “You can own a horse or a mule or a hog or an ox, but you cannot own a child of God”: in this phrase Newt is invoking a Christian tenet that everyone is equal in the eyes of the Lord.

    21. You Cannot Own a Child of God

    There were essentially two reasons why a white person in America during the 1860s might be opposed to the Confederacy and slavery. One was economic; the other, moral and humanistic. It was easy for someone to oppose slavery who might still be racist and have no empathy for African Americans. Such a person could hate the economic advantage of the slaveowner, and oppose the slavocracy on a class basis, but have no concern for the enslaved themselves. But many others were opposed to slavery in moral terms. The abolitionist movement that grew through the 1850s and gave rise to white advocates like William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and even John Brown was born of a moral rather than economic concern. 21.1

    22. The Hanged Boys

    The scene at right depicts a difficult moment in the film. Any summary hanging would be hard to watch, but to see a young teenager executed is obviously very disturbing. I would never include a scene like this without ample and multiple historical supporting evidence. The supporting documentation for this sequence is contained here. 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 22.5 22.6 22.7 22.8

    22. The Hanged Boys

    The scene at right depicts a difficult moment in the film. Any summary hanging would be hard to watch, but to see a young teenager executed is obviously very disturbing. I would never include a scene like this without ample historical evidence. The supporting documentation for this sequence is contained here. 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 22.5 22.6 22.7 22.8

    23. Retaliation and the Church Ambush

    Following the summary execution of these young men, Newt staged a retaliatory ambush in a nearby creek. The scene has been transposed to a church, but the precedent for the event is contained here. 23.1

    23. Retaliation and the Church Ambush

    Following the summary execution of these young men, Newt staged a retaliatory ambush in a nearby creek. The scene has been transposed to a church, but the precedent for the event is contained here. 23.1 23.2

    24. The Free State of Jones

    Nothing has engendered more controversy than whether or not an independent state was declared in southeast Mississippi by Newt and his supporters. Was there in fact a Free State of Jones? Did it officially secede from the Confederacy?

    The declaration of an independent state has ample support. Newt and his men mustered an organized, effective anti-Confederate force that controlled this region of Mississippi through guerrilla tactics until the end of the war. Even Confederate correspondence references the Union flag being raised over the courthouse in Ellisville. 24.1 No less than William T. Sherman refers to a declaration of independence sent to him by anti-Confederates who resisted conscription and “lie out in the swamps.” 24.2 There are numerous references to the formation of a Free State of Jones, and irrefutable primary-source documentation to support the existence of this small but organized army. The Knight Company rebellion was so extensive and effective that even if an independent state was not “declared” (and ample evidence suggests that it was), the rebellious yeomen of Jones County behaved like a country unto themselves.

    Rather than engage a decades-old debate in these pages, I will simply offer the primary sources here in support of the Knight Company, its rebellion, and a declaration of a Free State of Jones. 24.3 24.4 24.5 24.6 24.7 24.8 24.9 24.10 24.11 24.12 24.13

    24. The Free State of Jones

    Nothing has engendered more controversy than whether or not an independent state was declared in southeast Mississippi by Newt and his supporters. Was there in fact a Free State of Jones? Did it officially secede from the Confederacy?

    The declaration of an independent state has ample support. Newt and his men mustered an organized, effective anti-Confederate force that controlled this region of Mississippi until the end of the war.

    25. Did Slaves Support or Fight with the Knight Company?

    Of the numerous Unionist revolts in the South, few if any took place without the support or alliance of slave networks and maroons. Victoria Bynum (author of The Free State of Jones) maintains that it would be hard to imagine that the Knight Company was not supported by runaways or other slave networks. As she writes: “The assistance of women and slaves became ever more crucial to the Knight Company in 1864, when the Confederacy sent special troops into the Piney Woods region. The first deaths of band members at the hands of Confederate cavalry occurred early that year.” There is extensive documentation for Rachel’s support but also evidence of more widespread cooperation. 25.1 25.2 A man named Joe Hatton is referenced in several documents, and a Confederate piece of correspondence refers to members of the Knight Company taking refuge in the Honey Island swamp, where rebels “white and black” were amassed in great numbers. 25.3 25.4

    Even though these are hard things to document (maroons and runaway slaves were, by definition, covert in their actions), virtually every account of Unionist resistance throughout the South, including the Jones County rebellion, showed collaboration between Unionists and African Americans. Most accounts were reported by Confederates alarmed at these mixed-race uprisings. A five-county rebellion in Florida was described by a Confederate soldier as a mob of 500 “union men, deserters and negroes … raiding toward Gainesville.” Similar incidents occurred in the Carolinas, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, and Texas. For those who would like to read further, extensive primary- and secondary-source accounts of all of these rebellions are contained here. 25.5 25.6

    I have been careful in the film not to overstate the maroon cooperation with the Knight Company. Until Ellisville is seized, only the small band of maroons who initially harbor Newt are depicted fighting with him. But the history of anti-Confederate resistance in the South is clear: it was most often (and understandably) a collaboration between African Americans seeking freedom and Unionist resisters fighting a system that they vehemently opposed.

    25. Did Slaves Support or Fight with the Knight Company?

    Of the numerous Unionist revolts in the South, few if any took place without the support or alliance of slave networks and maroons. Victoria Bynum (author of The Free State of Jones) maintains that it would be hard to imagine that the Knight Company was not supported by runaways, or other slave networks. As she writes: “The assistance of women and slaves became ever more crucial to the Knight Company in 1864, when the Confederacy sent special troops into the Piney Woods region. The first deaths of band members at the hands of Confederate cavalry occurred early that year.” There is extensive documentation for Rachel’s support but also evidence of more widespread cooperation. 25.1 25.2

    26. On Reconstruction

    Most Americans think the Civil War ended in 1865, but in many ways the real struggle for freedom began after Appomattox. Freedom is a spectrum, and the mere fact of technical emancipation was not enough to secure real independence for the nearly four million former slaves in the post-war South. When General Sherman issued Field Order 15, giving forty acres and a mule to the freedmen in conquered lands of Georgia and the Carolinas, true freedom could finally be glimpsed. 26.1 But the order did more than that. It reserved the land for only freedmen, protected them from being conscripted except by order of the highest federal authority, guaranteed them the right to pursue a trade and not just field labor, and granted them self-governance in these regions. 26.2 When the president rescinded this order and the former Confederates were pardoned and repatriated—when they were given back their land and their political power—that vision of freedom began to dim. 26.3 What followed, for the next ten years, was a struggle for real freedom and its meaning. In many ways, the freedmen wanted what Newt and the yeoman farmers had fought for: the right be self-sufficient and farm their own land, the right to political self-determination, the right enjoy the fruits of their own labor.


    And for a few brief months they had that. At the end of the war, freedmen began to farm their own plots of land. But no sooner were the former Confederates pardoned than they set about restoring a plantation system that had made them rich. With the amnesties granted by President Johnson came political power for the plantation owners, and with that power came draconian laws that amounted to a second slavery. Freedmen were restricted from working anywhere but on a plantation, lest they be arrested for vagrancy. Minor children could be sold into “apprenticeship”—a euphemism for forced labor. Corporal punishment was permitted, returning the lash to the plantation. Laborers were paid only after the seasonal harvest, tying them to the land, and were left with virtually nothing once they were billed for room and board. 26.4

    Chattel slavery had been replaced by feudalism, and the effect was the same: free labor for the owner and no freedom for the laborer. 26.5

    The “Black Codes,” as the new laws were called, enraged the Republican Congress: they hadn’t fought a war to restore pre-war conditions. The president, who had pardoned the Confederates, hardened in his defense of them, and a new war erupted between these two branches of government. Congress clipped the president’s wings, limiting his power in unprecedented ways. He could not hire and fire his own cabinet secretaries; he could not issue direct orders to the military. Eventually Johnson defied these edicts, and Congress impeached him for it. But just as Johnson had hardened in his defense of the former Confederates, so Congress had hardened in its desire to secure real freedom for the formerly enslaved.

    This process led to what is known as Military Reconstruction. The South was placed under martial law, and states could be readmitted to the Union only if they ratified the Fourteenth Amendment. Freedmen were granted the right to vote, and African Americans began to hold elective office for the first time. It was a period of great promise. Free education was available through freedmen’s schools, and the Union League brought former slaves together in political organization. 26.6 Mobility was granted, challenging the plantation system, and state legislatures began to display racial diversity. Many of these legislatures reflected African American majorities well into the mid-1870s. Two black United States senators were sworn in from Mississippi. There were half a dozen black representatives in Congress. 26.7

    But it didn’t take long for white supremacists in the South to retaliate. There had always been local militias. First they were organized as the slave patrols, in the war they were called the home guard, and after the war they morphed into the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations. Klan violence was the counter-revolution to the social revolution that was Reconstruction. A wave of violence followed that was almost unprecedented in American history. 26.8 Thousands of freedmen were lynched and murdered. Grant had to send troops into Louisiana to offset a literal coup d’état against the state government. Massacres occurred in Colfax, Louisiana, and Hamburg, South Carolina. To paraphrase Yeats, a blood-dimmed tide was loosed. Soon the Northern will to combat this reign of terror wavered. After decades of conflict with the South, political corruption in Washington, and the anxiety and drain of a recession, Northerners were losing their resolve. It is moving to read the imploring letters of Governor Adelbert Ames as he begged the federal government for more troops to combat this counterrevolution. But no help was forthcoming, and the vision of freedom that African Americans had hoped for at the end of the war and glimpsed briefly in Reconstruction suddenly began to fade. Murders and other forms of terror against black voters plagued the 1875 Mississippi gubernatorial election, part of a strategy called the “Mississippi Plan.” 26.9 It became the prototype for terror in the presidential election of 1876 a year later—a pilot program for murder and intimidation. So many African Americans were murdered leading up to that election that Congress refused to recognize the electors from three Southern states. An electoral crisis ensued that ended in a deal. The Republican, Rutherford B. Hayes, would be elected if federal troops were withdrawn from the South. This effectively ended Reconstruction and began the long and terrible period we have come to know as Jim Crow.

    26. On Reconstruction

    Most Americans think the Civil War ended in 1865, but in many ways the real struggle for freedom began after Appomattox. Freedom is a spectrum, and the mere fact of technical emancipation was not enough to secure real independence for the nearly four million former slaves in the post-war South. When General Sherman issued Field Order 15, giving forty acres and a mule to the freedmen in conquered lands of Georgia and the Carolinas, true freedom could finally be glimpsed. 26.1 But the order did more than that. It reserved the land for only freedmen, protected them from being conscripted except by order of the highest federal authority, guaranteed them the right to pursue a trade and not just field labor, and granted them self-governance in these regions. 26.2 When the president rescinded this order and the former Confederates were pardoned and repatriated—when they were given back their land and their political power—that vision of freedom began to dim. 26.3

    27. Broken Promises

    27. Broken Promises

    Nothing set the stage for the cruel disappointment of Reconstruction more than the repeal of Field Order 15. 27.1 Since the freedmen’s survival was tied directly to the land, the promise of self-sufficiency that “forty acres and a mule” would bring spread like wildfire through their world. When that promise was broken by President Johnson, the disappointment of that “dream deferred” engendered heartbreak and disbelief. Amnesties issued all through that summer returned the Confederates to power. 27.2 The hope for real justice was dashed. The image at right, where freedmen learn of this broken promise, was a way of depicting this pivotal moment in the Civil War era.

    28. A New World

    28. A New World

    I included the scene at right to show Newt’s journey from his first farm up to Soso, but in many ways it marks his journey from one culture to another. As the post-war period dragged on, and the freedmen had fewer and fewer allies, Newt’s involvement in the black community seemed to grow. He helped to build a school to educate all children, but numerous accounts describe Newt burning it to the ground when the white schoolmaster refused to teach mixed-race kids. 28.1 He retreated to a world of new allies as his old ones peeled off. As a former slave, Martha Wheeler, said in a WPA interview, “[Newt] had a complete break with the whites.” 28.2 28.3

    29. Jones and “Davis” County

    29. Jones and “Davis” County

    The image at right, where the Jones County sign is replaced with one bearing the name Jefferson Davis County, is not a cinematic invention. It actually happened in 1865, when the Confederates regained their land and their power. Jones County was renamed Jefferson Davis County, and Ellisville was changed to Leesburg. Such were the ongoing struggles for the meaning of the conflict after it was over. 29.1

    30. Apprenticeship

    30. Apprenticeship

    It was indicative of Newt’s already established alliance with freedmen that a former slave sought his help to free his child from a plantation after the war. 30.1 Though Newt was never actually prosecuted for this, we felt it was also an opportunity to dramatize the pernicious nature of the apprenticeship laws, and the speed with which African Americans were virtually re-enslaved after the war. The Black Codes were enacted locally, and federal officers were powerless to stop them until Military Reconstruction began several years later. The apprenticeship statute that is read out loud in the magistrate scene at right is quoted directly from the Mississippi statute on apprenticeship from that year. 30.2

    31. On Newt and Rachel

    31. On Newt and Rachel

    Newt’s relationship with Rachel has been disparaged by many who have sought to diminish his reputation or the principles that drove him. They try to impute an exploitive motive, implying a Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings power dynamic. But nothing supports this. In fact, in a world where Newt was not legally allowed to marry Rachel, he went to the remarkable lengths of deeding her 160 acres of land, making her one of the few African American women to own land in the South. 31.1 31.2 All evidence indicates a respectful, loving relationship that grew over time. Numerous people in Jones County, white and black, referred to them as being “married.” Even Newt’s obituary in an unsympathetic newspaper refers to him marrying a “negro woman.” His own directive to be buried beside her in a black cemetery (in violation of the segregation laws of the time) speaks volumes. Finally, this photograph of Newt (one of two that exist), formally and defiantly posing with his mixed-race grandson, says everything about his identity and his willingness to embrace it. 31.3

    32. Union League

    In spite of the tragedies during Reconstruction, there were so many inspiring and hopeful moments. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments left a legacy of freedom that bloomed again in the twentieth century. African American legislators left a stunning record of accomplishment. Two black U.S. senators were seated from Mississippi; there were half a dozen black congressmen; most Southern state legislatures were largely African American. One of the most inspiring aspects of Reconstruction was the Union League movement. Part fraternal society, part political organization, part educational institution, the Union League was an incubator of black political agency. Branches spread throughout the South, and members would meet, often in secret, to pledge solidarity to each other and the Republican Party. New members would swear an oath of allegiance and an affirmation of their freedom. In an era when political expression required incredible courage, the Union League gave the freedman strength. 31.1

    32. Union League

    In spite of the tragedies during Reconstruction, there were so many inspiring and hopeful moments. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments left a legacy of freedom that bloomed again in the twentieth century. African American legislators left a stunning record of accomplishment. Two black U.S. senators were seated from Mississippi; there were half a dozen black congressmen; most Southern state legislatures were largely African American. 32.1

    One of the most inspiring aspects of Reconstruction was the Union League movement. Part fraternal society, part political organization, part educational institution, the Union League was an incubator of black political agency. Branches spread throughout the South, and members would meet, often in secret, to pledge solidarity to each other and the Republican Party. New members would swear an oath of allegiance and an affirmation of their freedom. In an era when political expression required incredible courage, the Union League gave the freedman strength. 32.2 32.3

    33. A Final Break

    33. A Final Break

    As the post-war era dragged on, the struggle of freedmen to secure or guarantee their rights lost support from the North, where former allies slowly turned their backs on the freedmen and their cause. Even members of the Knight Company withdrew from this conflict and went back to their lives of yeoman farming. Newt was therefore left with a choice: retreat from the cause he had embraced or join it completely. When he moved to Soso, Newt began to live more and more in the world of freedmen. His former comrades stayed behind. 33.1

    34. Redemption

    The final act of Reconstruction is a tragic one. As freedmen exercised their franchise and served at every level of state government, a counter-revolution of terrorism erupted. Though the Klan and other organizations had been suppressed by Military Reconstruction, new white supremacist groups emerged. In Mississippi it was called the White League, and it began a violent reign of terror that culminated in the election of 1875.

    As this terrorist violence grew, Newt’s (or anyone’s) allegiances would naturally have to have been tested: it’s one thing to ally with African Americans at the height of Reconstruction when federal troops are present, but when the troops begin to leave and violence increases, those principles are challenged. It’s remarkable, then, that Newt accepted a commission to command a largely African American unit of the Mississippi state militia whose sole purpose was to protect the voting rights of freedmen during the 1875 election. 34.1 34.2 The bravery and courage of this cannot be overstated. In the scene below where Newt marches into downtown Ellisville to vote alongside freedmen, the details of an election during Reconstruction are accurate right down to the glass jars. In the mid 1800s you voted in public. The vote tally—419 to 2—is also accurate.

    Alfred R. Waud, Artist. ["The first vote" / AW monogram ; drawn by A.R. Waud]. 1867. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/00651117. (Accessed June 06, 2016.)

    34. Redemption

    The final act of Reconstruction is a tragic one. As freedmen exercised their franchise and served at every level of state government, a counter-revolution of terrorism erupted. Though the Klan and other organizations had been suppressed by Military Reconstruction, new white supremacist groups emerged. In Mississippi it was called the White League, and it began a violent reign of terror that culminated in the election of 1875.

    35. Afterwords

    JAMES EAKINS
    Eakins is a fictional character who is nonetheless typical of a Mississippi planter and emblematic of the planter class. I felt it was important to personify the cotton economy that drove the Civil War, and the plantation culture that enforced and fought to perpetuate slavery. One cannot understand the Civil War or the slavocracy without understanding the absolute power of the planters. One cannot understand Reconstruction without understanding the speed and determination with which they seized power all over again. Eakins embodies all of those things, and though he is not based on a single individual, he is based on many.

    THE CONFEDERATE FLAG
    Astute Civil War observers will correctly note that the scene in the movie where the Confederate flag is lowered is not literally accurate. What we have come to know as the “Confederate flag” was actually a battle flag used by the Army of Northern Virginia. The second national flag, which would have flown during 1864, utilized the “stars and bars” but within a canton (a smaller rectangle in the upper left corner). This flag was also used as the Confederate naval ensign. 35.1

    The Confederate flag is obviously a powerful symbol (then as now), and the moment in the movie when it is lowered to be replaced by an American (Union) flag is a significant one. As a filmmaker, I did not feel that either the Mississippi flag (a magnolia tree) or the second national flag would register clearly enough in a split second of film. Thus I used one flag over another for clarity, even if I employed creative license.

    CONFEDERATE UNIFORMS
    Though the mismatched uniforms depicted below might seem ragtag for a war film, they are in fact authentic. The Confederacy often relied on soldiers to outfit themselves for battle. Thought there were some standardized uniforms, all manner of hats, trousers, and jackets would appear side by side on the battlefield. 35.2

    McLEMORE, MAURY and LOWRY.
    Colonel Elias Hood is a fictional name for a character conflating three real Confederate officers who all pursued Newt Knight.

    Amos McLemore was a Confederate officer and resident of Jones County who fought the Knight Company with local resources. He was murdered in the home of local merchant Amos Deason, most believe by Newt Knight.

    After the death of McLemore, the Confederacy dispatched two different offensives to rout the Knight Company from the region. The first was led by General Maury, who arrived in Jones County with a force of nearly a thousand men. He did his best to subdue the Knight Company and did hang a dozen deserters, but he found the swamps impenetrable and his opponents formidable. He admitted he was lucky to escape without losing troops to ambush.

    A short while later, Colonel Lowry arrived with twice the number of men. His tactics were more ruthless: rounding up Jones County residents, hanging many including young teenagers (as detailed in section 22), and torturing others for information. This drove the Knight Company down to the Honey Island swamp, but it did not crush them. In fact the “Honey Island” letter describes a mixed-race company thriving there.

    Most of these incidents are depicted in the film, but the three separate Confederate antagonists have been conflated into one for the sake of dramatic clarity. For example, Newt kills an officer who hunts him in the film, just as the real Newt Knight is thought to have killed McLemore. A Confederate officer did order the hanging of boys who had been a part of the company, but this time it was Lowry.

    I felt it would be inappropriate to ascribe the actions of one man to the character of another, so I have conflated these acts into a single character and used a fictional name accordingly.

    BIRMINGHAM
    Okay, this one is just a mistake. In a scene near the end of the film, Serena states that she has “walked all the way from Birmingham.” Though many people traversed ravaged countryside on foot after the war, it would have been impossible to do so from Birmingham, which didn’t exist until four years later. Birmingham, it has been pointed out to me, is an industrial town created for its proximity to iron ore, lime, and water—the main ingredients for making steel. It was founded in 1871, though the scene in question is set in 1865-1866.

    35. Afterwords

    JAMES EAKINS
    Eakins is a fictional character who is nonetheless typical of a Mississippi planter and emblematic of the Planter Class. I felt it was important to personify the cotton economy which drove the Civil war, and the plantation culture which enforced and fought to perpetuate slavery. One cannot understand the Civil War or the slaveocracy without understanding the absolute power of the planter. One cannot understand Reconstruction without understanding the speed and determination with which they seized power all over again. Eakins embodies all of those things and though he is not based on a single individual, he is based on many.

  • 01. Prologue —Gary Ross

    FOOTNOTES

    02. Backstory

    FOOTNOTES

    03. The Beginning: Second Conscription Act

    FOOTNOTES

    04. Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight

    FOOTNOTES

    05. The Field Hospital

    FOOTNOTES

    06. On Daniel

    FOOTNOTES

    Testimonies to the Southern Claims Commission expose the summary manner in which young men were conscripted into the Confederate military.

    07. Tax in Kind

    FOOTNOTES

    Both biographical examples particular to Newt and other widespread historical accounts of the era point to numerous abuses of the tax-in-kind system.

    08. The Call of the Horn

    FOOTNOTES

    09. Home Front

    FOOTNOTES

    10. The Swamps

    FOOTNOTES

    11. Maroons

    FOOTNOTES

    Numerous letters in the The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion detail incidents of mixed-race bands engaging Confederate forces.

    12. On Moses

    FOOTNOTES

    13. Serena

    FOOTNOTES

    14. The Slave Collar

    FOOTNOTES

    Slave owners affixed a variety of iron collars around the necks of slaves who attempted escape, as a punishment, a hindrance to such future efforts, and an example to other slaves. Some, like the one depicted on the slave Wilson Chinn in the historical photograph shown, had upward prongs that would catch in bushes in addition to making it all but impossible for the wearer to sleep lying on the ground. Other collars incorporated bells that, like those worn by cows in the field, would give notice of any movement. —Robert Mann, Harvard University

    15. The Hidden Bridge

    FOOTNOTES

    16. The Paddy Rollers

    FOOTNOTES

    Several independent sources (including Newt himself) cite the threat posed to runaways by paddy rollers:

    17. The Knight Company

    FOOTNOTES

    Ethel Knight, Thomas J. Knight, and other historians all cite the formation of the Knight Company in their respective books. According to Victoria Bynum, 14 separate battles were fought between his company and Confederate forces. Thomas J. Knight, in addition, states that “my father told us the 375 men that voted to stay with the Union about 250 of them met together with the understanding they would come together and bind themselves together and to constitute a Free State of Jones.”

    Additional sources corroborating the Knight Company rebellion in The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion include letters such as:

    18. The Blue Speller

    FOOTNOTES

    Additional sources further corroborate the dangers a slave might face in striving to attain literacy.

    19. Slave Passes

    FOOTNOTES

    20. Burned Farms and Confederate Abuses

    FOOTNOTES

    21. You Cannot Own a Child of God

    FOOTNOTES

    22. The Hanged Boys

    FOOTNOTES

    The ages of the Coleman boys who were hanged by Colonel Lowry are estimated at anywhere from from 12 to 16. Victoria Bynum has confirmed that Noble Coleman, aged 12 or 13 in 1864, disappeared from census records after the reputed hangings. Numerous other primary sources describe “a lad, too young to serve” being hanged. An account written by a Confederate soldier remembers Colonel Lowry “stringing up” a 12-year-old boy and torturing him to the point of near death in trying to elicit information about the Knight Company. Supporting independent memoirs, letters, and interviews are cited below.

    23. Retaliation and the Church Ambush

    FOOTNOTES

    24. The Free State of Jones

    FOOTNOTES

    25. Did Slaves Support or Fight with the Knight Company?

    FOOTNOTES

    The two citations below are significant. The first citation documents a migration of the Knight Company from Jones county down the Pearl River to the Honey Island swamp in the spring of 1864 where “they exist in some force and hold the countryside in awe.”

    The second letter reports a mixed-race band of deserters and Unionists occupying that same swamp a few months later. This time, however, they report that “reliable information has been read that Yankee soldiers white and black occupy and garrison the place. It is the paradise of deserters who flee from their own Swamps.” Since no regular Union troops occupied the Honey Island swamps, “Yankee soldiers white and black” appears to be another way of describing the Knight Company deserters. In fact, the very next line describes it as a paradise of deserters who flee from their swamps. As in the film, this describes a growing mixed-race composition of the Knight company following Lowry’s raid.

    26. On Reconstruction

    FOOTNOTES

    27. Broken Promises

    FOOTNOTES

    28. A New World

    FOOTNOTES

    29. Jones and “Davis” County

    FOOTNOTES

    30. Apprenticeship

    FOOTNOTES

    31. On Newt and Rachel

    FOOTNOTES

    32. Union League

    FOOTNOTES

    33. A Final Break

    FOOTNOTES

    34. Redemption

    FOOTNOTES

    35. Afterwords

    FOOTNOTES

    CLOSE

    Source 2.1— William C. Davis, Way Through the Wilderness: The Natchez Trace and the Civilization of the Southern Frontier (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996), pp. 72, 210.
    Davis documents the overwhelming wealth of Natchez, Mississippi.

    In 1801 alone, with most of the refinements yet in the future, cotton brought seven hundred thousand dollars of income to its planters in just the region around Natchez. That meant an annual income averaging more than seven hundred dollars for each of the 9,000 citizens of the area, a phenomenal sum by frontier standards, and higher even than most areas in the affluent Northeast ... Half a century later would see Natchez itself inhabited by more millionaires than any other city in the nation, all of them either by cotton or by trading with those who planted it.

    If there was one lesson to be learned from the whole history of the settlement of the southern half of the continent, it was that the first men in one generation to reach the newest edge of the wilderness became the landed aristocrats, the wealthy and influential, of the next. Those who came after them often scrambled for smaller and smaller shares of what remained, and having before them so visibly the example of the planter lords, decided instead to try again by moving farther west ... Places like Natchez and Mobile and Washington especially put lie to the notion of southwestern indifference to money. Natchez in time would come to house more millionaires per capita than any other city in the United States.

    Source 2.2— Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2013), p. 5.
    Johnson describes the power, spread, and significance of cotton as an engine of the global economy.

    Between 1820 and 1860 as many as a million people were sold “down the river.” Their relocation and reassignment to the cultivation of cotton—the leading sector of the emergent global economy of the first half of the nineteenth century—gave new life to slavery in the United States. An institution that had been in decline throught the eighteenth century in the Upper South was revivified in the lower South at terrible cost; by 1860, there were more millionaires per capita in the Mississippi Valley than anywhere else in the United States.

    Source 2.3— W.E.B. Du Bois, John Brown (Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Company, 1909) p. 124.

    The Slave Barons looked behind them and saw to their dismay that there could be no backward step. The slavery of the new Cotton Kingdom in the nineteenth century must either die or conquer a nation—it could not hesitate or pause. It was an industrial system built on ignorance, force and the cotton plant. The slaves must be curbed with an iron hand. A moment of relaxation and lo ! they would be rising either in revenge or ambition. And slavery had made revenge and ambition one. Such a system could not compete with intelligence, nor with individual freedom, nor with miscellaneous and care-demanding crops. It could not divide territory with these things; to do so meant economic death and the sudden, perhaps revolutionary upheaval of a whole social system. This the South saw as it looked backward in the years from 1820 to 1840. Then its bolder vision pressed the gloom ahead, and dreamed a dazzling dream of empire.

    Source 2.4— Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2013), pp. 255–256.
    A numerical breakdown depicts the powerful bond that existed between the wealth obtained from cotton and slavery.

    In 1821, the states of Mississippi and Louisiana produced about twenty million pounds of cotton. By 1859, the comparable figure was 864 million pounds. And of course cotton and slavery went together. Throughout the nineteenth century, prices in the slave market varied directly with those in the cotton market—no surprise in an economy where planters reckoned the productivity of labor in cotton rather than in currency. The census of 1820 recorded 69,064 slaves in Louisiana and 32,814 in Mississippi. Twenty years later, the respective numbers were 168,452 and 195,211. And twenty years after that, there were 331,726 slaves in Louisiana and 436,631 in Mississippi. In the years 1820–1860, a sevenfold increase in the Valley’s slave population produced a fortyfold increase in its production of cotton. Divided out in aggregate, this was the 600 percent increase in productivity that slaveholders could so proudly record in their individual copies of Affleck’s Cotton Plantation Record and Account Book.

    The cotton produced by slaves in the Mississippi Valley made its way to market through the port of New Orleans. Indeed, as the cotton economy grew, so too did river traffic on the Mississippi. In 1813, twenty-one steamboats arrived in New Orleans carrying around 70,000 tons of freight. In 1820, 198 steamboats unloaded almost 100,000 tons of freight, valued at almost $12 million. In 1840, the comparable figures were over 1,500 steamboats and a half-million tons of freight, worth almost $50 million. In 1860: more than 3,500 boats, two million tons, almost $2 billion. As the first historian of the system wrote in a report to Congress in 1884, “The South … began to insist on the sovereignty of King Cotton, and New Orleans claimed, like Mahomet, to be its prophet.” The commercial rise of the city of New Orleans—“no city of the world has ever advanced as a market of commerce with such gigantic strides as New Orleans,” enthused DeBow’s Review—was as an export processing zone mediating between the Cotton Kingdom of the Mississippi and the Atlantic.

    Source 2.5— Edward E. Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told (New York: Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group, 2014) p. 297.
    Baptist described the insidious advantages of owning slaves as a capital investment.

    Slave property was mobile, self-supporting, more liquid than any store of value short of sterling bills, and perhaps the most attractive kind of collateral in the entire Western world. If [planters] could keep possession of their slaves, they could take advantage of those elements of enslaved property, especially if new geographical expansion convinced investors to lend their credit—as they always had before—to entrepreneurially minded planters.

    Source 2.6— Victoria E. Bynum, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), p. 94.
    Historian Victoria Bynum considers the broadening schisms in class, faith, and culture that led to a yeoman resistance against the Confederacy.

    No mere war among men, the bloody battles fought in Civil War Jones County emerged from economic, religious, and social strife that had long simmered between rival families. Disparate, unorganized resistance to local authority exploded into full-scale rebellion by late 1863, when a number of Jones County deserters organized and armed themselves into a deadly fighting force. Many more local men were absent from their Confederate units, however, than joined the band. The 7th Battalion, Mississippi Infantry, from which most Knight band members deserted, reported many of its soldiers as AWOL at some point, but most men rejoined the Confederate Army when threatened with arrest. In contrast, those who joined the Knight Company intended desertion to be permanent. Drawing on the crucial support of civilians, they refused to “skulk” in the woods as dishonored men but instead declared war on the Confederacy.

    Source 2.7— Victoria E. Bynum, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), p. 98.

    Judging from extant records and people’s memories, it appears that Newt gradually developed a unionist stance born of personal experiences during the war that in turn stimulated his growing political consciousness. His own memories of the war, shared in 1921 with journalist Meigs Frost of the New Orleans Item, suggest as much. Newt told Frost that he and his men felt justified in deserting the Confederate Army because the majority of Jones County’s voters had opposed secession. On December 20, 1860, he explained, the county’s cooperationist candidate, John. H. Powell (father-in-law of Jasper Collins), defeated the pro-secession candidate, merchant-slaveholder John M. Baylis, to become a delegate to the Mississippi state convention. Powell then betrayed his antisecessionist constituents. On January 9, 1861, after swift defeat of several ordinances that offered alternatives to secession, he joined the overwhelming majority of delegates and voted to secede from the Union. “Then next thing we knew,” said Newt, “they were conscripting us. The rebels passed a law conscripting everybody between 18 and 55. They just came around with a squad of soldiers [and] took you.” But, he maintained, “if they had a right to conscript me when I didn’t want to fight the Union, I had a right to quit when I got ready.” To Newt’s way of thinking, support for the Confederacy was entirely voluntary because the delegate Powell had failed to honor his constituents’ position on secession.

    Source 2.8— Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2013), p. 3.
    Johnson illuminates the conflicting worlds of yeomanry and the Cotton Kingdom.

    The flow of capital into the Mississippi Valley transferred title of the “empire for liberty” to the emergent overlords of the “Cotton Kingdom,” and the Yeoman’s republic soon came under the dominion of what came to be called the “slavocracy.”

    Source 3.1Public Laws of the Confederate States of America, edited by James M. Matthews (Richmond, VA: R.M. Smith, printer to Congress, 1862) pp. 77-79.
    The Second Conscription Act, informally known as the Twenty Negro Law, exempted from military service the eldest son of military age on every plantation where twenty or more slaves were owned. For each additional twenty slaves, another family member would become exempt.

    To secure the proper police of the country, one person, either as agent, owner or overseer on each plantation on which one white person is required to be kept by the laws or ordinances of any State, and on which there is no white male adult not liable to do military service, and in States having no such law, one person as agent, owner or overseer, on each plantation of twenty negroes, and on which there is no white male adult not liable to military service: And furthermore, for additional police for every twenty negroes on two or more plantations, within five miles of each other, and each having less than twenty negroes, and on which there is no white male adult not liable to military duty, one person, being the oldest of the owners or overseers on such plantations; are hereby exempted from military service in the armies of the Confederate States.

    Source 3.2— Meigs Frost, South’s Strangest Army Revealed by Chief. Interview with Newton Knight, New Orleans Item, March 20, 1921.

    Then the rebels passed the Twenty-Negro Law, up there at Richmond, Virginia, the capital. That law said that any white man owning 20 slaves or more didn’t need to fight. He could go home ’n’ raise crops.

    Jasper Collins was a close friend of mine. When he heard about that law, he was in camp, in the Confederate army. He threw down his gun and started home.

    “This law,” he says to me, “makes it a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. I’m through.”

    Well, I felt the same way about it. So I started back home. I felt like if they had a right to conscript me when I didn’t want to fight the Union, I had a right to quit when I got ready.

    Source 3.3— John Dickerson to John J. Pettus, May 18, 1861, Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus Correspondence, Series 757, roll 2776, vol. 37. Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, Mississippi. (Hereafter cited as MDAH).

    Honorable Sir … We are organizing a Company here which we think will be completed in 2 or 3 weeks, and we have a Vigilance Committee of 15 connected with the Company, and our Consitution makes it the duty of this Committee to ferrit out all disloyal person in our bounds. Of those found “opposed to the South", one of the most notorious is named Jasper Coon, who has expressed himself as being a “Free Soiler” & says he hopes Lincoln will succeed and free all the negroes. This Vigilance Committee, have summoned him to come before them and he will not do it … Please advise us—at your earliest convenience.

    Source 3.4— O. J. Hood to John J. Pettus, June 18, 1861, Mississippi Governor, John. J. Pettus Correspondence, Series 757, roll 2776, vol. 37. MDAH. Hood describes conditions in Greene County southeast of Jones County.
    Anti-Confederate sentiment began early in areas of Unionist resistance. This letter expresses such resistance as early as 1861.

    The McLeod brothers have been notorious for using abolition sentiments for a year or two. And since the secession of our State from the Federal compact, have been continually abusing the south, wishing Abe Lincoln a final success. They formed a special committee to wait on four of the McLeods, notifying them to appear before the committee on 8th June. They appeared & were examined in the Court House, and the public were invited to see justice done. They were examined separately. Proof against them all will give you a little of the evidence. Allen McLeod has on several occasions swore that he would not fight for the south. Called Jeff Davis a Murderer, Scamp and Traitor and hoped that Lincoln would succeed in capturing him (Jeff Davis) and take his head off &c &c. Peter McLeod compares the negroes to the children of Israel … has been talking to R.D. M’Cann’s negroes telling them that they would soon be free. Also said there was a company of 7 or 800 men in Choctaw Co Ala who would fight against the south & slave owners. The Proof against the other two brothers about the same as above. One showed a penitent disposition & was let off. Action on two merely suspended for the present, & Peter was required to take the oath to support the Constitution of the Confederate States of America or leave the State in thirty days. He now refuses to do either. I am chairman of the Committee and feeling a little delicacy in resorting to extreme measure however great the crime may be without some high authority. Have taken the liberty of asking from you a word of council. Please answer soon as our next meeting will be on the 8th July.

    Source 3.5— “Anti-Secession in Mississippi,” Times Daily National Intelligencer [a Unionist newspaper], March 11, 1861.
    Article describes an early Unionist meeting in Jones County and suppression of dissent.

    There was an anti-secession meeting at Smith’s Store, Jones County, Mississippi, on the 16th of February. We learn from the [staunchly pro-Confederate] Brandon Republican, says the [pro-Union] Nashville Patriot, that “there were many speeches made on the occasion protesting against secession and the increased taxation of the people on the part of the State, and calling for a still larger meeting at Tallahoma.” The proceedings of the meeting were furnished the Republican for publication, but were declined on the ground that the will of the majority of the State as expressed for secession ought to be respected. It has come to a pretty pass that the freedom of the press must be denied to any portion of the people because the majority is believed to be against them.

    Source 4.1— Victoria E. Bynum, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), pp. 63–64.
    Historian Victoria Bynum describes how Newt’s father turned away from the slaveholding lifestyle.

    Albert Knight, the father of Newt Knight and oldest son of Jackie, more than any of his siblings followed an economic path different from that of his father. Author Ethel Knight insisted that Newt came from a home of “culture and refinement” that included slaves and an “elaborate mansion” and that his father was deeply ashamed of Newt’s Civil War behavior. In fact, however, Albert Knight was a barely self-sufficient farmer who raised corn and a small surplus of hogs. Nor could he have criticized Newt’s wartime behavior, as Ethel claimed, for he died at least one year before his son deserted the Confederacy. With much greater accuracy, Knight descendant Kenneth Welch later described Albert as a shoemaker and tanner who was once given a slave by his father, but who did not keep that slave. Welch also pointed out that Albert was the only child not bequeathed a slave in his father’s will. Another Knight descendant, Earle Knight, went even further, claiming that Albert rebuked the Confederacy before his death in January 1862. Earle speculated later that Albert and Mason might even have opposed slavery, since none of their children, including Newt, owned slaves.

    In the final analysis, there is no evidence that either Albert or Mason, his wife, opposed slavery. Nevertheless, this non-slaveholding branch of the Knight family provided a distinct contrast with most other Knight households. That contrast was especially evident in the memories of Ben Graves, who in 1926 described Newt as a simple dirt farmer, despite the fact that Newt was the grandson of one of Covington County’s wealthiest slaveholders. Graves, whose own grandfather owned ten slaves, made clear that his family disdained men like Newt. “Why if a girl’s parents owned negroes, she didn’t recognize Newt Knight any more than she would a negro,” he said. When a young woman announced her plans to marry, he further explained, his own folks would always ask of the fiance’s family, “‘Have they any negroes?’ If they didn’t … they weren’t no account.”

    Source 4.2— John Stauffer and Sally Jenkins, The State of Jones (New York: Doubleday, 2009), p. 47.
    Stauffer and Jenkins also interpret evidence to support the Knight family’s opposition to slavery.

    Newton Knight grew up in a home much plainer than that of his grandfather [a slaveowner], with his cutlery, books, and house slaves. His father Albert chose to belong to the yeoman rather than planter class, supporting his family as a tanner and a single-handed farmer. Born in 1799 in Georgia, Albert was a grown man when his family arrived in the Piney Woods, and by 1822, he had established enough of a stake to sign his own name to the petition that led to the formation of Jones County. But he remained a modest dirt farmer whose acreage was worth just $900 by 1860. In contrast, his socially aspiring younger brother Jesse Davis Knight by the age of just thirty-nine had amassed acreage worth $3,000 and a personal estate worth $8,900. While his siblings received gifts and deeds of chattel from Jackie, Albert did not.

    The Knight family schism was reflective of larger rifts taking place all across Jones County, and Mississippi as a whole, during the secession crisis. The most common division was between rich and poor: it was a state of stark economic differences. On the eve of the Civil War, Jones County was an island of poverty in a sea of cotton- and slave-based wealth. Economically, the Piney Woods was as stagnant as its swamp water: it had the poorest soil and poorest people in the state.

    Source 4.3— D.W. Platt and John A. Womack to John J. Pettus, November 7, 1862, Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus Correspondence, Series 757, Roll 2812, Vol. 41, MDAH.
    This letter from Raleigh, Smith County, Mississippi (where many men on Newt’s roster came from), shows the growing resentment amongst poor soldiers toward the planter class.

    Sir,
    The undersigned beg leave to ask of you the true interpretation of the law, relative to exemptions from military duty. Those owning twenty slaves and more … are they entirely exempt or are they only exempt from conscription? Still being liable as militia in the county, they claim to be exempt all together, for all have claimed, and have been discharged from the service who was drafted as minute men that have twenty Negroes and are now at home. Others whose misfortune it is to be poor are ordered to take their places, leaving destitute wives and children, many of them without bread and barefoot, to fight for the rich man’s negroes who are allowed to stay home and live in luxury and at ease and to reap a rich harvest by exploiting our own poor families. Our understanding is that we are fighting for equality and States Rights, claiming that all free men are equal, but does this look like equality? Oh Shame whare is thy blush, look at Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and let the world say what we are fighting for. And yet we who have but little or nothing at stake but honor are called on to do the fighting and to do the hard drudgery and bear the burden and brunt of the battle while the rich, and would be rich, are shirking and dodging in every way possible to shun the dangers of war, unless they can get an office that will give them a big name and that will pay well that they may then be seen to strut about the towns and villages to show their brass buttons and blade or get in some commissary, or quarter masters department or anywhere else in the world, but in the ranks as privates, where they ought to be fighting for their property.

    Now we admit some men of means are acting nobly but they are scarce. Generally speaking all the help the destitute get come from the poor or common people and not from those who are able.

    Sir in conclusion all we ask or want is equality and justice and call on you as the executive of the state to exercise your authority in seeing that the poor are not made underlings and don’t go off to fight for the rich men who are allowed to stay at home and speculate on the downfall and distresses of the country. And as the people, in regards to patriotism, we claim to be as true as any men and will obey laws of our country as faithful citizens, but when we go our rich neighbors who are exempt will be apt to go too. Or give in advance before we leave to the destitute such amount as we think aught to give: and besides they will have to keep their Negroes home on Sundays out of the swamps stealing poor peoples fat hogs as they are now doing in this settlement.

    Please answer the above questions in regard to exemptions either privately or through the Mississippian (newspaper) and confer or give out favor on the community generally and more especially on the undersigned.”

    Respectfully,
    D. W. Platt
    John A. Womack

    Source 4.4— Meigs Frost, South’s Strangest Army Revealed by Chief. Interview with Newton Knight, New Orleans Item, March 20, 1921.

    When the southern states was all taking a vote on whether to secede, we took the vote in Jones County, too. There was only about 400 folks in Jones County then. All but about seven of them voted to stay in the union. But the Jones County delegate went up to the state convention at Jackson, and he voted to secede with the rest of the county delegates. He didn’t come back to Jones County for a while. It would a been kinder unhealthy for him, I reckon.

    Well, we’d voted against secession, but the state voted to secede. Then next thing we knew they were conscripting us. The rebels passed a law conscripting everybody between 18 and 35. They just come around with a squad of soldiers 'n' took you.

    I didn’t want to fight. I told 'em I’d help nurse sick soldiers if they wanted. They put me in the Seventh Mississippi Battalion as a hospital orderly. I went around giving the sick soldiers blue mass and calomel and castor oil and quinine. That was about all the medicine we had then. It got shorter later.

    Source 5.1— Brian Craig Miller, Empty Sleeves: Amputation in the Civil War South (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2015), p. 20.

    The sheer potential horror of the hospital experience prompted hundreds of soldiers and civilians to view the field hospital as ghoulish ground. A private soldier recalled his very first visit to a Civil War hospital as “the most painful thing of all.” “It resembles a butcher’s shamble,” he claimed, “with maimed and bloody men lying on all sides – some with their arms off; some with their legs off; some awaiting their time, while doctors, with upturned cuffs and bloody hands, are flourishing their knives and saws.” The doctors stood among “piles of bloody-looking limbs” with dead bodies still lying “on the dissecting table.” He called it simply a “ghastly picture.” Charles Hutson, shot in the face at First Manassas, witness a crowded hospital scene in Charlottesville, Virginia, “with groaning men, some undergoing the agonies of amputation.” Following the Battle of Seven Pines, William R. Gorman, a member of the Fourth North Carolina, felt somehow that Mother Nature herself should be weeping. “Nature smiles sweetly and the birds sing as enchantingly as though no deeds of blood and carnage had been perpetrated near this now peaceful spot,” he noted. Gorman felt compelled to go to the local field hospital to “alleviate the horrible suffering” and saw a horrific scene: “piled in heaps lay [the] amputated arms and legs” stacked “like cord-wood,” and the “piercing cries” of patients broke through the chloroform and “the stillness of night” until “the very corpses trembled.”

    Source 5.2— Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering (New York: Random House, 2008), pp. 4, 9.
    In her amazing book about death and dying in the Civil War, historian Drew Gilpin Faust describes the limits of science and medical care during the conflict.

    Perhaps the most distressing aspect of death for many Civil War Americans was that thousands of young men were dying away from home. As one group of Confederate prisoners of war observed in a resolution commemorating a comrade’s death in 1865, “we … deplore that he should die … in an enemy’s land far from home and friends.” Most soldiers would have shared the wishes of the Georgia man whose brother sadly wrote after his death in Virginia, “he always did desire … to die at home.” Death customs of the Victorian era centered on domestic scenes and spaces; hospitals housed the indigent, not respectable citizens.


    Yet for all the horrors of combat, soldiers dreaded dying of disease even more. Death from illness, one Iowa soldier observed, offered “all of the evils of the battlefield with none of its honors.” Twice as many Civil War soldiers died of disease as of battle wounds. The war, Union surgeon general William A. Hammond later observed, was fought at the “end of the medical middle ages.” Neither the germ theory nor the nature and necessity of antisepsis was yet understood. A wave of epidemic disease—measles, mumps, and smallpox—swept through the armies of volunteers in the early months of war, then yielded precedence to the intractable camp illnesses: diarrhea and dysentery, typhoid and malaria.

    Source 5.3— Horace Herndon Cunningham, Doctors in Gray: The Confederate Medical Service (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1958), p. 177.
    A harrowing account of the field hospital.

    The scenes in and around field hospitals during an engagement were quite grim. One soldier who visited a field hospital near Atlanta during the summer of 1864 remembered years later the sight of a large pile of arms and legs in the rear of the building and stated that there was nothing in his whole life that he remembered with “more horror than that pile of legs and arms that had been cut off our soldiers.” He concluded his comments on the hospital as follows: “It was the only field hospital that I saw during the whole war, and I have no desire to see another. Those hollow-eyed and sunken cheeked sufferers, shot in every conceivable part of the body; some shrieking, and calling upon their mothers; some laughing the hard, cackling laugh of the sufferer without hope, and some cursing like troopers, and some writhing and groaning as their wounds were being bandaged and dressed. I saw a man … who had lost his right hand, another his leg, then another whose head was laid open, and I could see his brain thump, and another with his under jaw shot off; in fact, wounded in every manner possible.”

    Source 5.4— Brian Craig Miller, Empty Sleeves: Amputation in the Civil War South (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2015), p. 20.

    The sheer potential horror of the hospital experience prompted hundreds of soldiers and civilians to view the field hospital as ghoulish ground. A private soldier recalled his very first visit to a Civil War hospital as “the most painful thing of all.” “It resembles a butcher’s shamble,” he claimed, “with maimed and bloody men lying on all sides – some with their arms off; some with their legs off; some awaiting their time, while doctors, with upturned cuffs and bloody hands, are flourishing their knives and saws.” The doctors stood among “piles of bloody-looking limbs” with dead bodies still lying “on the dissecting table.” He called it simply a “ghastly picture.” Charles Hutson, shot in the face at First Manassas, witness a crowded hospital scene in Charlottesville, Virginia, “with groaning men, some undergoing the agonies of amputation.” Following the Battle of Seven Pines, William R. Gorman, a member of the Fourth North Carolina, felt somehow that Mother Nature herself should be weeping. “Nature smiles sweetly and the birds sing as enchantingly as though no deeds of blood and carnage had been perpetrated near this now peaceful spot,” he noted. Gorman felt compelled to go to the local field hospital to “alleviate the horrible suffering” and saw a horrific scene: “piled in heaps lay [the] amputated arms and legs” stacked “like cord-wood,” and the “piercing cries” of patients broke through the chloroform and “the stillness of night” until “the very corpses trembled.”

    Source 5.5— Kate Cumming, Journal of Army Life in the Confederate Army of Tennessee from the Battle of Shiloh to the End of the War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959), p. 93.
    Memoirs of a Confederate surgeon reveal the extent to which officers received preferential medical treatment ahead of privates.

    We have nothing arranged in the hospital, but it is filled with sick; many of them are on the floors. Mrs. W. and myself have two small rooms. One is used as a dining-room, sitting-room, and for making toddies, eggnogs, etc. A number of the officers we had at the Springs have followed us here, and they eat at our table for the present. They are to have a hospital set apart for them, as it is thought a better plan than having distinctions made where the privates are in the matter of rooms, and eating at separate tables.

    Source 5.6— Frank R. Freemon, Gangrene and Glory (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, 1998), pp. 31, 46.
    The extreme gap in experiences between wounded privates and wounded officers can be measured by comparing two passages from Frank R. Freemon’s seminal book on Civil War medicine.

    The ordeal of a Confederate private illustrates what happened to a typical wounded soldier. On 21 July 1861 Private J.H. Wolf was shot while serving with the 4th Virginia Infantry Regiment at the Battle of Manassas. As he was marching forward, a bullet entered his right thigh. The bullet tore through his leg, shattering the femur; he immediately dropped to the ground. The assistant surgeon of the 4th Virginia wrapped a dressing around his leg. The femur had been completely separated so that his right leg below the wound dangled uselessly. Hurrying to catch up to his advancing regiment, the doctor left Wolf lying alone on the battlefield. Passersby carried him to Manassas, where he waited all day for transportation to Richmond. He was placed upon the floor of a boxcar. The train moved very slowly southward, but the two ends of the crushed bone rubbed together every time the car swayed. Upon arrival in Richmond, Wolf was placed in a small hospital in the city. He was fed and dressing changed. In order to make room for more wounded expected from the battlefield, Wolf was carried back to the railroad station and shipped to Charlottesville. He was admitted to a ward that had been a classroom of the University of Virginia. Dr. Edward Warren examined Wolf; smelly pus oozed from the tissues through holes in the skin. Dr. Warren explained to Wolf that he had to amputate his leg above the site of the femur fracture. He informed the solder that high femur amputations were usually fatal. Wolf was anesthetized with chloroform and his leg was amputated on 21 August 1861; he died the following day.

    ***

    After the Battle of Bull Run, Union wounded who could walk made their way to Washington. Some of the wounded officers actually checked into the Willard Hotel as ordinary hotel guests and sought medical help from civilian physicians. As already related, the trip from the Confederate regimental hospital to Richmond was not an easy one. The helpless wounded (non-officers) were exposed to the elements and suffered hunger as well as the discomfort of their undressed wounds.

    Source 6.1—  Public Laws of the Confederate States of America, edited by James M. Matthews (Richmond, VA: R.M. Smith, printer to Congress, 1864), p. 178.

    The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That from and after the passage of this act, all white men, residents of the Confederate States, between the ages of seventeen and fifty, shall be in the military service of the Confederate States for the war.

    Source 6.2— Claim 6785, Levin A. (Reverend) Clifton, Cherokee County, November 18, 1874. SCC, NAB.

    I was repeatedly threatened. I heard often that the rebels had said that if I had received justice I would have been hung. At one time a Col. Tiln with about six hundred men came and camped on me; they had evidently been sent on me—they rode into my yard cursing me as a “damned Lincolnite.” They cursed and abused myself and family all night. They wasted and destroyed about one hundred and fifty bushels of corn and about eight thousand binds of fodder. It rained all night and these soldiers pulled down and scattered all this fodder so it was rained on all night and ruined. They killed all the hogs I had at the time except one. It was in the latter part of the fall and the hogs were fat. I suppose they ate the most of them. … They burnt about three quarters of a mile of fencing although firewood was plenty all around. A number of them drew their guns on me and they crowded into my house and vilified and abused me nearly all night.

    I was once arrested at Centre but had an exemption from military service as a preacher and was released without taking any oath or obligation.

    I sometimes fed their [CSA] soldiers and their horses—and tried to appear to do it cheerfully—but I only did it because I could not help it. I never wanted to aid the rebels or their cause in anyway whatever. And when near the end of the war when two of my brothers came home from the Confederate service so ragged and mangy that they could not sleep in my house I gave them some clothes and some confederate money. This I did as an act of humanity.

    These acts of kindness were either done simply as acts of humanity or under circumstances of danger when I was afraid to act otherwise. There was such a state of oppression and terrorism over this country for the last two years of the war that union men hardly dared resist any oppression and seldom expressed their real sentiments except in private to such union friends as they could trust. Bands of guerillas scoured the country in all directions, plundering and murdering union men. So that union men like myself who had families so that they could not get away had to do many things that we did not want to do.

    I was not conscripted. I was exempted from conscription as a Methodist preacher and for the last years of the war I had control of an uncle’s farm and 26 slaves that would also exempt me. Uncle was a very old man—and he died during the war and I controlled the slaves for my aunt till they went free.

    Source 6.3— Claim 5427, John A. Smith, Lauderdale County, October 1, 1873. RG217/SCC, NARA.

    "I was conscripted in the fall of 1862. I was arrested by William Bibb and Leo Wallgraves conscript officers for this county and carried to Elyton ALA where I was hand cuffed and bound and put in jail and chained down to the floor. I was put in the felons dungeon (as it is called). I was kept there about 5 days and was sent off under guard hand cuffed bound and chained to Talladega, Ala and I was sent off from there just as I was carried to Selma Alabama and when I reached Selma I was released from the hand cuffs, irons and chains and put under guard and carried to the army that was then in Mississippi and after reaching the army remained with it several days. I then deserted and came back home and lay out in the woods till the surrender. I was hunted after by the rebels both with dogs and in every manner that could be devised to get me but they failed to get me. They said if they caught me that they would kill me.

    I was threatened to be hung and to be shot by the rebels on many occasions and they took my property at different times and robbed my house several times and at one time threatened to burn my house down with my wife and children in it. They told my wife that they intended to burn my house and her and the children in it if she did not tell them where to find me."

    Source 6.4— Claim 9853, Simeon Hand, Jefferson County, February 4, 1876. SCC, NAB.

    One Terrell F. Waldorf, a leading rebel in my neighborhood, threatened to have me whipped and made to leave the county and I was often molested by the rebel cavalry as they searched my house often for my son at all times of the night and they threatened to camp at my house and eat me out. This was done by Capt. Truss’ rebel cavalry and Capt. Truss with 42 of his men came to my house and camped and took my corn and fodder and fed it to their horses, and did not pay me for it, and did not offer to pay me for it. This was in the year 1864 and 1865, before the surrender, and the threats were made about whipping me and making me leave the country in the fall of 1863.

    Source 6.5— D.W. Platt and John A. Womack to John J. Pettus, November 7, 1862, Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus Correspondence, Series 757, Roll 2812, Vol. 41, MDAH.

    Sir,
    The undersigned beg leave to ask of you the true interpretation of the law, relative to exemptions from military duty. Those owning twenty slaves and more … are they entirely exempt or are they only exempt from conscription? Still being liable as militia in the county, they claim to be exempt all together, for all have claimed, and have been discharged from the service who was drafted as minute men that have twenty Negroes and are now at home. Others whose misfortune it is to be poor are ordered to take their places, leaving destitute wives and children, many of them without bread and barefoot, to fight for the rich man’s negroes who are allowed to stay home and live in luxury and at ease and to reap a rich harvest by exploiting our own poor families. Our understanding is that we are fighting for equality and States Rights, claiming that all free men are equal, but does this look like equality? Oh Shame whare is thy blush, look at Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and let the world say what we are fighting for. And yet we who have but little or nothing at stake but honor are called on to do the fighting and to do the hard drudgery and bear the burden and brunt of the battle while the rich, and would be rich, are shirking and dodging in every way possible to shun the dangers of war, unless they can get an office that will give them a big name and that will pay well that they may then be seen to strut about the towns and villages to show their brass buttons and blade or get in some commissary, or quarter masters department or anywhere else in the world, but in the ranks as privates, where they ought to be fighting for their property.

    Now we admit some men of means are acting nobly but they are scarce. Generally speaking all the help the destitute get come from the poor or common people and not from those who are able.

    Sir in conclusion all we ask or want is equality and justice and call on you as the executive of the state to exercise your authority in seeing that the poor are not made underlings and don’t go off to fight for the rich men who are allowed to stay at home and speculate on the downfall and distresses of the country. And as the people, in regards to patriotism, we claim to be as true as any men and will obey laws of our country as faithful citizens, but when we go our rich neighbors who are exempt will be apt to go too. Or give in advance before we leave to the destitute such amount as we think aught to give: and besides they will have to keep their Negroes home on Sundays out of the swamps stealing poor peoples fat hogs as they are now doing in this settlement.

    Please answer the above questions in regard to exemptions either privately or through the Mississippian (newspaper) and confer or give out favor on the community generally and more especially on the undersigned.”

    Respectfully,
    D. W. Platt
    John A. Womack

    Source 7.1— Ethel Knight, The Echo of the Black Horn (York, PA/Binghampton, NY: The Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group, 1951), pp. 200–02.

    The Confederate soldiers delighted in setting this straw on fire, destroying the only brooms the women had. They did the feathers which the women had picked from the geese and ducks in the same way, or would gleefully open a bag and let the feathers fly away in a high wind, in an effort to deprive them of beds and pillows. And finally, there were not even enough shucks left in the cribs to fill the scrub mops. The Cavalry knew every man who was a deserter, or was friend to the deserters, and as a reprisal, these harassing Rebels would perform atrocities unmentionable.

    The corn-cribs were filled with corn and fodder, so the soldiers went in, and piled out every ear of corn and every bundle of fodder before the animals, where all that was not eaten would be trampled and destroyed. Then they went into the chicken yard, and caught every hen on the place, and brought them squawking, out into the lane, where they killed and cleaned them all, leaving the feathers there among the destroyed corn. The lady of the house barred herself in, with her little children, and refused to come out, although she knew what they were doing. Taking the chickens was not enough. They went to the smoke house and cut down every piece of cured meat, and carried it out into the lane also. There, they cut it into big chunks, and wallowed it into the dirt, and let the horse trample upon it where it would not be usable.

    Source 7.2— D.W. Platt and John A. Womack to John J. Pettus, November 7, 1862, Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus Correspondence, Series 757, Roll 2812, Vol. 41, MDAH.
    This letter from Raleigh, Smith County, Mississippi (where many men on Newt’s roster came from), shows the growing resentment amongst poor soldiers toward the planter class.

    Sir,
    The undersigned beg leave to ask of you the true interpretation of the law, relative to exemptions from military duty. Those owning twenty slaves and more … are they entirely exempt or are they only exempt from conscription? Still being liable as militia in the county, they claim to be exempt all together, for all have claimed, and have been discharged from the service who was drafted as minute men that have twenty Negroes and are now at home. Others whose misfortune it is to be poor are ordered to take their places, leaving destitute wives and children, many of them without bread and barefoot, to fight for the rich man’s negroes who are allowed to stay home and live in luxury and at ease and to reap a rich harvest by exploiting our own poor families. Our understanding is that we are fighting for equality and States Rights, claiming that all free men are equal, but does this look like equality? Oh Shame whare is thy blush, look at Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and let the world say what we are fighting for. And yet we who have but little or nothing at stake but honor are called on to do the fighting and to do the hard drudgery and bear the burden and brunt of the battle while the rich, and would be rich, are shirking and dodging in every way possible to shun the dangers of war, unless they can get an office that will give them a big name and that will pay well that they may then be seen to strut about the towns and villages to show their brass buttons and blade or get in some commissary, or quarter masters department or anywhere else in the world, but in the ranks as privates, where they ought to be fighting for their property.

    Now we admit some men of means are acting nobly but they are scarce. Generally speaking all the help the destitute get come from the poor or common people and not from those who are able.

    Sir in conclusion all we ask or want is equality and justice and call on you as the executive of the state to exercise your authority in seeing that the poor are not made underlings and don’t go off to fight for the rich men who are allowed to stay at home and speculate on the downfall and distresses of the country. And as the people, in regards to patriotism, we claim to be as true as any men and will obey laws of our country as faithful citizens, but when we go our rich neighbors who are exempt will be apt to go too. Or give in advance before we leave to the destitute such amount as we think aught to give: and besides they will have to keep their Negroes home on Sundays out of the swamps stealing poor peoples fat hogs as they are now doing in this settlement.

    Please answer the above questions in regard to exemptions either privately or through the Mississippian (newspaper) and confer or give out favor on the community generally and more especially on the undersigned.”

    Respectfully,
    D. W. Platt
    John A. Womack

    Source 7.3— Thomas J. Knight, The Life and Activities of Captain Newton Knight and His Company and the Free State of Jones (Ellisville, MS: printed by the Progress Item, 1934), pp. 22–23, 54–59.
    Newt’s son Tom describes the way Confederates abused their power to tax Jones County citizens.

    It happened that my father had just received a letter from my mother stating that the Confederate cavalry had come to her home and that one of the men had caught her horse out of the barn, placed the saddle upon it, and got on the horse, and cursed and abused her as she cried and begged that he leave her the much needed animal. It was several miles to the nearest mill and there were several children to be fed.

    They found out that the confederate army had been all through Jones County, destroying everything they could. They would go into a poor woman’s home where they had cloth in the loom, trying to make clothing for their little children while their husbands were off in the war, and they would take the cloth and many other valuables.

    Them men went to our corn crib and toted out corn to feed them horses … He got up to four or five barrels of corn where they had just wasted it, and the horses had just trompled over and left it.

    They destroyed their property and would kill their cows and hogs and chickens and eat them.

    They caught nearly all mother’s chickens and killed them and cleaned them in the lane.

    They went to their smoke house and got lots of their meat and sliced it up and left big chunks of it in the lane, wollered up in the dirt. Our corn and meat was all we had to live on and they wasted practically half of it that night.

    Sometimes the cavalry would come along where [clothes] was hung out to dry and carry them off with them, and leave them without clothes to wear.

    Source 7.4The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (Washington, D. C., 1880-1901), ser. 1, vol. 32, (3), 727-28. ; hereafter cited as O. R.

    Colonel: Through you I would respectfully represent to the lieutenant-general commanding that I am officially informed, through Capt. W.J. Bryant, post quartermaster engaged in collecting and transferring the tax in kind in the Seventh District, that “the state of affairs in a portion of his district is very annoying.” That “the deserters have overrun and taken possession of the country, in many cases exiling the good and loyal citizens or shooting them in cold blood on their own door-sills.” That his “agent in Jones County was ordered by them to leave the county, since which time he has not been heard from.” That his “agent in Covington County has been notified by them (the deserters) to desist from collecting the tithe and to distribute what he has to their families, and the agent continues his duties at the risk of his life and property.” That “the deserters from Jones and Perry Counties made a raid upon Augusta, in Perry County, capturing a part of the small force there and destroying the public stores which we had collected there,” &c.

    You will perceive that under these circumstances we cannot discharge our duty, and that the public interests, no less than the public honor, demand that a check be put to these lawless and pernicious acts. I respectfully appeal to the lieutenant-general to take such measures as in his judgment the exigency demands.

    I would also state that great injustice is done to producers by the loose and careless manner in which the tithe is often collected by officers attached to the army. Unauthorized parties, both officers and privates, often exercise this power. I would respectfully ask your attention to the fifth article of General Orders, No. 117, Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office, 3d September last, as to who are authorized. I would respectfully ask that the lieutenant-general commanding issue and promulgate his order to the effect that no officer attached to the army is authorized to exercise this privilege but those meeting the terms of the order above named, and that parties so collecting the tithe shall leave with the producer duplicate receipts for the same, and shall afterwards furnish to the post quarter-master of the district engaged in the business receipts for the same, with a list of the names of the producers from whom the tax had been collected. This is necessary that the parties may be properly debited and credited, as our instructions requires. You cannot realize what disservice has been done to the cause by such irregularities, alienating the affections of the people and destroying the means of subsisting the army. I confidently leave the remedy in the hands of the lieutenant-general. Will you do me the favor to send me, if convenient, a half dozen copies of General Johnston’s order, No. 248.

    Source 7.5— Claim 3111, Claborne C. Ballinger, Walker County, May 16, 1877. SCC Papers, NAB.
    Testimony to the Southern Claims Commission reflect the abuse that Unionist yeomen experienced at the hands of the tax agents.

    The rebels robbed my house they took my clothing and my wife’s and children’s clothing and our bed clothing and cut my wife’s cloth out of the loom, this was in 1863, and was done by Capt Musgrave’s rebel cavalry.

    I was arrested and put in jail and in the guard house for the purpose as they said of making me fight for the rebel cause but they failed to make me do anything against the union cause. I made my escape from them and they never after that time had me in their possession.

    Source 8.1— Victoria E. Bynum, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), p. 106.

    Newt, Tom, and Ethel Knight all pointed out that Jones County farmwives blew horns either to warn deserters away or to summon them to their side. At least two women maintained homesteads that fronted strategically located deserter camps within the area. Widow Sally Delancy’s small farm on Horse Creek, near Soso, shielded Salsbattery from view, while Sally Parker’s home, located near the swamps of Tallahala Creek, provided an alternate shelter for members of the Knight Company. Both women cooked meals and provided places of rest for wounded or weary deserters.

    Source 8.2— Thomas J. Knight, The Life and Activities of Captain Newton Knight and His Company and the Free State of Jones (Ellisville, MS: printed by the Progress Item, 1934), p. 64.

    She would get her blowing horn and give it one long blow and you could hear other horns blowing in almost every direction answering her. My father said they did not like to hear those horns blowing. The sound of the horn made the cavalry think there was trouble not far off and they thought it would be best for them to ride on, not to be taking up very much time around those ladies’ houses where they had the horns.

    Source 8.3— Ethel Knight, The Echo of the Black Horn (York, PA/Binghampton, NY: The Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group, 1951), p. 92.

    On that memorable day at Salsbattery, all the men were asked by Knight to carry their hunting horns. It was the custom in the early settlement to use the horn for distress signals, to drive stock, to summons faraway workers to dinner, and every family owned a horn.

    It was agreed that certain signals would be blown and by the number of blasts the different or distant groups of men would know what was meant. Three short blasts meant to come together for further instructions. If one man was the only one within range of the signal, he was to sound off his horn, and that group, or pair, were to sound off their horns, and on down the line in order to reach those stationed at the furthest point.

    It was agreed that certain signals meant to converge upon the confused Cavalrymen, if they were in pairs, or small groups. And often a half dozen mounted soldiers were slain before they knew, or had time to realize that they were ambushed by an unseen enemy.

    Source 8.4— Meigs Frost, “The South’s Strangest Army Revealed by Chief.” Interview with Newton Knight, New Orleans Item, March 20, 1921.

    She took up a big drive-horn and went out on the gallery and blew it. Pretty soon somebody answered with another blast up on the hillside in the brush. Then another blast came from another point. I guess there were ’bout a dozen answers to that horn. That Confederate leader looked at his men. “Boys, I guess we’d better get out of here,” he said. And they sure got.

    Source 9.1— Ethel Knight, The Echo of the Black Horn (York, PA/Binghampton, NY: The Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group, 1951), p. 56.

    Women were left, heavy with child, or with tiny bundles in arms, and many with several little ones clinging to their skirts. Such was the case at Newt’s house.

    Most women of that day could fire a gun, and many could shoot as well as men, so his wife was not left without protection.

    Source 9.2— Victoria E. Bynum, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), p. 95.
    As Victoria Bynum emphasizes, the role of women in the formation and continuation of the Free State of Jones cannot be overstated.

    The involvement of women in deserter activities also underscored the merging of political and personal motives in white Southerners’ opposition to the Confederacy. Women who shared the anti-secession views of their fathers, sons, and husbands often encouraged them to desert at the first opportunity. But women who suffered from hunger, illness, or abuse at the hands of Confederate soldiers also provided men with ample personal reasons to desert and return home.

    Source 10.1— Ethel Knight, The Echo of the Black Horn (York, PA/Binghampton, NY: The Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group, 1951), p. 100.

    The [Confederate] Cavalry was made up of men trained by military regulations, and they knew only to proceed orderly, along the main roads. That is where the Knight Company had the advantage, because they knew to keep to the swamps, and hideouts. And the Cavalry, inexperienced as they were in such warfare, were afraid to venture into the thick reed brakes, without knowledge of the number of men, or the pitfalls that awaited them.

    Source 10.2— Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave ( New York: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1855), p. 138.

    Continuing my course due south, as nearly as I can judge, I came at length to water just over shoe. The hounds at that moment could not have been five rods behind me. I could hear them crashing and plunging through the palmettoes, their loud, eager yells making the whole swamp clamorous with the sound. Hope revived a little as I reached the water. If it were only deeper, they might lose the scent, and thus disconcerted, afford me the opportunity of evading them. Luckily, it grew deeper the farther I proceeded—now over my ankles—now half-way to my knees—now sinking a moment to my waist, and then emerging presently into more shallow places. The dogs had not gained upon me since I struck the water. Evidently they were confused. Now their savage intonations grew more and more distant, assuring me that I was leaving them. Finally I stopped to listen, but the long howl came booming on the air again, telling me I was not yet safe. From bog to bog, where I had stepped, they could still keep upon the track, though impeded by the water. At length, to my great joy, I came to a wide bayou, and plunging in, had soon stemmed its sluggish current to the other side. There, certainly, the dogs would be confounded — the current carrying down the stream all traces of that slight, mysterious scent, which enables the quick-smelling hound to follow in the track of the fugitive.

    Source 10.3— Ethel Knight, The Echo of the Black Horn (York, PA/Binghampton, NY: The Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group, 1951), p. 75.

    All that Newt had heard about Rachel’s prowess was true, and in her, he found a match for his own cunning …

    Soon Rachel understood from these meetings with Newt that he was the man who would liberate them when the time came. Rachel was anxious to help, and every day found her on the path to other Negroes’ quarters with information. And from these quarters, word spread by grapevine, that the time would soon come when all would be free, regardless of the struggle between the States. There was not a Negro in Jones County that did not know that a white man had run away from the army, to come back to lead the slaves out of bondage.

    Source 11.1Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas, edited by Richard Price, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), pp. 4–7.
    In his introduction to this collection of essays, Price describes maroon societies.

    For more than four centuries, the communities formed by runaways dotted the fringes of plantation America, from Brazil to the southeastern United States, from Peru to the American Southwest. During the past several decades, historical scholarship has done much to dispel the myth of the “docile slave.” The extent of violent resistance to enslavement has been documented rather fully. And we are finally beginning to appreciate the remarkable pervasiveness of various forms of “day to day” resistance—from simple malingering to subtle but systematic acts of sabatoge. Flight or marronage, however, has received much less attention, at least from North American scholars—in part no doubt because so much of the relevant data are in languages other than English but also because publications on maroons and their communities have so often been couched in what Curtin has called the “parochial tradition of ethnocentric national history.”
    Yet maroons and their communities can be seen to hold a special significance for the study of slave societies. For while they were, from one perspective, the antithesis of all that slavery stood for, they were at the same time everywhere an embarrassingly visible part of these systems. Just as the very nature of plantation slavery implied violence and resistance, the wilderness setting of early New World plantations made marronage and the existence of organized maroon communities a ubiquitous reality. Throughout Afro-America, such communities stood out as an heroic challenge to white authority, and as the living proof of the existence of a slave consciousness that refused to be limited by the whites’ conception or manipulation of it.

    Maroon men throughout the hemisphere developed extraordinary skills in guerrilla warfare. To the bewilderment of their European enemies, whose rigid and conventional tactics were learned on the open battlefields of Europe, these highly adaptable and mobile warriors took maximum advantage of local environments, striking and withdrawing with great rapidity, making extensive use of ambushes to catch their adversaries in crossfire, fighting only when and where they chose, depending on reliable intelligence networks among nonmaroons (both slaves and white settlers), and often communicating by horns.

    Source 11.2— Victoria E. Bynum, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), p. 94.
    Bynum discusses the interdependence of deserters, women, and slaves in Jones County.

    We know that Northern and Southern white men did not simply battle over rival notions of freedom and economic principles while dependents passively awaited the outcome. We also know that Southern white men fought among themselves as well as with Yankees, and that they did not fight alone. Jones County’s guerrilla war revealed with searing clarity the interdependence of men, women, children, and slaves in this struggle. The common wartime stereotype of men protecting women was turned on its head as deserters’ wives and daughters protected them. Similarly, the deserters’ need to enlist the aid of slaves replaced the white masters’ need to govern slaves.

    Source 11.3— Lt. H. Larkin to Gov. Clark, July 26, 1864, Governor’s Correspondence, MDAH.

    Gainesville is only some 100 miles below here on the Pearl River. Reliable information has been obtained that Yankee Soldiers White and black occupy and garrison the place. It is the paradise of Deserters who flee from their own Swamps. Many have gone there with their families and draw rations from the Enemy, and I doubt not a raid may be attempted from that point.

    Source 11.4— Herbert Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts (New York: International Publishers, 1963), p. 361.

    In January, 1863, Governor Shorter of Alabama asked Secretary of War Seddon to dispatch reinforcements to the southeastern region of his State which, he said, was “the common retreat of deserters from our armies, tories and runaways,” and at the same time commissioned J.H. Clayton to destroy these disturbing elements.

    Source 11.5— Confederate Brigadier-General R.F. Floyd to Governor Milton of Florida, April 11, 1862. Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Vol. 53, p. 233.
    A Confederate general writes to the governor.

    Your Excellency having required of me to inform you at any moment of any section in which it would be proper to have martial law proclaimed and rigidly enforced, I now unhesitatingly have the honor to report to you that it is necessary that it should go into immediate effect in the following counties: Nassau County, Duval County, Clay County, Putnam County, Saint Johns County, and Volusia County. That martial law should be ordered in these counties appears to be a measure of absolute necessity, as they contain a nest of traitors and lawless negroes. Should Your Excellency adopt this measure, I will send a force in those counties, together with Captain Pearson’s company, sufficient to enforce it. As soon as I hear from you I will carry out your orders with the utmost promptitude. Thus far treason has boldly appeared in our midst with impunity; the hour to deal with it summarily has arrived.

    Source 11.6— Herbert Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts (New York: International Publishers, 1963), p. 361.

    Colonel Hatch of the Union Army reported in August 1864 that “500 Union men, deserters, and negroes were … raiding towards Gainesville,” Florida. The same month a confederate officer, John K. Jackson, declared that “Many deserters … are collected in the swamps and fastnesses of Taylor, LaFayette, Levy and other counties [in Florida], and have organized, with runaway negroes, bands for the purpose of committing depredations upon the plantations and crops of loyal citizens and running off their slaves. These depredatory bands have even threatened the cities of Tallahassee, Madison, and Marianna.”

    Source 12.1— Steven Hahn, The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), p. 77.

    The slaves’ response to the Union invasion of the Confederate South was not spontaneous, nor should it be regarded simply as a response to an event orchestrated from the outside. When the slaves fled their plantations and farms and headed to Union Army encampments, they instead acted on their understandings of the war’s meaning, and given such unmistakable self-consciousness and the effective organizing that likely preceded their actions, the idea of a rebellion against the authority of their owners makes increasing sense. Thus, after the slave Harry Jarvis escaped a gun-toting master and sailed to Fortress Monroe sometime in the spring or early summer of 1861, he asked General Butler to let him enlist. Butler refused him, allowing that “it wasn’t a black man’s war.” But Jarvis insisted otherwise, in turn explaining his very presence. “It would be a black man’s war before they got through,” he proclaimed. Jarvis not only made his way to Fortress Monroe by rejecting the authority of his master and by carrying clear ideas about what was going on and what he might find, he also relied heavily on the intelligence and support provided by slaves who had not yet decided to go: food while he hid out in the woods and particularly information about the reaction of his owner and the whereabouts of a boat. And Jarvis was by no means alone. Slaves who contemplated flight knew they would be assuming the status of runaways and rebels; and so they had to determine to their satisfaction the political stakes of the war, and they had to obtain more specific intelligence about the shifting of Union lines, the patrolling of Confederates or Home Guards, the location of enslaved allies, and the best trails to follow—which is to say that even small-scale flight was necessarily a collective undertaking. But it was not simply acts of flight, informed by political interpretations and collective activities, that suggest a large and increasingly massive rebellion of slaves; it was also how the acts of flight made possible new forms of politicization and new forms of struggle against the institution of slavery. Indeed, while most recent historical accounts construct a narrative in which slaves are effectively assimilated to the nation, in which the goals of the slaves and those of the federal government steadily coincide, there is good reason to regard slaves—and slaves turned freed people—as discrete, ever-developing political and military bodies moving into and out of alliances as the circumstances of power and politics allowed.

    Source 12.2— Richard Price, “(editor)”Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), pp. 4–7.
    In his introduction to this collection of essays, Price describes maroon societies: people who rejected the institution of slavery, but lived independently in the wilderness, unable to flee to the North.

    For more than four centuries, the communities formed by runaways dotted the fringes of plantation America, from Brazil to the southeastern United States, from Peru to the American Southwest. During the past several decades, historical scholarship has done much to dispel the myth of the “docile slave.” The extent of violent resistance to enslavement has been documented rather fully. And we are finally beginning to appreciate the remarkable pervasiveness of various forms of “day to day” resistance—from simple malingering to subtle but systematic acts of sabatoge. Flight or marronage, however, has received much less attention, at least from North American scholars—in part no doubt because so much of the relevant data are in languages other than English but also because publications on maroons and their communities have so often been couched in what Curtin has called the “parochial tradition of ethnocentric national history.” Yet maroons and their communities can be seen to hold a special significance for the study of slave societies. For while they were, from one perspective, the antithesis of all that slavery stood for, they were at the same time everywhere an embarrassingly visible part of these systems. Just as the very nature of plantation slavery implied violence and resistance, the wilderness setting of early New World plantations made marronage and the existence of organized maroon communities a ubiquitous reality. Throughout Afro-America, such communities stood out as an heroic challenge to white authority, and as the living proof of the existence of a slave consciousness that refused to be limited by the whites’ conception or manipulation of it.

    Maroon men throughout the hemisphere developed extraordinary skills in guerrilla warfare. To the bewilderment of their European enemies, whose rigid and conventional tactics were learned on the open battlefields of Europe, these highly adaptable and mobile warriors took maximum advantage of local environments, striking and withdrawing with great rapidity, making extensive use of ambushes to catch their adversaries in crossfire, fighting only when and where they chose, depending on reliable intelligence networks among nonmaroons (both slaves and white settlers), and often communicating by horns.

    Source 13.1— John Stauffer and Sally Jenkins, The State of Jones (New York: Anchor books, 2009), p. 155.
    Stauffer and Jenkins describe Serena’s move from Jones County to Georgia, possibly after the rebels had burned out her farm.

    In midwar, Serena finally found it imposible to subsist in Jones County and left Mississippi for a period to live with relatives in Georgia, although it’s not clear when or for how long. She must have done so because she was no longer able to support the family, once the rebels had burned them out. On an undated Confederate document, she was listed as “destitute.” She may have also fled because of the danger of Newton’s activities, or because she didn’t understand his transformation into an anti-Confederate Unionist leader and comrade of blacks.

    Source 14.1Wilson Chinn, a Branded Slave from Louisiana. Photograph. New York, NY.: Kimball, c1863. From Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division: LC-USZ62-90345.

    Source 14.2— John W. Blassingame, Slave Testimony (Baton Rouge: University of Louisiana Press, 1977), p. 381.

    Then they had a collar to put round your neck with two horns, like cows’ horns, so that you could not lie down on your back or belly. This also kept you from running away for the horns would catch in the bushes.

    Source 14.3— John W. Blassingame, Slave Testimony (Baton Rouge: University of Louisiana Press, 1977) pp. 222 – 223. From article in Anti-Slavery Reporter based upon interview of Madison Jefferson, formerly enslaved in Virginia.

    After this infliction [whipping and brine poured on wounds], he was placed in the dark dungeon for two days, and then made to walk up and down before the house in chains, with a bell upon his head, which is fixed in the following manner: – a band of iron goes round the waist with upright bands connecting it with the collar, from whence two other upright pieces terminated in a cross bar, to the center of which, beyond the reach of the wearer, a bell is suspended; this degrading instrument he wore for several days, and was then sent to the field, being locked up and chained nightly for five or six months, by which time he was supposed to be cured of running away, and had promised on his knees not to repeat the attempt.

    Source 14.4— Charles Sackett Syndor, Slavery in Mississippi (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1965), p. 92.
    Description of punishments of runaway slaves in Mississippi.

    In the files of the Woodville Republican [Wilkinson County] between the years of 1823 and 1848, a total of five hundred and fifty fugitive slaves were described. Of this number, fifty-eight bore on their bodies permanent marks of punishment. Eleven had been branded, usually on the forehead, cheek or breast. Forty-one had scars of whippings, some of them severe and not merely temporary marks... One of the fugitives had an iron collar around his neck, and six of them had iron bands about their legs.

    Source 15.1— Margaret Storey, Loyalty and Loss: Alabama’s Unionists in the Civil War and Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004), p. 153.
    In her brilliant book about Unionism in Northern Alabama, Storey reports on this and other aspects of covert slave networks.

    “My guide seemed to be perfectly at home in the swamp, and piloted the way for three miles over a string of logs, which seemed to be arranged by accident, and not design, so as to form a complete chain across it, so that we were landed on the opposite side without wading a step.” Pike, amazed as this secret pathway was revealed to him, was the lucky beneficiary of the slaves’ system of surreptitious travel."

    Source 16.1— Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave (New York: Derby & Miller, 1853), p. 138.

    Continuing my course due south, as nearly as I can judge, I came at length to water just over shoe. The hounds at that moment could not have been five rods behind me. I could hear them crashing and plunging through the palmettoes, their loud, eager yells making the whole swamp clamorous with the sound. Hope revived a little as I reached the water. If it were only deeper, they might lose the scent, and thus disconcerted, afford me the opportunity of evading them. Luckily, it grew deeper the farther I proceeded—now over my ankles—now half-way to my knees—now sinking a moment to my waist, and then emerging presently into more shallow places. The dogs had not gained upon me since I struck the water. Evidently they were confused. Now their savage intonations grew more and more distant, assuring me that I was leaving them. Finally I stopped to listen, but the long howl came booming on the air again, telling me I was not yet safe. From bog to bog, where I had stepped, they could still keep upon the track, though impeded by the water. At length, to my great joy, I came to a wide bayou, and plunging in, had soon stemmed its sluggish current to the other side. There, certainly, the dogs would be confounded—the current carrying down the stream all traces of that slight, mysterious scent, which enables the quick-smelling hound to follow in the track of the fugitive.

    Source 16.2— Meigs Frost, “The South’s Strangest Army Revealed by Chief.” Interview with Newton Knight, New Orleans Item, March 20, 1921, p. 52.
    Newt himself describes being hunted by bloodhounds, suggesting that local women sometimes poisoned them in response.

    So we stayed out in the woods minding our own business, until the Confederate army began sending raiders after us with bloodhounds. Then we saw we had to fight.

    Yes, those ladies sure helped us a lot. I recollect when Forrest’s cavalry came a-raidin’ after us. They had 44 blodhounds after us, those boys and General Robert Lowry’s men. But 42 of them hounds just naturally died. They’d get hungry and some of the ladies, friends of ours, would feed ’em. And they’d die. Strange isn’t it?

    Source 16.3— John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger, Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 101, 156–158.
    The eminent historian John Hope Franklin describes the use of slave patrols and paddy rollers.

    Even under the best of circumstances, those remaining in the same area confronted many obstacles. Living conditions could be harsh, with inadequate food, water, shelter, clothing. Often the weather—stifling heat, incessant rains, and in the border states, frigid cold—could be as much a problem as finding food. In addition, the increasing density of settlement, improvements in communication, and the increasing frequency of patrols created problems.

    More effective than patrols in finding runaways were slave catchers. Among this group were men who specialized in tracking slaves. They sometimes owned or could secure dogs and were willing to expend substantial effort to find their prey …

    To slow the tide of runaways, southern states relied on a system of patrols. Beginning in colonial times, legislatures passed laws granting local officials, including county judges, authority to constitute patrols to control the slave population. They ranged in size from two or three to a dozen and more. They were organized in military fashion, with captains, sergeants, and patrollers [privates]; and they had legal authority to search virtually anywhere for fugitives.

    Source 16.4— Sally E. Hadden, Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), pp. 175, 182.

    Some planters chose not to rely on sporadically operating slave patrols, and instead hired extra patrollers for their own plantations. Former slaves like Hannah Crasson and Solomon Northup remembered that owners hired their own private patrollers during the Civil War.

    The increased activities of some patrol groups in 1861-1862 included attempts to root out maroon communities that in an earlier time might have been left unmolested.

    Source 17.1— Thomas J. Knight, The Life and Activities of Captain Newton Knight and His Company and the Free State of Jones (Ellisville, MS: printed by the Progress Item, 1934), p. 89.

    They did not want to be put under a slave government. They believed in a free government, equal rights to all people, rich or poor. It should not make any difference who they were. So as my father told us the 375 men that voted to stay with the Union about 250 of them met together with the understanding they would come together and bind themselves together and to constitute a Free State of Jones.

    Source 17.2— Ethel Knight, The Echo of the Black Horn (York, PA/Binghampton, NY: The Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group, 1951), pp. 87–89.

    The Knight Company was organized in the fall of 1863. This first organization was not official, just a group of men who met and pledged themselves to defy capture, to kill, or be killed for one another, and for one another’s families, if need be … Some two months later, the group had secured promises of kinsmen here and there in the county, to come in, and legally join … As Knight was the first to desert, and as he had shown remarkable ability as a leader, and as he possessed such a thorough knowledge of the lay of the land, from his dodging the law in the swamps, and since he had secured the allegiance of the Negroes, he was the man who was chosen Captain of the Company.

    Source 17.3— Victoria E. Bynum, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), p. 106.

    Newt recorded fourteen separate battles fought between his company and Confederate forces between October 13, 1863, and January 10, 1863. The first occurred at Smith’s store, two miles east of Soso, eight days after McLemore’s murder. On that date the guerrillas set up camp “at a battleground known as Salsbattery” and formally organized the Knight Company. According to Newt, “We knew we were completely surrounded by the rebels, but we [also] knew every trail in the woods.” The company would engage in six battles between November 1, 1863, and February 1, 1864, four during the infamous “Lowry raids” of April 1864 and four between November 1864 and January 10, 1865.

    Source 17.4— Daniel P. Logan to Major J.C. Denis, Provost Marshal General, April 7, 1864. O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 3, pp. 755.
    The letter reports the existence and efficacy of the Knight Company in the region: “They hold the countryside in awe.”

    Mississippi City, April 7, 1864
    Maj. J.C. Denis,
    Provost-Marshal-General, Demopolis, Ala. :

    Major: In accordance with your orders I have to report that a band of deserters still continue prowling about the country, doing considerable damage to the farmers and molesting travelers. Though dispersed from Perry and Jones Counties, they appear in other parts. Large numbers of these from Jones County have gone down Pearl River to and near Honey Island, where they exist in some force and hold the country in awe, openly boasting of their being in communication with the Yankees.

    In fact, it is dangerous to travel in that part of Louisiana. In Marion County, Miss., and the upper part of Washington Parish, La., they are banded in large numbers, bid defiance to the authorities, and claim to have a government of their own in opposition to the Confederate Government.

    Your obedient servant,
    Danl. P. Logan.

    Source 17.5— Transcript of Official Records, relevant to Augusta. CSA Lieutenant General L. Polk to His Excellency President Davis, March 21, 1864. O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 3, pp. 662-63.
    In his letter to Jefferson Davis, Polk writes of his compatriot Henry Maury, finding and waging a campaign against Jones and Perry County deserters who are openly describing themselves as “Southern Yankees.”

    CSA Lieutenant General L. Polk to His Excellency President Davis, March 21, 1864:

    "In regard to the inefficiency and mischiefs of the conscription system now in operation, it is sufficient to refer to this state of things in the southern counties of Mississippi. If the whole of the executive part of all military operations in the department were placed in the hands of the department commander, these evils could not arise, and many lives sacrificed in suppressing them would be saved to their families and the country.

    In regard to the condition of affairs in the counties alluded to, I have to report that Col. Henry Maury, under my orders, through the commander of the District of the Gulf, made a campaign against the deserters and traitors in Jones, Perry, &c., about a week ago. He found them, as reported, in open rebellion, defiant at the outset, proclaiming themselves “Southern Yankees,” and resolved to resist by force of arms all efforts to capture them. My orders were very stringent, and very summary measures were taken with such as were captured, and with marked benefit to many of the rest. Some escaped to the bottoms on Pearl River, swearing they would return with Yankee re-enforcements; others were brought to reason and loyalty, and have come in and surrendered themselves. I have today dispatched another expedition from this place to the counties of Smith and others lying on the Pearl River, to break up an organization which has been formed there, and which has held three public meetings. I shall not stop until these outbreaks are suppressed and their authors punished, but it would be far better for the Government to dispose of its military resources in such a way as to prevent them."

    Source 17.6— CSA Captain W. Wirt Thomson to Hon. James A. Seddon, Secretary of War, C.S. Army. March 29, 1864, O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 3, pp. 711-13.

    Companies of 40 or 50 men go together to each other’s fields, stack arms, place out a picket guard, and then cut and roll logs, repair fences, &c., and in this way they swear they intend to raise crops and defend themselves from cavalry this season. The country is entirely at their mercy. Colonel Maury with a regiment of cavalry had been sent from Mobile into Jones County and had encountered and captured some of them, but cavalry, unaided by well-drilled infantry troops in large forces, will never be able to dislodge them and relieve the country.

    Source 17.7— A.S. Polk, Acting Assistant Inspector General, CSA., to Lieutenant Colonel T.F. Sevier, Assistant Inspector General, March 3, 1864. O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 3, pp. 579-80.
    This letter to the Inspector General of the Confederacy describes the damages to Confederate infrastructure by Unionists raiding a supply depot and others making plans to join Sherman’s army.

    I beg leave also to say something in regard to tories and deserters, who infest Jones County and a portion of Lauderdale [where Meridian is].

    At Meridian I found that the enemy had burned and destroyed all of the Government houses except one house, in which a family was living. They also burned a good deal of private property, consisting of two hotels and all the stores in the place, as well as the Clarion office. In Enterprise all the Government houses were burned, as well well as a good deal of private property. The bridge across the river was also burned. All the cotton along the road was burned.

    The tories in Jones County made a raid on Paulding not many days ago, about 200 strong, and carried off a good deal of corn as well as other property. They are becoming very troublesome, as well as dangerous, to the country around.

    In regard to the tories and deserters in Lauderdale County, I have to say that a citizen of the county, Mr. W.W. Hall, who was at one time a member of the Legislature, informed me that in the western portion of Lauderdale County, where he was just from when I saw him, there was being formed a company of men who intend joining the Federal army as soon as possible.

    Source 17.8— Colonel George B. Hodge to General S. Cooper, May 2, 1864. O.R., Ser. I, Vol. 39, pt. 2, pp. 567-71.
    Piney Woods deserters and Unionists continued to grow in number. Newt and his men became legends in their own time, folk heroes to countless farmers. In May 1864 they raided the public store at Paulding, which served as a depot for tax-in-kind receipts. This exploit and others are described by a Confederate officer, who is embarrassed by the rise of Unionists throughout southern Mississippi.

    He [Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk] found many thousands of deserters and absentees from the army banded together throughout Mississippi, perpetrating outrages.

    In the county of Jones and its vicinity there is a formidable organization of disaffected persons, threatening upon the appearance of the enemy to cut the line of railroads from Meridian to Mobile.

    He [Polk] estimates that on assuming command, there were in his territorial limits 10,000 men liable to military duty absent from their commands and evading the claims of the Government for their services.

    In the county of Jones, in Mississippi, as heretofore intimated, were a large number of disaffected persons who had proceeded to such extremities as to engage in a raid upon and plunder of the public stores at Paulding, in Jasper County.

    Source 17.9— Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk to General Samuel Cooper, March 3, 1864. O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 3, pp. 580-81.
    News of the Knight Company gained the attention of high-ranking officers.

    Conscripts and deserters have banded together in Jones County, and others contiguous, to the number of several hundred; have killed the officer in charge of the work of conscription [Amos McLemore] and dispersed and captured his supporting force. They are increasing in numbers and boldness; have destroyed the houses of many loyal men by fire, plundered others, and have within a few days made a raid into Paulding with a wagon train and helped themselves largely to Government and other stores.

    The forces I have in the field will have to be turned aside to put down this combination, which is fast attaining formidable proportions, greatly to my inconvenience and the interference with permanent duties elsewhere.

    Source 17.10— Meigs Frost, “The South’s Strangest Army Revealed by Chief.” Interview with Newton Knight, New Orleans Item, March 20, 1921.
    In his own words, Knight describes giving food to needy families after his raid at Paulding.

    I took the boys up there to Paulding. There was a guard of Confederates over the building. The supplies was all corn. They made out I took right smart other stuff. But it was all corn.

    I remember there was some Irish families there at Paulding. They were pretty bad off. They didn’t want to fight, and the Confederates wouldn’t give ’em or sell ’em anything. I gave ’em all the corn they said they wanted. Then we took the rest back to our headquarters in the woods.

    Source 17.11— CSA Captain W. Wirt Thomson to Hon. James A. Seddon, Secretary of War, C.S. Army. March 29, 1864. O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 3, 711-13.
    Thompson, a captain in the Confederate Army, describes extensive military activity on the part of the Knight Company.

    Sir: I would most respectfully submit for your consideration the following statement of facts, and for the relief of the loyal citizens of Southeastern Mississippi earnestly solicit the attention of the War Department to the condition of affairs now existing in that section of the State. I have just returned to the army from a short leave of absence, which I spent in Greene County, Miss., and I therefore make my statements from a personal knowledge of their truth. Previous to starting to Mississippi I was aware of the presence of large numbers of deserters and conscripts in that section of the State, but until I arrived in the country I did not know that they were in organized bodies and committing depredations and deeds of violence, bloodshed, and outlawry, and that there was no force in the country to contend against them or to defend the loyal portion of the citizens from their savage caprices and brutal whims. But such I found to be the case, and the whole southern and southeastern section of Mississippi is in a most deplorable condition, and unless succor is sent speedily the country is utterly ruined, and every loyal citizen will be driven from it or meet a tragic and untimely fate at the hands of those who are aiding and abetting our enemies. Several of the most prominent citizens have already been driven from their homes, and some have been slaughtered in their own homes because they refused to obey the mandates of the outlaws and abandon the country. Numbers have been ordered away and are now living under threats and in fear of their lives. It is a matter of great personal danger and risk for an officer or soldier of the Confederate army to make his appearance in the country, and so perfect are these organizations and systems of dispatching that in a few hours large bodies of them can be collected at any given point prepared to attempt almost anything. On the 24th of February Capt. John J. Bradford, of Company B, Third Mississippi Regiment, who had previously been commanding conscript rendezvous at Augusta, Perry County, was captured by them and barely escaped with his life by accepting a parole, the conditions of which were that he would never again enter the county as a Confederate officer under orders or authority, or in any way aid or assist in molesting them. The house in which he was sleeping was surrounded at daylight, and he was called out, and after some discussion and persuasion on the part of the gentleman with whom he was staying, they agreed to take a vote of the crowd as to whether he should be hanged or be permitted to accept the parole, and by a majority of one vote he was granted the parole. There were in that company 21 men, well armed and equipped, and on the same day they took forcible possession of the depot containing the tax in kind and compelled one of the citizens to issue it out to families in the neighborhood.

    Every officer or soldier who enters the county is compelled, if they can catch him, to submit to one of the following requirements: First, desert the army and join them; second, take a parole not to molest them or give information in regard to their acts and localities of rendezvous, or to pilot Confederate cavalry into the country; or, third, to leave the country immediately. Through the instrumentality and assistance of loyal friends, and my own influence with certain citizens whom I knew to be vedettes [mounted sentinels] and spies for these outlaws, I remained in the country several days without being troubled, but was compelled to be very guarded in my actions and words. The citizens are afraid to speak of them in their own houses for fear of spies. Government depots filled with supplies have been either robbed or burned. Gin-houses, dwelling-houses, and barns, and the court-house of Greene County, have been destroyed by fire. Bridges have been burned and ferry-boats sunk on almost every stream and at almost every ferry to obstruct the passage of troops; their pickets and vedettes lie concealed in swamps and thickets on the roadside; spies watch the citizens and eavesdrop their houses at night, and a Tory despotism of the most oppressive description governs the country; citizens’ horses, wagons, guns, & c., are pressed at the option of any outlaw who may desire them, and if the citizen makes any remonstrance he is treated to a caning, a rope, or is driven from the country. Deserters from every army and from every State are among them. They have colonels, majors, captains, and lieutenants; boast themselves to be not less than a thousand strong in organized bodies, besides what others are outsiders and disloyal citizens (of whom I regret to say there are many). They have frequent and uninterrupted communication with the enemy on Ship Island and other points; have a sufficiency of arms and ammunition of the latest Northern and European manufacture in abundance, and I was told that they boast of fighting for the Union.

    Gentlemen of undoubted veracity informed me that the Federal flag had been raised by them over the court-house in Jones County, and in the same county they are said to have fortified rendezvous, and that Yankees are frequently among them. Companies of 40 or 50 men go together to each other’s fields, stack arms, place out a picket guard, and then cut and roll logs, repair fences, &c., and in this way they swear they intend to raise crops and defend themselves from cavalry this season. The country is entirely at their mercy. Colonel Maury with a regiment of cavalry had been sent from Mobile into Jones County and had encountered and captured some of them, but cavalry, unaided by well-drilled infantry troops in large forces, will never be able to dislodge them and relieve the country. The loyal citizens are sorely oppressed and are looking to the Government for relief, and unless they get such relief soon the country will be utterly and irretrievably ruined. It is a serious matter, one that calls loudly for prompt and immediate attention on the part of the Government, and as a Confederate officer, as a citizen of that portion of Mississippi, whose friends and family are exposed to this growing evil, I have felt it my duty to lay the matter before the proper authorities and in behalf of the oppressed to solicit the consideration and succor of the Government. I give it as my honest opinion, based upon what I saw and learned, that not less than a brigade of well-drilled infantry troops, a force sufficient to sweep the country at once, will be able to exterminate them from the country. Cavalry can never do it, and as yet only cavalry has been sent, and only in small bodies. These they have heretofore driven out of the country, and have grown the more daring after each success.

    Trusting that this may meet the serious consideration of those into whose hands is committed the destinies of our struggling young country, and with the assurance that I can substantiate by as much evidence as may be desired all and even more than has been stated in the foregoing, I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant.

    Source 17.12— Lt. H. Larkin to Gov. Clark, July 26, 1864, Governor’s Correspondence, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, MS.
    This letter, reporting a cluster of Knight Company members down the Pearl River, describes the mixed-race nature of the company at this point.

    Gainesville is only some 100 miles below here on the Pearl River. Reliable information has been obtained that Yankee Soldiers White and black occupy and garrison the place. It is the paradise of Deserters who flee from their own Swamps. Many have gone there with their families and draw rations from the Enemy, and I doubt not a raid may be attempted from that point.

    Source 17.13— Major General William T. Sherman to Major General Henry Halleck, February 29, 1864. O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 2, p. 499.
    Sherman not only describes the Jones County Deserters but refers to a declaration of independence by them, attached to his letter.

    Enclosed herewith… A declaration of independence by certain people who are trying to avoid the Southern conscription, and lie out in the swamps. I promised them countenance, and encouraged them to organization for mutual defense.

    Source 17.14— “The Republic of Jones,” Natchez Courier, July 12, 1864.
    The most unambiguous primary source attesting to the existence of the Free State of Jones.

    It may be interesting to many of our citizens to know that the county of Jones, State of Mississippi, has seceded from the State and formed a Government of their own, both military and civil. The Confederacy, after claiming the right of secession, not being willing to extend the same to the said Republic, has declared war against it and sent an army under Col. Mowry, of Mobile, to crush the rebellion.

    Source 17.15— Major General Dabney Maury to James A. Seddon, Secretary of War, March 3, 1864, O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 1, p. 403.

    Confederates captured by Newt and his men were usually paroled, meaning that instead of being killed or kept prisoner, they were released after pledging not to resist them or other Unionists, Northern or Southern.

    General Dabney Maury describes this in a letter highlighting the growing influence of Newt and fellow Unionists to Secretary of War James Seddon:

    There is a body of armed traitors in Jones County, Miss., who have become so formidable that I have sent Colonel Maury with a force to break them up.

    They have been seizing Government stores, have been killing our people, and have actually made prisoners of and paroled officers of the Confederate army.

    They now threaten to interfere with the repairing of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. They are represented to be more than 500 strong, with artillery.

    Source 17.16— Colonel Henry Maury to Major General Dabney Maury, March 12, 1864, O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 3, pp. 632-33.

    Colonel Henry Maury, in charge of capturing and killing Newt and his men, received ample supplies: 200 cavalry, a battalion of sharpshooters, and artillery. But these were ineffective in the swamp warfare that Newt and his men had mastered.

    In a letter to his commanding officer, Maury exaggerates his success against Jones County Unionists:

    Yesterday we moved on Leaf River, 10 miles west of this place [Ellisville, in Jones County], and I am satisfied that there no longer remains any organization of deserters in this county, although some few have to be hunted out with dogs.

    They have scattered in every direction; some west, but most for Honey Island [in Hancock County] and the coast.

    They brag that they will get Yankee aid and return.

    They are panic-stricken, and although their leaders twice got them in position to ambush me, they fled both times to the swamps on my approach. They don’t mind being taken prisoners and sent off, but they won’t face the hanging.

    There has never been at any time more than 150 resident deserters in this county, although some more have been over from Perry and Covington to help to whip the cavalry.

    Source 17.17— Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk to General Samuel Cooper, March 14, 1864, O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 33, pt. 1, p. 499.
    Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk also boasts of having destroyed Newt Knight’s band of Southern Unionists. He writes this to Samuel Cooper, the highest-ranking Confederate general.

    Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk also boasts of having destroyed Newt Knight’s band of Southern Unionists. He writes this to Samuel Cooper, the highest-ranking Confederate general:

    The Expedition I caused to be made under Col. Maury against the traitors and murderers of Jones and other counties in Southern Mississippi has succeeded in killing and capturing a number of their ringleaders and breaking up their bands.

    A salutary effect has been produced upon that infected district, and many of the deserters are now coming in.

    Source 17.18— Major General Dabney Maury to Colonel T.M. Jack, Assistant Adjutant General, March 15, 1864, O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 3, pp. 632-33.

    Colonel Henry Maury was instructed to take no quarter on the leaders and “inflict summary punishment.”

    His kinsman and superior officer, Dabney Maury, describes this in a letter to Assistant Adjutant General T.M. Jack:

    I sent Colonel Maury with 200 cavalry of his regiment, a battalion of sharpshooters, and a section of horse artillery, by rail as far as Shubuta [between Ellisville and Meridian], to move at once into Jones County and break up the organized deserters who were threatening to interfere with the repairs of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.

    He appears to have discharged the duty assigned to him with his accustomed vigor and success.

    I have received no detailed report from him yet, but have learned from him that he has long ago broken them up and driven them out of Jones County; caused them to cease their depredations and break up their organizations in the neighboring counties of Covington and Perry.

    In several instances he inflicted summary punishment upon those captured.

    I have ordered him to withdraw his forces, and have taken measures to cause the deserters to come in and report to their regiments.

    Source 17.19— Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk to Jefferson Davis, March 21, 1864, O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 3, pp. 662-63.

    Newt Knight and his men described themselves as “Southern Yankees,” according to Confederate reports. These reports were important enough to go all the way up the chain of command to Jefferson Davis. Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk informs President Davis of Colonel Maury’s campaign against Newt and his men:

    In regard to the condition of affairs in the counties alluded to, I have to report that Col. Henry Maury, under my orders, through the commander of the District of the Gulf, made a campaign against the deserters and traitors in Jones, Perry, &c. Counties about a week ago.

    He found them, as reported, in open rebellion, defiant at the outset, proclaiming themselves “Southern Yankees,” and resolved to resist by force of arms all efforts to capture them.

    My orders were very stringent, and very summary measures were taken with such as were captured, and with marked benefit to many of the rest.

    Some escaped to the bottoms on Pearl River, swearing they would return with Yankee re-enforcements; others were brought to reason and loyalty, and have come in and surrendered themselves.

    I have today dispatched another expedition from this place to the counties of Smith and others lying on the Pearl River, to break up an organization which has been formed there, and which has held three public meetings.

    I shall not stop until these outbreaks are suppressed and their authors punished, but it would be far better for the Government to dispose of its military resources in such a way as to prevent them.

    Source 17.20— James Hamilton, Controlling Quartermaster Tax-in-Kind for Mississippi and East Louisiana, to Colonel T.M. Jack, Assistant Adjutant General, March 31, 1864, O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 3, pp. 727-728.

    The campaign to destroy the Piney Woods Unionists failed. Indeed, after Henry Maury’s well-armed attempt to capture and kill them, Newt and his men had the audacity to raise the federal flag above the Jones County courthouse, effectively proclaiming it Unionist territory.

    They distributed Confederate supplies, food, and arms to fellow Unionists throughout the region.

    Secretary of War James Seddon was so alarmed by Thompson’s letter that he ordered Leonidas Polk to take “prompt and decisive measures to arrest and punish these marauding bands of deserters.”

    The quartermaster in charge of tax-in-kind receipts for Mississippi and East Louisiana was similarly alarmed. He referred to the raid by Newt and his men on the tax-in-kind storehouse in Augusta.

    Southern Unionists effectively undermined the ability of agents to collect taxes-in-kind from farmers in and around Jones County.

    The quartermaster, James Hamilton, details this in a letter:

    The state of affairs in a portion of this district [including Jones County] is very annoying. The deserters have overrun and taken possession of the country, in many cases exiling the good and loyal citizens or shooting them in cold blood on their own door-sills.

    The tax-in-kind agent in Jones County was ordered by them to leave the county, since which time he has not been heard from.

    The tax-in-kind agent in Covington County has been notified by them (the deserters) to desist from collecting the tithe and to distribute what he has to their families, and the agent continues his duties at the risk of his life and property.

    The deserters from Jones and Perry Counties made a raid upon Augusta, in Perry County, capturing a part of the small force there and destroying the public stores which we had collected there.

    You will perceive that under these circumstances we cannot discharge our duty, and that the public interests, no less than the public honor, demand that a check be put to these lawless and pernicious acts.

    Source 17.21— “Letter from Mississippi,” Mobile Daily Advertiser and Register, May 6, 1864.

    I see by your evening issue of [May 2, 1864], that under “Mississippi Items” you say that Captain Newton Knight, of Jones County, had sent in a flag of truce to Colonel Lewis. This is not so. I am just from Jones County. The expedition consisted of the 6th and 20th Mississippi Regiments and my cavalry company, the whole under the command of Col. Robert Lowry, of the 6th Mississippi Regiment.

    We entered Smith County on the 27th of March, and on the 28th hung two noted deserters and leaders of squads. These were all the men who were hung in Smith County.

    There was a Union flag, or rather a ludicrous representation of the United States flag, captured at the home of one Hawkins (of Smith County); it was concealed on the person of Mrs. Hawkins, who would not deliver it until after much persuasion and a few threats. …

    On the 15th [of April] we moved into Jones County. That day the man who fired into the party on the piazza was arrested, after being wounded and run down by dogs, and promptly executed. His name was D. Reddock. A young man by the name of Gregg was with him, was shot while running, and soon died from the wound.

    This same day another party of our boys were ambushed near Newton Knight’s home by deserters—only wounding one man, not seriously, however. Our boys promptly charged the ambush and captured two, Ben Knight and a lad, Sillman Coleman, and shooting one other. Knight and Coleman were both promptly executed.

    The same day four others were caught and brought in [Tom and Daniel Whitehead—Daniel is too young to volunteer—and Jim and Tom Ates]. They were put before a court martial, and on their own confession of resisting with arms military arrests, were on the morning of April 16th, executed by hanging.

    Source 18.1— Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?” The Atlantic, December 2011, accessed June 1, 2016,
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/02/why-do-so-few-blacks-study-the-civil-war/308831/

    In my seventh-grade year, my school took a bus trip from our native Baltimore to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the sanctified epicenter of American tragedy. It was the mid-’80s, when educators in our inner cities, confronted by the onslaught of crack, Saturday Night Specials, and teen pregnancy, were calling on all hands for help—even the hands of the departed.

    Preposterous notions abounded. Black people talked openly of covert plots evidenced by skyrocketing murder rates and the plague of HIV. Conscious people were quick to glean, from the cascade of children murdered over Air Jordans, something still darker—the work of warlocks who would extinguish all hope for our race. The stratagem of these shadow forces was said to be amnesia: they would have us see no past greatness in ourselves, and thus no future glory. And so it was thought that a true history, populated by a sable nobility and punctuated by an ensemble of Negro “firsts,” might be the curative for black youth who had no aspirations beyond the corner.

    The attempt was gallant. It enlisted every field, from the arts (Phillis Wheatley) to the sciences (Charles Drew). Each February—known since 1976 as Black History Month­—trivia contests rewarded those who could recall the inventions of Garrett A. Morgan, the words of Sojourner Truth, or the wizard hands of Daniel Hale Williams. At my middle school, classes were grouped into teams, each of them named for a hero (or a “shero,” in the jargon of the time) of our long-suffering, yet magnificent, race. I was on the (Thurgood) Marshall team. Even our field trips felt invested with meaning—the favored destination was Baltimore’s National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, where our pantheon was rendered lifelike by the disciples of Marie Tussaud.

    Given this near-totemic reverence for black history, my trip to Gettysburg—the site of the ultimate battle in a failed war to protect and extend slavery—should cut like a lighthouse beam across the sea of memory. But when I look back on those years when black history was seen as tangible, as an antidote for the ills of the street, and when I think on my first visit to America’s original hallowed ground, all is fog.

    I remember riding in a beautiful coach bus, as opposed to the hated yellow cheese. I remember stopping at Hardee’s for lunch, and savoring the respite from my vegetarian father’s lima beans and tofu. I remember cannons, and a display of guns. But as for any connections to the very history I was regularly baptized in, there is nothing. In fact, when I recall all the attempts to inculcate my classmates with some sense of legacy and history, the gaping hole of Gettysburg opens into the chasm of the Civil War.

    We knew, of course, about Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. But our general sense of the war was that a horrible tragedy somehow had the magical effect of getting us free. Its legacy belonged not to us, but to those who reveled in the costume and technology of a time when we were property.

    Our alienation was neither achieved in independence, nor stumbled upon by accident, but produced by American design. The belief that the Civil War wasn’t for us was the result of the country’s long search for a narrative that could reconcile white people with each other, one that avoided what professional historians now know to be true: that one group of Americans attempted to raise a country wholly premised on property in Negroes, and that another group of Americans, including many Negroes, stopped them. In the popular mind, that demonstrable truth has been evaded in favor of a more comforting story of tragedy, failed compromise, and individual gallantry. For that more ennobling narrative, as for so much of American history, the fact of black people is a problem.

    In April 1865, the United States was faced with a discomfiting reality: it had seen 2 percent of its population destroyed because a section of its citizenry would countenance anything to protect, and expand, the right to own other people. The mass bloodletting shocked the senses. At the war’s start, Senator James Chesnut Jr. of South Carolina, believing that casualties would be minimal, claimed he would drink all the blood shed in the coming disturbance. Five years later, 620,000 Americans were dead. But the fact that such carnage had been wreaked for a cause that Ulysses S. Grant called “one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse” invited the damnation of history. Honor is salvageable from a military defeat; much less so from an ideological defeat, and especially one so duly earned in defense of slavery in a country premised on liberty.

    The fallen Confederacy’s chroniclers grasped this historiographic challenge and, immediately after the war, began erasing all evidence of the crime—that is to say, they began erasing black people—from the written record. In his collection of historical essays This Mighty Scourge, James McPherson notes that before the war, Jefferson Davis defended secession, saying it was justified by Lincoln’s alleged radicalism. Davis claimed that Lincoln’s plan to limit slavery would make “property in slaves so insecure as to be comparatively worthless … thereby annihilating in effect property worth thousands of millions of dollars.” Alexander Stephens renounced the notion that all men are created equal, claiming that the Confederacy was,

    “founded upon exactly the opposite idea … upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

    He called this ideology a “great physical, philosophical and moral truth.” But after the war, each man changed his interpretation. Davis referred to the “existence of African servitude” as “only an incident,” not the cause of the war. Stephens asserted,

    “Slavery, so called, was but the question on which these antagonistic principles … of Federation, on the one side, and Centralism … on the other … were finally brought into … collision.”

    Davis later wrote:

    “Never was there happier dependence of labor and capital on each other. The tempter came, like the serpent of Eden, and decoyed them with the magic word of “freedom” … He put arms in their hands, and trained their humble but emotional natures to deeds of violence and bloodshed, and sent them out to devastate their benefactors.”

    In such revisions of history lay the roots of the noble Lost Cause—the belief that the South didn’t lose, so much as it was simply overwhelmed by superior numbers; that General Robert E. Lee was a contemporary King Arthur; that slavery, to be sure a benevolent institution, was never central to the South’s true designs. Historical lies aside, the Lost Cause presented to the North an attractive compromise. Having preserved the Union and saved white workers from competing with slave labor, the North could magnanimously acquiesce to such Confederate meretriciousness and the concomitant irrelevance of the country’s blacks. That interpretation served the North too, for it elided uncomfortable questions about the profits reaped by the North from Southern cotton, as well as the North’s long strategy of appeasement and compromise, stretching from the Fugitive Slave Act back to the Constitution itself.

    By the time of the 50th-anniversary commemoration of Gettysburg, this new and comfortable history was on full display. Speakers at the ceremony pointedly eschewed any talk of the war’s cause in hopes of pursuing what the historian David Blight calls “a mourning without politics.” Woodrow Wilson, when he addressed the crowd, did not mention slavery but asserted that the war’s meaning could be found in “the splendid valor, the manly devotion of the men then arrayed against one another, now grasping hands and smiling into each other’s eyes.” Wilson, born into the Confederacy and the first postbellum president to hail from the South, was at that very moment purging blacks from federal jobs and remanding them to separate washrooms. Thus Wilson executed a familiar act of theater—urging the country’s white citizens away from their history, while continuing to act in the spirit of its darkest chapters. Wilson’s ideas were not simply propaganda, but notions derived from some of the country’s most celebrated historians. James McPherson notes that titans of American history like Charles Beard, Avery Craven, and James G. Randall minimized the role of slavery in the war; some blamed the violence on irreconcilable economic differences between a romantic pastoral South and a capitalistic manufacturing North, or on the hot rhetoric of radical abolitionists.

    With a firm foothold in the public memory and in the academic history, the comfortable narrative found its most influential expression in the popular media. Films like Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind revealed an establishment more interested in the alleged sins perpetrated upon Confederates than in the all-too-real sins perpetrated upon the enslaved people in their midst. That predilection continues. In 2010’s The Conspirator, the director Robert Redford’s Mary Surratt is the preferred victim of political persecution—never mind those whose very lives were persecution. The new AMC show Hell on Wheels deploys the trope of the blameless Confederate wife ravished and killed by Union marauders, as though Fort Pillow never happened.

    The comfortable narrative haunts even the best mainstream presentations of the Civil War. Ken Burns’s eponymous and epic documentary on the war falsely claims that the slaveholder Robert E. Lee was personally against slavery. True, Lee once asserted in a letter that slavery was a “moral & political evil.” But in that same letter, he argued that there was no sense protesting the peculiar institution and that its demise should be left to “a wise Merciful Providence.” In the meantime, Lee was happy to continue, in Lincoln’s words, wringing his “bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.”

    Burns also takes as his narrator Shelby Foote, who once called Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slave-trader and Klansman, “one of the most attractive men who ever walked through the pages of history,” and who presents the Civil War as a kind of big, tragic misunderstanding. “It was because we failed to do the thing we really have a genius for, which is compromise,” said Foote, neglecting to mention the Missouri Compromise, the Fugitive Slave Act, the Kansas Nebraska Act, and the fact that any further such compromise would have meant the continued enslavement of black people.
    For that particular community, for my community, the message has long been clear: the Civil War is a story for white people—acted out by white people, on white people’s terms—in which blacks feature strictly as stock characters and props. We are invited to listen, but never to truly join the narrative, for to speak as the slave would, to say that we are as happy for the Civil War as most Americans are for the Revolutionary War, is to rupture the narrative. Having been tendered such a conditional invitation, we have elected—as most sane people would—to decline.

    In my study of African American history, the Civil War was always something of a sideshow. Just off center stage, it could be heard dimly behind the stories of Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, and Martin Luther King Jr., a shadow on the fringe. But three years ago, I picked up James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom and found not a shadow, but the Big Bang that brought the ideas of the modern West to fruition. Our lofty notions of democracy, egalitarianism, and individual freedom were articulated by the Founders, but they were consecrated by the thousands of slaves fleeing to Union lines, some of them later returning to the land of their birth as nurses and soldiers. The first generation of the South’s postbellum black political leadership was largely supplied by this class.

    Transfixed by the war’s central role in making democracy real, I have now morphed into a Civil War buff, that peculiar specimen who pores over the books chronicling the battles, then walks the parks where the battles were fought by soldiers, then haunts the small towns from which the soldiers hailed, many never to return.

    This journey—to Paris, Tennessee; to Petersburg, Virginia; to Fort Donelson; to the Wilderness—has been one of the most meaningful of my life, though at every stop I have felt myself ill-dressed in another man’s clothes. What echoes from nearly all the sites chronicling the war is a deep sense of tragedy. At Petersburg, the film in the visitor center mourns the city’s fall and the impending doom of Richmond. At the Wilderness, the park ranger instructs you on the details of the men’s grisly deaths. The celebrated Civil War historian Bruce Catton best sums up this sense when he refers to the war as “a consuming tragedy so costly that generations would pass before people could begin to say whether what it had bought was worth the price.”

    All of those “people” are white.

    For African Americans, war commenced not in 1861, but in 1661, when the Virginia Colony began passing America’s first black codes, the charter documents of a slave society that rendered blacks a permanent servile class and whites a mass aristocracy. They were also a declaration of war.

    Over the next two centuries, the vast majority of the country’s blacks were robbed of their labor and subjected to constant and capricious violence. They were raped and whipped at the pleasure of their owners. Their families lived under the threat of existential violence—in just the four decades before the Civil War, more than 2 million African American slaves were bought and sold. Slavery did not mean merely coerced labor, sexual assault, and torture, but the constant threat of having a portion, or the whole, of your family consigned to oblivion. In all regards, slavery was war on the black family.

    African Americans understood they were at war, and reacted accordingly: running away, rebelling violently, fleeing to the British, murdering slave-catchers, and—less spectacularly, though more significantly—refusing to work, breaking tools, bending a Christian God to their own interpretation, stealing back the fruits of their labor, and, in covert corners of their world, committing themselves to the illegal act of learning to read. Southern whites also understood they were in a state of war, and subsequently turned the antebellum South into a police state. In 1860, the majority of people living in South Carolina and Mississippi, and a significant minority of those living in the entire South, needed passes to travel the roads, and regularly endured the hounding of slave patrols.

    It is thus predictable that when you delve into the thoughts of black people of that time, the Civil War appears in a different light. In her memoir of the war, the abolitionist Mary Livermore recalls her pre-war time with an Aunt Aggy, a house slave. Livermore saw Aggy’s mixed-race daughter brutally attacked by the patriarch of the home. In a private moment, the woman warned Livermore that she could “hear the rumbling of the chariots” and that a day was coming when “white folks’ blood is running on the ground like a river.”

    After the war had started, Livermore again met Aunt Aggy, who well recalled her prophecy and saw in the Civil War, not tragedy, but divine justice. “I always knowed it was coming,” the woman told Livermore.

    “I always heard the rumbling of the wheels. I always expected to see white folks heaped up dead. And the Lord, He’s kept His promise and avenged His people, just as I knowed He would.”

    For blacks, it was not merely the idea of the war that had meaning, but the tangible violence, the actions of black people themselves as the killers and the killed, that mattered. Corporal Thomas Long, of the 33rd United States Colored Troops, told his fellow black soldiers,

    “If we hadn’t become soldiers, all might have gone back as it was before … But now things can never go back, because we have shown our energy and our courage and our natural manhood.”

    Reflecting on the days leading to the Civil War, Frederick Douglass wrote:

    “I confess to a feeling allied to satisfaction at the prospect of a conflict between the North and the South. Standing outside the pale of American humanity, denied citizenship, unable to call the land of my birth my country, and adjudged by the supreme court of the United States to have no rights which white men were bound to respect, and longing for the end of the bondage of my people, I was ready for any political upheaval which should bring about a change in the existing condition of things.”

    He went on to assert that the Civil War was an achievement that outstripped the American Revolution:

    “It was a great thing to achieve American independence when we numbered three millions. But it was a greater thing to save this country from dismemberment and ruin when it numbered thirty millions.”

    The 20th century, with its struggles for equal rights, with the triumph of democracy as the ideal in Western thought, proved Douglass right. The Civil War marks the first great defense of democracy and the modern West. Its legacy lies in everything from women’s suffrage to the revolutions now sweeping the Middle East. It was during the Civil War that the heady principles of the Enlightenment were first, and most spectacularly, called fully to account.

    In our present time, to express the view of the enslaved—to say that the Civil War was a significant battle in the long war against bondage and for government by the people—is to compromise the comfortable narrative. It is to remind us that some of our own forefathers once explicitly rejected the republic to which they’d pledged themselves, and dreamed up another country, with slavery not merely as a bug, but as its very premise. It is to point out that at this late hour, the totems of the empire of slavery—chief among them, its flag—still enjoy an honored place in the homes, and public spaces, of self-professed patriots and vulgar lovers of “freedom.” It is to understand what it means to live in a country that will never apologize for slavery, but will not stop apologizing for the Civil War.

    In August, I returned to Gettysburg. My visits to battlefields are always unsettling. Repeatedly, I have dragged my family along, and upon arrival I generally wish that I hadn’t. Nowhere, as a black person, do I feel myself more of a problem than at these places, premised, to varying degrees, on talking around me. But of all the Civil War battlefields I’ve visited, Gettysburg now seems the most honest and forward-looking. The film in the visitor center begins with slavery, putting it at the center of the conflict. And in recent years, the National Park Service has made an effort to recognize an understated historical element of the town—its community of free blacks.

    The Confederate army, during its march into Pennsylvania, routinely kidnapped blacks and sold them south. By the time Lee’s legions arrived in Gettysburg, virtually all of the town’s free blacks had hidden or fled. On the morning of July 3, General George Pickett’s division prepared for its legendary charge. Nearby, where the Union forces were gathered, lived Abraham Brien, a free black farmer who rented out a house on his property to Mag Palmer and her family. One evening before the war, two slave-catchers had fallen upon Palmer as she made her way home. (After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, slave-catchers patrolled the North, making little distinction between freeborn blacks and runaways.) They bound her hands, but with help from a passerby, she fought them off, biting off a thumb of one of the hunters.

    Faulkner famously wrote of Pickett’s Charge:

    “For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863 … and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet … That moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time.”

    These “Southern boys,” like Catton’s “people,” are all white. But I, standing on Brien’s property, standing where Mag Palmer lived, saw Pickett’s soldiers charging through history, in wild pursuit of their strange birthright—the license to beat and shackle women under the cover of night. That is all of what was “in the balance,” the nostalgic moment’s corrupt and unspeakable core.

    For the portion of the country that still honors, or traces its ancestry to, the men who fired on Fort Sumter, and thus brought war, the truthful story of the Civil War tells of a defeat richly deserved, garnered in a pursuit now condemned. For the blameless North, it throws up the failed legacy of appeasement of slaveholders, the craven willingness to bargain on the backs of black people, and the unwillingness, in the Reconstruction years, to finish what the war started.

    For realists, the true story of the Civil War illuminates the problem of ostensibly sober-minded compromise with powerful, and intractable, evil. For radicals, the wave of white terrorism that followed the war offers lessons on the price of revolutionary change. White Americans finding easy comfort in nonviolence and the radical love of the civil-rights movement must reckon with the unsettling fact that black people in this country achieved the rudiments of their freedom through the killing of whites.

    And for black people, there is this—the burden of taking ownership of the Civil War as Our War. During my trips to battlefields, the near-total absence of African American visitors has been striking. Confronted with the realization that the Civil War is the genesis of modern America, in general, and of modern black America, in particular, we cannot just implore the Park Service and the custodians of history to do more outreach—we have to become custodians ourselves.

    The Lost Cause was spread, not merely by academics and Hollywood executives, but by the descendants of Confederate soldiers. Now the country’s battlefields are marked with the enduring evidence of their tireless efforts. But we have stories too, ones that do not hinge on erasing other people, or coloring over disrepute. For the Civil War to become Our War, it will not be enough to, yet again, organize opposition to the latest raising of the Confederate flag. The Civil War confers on us the most terrible burden of all—the burden of moving from protest to production, the burden of summoning our own departed hands, so that they, too, may leave a mark.

    Source 18.2— Steven Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 42.

    If mobility and craft skills allowed some slaves, most of whom were men, to become crucial political actors, the acquisition of literacy elevated them to positions of great influence. The ability to read newspapers, broadsides, account books, and other documents, to write letters and passes, and to educate their children and fellow slaves was immensely empowering in a world increasingly dominated by commodities and electoral politics. It was also a source of community prestige in a world that officially, albeit haphazardly, regarded literacy instruction for slaves as a crime. Some slaves learned to read, and perhaps to write, from evangelical masters—often mistresses—who ignored legal prohibitions so that their bondpeople might become better acquainted with the Bible. Some learned from the children of their own masters with whom they had close relations. Some, especially in cities, learned from literate free blacks. Far more, with stunning determination, taught themselves slowly and ingeniously through sound and pronunciation, frequently by manipulating whites into helping and by getting hold of Webster’s blue-back speller.

    Source 18.3— Allyson Hobbs, A Chosen Exile (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), p. 36.

    Written passes, issued by masters with the intention of curbing the mobility of slaves, could easily be borrowed, forged, or duplicated by slaves who could read and write or by white or free black confidants. To a master’s mind, a literate slave was inherently a dangerous slave.

    Source 18.4— Henry Bibb, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb (New York: Published by the author, 1850), pp. 20, 135.

    In 1833, I had some very serious religious impressions, and there was quite a number of slaves in that neighborhood, who felt very desirous to be taught to read the Bible. There was a Miss Davis, a poor white girl, who offered to teach a Sabbath School for the slaves, nothwithstanding public opinion and the law was opposed to it. Books were furnished and she commenced the school; but the news soon got to our owners that she was teaching us to read. This caused quite an excitement in the neighborhood. Patrols were appointed to go and break it up the next Sabbath. They were determined that we should not have a Sabbath School in operation. For slaves this was called an incendiary movement.

    Source 19.1— Henry Bibb, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb (New York: Published by the author, 1850), p. 135.

    "Whenever I got hold of an old letter that had been thrown away, or a piece of white paper, I would save it to write on. I have often gone off in the woods and spent the greater part of the day alone, trying to learn to write myself a pass."

    Source 19.2— Ethel Knight, The Echo of the Black Horn (York, PA/Binghampton, NY: The Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group, 1951), p. 74.

    "After Nat Turner’s rebellion, many sections feared like insurrections, and took measures to keep down slave trouble. There was an attempt once to make it a law that not more than five Negroes could work in a group, but that was impractical, and was soon discarded, as many planters owned hundreds that cultivated more than one plantation. Here in Jones County, which did not boast such wealth, precautions were also taken, and no slave was permitted to leave the quarters without a written pass. But with fewer slaves in the county, and especially as many were “raised” here from old reliable families, there was no danger of insurrection, and the pass business was too much trouble to a trusting happy care-free people, and the spoken word of the master was enough to hold most under control, so many were allowed to visit other slaves living on other plantations, and frolic half the night without a pass.

    But soon after the Dred Scott Decision, propaganda crept into Jones County, and the idea of escaping was presented to the slaves, and the very active underground railroad offering inducement to flight caused a new tightening on the discipline of the “property,” as losses in some sections of the South were terrific, due to run-away slaves, so the pass again became an essential.

    After the report of such heavy loss, sentinels were placed here and there along the travel routes, and any slave who happened to be traveling, was called upon to produce his pass. If the pass was in order, he was allowed to continue on his journey, otherwise, he was marched right back to his master, and as a rule, got a good flogging. "

    Source 19.3— Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2013), p. 224.

    Written communication had the added advantage of serial reproducibility. A single message could travel in many direction at once—as quickly as a horse, a steamboat, or later a telegraph could carry it. Slaveholders could thus fill space—or segment it in as many direction as there were roads, rivers, and telegraph wires—with information. Escaping slaves traveled through a landscape in which they were already known, or at least suspected—a landscape in which word of their arrival had been sent ahead of them. Ex-slaves’ narratives of attempted escape convey their uncanny feeling of being overtaken by the transmitted news of their own fugitive status. The runaway John Brown remembered that when he stopped to ask directions, he was told by a “colored man” that his escape was the subject of the notices he saw posted on walls all around the town.

    Source 19.4— Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Boston: Anti-Slavery Office, 1845), p. 58.

    The good Irishman seemed to be deeply affected by the statement [that I was a slave]. He said to the other that it was a pity so fine a little fellow as myself should be a slave for life. He said it was a shame to hold me. They both advised me to run away to the north; that I should find friends there, and that I should be free. I pretended not to be interested in what they said, and treated them as if I did not understand them; for I feared they might be treacherous. White men have been known to encourage slaves to escape, and then, to get the reward, catch them and return them to their masters. I was afraid that these seemingly good men might use me so; but I nevertheless remembered their advice, and from that time I resolved to run away. I looked forward to a time at which it would be safe for me to escape. I was too young to think of doing so immediately; besides, I wished to learn how to write, as I might have occasion to write my own pass. I consoled myself with the hope that I should one day find a good chance. Meanwhile, I would learn to write.

    Source 20.1— Ethel Knight, The Echo of the Black Horn (York, PA/Binghampton, NY: The Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group, 1951), p. 97.
    Ethel Knight describes ruthless tactics on the part of the Confederacy in Jones County, including setting the farms on fire.

    The Cavalry destroyed everything they could; all that they could not use, they ruthlessly destroyed. In one particular instance, they piled all the dry fodder which they found stored in a barn, out in the open, and set it on fire, to keep feed away from the farm animals. They confiscated all the horses, killed all the chickens, and cut the cloth out of the looms, even before the women could finish the weaving, in a heartless attack upon the little children, as stripping them of clothing was one way to tear the hearts out of the fathers.

    Source 20.2— Report from Brigadier General R.S. Granger to Major General George Thomas, O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 49, pt. 1, p. 750.
    Similar tactics are reported in northern Alabama.

    Guide returned from Blountsville. Patterson’s force, 300 or 400 strong, shot nine Union men, and deserters, at Blountsville, and fourteen at Sand Mountain. Are conscripting every man and horse. Are now ordered to Talladega and Augusta. They take all who are at home and burn the houses of those who are absent. Numbers he thinks would come into our lines if assured they would be permitted to remain in North Alabama.

    Source 20.3Southern Claims Commission Approved Claims, 1871-1880: Testimony of Griffin M. Jennings on behalf of Nancy L. Lister, Elizabeth City, Pasquotank County, North Carolina, March 18, 1874.

    In 1862 when the Confederates evacuated Elizabeth City, a party of them went to his [William Lister’s] house and told him that they wanted him to go with them. He refused to go and went into the house and fastened the door. They told him if he didn’t come out and go, they would burn him up. He told them to burn. They took some of his fodder and set the house on fire with it, and when he came to the window, they shot him and he fell back and was burned with the house. In 1861, he named one of his children Abraham Lincoln after the then President.

    Source 20.4— Testimony of John Mathews, H.L. Sumrall, Allen Valentine, James Hinton, and Madison Harrington [Herrington], certified by T.J. Collins, Acting Justice of the Peace, and P.M. Bynum, Clerk of the Circuit Court, Jones County, October 15, 1870, in Newton Knight Folder, HR 1814, RG 233, House of Representatives, Accompanying Paper Files, 42d Congress, box 15, NA.
    On October 15th, 1870, John Mathews, H.L. Sumrall, Allen Valentine, James Hinton, and Madison Herrington, under oath, stated to Jones County justice of the peace T.J. Collins that Confederate forces “destroyed all his [Newt Knight’s] effects, horses, and mules and his household and left his family destitute and finally they got holt of him and they tied him and drove him to prison and there cruelly treated him for some length of time.”

    The State of Mississippi,
    Jones County

    Personally appeared before me T.J. Collins an acting Justice
    of the Peace in and for the county and state afore said John Mathews, H.L. Sumrall, Allen Valentine James Hinton and Madison Herrington and makes the following statements upon an oath:

    We are citizens of the state of Mississippi and county of Jones and was well acquainted with Newton Knight before and during the late rebellion. We know that he was opposed to the war and refused to take up arms against the United States and the rebels was determined to make him fight or kill him. They destroyed all his effects horses and mules and his household and left his family destitute and finally they got holt of him and they tied him and drove him to prison and there cruelly treated him for some length of time. Finally he got away from there and came home in the month of May 1863 and immediately took measures to raise a company to oppose the rebels and fight in behalf of the United States, and Knight and a portion of his men had several fights with the rebels before they succeeded in organizing a company on the 13th day of October 1863. Knight and his men met at a place called Sals Battery in Jones County Mississippi and organized their company by electing their officers and making a Sollomn vow to be true to each other and to the United States and to fight in behalf of the United States during the war and we know of our own knowledge that Knight and his men did fight the Rebels and act in good faith to the United States from the 13th day of October 1863 to the 10th day of September 1865. They performed the duties of infantry and a one [illegible] detail of detached services—as they keep there details of pickets and curiers on the lookout and we further say that we have examined the list of Knight’s company here with presented and we believe it to be in all things true and we believe that each man’s name on the list herewith presented did perform the services therein alleged to have been rendered and we further say that we are no interest in this matter either directly or indirectly.

    John Mathews Seal
    H.L. Sumrall Seal
    Allen Vallentine Seal
    James Hinton Seal
    Madison Harrington Seal

    Sworn to and subscribed before me this the 15th day of October AD 1870 and I certify that John Matthews, H.L. Sumral, Allen Valentine, James Hinton and Madison Harrington is all citizens of the county of Jones and State of Mississippi and men of good
    repute and all their statements may be taken as truth and that there signatures be acceppted in general and I am not Interested in this matter either directly or indirectly.


    T.J. Collins,
    Seal Justice of the peace of the State of Mississippi, Jones County.
    P.M. Bynum, clerk of the circuit court for the county and State afore said do certify that T.J. Collins who has certifide to the Signatures signed to the within affidavit is and was at the date of this and acting Justice Of the Peace and of good repute and all his official acts entitled to full faith and credit given under my hand this the 15th day of October
    AD 1870

    P.M. Bynum
    Clerk of the Circuit Court
    Jones County

    Source 21.1— John Stauffer, The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001) p. 23.
    Historian John Stauffer details the different ways in which one could oppose slavery by juxtaposing the ideology of Radical Abolitionists with the pragmatism of the Free-Soilers.

    Radical Abolitionists distinguished themselves from all other political parties and abolition societies. They were the only reform organization to advocate immediate abolition through political action. At the 1855 convention they noted that Democrats, Know-Nothings, and Whigs were made up of slaveholders as well as non-slaveholders, and thus refused to attack slavery. They acknowledged that the Free-Soil party (which merged into the Republican party) was an antislavery party seeking the non-extension of slavery and its eventual demise. Yet Free-Soilers denied the right of the federal government to touch slavery in the states; and they supported the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which called on state and local governments to aid slaveholders in their efforts to return fugitives to bondage. William Lloyd Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society sought an immediate end to slavery, but it wielded no political power, focusing exclusively on moral persuasion. Moreover, the doctrine of disunion threatened “to separate the free states from the slave states, and to leave the slave states … at perfect liberty to continue their oppression and torture of the black man.” Radical Abolitionists insisted that they alone were fit “to wield the political power of the nation for the overthrow … of slavery” Garrisonians condemned the Constitution as “a covenant with death” and “an agreement with hell” because they thought it sanctioned slavery. Indeed Garrison had gone so far as to burn the document publicly on Independence Day 1854. By contrast, Radical Abolitionsists believed that there was no legal justification for slavery.

    Source 21.2— Ethel Knight, The Echo of the Black Horn (York, PA/Binghampton, NY: The Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group, 1951), pp. 265–266.
    Ethel Knight recounts the story of Newt burning down a school that refused to educate mixed-race children.
    When describing the incident where Rachel sought to send her children to the school Newt had built and organized, Ethel writes that after a man told Rachel’s children to go home,

    He assured the schoolmaster that he would have no trouble with similar occurrence. So the excitement was soon over, and the school was begun.

    But it lasted only one day. Shortly after dark that night the country was weirdly lighted, and the beauty of the majestic pines stood out in bold relief on the hill by the light of the burning school house.

    "How did it happen? Who did it?" were unanswered questions.

    It was at once said that Newt set it because he wished the Negroes to have equal opportunity. Other said that Rachel, angry over the refusal to let her children enter it, set it. And even another said that, secretly, under cover of the evening’s shadows, Rachel had called on two white men who were the fathers of her children, and had threatened to expose them, if they did not burn the school, as her two were half-brothers to theirs, and therefore should have equal rights. And to silence Rachel, the men gladly complied with her wishes. But poor Newt bore the blame.”

    Source 21.3— John Stauffer and Sally Jenkins, The State of Jones (New York: Doubleday, 2009), p. 260.

    At first, Newton’s neighbors had sought his advice and cooperation in building a new school. Every two or three miles in Jones and Jasper counties there was a family with children, including those of some of the men he had ridden with in the war. He and his old friends decided to split the cost and the work of raising the schoolhouse. “He was a kind-hearted man, and he was a man of good judgment, and was looked upon as being the leader of his community in matters of schools and other local affairs,” Tom Knight remembered. Newton hewed beams and split logs for benches and contributed to the hiring of a teacher at a salary of ten dollars a month, the cost of which would be shared equally, along with his board. On the first day of the term, Newton sent his children to school—and Rachel’s children went with them. Parents who accompanied their young to the schoolhouse door were startled to see Rachel’s son Jeff and daughters Georgeanne and Fannie file into the building. When some of the white parents angrily asked Rachel’s children what they thought they were doing, they replied that their mother had sent them.

    The teacher flatly announced that he refused to instruct them. Rachel’s children were ordered out of the building. “Go home and tell your mother the school doesn’t accept Negroes,” they were told. Newton was apparently outraged by the insult: he had put his sweat and labor into building the school for the common benefit of the neighbors’ children, yet they refused the same benefits to his and Rachel’s children. Rachel had protected the lives of some of those white men during the war. Their edict against race mixing in the classroom seemed the height of moral hypocrisy: plenty of Piney Woods yeomen had sired children with Negro blood—racial intermingling was surely all right with them when it came to sex. The difference was that they refused to take responsibility for their progeny, while Newton took care of his. By one account, a day later the school, which still smelled of fresh-cut pine, went up in a bonfire. The embers were still glowing as word spread that Newton Knight had set the fire “because he wished the Negroes to have equal opportunity,” according to one of his descendants.

    Newton stopped talking to his neighbors over the school. It was the last straw for him—he had come to feel estranged from most local whites and more comfortable among blacks, with whom he shared an understanding of Unionism and democratic ideals. Martha Wheeler, the former Knight slave, said, “He had a complete break with the whites because he undertook to send several of his Negro children to a white school he had been instrumental in building.”

    Source 21.4— George Rawick, The American Slave, supplement, series 1, vol. 10, Mississippi Narratives, part 5, interview with Martha Wheeler, former slave belonging to Jackie Knight, pp. 2262-71.

    Before Newt’s white wife left him he had a complete break with the whites because he undertook to send several of his negro children to a white school he had been instrumental in building. The peculiar stories about him and his affairs are too numerous to relate. No fiction reads as do the facts of this family.

    Source 22.1— Ethel Knight, The Echo of the Black Horn (York, PA/Binghampton, NY: The Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group, 1951), pp. 134-37, 143–44, 149–51.

    SILMAN AND NOBLE COLEMAN: There were two Colemans, actively in the Company. Sil was the young one who joined in with the Knight in answer to the call of adventure, not because he was wicked by nature, but because the tales of song and dance and of the care-free daring lives of the men who rode over the hills, filled him with a restless longing and he found himself wishing to be one of them … But the other one was the real fighter, bloodthirsty and savage. His name was Nobe Coleman. Had he been more discreet, his life would probably have been saved, as it was not the desire to kill or hand the deserters until after this particular month of April, but he was hot-headed and trigger-fast, and had not the judgment or the winning personality of the other Coleman … At the time Newt was trying to contact the other men near Mason, Nobe was doing lookout duty. When he heard the Cavalry coming, he did not have time to sound the horn in time to scatter the men from the area, so he impulsively dropped down behind a big log that conveniently offered concealment. He rested his gun-barrel up on the top of the fallen tree, and as the riders passed right before his gunsight, the temptation to shoot was too much. He singlehandedly attacked the party, and was captured after the first Confederate soldier fell off his horse … He was offered a chance to return to the Confederate army, and for answer he said, ‘Hell, no. I’ll shoot you every one. I’ll shoot every chance I get as long as I live.’ … But he didn’t live long. Right there and then, he was swung up to a nearby limb, and his neck was broken … The Company was one more man short when the call of the Black Horn was answered … The next one caught was poor Sil. He was not given a chance because of the behavior of the other deserter by the same name … The officers tied a rope around his neck and led him up on the high hill overlooking Mason Creek, to the church yard there and strung him to a great oak limb. They left him hanging there, lifeless and cold, and started back towards Ellisville, thinking that they had rounded up all in the vicinity at the present time. pp. 134–135

    BEN KNIGHT: They thought that [Ben] too, was a deserter, trying to escape. They rushed to him, and without giving him a chance to produce his furlough, looped the rope about his neck, and dragged him on up to the church yard where they had left the body of [Nobe] Coleman. … By the time they reached the appointed tree, Ben was practically dead from the rope having cut and bruised his neck. His eyes had almost popped out of his head, as he lay there, covered with blood and the dirt from being dragged over the ground, yet he held on to consciousness and tried to speak … He was hung to the same limb beside the body of Sil Coleman, who was still hanging limp and lifeless … As soon as Ben was dead, other soldiers, by their Captain’s orders, cut down his body, and the body of the dead deserter hanging beside him, and threw them onto an oxcart and drove on up the creek to the house of Serena … ‘My God, Man, that is not my husband,’ cried Serena. ‘That is one of the soldiers. That’s old Uncle William’s boy, Ben, that you’ve hung by mistake … You have hung the wrong man!’ Then Captain Lowry search the dead man and found the furlough in the pocket of his coat. pp. 135–137

    DAN WHITEHEAD: When the two older brothers came home they found that there was only one survivor and he was their young brother Dan, who was too young to volunteer. Their home had been destroyed in their absence and Dan had become a wanderer, emaciated and weak from starvation … Captain Knight took in all stragglers and observing the slender boy’s condition, he was filled with pity so Dan was invited into the Company not as a member but in order that he might be fed in the Knight camps … So small Dan was happy to tag along … The other deserters made a getaway but Dan was brought to the Reddoch’s Gap where he came face to face with his brother who had also been caught and was awaiting a hanging along with Thomas Yates. The men were strung up to the ‘hangman’s limb’ and the beardless youth was hung beside his unfortunate brother … pp. 149–151

    Source 22.2— Meigs Frost, “The South’s Strangest Army Revealed by Chief.” Interview with Newton Knight, New Orleans Item, March 20, 1921.

    Even as an old man, Newt remembered these killings as though they had just happened. In his 1921 interview with Newt, Meigs Frost writes:

    Lightening-like that grin vanished. In its place flashed a look of bitterness that showed the fires of half a century ago were not all dead, cold ashes.

    “He was rough beyond reason,” said old Newt Knight with a sudden curious absence of country dialect in his speech. “He hanged some of my company he had no right to hang.”

    “There’s a story current in Laurel that while Lowry was running for Governor of Mississippi he never came into Jones or Jasper Counties. That he wouldn’t want to meet you.”

    Uncle Newt Knight’s face remained granite-hard.

    “I don’t know about that,” he said. “But I do know that I never saw Lowry, knowingly.”

    Source 22.3— Columbus Bradshaw (C.B.) Haddon,. [Sgt., Co. H, “Morton Pine Knots", 20th Miss Regt Infantry], from Scott, County, 30 miles north of Jones County.
    A Confederate soldier remembers his role in Lowry’s expedition into Jones County and the summary execution of Knight Company members, including the “boys” in question.


    It would hardly be expected that an expedition of that character and under conditions then prevailing could be carried through without resorting to some extreme measures but I have always regretted that I was so situated as to be in any way connected with some things that occurred during that campaign there were four men court-martialed and hung. I have no reason to criticize that action nor desire to but there were two others hung without any form of trial.

    Of course, I took no part in these executions and was powerless to prevent them. I witnessed one of these executions, a mere boy not out of his teens, that could not in the remotest degree be held responsible for the state of affairs existing in the country. After the execution on my own motion called a few men to help me and we took the body down and carried it into a little house nearby. There were three women sitting in the house. They made no indication as to what we should do with it so we laid him on the floor and went out. Those women uttered not a word but there was a whole volume written on their faces some of which I haven’t forgotten yet.

    Source 22.4— Victoria E. Bynum. The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001) pp. 37, 73, 109.

    Although [Silman, Martha, Cornelia, and Noble Coleman] were only teenagers during the Civil War, all became allies of their cousin Newton Knight, a decision that would result in the Confederacy’s execution of the two boys.


    In 1864 Sil and Nobe would be executed for treason by Confederate cavalry. Although seventeen-year-old Sil and thirteen-year-old Nobe Coleman were too young for military service, they enjoyed the excitement and male comradery that the Knight Company offered.

    They then unleashed their hounds on Ben Knight and Sil Coleman, who were run down and hanged from the same tree. The officer expressed no regret over executing Sil, despite referring to him as a "lad," and did not mention his thirteen-year-old brother Nobe, although the cavalry allegedly hanged him as well … A descendant remembered hearing that the boys’ sixteen-year-old sister Cornelia assumed the task of cutting their lifeless bodies from the hanging tree.


    On March 17 Lieutenant General Polk reported to Gen. Samuel Cooper that Colonel Maury had succeeded in quashing the deserters of Jones County. Indeed, J.C. Andrews remembered a Saturday morning when he witnessed the execution of several deserters in Jones County. Recalling that several members of the Knight band ‘were all loaded on a wagon and driven to a large oak tree near Erratta [Errata] on the old St. Stevens Trade Road,’ he described how a detachment of Confederate cavalry tied the men to the tree limb, then ordered the wagon driven away, leaving the men’s bodies swinging in air. They hung there for days, said Andrews, until their wives came and cut them down.

    Source 22.5— “Letter from Mississippi,” Mobile Daily Advertiser and Register, May 6, 1864.

    General Leonidas Polk sent Colonel Robert Lowry into Jones and Smith Counties to destroy the Unionists. In a letter to the Mobile Daily Advertiser and Register newspaper, an officer in Lowry’s expedition describes Newt Knight’s ability to defend himself.

    I see by your evening issue of [May 2, 1864], that under “Mississippi Items” you say that Captain Newton Knight, of Jones County, had sent in a flag of truce to Colonel Lewis. This is not so. I am just from Jones County. The expedition consisted of the 6th and 20th Mississippi Regiments and my cavalry company, the whole under the command of Col. Robert Lowry, of the 6th Mississippi Regiment.

    We entered Smith County on the 27th of March, and on the 28th hung two noted deserters and leaders of squads. These were all the men who were hung in Smith County.

    There was a Union flag, or rather a ludicrous representation of the United States flag, captured at the home of one Hawkins (of Smith County); it was concealed on the person of Mrs. Hawkins, who would not deliver it until after much persuasion and a few threats. …

    On the 15th [of April] we moved into Jones County. That day the man who fired into the party on the piazza was arrested, after being wounded and run down by dogs, and promptly executed. His name was D. Reddock. A young man by the name of Gregg was with him, was shot while running, and soon died from the wound.

    This same day another party of our boys were ambushed near Newton Knight’s home by deserters—only wounding one man, not seriously, however. Our boys promptly charged the ambush and captured two, Ben Knight and a lad, Sillman Coleman, and shooting one other. Knight and Coleman were both promptly executed.

    The same day four others were caught and brought in [Tom and Daniel Whitehead—Daniel is too young to volunteer—and Jim and Tom Ates]. They were put before a court martial, and on their own confession of resisting with arms military arrests, were on the morning of April 16th, executed by hanging.

    Source 22.6— Minnie S. Davis, Confederate Patriots of Jones County (Ellisville, Miss.: printed by the Progress-Item, 1977), pp. 8, 12.

    During this time the Coleman Boys, Nobe and Sil, were captured. Sil’s life would have been spared, he was too young to be serving, but he wanted to serve, so Newt Knight being Captain let him join. The Union Soldiers captured Nobe Coleman and he refused to give up, so they hung them both on the same limb with two other men. Now the story was told to me by my mother, that Grandmother (Coleman) Dickerson, drove an Ox cart to this tree and cut these brothers down from this limb and carried them away for burial. No one knows where they were buried. This was War in Leaf River Swamps 1861–1865. These are the same two Coleman boys that you read about in ‘ECHOES OF THE BLACK HORN’ written by Ethel Knight, of Jones County.

    When [Newt] returned home, he organized a clan, became a deserter with many more, and war set up in Jones County. Two of the first to join him was Noble and (Sil) Celian Coleman. When I was small I would hear my mother tell about how Grandmother Coleman would ride or swim her horse across Leaf River and bring food across on the east side for her two brothers. They were also hiding out. Sil Coleman was too young to be in service, but wanted to serve. He was soon captured and hung to a limb. The cavalrymen came in contact with Newt and his clan, and Nobe Coleman, whom I assume was Sil’s brother, was captured, and hung to the same limb. My grandmother Coleman was a single woman during the War between the States. Her father owned a plantation on, or near Leaf River, around Hot-Coffee, Mississippi, in Jones County.

    Source 22.7— B.D. Graves and Rob Pickering, address delivered at Hebron Community Meeting, June 17, 1926.

    All at once Lowry’s raiders came in … Ben Knight, a cousin of Newt, was in bed and heard a noise in the yard. Then he got to the door the yard was full of Lowry’s men and he run right out through them with his night clothes on. After he got some distance off they shot him. He came down the road to Newt Knight’s—Newt lived the other side of the bridge—and Newt was gone. Sil Coleman was at Newt’s when Ben got there. He woke up Sil Coleman and they went on down Mason’s Creek into the swamp.

    The raiders turned in at the old Joe Hatten place and picked up him and Tom Ates and Dan and Tom Whitehead, two brothers. After they got them they came on down and put dogs on Ben Knight’s tracks and went down in the creek swamp and caught Sil Coleman. I suppose these were bloodhounds. Ben must have been torn up pretty bad. The dogs gnawed him considerable and he wanted water, like wounded men always do. As they crossed the ford of Mason’s Creek bringing him back, the water ran into the wagon. Ben begged them to stop and let him get a drink—that was the report. They refused.

    Before they hung [Ben] he asked them to let him pray. He prayed for water in his grave. Then they dug the grave right up on top of the hill from where they hung him and Sil Coleman, water run into the grave.

    They hung [Ben] and Sil Coleman on the same limb, on a post-oak right this side of Solon Huff’s house. That tree has been cut down now. I think they buried Sil Coleman across the river, in his family graveyard.

    The next day they hung the two Whitehead boys and the two Ates; Tom and Dan Whitehead and Tom and Jim Ates, that they caught the night before. They carried them to Gitano and hung the four there.

    Lowry’s raiders hung others occasionally. The next week after this bunch of cavalry, a little squad, came from Mount Carmel and went to the Whitehead house. The third brother, Noel, was there … They captured him and carried him over to Mount Carmel and hung him… That was the third Whitehead they hung. This broke up the family. The others moved away. The Whiteheads were related to Newt Knight.

    I never heard of any court martial. I suppose it was Lowry’s orders to kill them on sight.

    Source 22.8— Jack D.L. Holmes, “The Mississippi County that ‘Seceded’ from the Confederate States of America,” Civil War Times Illustrated, Extra

    In late September 1863 our regimental commander, Colonel Lowry, received orders to take the 6th and 20th Mississippi Regiments into Smith, Covington and Jones Counties to gather stragglers, deserters and men who were objecting to military service, and send them to the battle front. This wasn’t going to be easy and we were troubled over the prospect … We formed a net and captured quite a few stragglers when the church services were over. Afterwards we moved on into the town, set up camp, and stayed several weeks. Patrols were sent out through Smith County and Covington County.

    We moved near Knight’s Hill, where we were joined by a portion of our command which had captured four young men—two named Whitehead and two named Ates. They had shot into our troops, killing some of our boys and wounding others. A drumhead court-martial was ordered by Colonel Lowry. This court convicted the four men and sentenced them to be hanged immediately. In front of a military formation and the townspeople the four young men, with their hands tied behind them, were placed in a wagon bed. Ropes were tied around their necks and fastened to the limb of a larger oak tree. After they had been given time for the last prayers the wagon was driven from under them. This was one of the most revolting sights I had ever witnessed, and I am glad I had no active part in it. I had no part in the later hanging of nine others, for which I was also thankful.

    Colonel Maury left affairs in the hands of Colonel Robert Lowry, who used severe measures to learn the whereabouts of the remaining deserters. Young boys and old men were taken into “bull pens” for interrogation and threatened with hanging if they refused to tell where the deserters were hiding. Twelve-year-old W.B. Temples was strung up three times before being released as bullets whizzed over his head. Tapley Bynum, a deserter who was caught visiting his wife and new-born baby, was shot in font of his family …

    Source 23.1— Ethel Knight, The Echo of the Black Horn (York, PA/Binghampton, NY: The Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group, 1951), pp. 141–144.
    Ethel Knight describes Newt Knight’s retaliatory actions following the young boys’ execution. Though the action has been moved from a creek to a church for cinematic purposes, the event was essentially the same.

    “We cannot let Ben’s murder, for that is all you could call it, go unavenged. We must leave a few men on the other side of the River for there is still a group of the Cavalry there, thinking a bunch of us are still in hiding over there.

    “They have no way of knowing that there are none of our band, except the Whiteheads, and I have left them orders to remain in the swamp until all is clear to The Devil’s Den. Then they are to proceed there, and lie safely until we return.”

    So it was that the party who were known as “The Avengers of Ben Knight,” set out for Ellisville. The word had reached Rachel that the same men would return to the swamp again the next day, to hound out and capture the rest of the gang, so Newt decided to beat them at their own game.

    He dispatched this party to Rocky Creek, near Ellisville, before the next day’s sun was up, and they were waylaying the Cavalry, when about fifty of them came riding over the trail, with lusty voices raised in song, as their spirits soared with the rise of the morning’s warmth, forgetful of the horrors of yesterday.

    All at once, and to the surprise of Lowry and his men, Captain Knight and his Deserters rose up out of the creek, and started shooting. The leaders of the march started falling off their horses before it could be determined which direction the shots were coming. There were shouts and screams of pain and fright as horses and riders were piled up along the trail.

    The group bringing up the rear turned their horses, and raced back towards the post, as this was no ordinary foe, but appeared to be a phantom army, showering them with a barrage of powder and lead.

    Source 23.2— Victoria E. Bynum. The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War (Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 2001), pp. 121 – 122.

    As did slaves, white women increasingly participated in life-and-death confrontations between deserters and cavalry. Both Tom Knight and Ethel Knight described how the Knight Company ambushed a group of cavalry by arranging a dance to be held for the soldiers at old Levi Valentine's home. The cavalry expected to hear good fiddling and to dance with pretty girls, but at a prearranged moment the Knight band sneaked in while the young women ran out the back door. Killed in the confrontation that followed, according to Tom and Ethel, were two Confederate soldiers and one Knight band member.

    According to Ben Sumrall's memory in 1936, community support for the deserters was so great that “many more of the Confederate Soldiers [than deserters] were killed in trying to capture them” Col. William Brown, who was in Jones County in May 1864, also called attention to the strong community support for the deserters. In a letter to Governor Clark, he took note of women's important role in the uprising that he and Lowry's men sought to quell. In remarkably sympathetic words, he explained to the governor that “among the women,” who feared starvation and were tired of working the fields without the help of their menfolk, “there is great reluctance to give up their husbands and brothers” That reluctance was especially noticeable among several women who headed their own households. holds. Frances Ates, Lucinda Todd, Susannah Valentine, Catherine Welch, and Ali Whitehead all harbored sons who deserted the Confederate Army. Sally Parker's son, George W. Walters, had died serving the Confederate Army. Sally Delancy's son Howell was briefly AWOL after the siege of Vicksburg but returned to service and received special detail as a nurse at French's Division Hospital at Lockart Station, Mississippi.

    Despite Newt's alleged murder of his sister Martha's husband, she too became an ally of the band during the war and married one of its members, Joseph Richard “Dick” Yawn, in 1867. In later years Martha remembered her encounter with a group of Confederate soldiers while taking a basket of food, hidden beneath corn shucks, to the Knight Company's hideout. She successfully deflected the soldiers' suspicions by scattering the shucks on the ground while calling out to the hogs. On yet another occasion, she told her children, she and Newt escaped approaching soldiers when he directed her to hide in a corncrib while he fled. Ordered by her brother to remain hidden until he returned for her, she was stuck in the corncrib for most of the day.

    Source 24.1— March 29, 1864, CSA Captain W. Wirt Thompson to Hon. James A. Seddon, Secretary of War, C.S. Army, O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 3, pp. 711-13.
    In perhaps the most detailed account of the Knight Company rebellion, Confederate Captain Wirt Thompson describes their extensive military reach and control of the region. As he says, “Gentlemen of undoubted veracity informed me that the Federal flag had been raised by them [the Knight Company} over the courthouse in Jones County.”

    Sir: I would most respectfully submit for your consideration the following statement of facts, and for the relief of the loyal citizens of Southeastern Mississippi earnestly solicit the attention of the War Department to the condition of affairs now existing in that section of the State. I have just returned to the army from a short leave of absence, which I spent in Greene County, Miss., and I therefore make my statements from a personal knowledge of their truth. Previous to starting to Mississippi I was aware of the presence of large numbers of deserters and conscripts in that section of the State, but until I arrived in the country I did not know that they were in organized bodies and committing depredations and deeds of violence, bloodshed, and outlawry, and that there was no force in the country to contend against them or to defend the loyal portion of the citizens from their savage caprices and brutal whims. But such I found to be the case, and the whole southern and southeastern section of Mississippi is in a most deplorable condition, and unless succor is sent speedily the country is utterly ruined, and every loyal citizen will be driven from it or meet a tragic and untimely fate at the hands of those who are aiding and abetting our enemies. Several of the most prominent citizens have already been driven from their homes, and some have been slaughtered in their own homes because they refused to obey the mandates of the outlaws and abandon the country. Numbers have been ordered away and are now living under threats and in fear of their lives. It is a matter of great personal danger and risk for an officer or soldier of the Confederate army to make his appearance in the country, and so perfect are these organizations and systems of dispatching that in a few hours large bodies of them can be collected at any given point prepared to attempt almost anything. On the 24th of February Capt. John J. Bradford, of Company B, Third Mississippi Regiment, who had previously been commanding conscript rendezvous at Augusta, Perry County, was captured by them and barely escaped with his life by accepting a parole, the conditions of which were that he would never again enter the county as a Confederate officer under orders or authority, or in any way aid or assist in molesting them. The house in which he was sleeping was surrounded at daylight, and he was called out, and after some discussion and persuasion on the part of the gentleman with whom he was staying, they agreed to take a vote of the crowd as to whether he should be hanged or be permitted to accept the parole, and by a majority of one vote he was granted the parole. There were in that company 21 men, well armed and equipped, and on the same day they took forcible possession of the depot containing the tax in kind and compelled one of the citizens to issue it out to families in the neighborhood.

    Every officer or soldier who enters the county is compelled, if they can catch him, to submit to one of the following requirements: First, desert the army and join them; second, take a parole not to molest them or give information in regard to their acts and localities of rendezvous, or to pilot Confederate cavalry into the country; or, third, to leave the country immediately. Through the instrumentality and assistance of loyal friends, and my own influence with certain citizens whom I knew to be vedettes [mounted sentinels] and spies for these outlaws, I remained in the country several days without being troubled, but was compelled to be very guarded in my actions and words. The citizens are afraid to speak of them in their own houses for fear of spies. Government depots filled with supplies have been either robbed or burned. Gin-houses, dwelling-houses, and barns, and the court-house of Greene County, have been destroyed by fire. Bridges have been burned and ferry-boats sunk on almost every stream and at almost every ferry to obstruct the passage of troops; their pickets and vendettes lie concealed in swamps and thickets on the roadside; spies watch the citizens and eavesdrop their houses at night, and a Tory despotism of the most oppressive description governs the country; citizens’ horses, wagons, guns, &c., are pressed at the option of any outlaw who may desire them, and if the citizen makes any remonstrance he is treated to a caning, a rope, or is driven from the country. Deserters from every army and from every State are among them. They have colonels, majors, captains, and lieutenants; boast themselves to be not less than a thousand strong in organized bodies, besides what others are outsiders and disloyal citizens (of whom I regret to say there are many). They have frequent and uninterrupted communication with the enemy on Ship Island and other points; have a sufficiency of arms and ammunition of the latest Northern and European manufacture in abundance, and I was told that they boast of fighting for the Union.

    Gentlemen of undoubted veracity informed me that the Federal flag had been raised by them over the court-house in Jones County, and in the same county they are said to have fortified rendezvous, and that Yankees are frequently among them. Companies of 40 or 50 men go together to each other’s fields, stack arms, place out a picket guard, and then cut and roll logs, repair fences, &c., and in this way they swear they intend to raise crops and defend themselves from cavalry this season. The country is entirely at their mercy. Colonel Maury with a regiment of cavalry had been sent from Mobile into Jones County and had encountered and captured some of them, but cavalry, unaided by well-drilled infantry troops in large forces, will never be able to dislodge them and relieve the country. The loyal citizens are sorely oppressed and are looking to the Government for relief, and unless they get such relief soon the country will be utterly and irretrievably ruined. It is a serious matter, one that calls loudly for prompt and immediate attention on the part of the Government, and as a Confederate officer, as a citizen of that portion of Mississippi, whose friends and family are exposed to this growing evil, I have felt it my duty to lay the matter before the proper authorities and in behalf of the oppressed to solicit the consideration and succor of the Government. I give it as my honest opinion, based upon what I saw and learned, that not less than a brigade of well-drilled infantry troops, a force sufficient to sweep the country at once, will be able to exterminate them from the country. Cavalry can never do it, and as yet only cavalry has been sent, and only in small bodies. These they have heretofore driven out of the country, and have grown the more daring after each success.

    Trusting that this may meet the serious consideration of those into whose hands is committed the destinies of our struggling young country, and with the assurance that I can substantiate by as much evidence as may be desired all and even more than has been stated in the foregoing, I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant.

    Source 24.2— Major General William T. Sherman to Major General Henry Halleck, February 29, 1864, O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 2, p. 499.
    Even Union General William T. Sherman had heard of the Knight Company exploits and apparently possessed a declaration of independence written by them.

    I enclose herewith … a declaration of independence by certain people who are trying to avoid the Southern conscription, and lie out in the swamps. I promised them countenance, and encouraged them to organization for mutual defense.

    Source 24.3— “The Republic of Jones,” Natchez Courier, July 12, 1864.
    News of this rebellion (and secession) even found its way to local newspapers. On July 12, 1864, the Natchez Courier reported that Jones County had formally declared independence from the Confederacy.

    It may be interesting to many of our citizens to know that the county of Jones, State of Mississippi, has seceded from the State and formed a Government of their own, both military and civil. The Confederacy, after claiming the right of secession, not being willing to extend the same to the said Republic, has declared war against it and sent an army under Col. Mowry, of Mobile, to crush the rebellion.

    Source 24.4— Thomas J. Knight, The Life and Activities of Captain Newton Knight and His Company and the Free State of Jones (Ellisville, MS: printed by the Progress Item, 1934), p. 89.
    Newt Knight’s own son (in a memoir about his father) describes the founding of the Knight Company, including the declaration of a Free State of Jones.

    They did not want to be put under a slave government. They believed in a free government, equal rights to all people, rich or poor. It should not make any difference who they were. So as my father told us the 375 men that voted to stay with the Union about 250 of them met together with the understanding they would come together and bind themselves together and to constitute a Free State of Jones.

    Source 24.5— Letter to Major J.C. Denis from Daniel P. Logan – Mississippi City, April 7th, 1864. O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 3, p. 755.
    Numerous official letters from both Confederate and Union officers attest to the effectiveness of the Knight Company. This particular letter expresses the reach of the rebellion beyond the border of Jones County and its overwhelming nature: “They hold the countryside in awe.”

    Mississippi City, April 7, 1864

    Maj. J.C. Denis,
    Provost-Marshal-General, Demopolis, Ala. :
    Major: In accordance with your orders I have to report that a band of deserters still continue prowling about the country, doing considerable damage to the farmers and molesting travelers. Though dispersed from Perry and Jones Counties, they appear in other parts. Large numbers of these from Jones County have gone down Pearl River to and near Honey Island, where they exist in some force and hold the country in awe, openly boasting of their being in communication with the Yankees.
    In fact, it is dangerous to travel in that part of Louisiana. In Marion County, Miss., and the upper part of Washington Parish, La., they are banded in large numbers, bid defiance to the authorities, and claim to have a government of their own in opposition to the Confederate Government.
    Your obedient servant,
    Danl. P. Logan.

    Source 24.6— Brigadier General W.L. Brandon to Major General Dabney H. Maury, August 14, 1864. O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 39, pt. 2, p. 777.
    Additional letters, such as a letter from Brigadier General W.L. Brandon to Major General Dabney H. Maury, describe “a raid upon and plunder of the public stores at Paulding, in Jasper County.”

    He [Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk] found many thousands of deserters and absentees from the army banded together throughout Mississippi, perpetrating outrages.

    In the county of Jones and its vicinity there is a formidable organization of disaffected persons, threatening upon the appearance of the enemy to cut the line of railroads from Meridian to Mobile.

    He [Polk] estimates that on assuming command, there were in his territorial limits 10,000 men liable to military duty absent from their commands and evading the claims of the Government for their services.

    In the county of Jones, in Mississippi, as heretofore intimated, were a large number of disaffected persons who had proceeded to such extremities as to engage in a raid upon and plunder of the public stores at Paulding, in Jasper County.

    Source 24.7— A.S. Polk, Acting Assistant Inspector General, C.S.A., to Lieutenant Colonel T.F. Sevier, Assistant Inspector General, March 3, 1864. O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 3, pp. 579-80.
    A letter to the Inspector General of the Confederacy describes the damage to Confederate infrastructure by Unionists raiding a supply depot and others making plans to join Sherman’s army.

    I beg leave also to say something in regard to tories and deserters, who infest Jones County and a portion of Lauderdale [where Meridian is].

    At Meridian I found that the enemy had burned and destroyed all of the Government houses except one house, in which a family was living. They also burned a good deal of private property, consisting of two hotels and all the stores in the place, as well as the Clarion office. In Enterprise all the Government houses were burned, as well well as a good deal of private property. The bridge across the river was also burned. All the cotton along the road was burned.

    The tories in Jones County made a raid on Paulding not many days ago, about 200 strong, and carried off a good deal of corn as well as other property. They are becoming very troublesome, as well as dangerous, to the country around.

    In regard to the tories and deserters in Lauderdale County, I have to say that a citizen of the county, Mr. W.W. Hall, who was at one time a member of the Legislature, informed me that in the western portion of Lauderdale County, where he was just from when I saw him, there was being formed a company of men who intend joining the Federal army as soon as possible.

    Source 24.8— Leonidas Polk to General Samuel Cooper, March 3, 1864, O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 3, pp. 580-81.
    Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk describes the growing threat of the Piney Woods Unionists in a letter to General Samuel Cooper, the highest-ranking Confederate general, who reported directly to Jefferson Davis.

    Conscripts and deserters have banded together in Jones County, and others contiguous, to the number of several hundred; have killed the officer in charge of the work of conscription [Amos McLemore] and dispersed and captured his supporting force. They are increasing in numbers and boldness; have destroyed the houses of many loyal men by fire, plundered others, and have within a few days made a raid into Paulding with a wagon train and helped themselves largely to Government and other stores.

    The forces I have in the field will have to be turned aside to put down this combination, which is fast attaining formidable proportions, greatly to my inconvenience and the interference with permanent duties elsewhere.

    Source 24.9— Lt. H. Larkin to Gov. Clark, July 26, 1864, Governor’s Correspondence, MDAH.
    After Lowry’s raids on Jones County in the spring of 1864, many members of the Knight Company regrouped down the Pearl River near Gainesville. This letter from Lieutenant Larkin to Gov. Charles Clark describes a mixed-race band of Unionists gathered around the Honey Island swamps. As depicted in the film, the demographic composition of the Knight Company was beginning to shift.

    Gainesville is only some 100 miles below here on the Pearl River. Reliable information has been obtained that Yankee Soldiers White and black occupy and garrison the place. It is the paradise of Deserters who flee from their own Swamps. Many have gone there with their families and draw rations from the Enemy, and I doubt not a raid may be attempted from that point.

    Source 24.10— Major General Dabney Maury to James A. Seddon, Secretary of War, March 3, 1864, O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 1, p. 403.
    General Dabney Maury highlights the growing influence of Newt and fellow Unionists.

    There is a body of armed traitors in Jones County, Miss., who have become so formidable that I have sent Colonel Maury with a force to break them up.

    They have been seizing Government stores, have been killing our people, and have actually made prisoners of and paroled officers of the Confederate army.

    They now threaten to interfere with the repairing of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. They are represented to be more than 500 strong, with artillery.

    Source 24.11— Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk to Jefferson Davis, March 21, 1864, O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 3, pp. 662-63.
    News of the Knight Company rebellion reached Jefferson Davis himself, undercutting the common argument that this was an obscure disturbance.

    In regard to the condition of affairs in the counties alluded to, I have to report that Col. Henry Maury, under my orders, through the commander of the District of the Gulf, made a campaign against the deserters and traitors in Jones, Perry, &c. Counties about a week ago.

    He found them, as reported, in open rebellion, defiant at the outset, proclaiming themselves “Southern Yankees,” and resolved to resist by force of arms all efforts to capture them.

    My orders were very stringent, and very summary measures were taken with such as were captured, and with marked benefit to many of the rest.

    Some escaped to the bottoms on Pearl River, swearing they would return with Yankee re-enforcements; others were brought to reason and loyalty, and have come in and surrendered themselves.

    I have today dispatched another expedition from this place to the counties of Smith and others lying on the Pearl River, to break up an organization which has been formed there, and which has held three public meetings.

    I shall not stop until these outbreaks are suppressed and their authors punished, but it would be far better for the Government to dispose of its military resources in such a way as to prevent them.

    Source 24.12— James Hamilton, Controlling Quartermaster Tax-in-Kind for Mississippi and East Louisiana, to Colonel T.M. Jack, Assistant Adjutant General, March 31, 1864, O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 3, pp. 727-28.
    A letter from the tax-in-kind quartermaster describes the ideological and anti-tax nature of the rebellion.

    The state of affairs in a portion of this district [including Jones County] is very annoying. The deserters have overrun and taken possession of the country, in many cases exiling the good and loyal citizens or shooting them in cold blood on their own door-sills.

    The tax-in-kind agent in Jones County was ordered by them to leave the county, since which time he has not been heard from.

    The tax-in-kind agent in Covington County has been notified by them (the deserters) to desist from collecting the tithe and to distribute what he has to their families, and the agent continues his duties at the risk of his life and property.

    The deserters from Jones and Perry Counties made a raid upon Augusta, in Perry County, capturing a part of the small force there and destroying the public stores which we had collected there.

    You will perceive that under these circumstances we cannot discharge our duty, and that the public interests, no less than the public honor, demand that a check be put to these lawless and pernicious acts.

    Source 24.13— Testimony of John Mathews, H. L. Sumrall, Allen Vallentine, James Hinton, and Madison Harrington [Herrington], certified by T. J. Collins, Acting Justice of the Peace, and P.M. Bynum, Clerk of the Circuit Court, Jones County, Oct. 15, 1870, in Newton Knight Folder, HR 1814, RG 233, House of Representatives, Accompanying Paper Files, 42d Congress, box 15, NA.
    Years later, petitioning for Union compensation, Newt’s own men describe the organized and military nature of their rebellion. “Knight and his men met at a place called Sals Battery in Jones County Mississippi and organized their company by electing officers.”

    The State of Mississippi,
    Jones County

    Personally appeared before me T.J. Collins an acting Justice of the Peace in and for the county and state afore said John Mathews, H.L. Sumrall, Allen Valentine James Hinton and Madison Herrington and makes the following statements upon an oath:

    We are citizens of the state of Mississippi and county of Jones and was well acquainted with Newton Knight before and during the late rebellion. We know that he was opposed to the war and refused to take up arms against the United States and the rebels was determined to make him fight or kill him. They destroyed all his effects horses and mules and his household and left his family destitute and finally they got holt of him and they tied him and drove him to prison and there cruelly treated him for some length of time. Finally he got away from there and came home in the month of May 1863 and immediately took measures to raise a company to oppose the rebels and fight in behalf of the United States, and Knight and a portion of his men had several fights with the rebels before they succeeded in organizing a company on the 13th day of October 1863. Knight and his men met at a place called Sals Battery in Jones County Mississippi and organized their company by electing their officers and making a Sollomn vow to be true to each other and to the United States and to fight in behalf of the United States during the war and we know of our own knowledge that Knight and his men did fight the Rebels and act in good faith to the United States from the 13th day of October 1863 to the 10th day of September 1865. They performed the duties of infantry and a one (illegible) detail of detached services – as they keep there details of pickets and curiers on the lookout and we further say that we have examined the list of Knight’s company here with presented and we believe it to be in all things true and we believe that each man’s name on the list herewith presented did perform the services therein alleged to have been rendered and we further say that we are no interest in this matter either directly or indirectly.


    John Mathews Seal
    H L Sumrall Seal
    Allen Vallentine Seal
    James Hinton Seal
    Madison Harrington Seal

    Sworn to and subscribed before me this the 15th day of October A D 1870 and I certify that John Matthews, H L Sumral, Allen Valentine, James Hinton and Madison Harrington is all citizens of the county of Jones and State of mississippi and men of good
    repute and all their statements may be taken as truth and that there signatures be acceppted in general and I am not Interested in this matter either directly or indirectly.


    T J Collins,
    Seal Justice of the peace of the State of Mississippi, Jones County.
    P M Bynum, clerk of the circuit court for the county and State afore said do certify that T J Collins who has certified to the Signatures signed to the within affidavit is and was at the date of this and acting Justice Of the Peace and of good repute and all his official acts entitled to full faith and credit given under my hand this the 15th day of October
    A D 1870

    I P M Bynum
    Clerk
    Circuit Court
    Jones County

    Source 25.1— Ethel Knight, The Echo of the Black Horn (York, PA/Binghampton, NY: The Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group, 1951), pp. 87-89.
    Ethel Knight attests to the way in which the Knight Company was aided by both women and slave networks.

    The Knight Company was organized in the fall of 1863. This first organization was not official, just a group of men who met and pledged themselves to defy capture, to kill, or be killed for one another, and for one another’s families, if need be … Some two months later, the group had secured promises of kinsmen here and there in the county, to come in, and legally join … As Knight was the first to desert, and as he had shown remarkable ability as a leader, and as he possessed such a thorough knowledge of the lay of the land, from his dodging the law in the swamps, and since he had secured the allegiance of the Negroes, he was the man who was chosen Captain of the Company.

    Source 25.2— Provost-Marshal-General D. P. Logan to Major. J. C. Denis, April 7, 1864 . O.R., Ser. 32, Vol. 3, p. 755.

    Mississippi City, April 7, 1864

    Maj. J. C. Denis,

    Provost-Marshal- General, Demopolis, Ala. :

    Major: In accordance with your orders I have to report that a band of deserters still continue prowling about the country, doing considerable damage to the farmers and molesting travelers. Though dispersed from Perry and Jones Counties, they appear in other parts. Large numbers of these from Jones County have gone down Pearl River to and near Honey Island, where they exist in some force and hold the country in awe, openly boasting of their being in communication with the Yankees.

    In fact, it is dangerous to travel in that part of Louisiana. In Marion County, Miss., and the upper part of Washington Parish, La., they are banded in large numbers, bid defiance to the authorities, and claim to have a government of their own in opposition to the Confederate Government.

    Your obedient servant,
    Danl. P. Logan.

    Source 25.3— H. S. Van Eaton to Charles Clark, July 26, 1864, Mississippi Governor, Charles Clark, Correspondence, Series 768, Box 949, Vol. 56, MDAH.

    Gainesville is only some 100 miles below here on Pearl River, reliable information has been read that Yankee Soldiers white and black occupy and garrison the place. It is the paradise of Deserters who flee from their own Swamps.

    Source 25.4— John Stauffer & Sally Jenkins, The State of Jones (New York: Doubleday, 2009), pp. 152 – 153.

    It was under these conditions, then, of emancipation, mass slave defections, inductions into Union uniform, heroism, terror, vengefulness, and atrocity, that the slaves of the Piney Woods aided Newton Knight and his band. They undoubtedly saw it as their contribution to the war effort, their way to get into the fight. According to numerous accounts, Joe Hatton, who lived in the household of Newton’s uncle William Knight, believed that as “a useful messenger” for the Jones County Scouts, he was working “in the service of his peoples” and may have even considered himself a fellow soldier of Newton’s.

    Source 25.5— Herbert Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts (New York: International Publishers, 1963), pp. 361, 363, 367, 374 .
    Aptheker collects many accounts of collaboration between deserters and runaway slaves. Aptheker was one of the first historians to raise awareness about the numerous accounts in which poor whites and enslaved blacks found allies in each other and fought back against the slavocracy. In large part thanks to his research and writing, resistance, rebellions, and revolt came to be understood as wide-ranging movements and not simply through the acts of more well-known figures such as Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey.

    It is very interesting to observe how frequent were the occasions when the slaves had received aid from white people, generally in the lower economic groups, and this notwithstanding the fact that the slaveholders deliberately attempted to weed out and to destroy anti-slavery individuals and associations. Moreover, slave rebellions themselves, and the elaborate and expensive systems of control needed for the maintenance of a slave society fostered opposition among the non-slaveholding whites to the lords of the country. The expense comprised in compensating masters of executed or banished slaves, of maintaining patrols, guards, and the entire military machine necessary for police purposes, was met in part by non-slaveholders and was often resented by them. In addition, patrol duty itself was rarely pleasant and frequently dangerous, and fell most heavily upon poor whites who were unable to pay the fine imposed upon those who failed to perform it.

    In January, 1863, Governor Shorter of Alabama asked Secretary of War Seddon to dispatch reinforcements to the southeastern region of his State which, he said, was “the common retreat of deserters from our armies, tories and runaways,” and at the same time commissioned J.H. Clayton to destroy these disturbing elements.
    J.G. Shorter to J.A. Seddon, Montgomery, January 14, 1863, in Official Records of the Rebellion, Series I, vol. XV, p. 947; Georgia L. Tatum, Disloyalty in the Confederacy, p. 63.

    Confederate Brigadier-General R.F. Floyd asked Governor Milton of Florida on April 11, 1862, to declare martial law in Nassau, Duval, Clay, Putnam, St. John’s and Volusia Counties “as a measure of absolute necessity, as they contain a nest of traitors and lawless negroes.”
    Official Records of the Rebellion…Series I, Vol. LIII,P.233.


    Colonel Hatch of the Union Army reported in August 1864, that “500 Union men, deserters, and negroes were … raiding towards Gainesville,” Florida. The same month a confederate officer, John K. Jackson, declared that “Many deserters … are collected in the swamps and fastnesses of Taylor, LaFayette, Levy and other counties [in Florida], and have organized, with runaway negroes, bands for the purpose of committing depredations upon the plantations and crops of loyal citizens and running off their slaves. These depredatory bands have even threatened the cities of Tallahassee, Madison, and Marianna.”
    G.L. Tatum, op. cit., p. 88; Off. Recd. Of the Rebell,. Series, I, vol. XXV, part II, p. 607

    Concrete instances of Conspiracy or revolt come from practically all of the slave states. From January through April, 1861, there were persistent reports of unrest in South Carolina. In the first month a plot headed by a white stone cutter of German descent was discovered among the Negroes of Columbia.
    N.Y. Daily Tribune, February 1, 1861.

    The river counties of Mississippi, particularly Jefferson, were distracted in May (1861) by the discovery of a slave plot supposed to mature on the Fourth of July. About five whites were implicated with with the Negroes.
    J.D.L. Davenport to Governor J.J. Pettus, May 14, 1861, in Executive Papers, Archives of the State of Mississippi, Jackson (note kindly supplied by Dr. Clement Eaton); and other letters cited in C. Eaton, Freedom of Thought in the Old South, pp. 105-106.

    The uncovering of a plot in Brooks County, Georgia, in August, 1864, led to a public meeting, the appointment of an investigating committee of twelve and the hanging, at the committee’s decision, of one white man and three slaves.
    B.I. Wiley, op. cit., pg. 68, 82; R.B. Flanders, op. cit., p. 275. The incendiary fire caused by slaves in President Davis’ official Richmond residence has been referred to before—p. 147. Notices of arson in the Confederacy were frequent, but it is not possible to fix responsibility for this. See, as examples, Arthur C. Cole, The Irrepressible Conflict, p. 399; K. Bruce, op. cit.; pp. 359-360, 366; Kate M. Rowland and Mrs. M.L. Croxall, eds., The Journal of Julia LeGrande, 1862-1863, pp. 58-59.

    Plans for a widespread rebellion in the region of Troy, Alabama, were revealed in December, 1864, and it was declared that white men, “deserters and escaped Yankee Prisoners” were prominent in their formulation.
    Southern Recorder, December 27, 1864, in ibid., p. 82.

    Source 25.6— Margaret Storey, Loyalty and Loss: Alabama’s Unionists in the Civil War and Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004), p. 53.

    Together, white loyalists and the African Americans with whom they associated formed a sort of shadow community for the purposes of sharing information and aiding the cause they supported. Such networks were peculiar to loyalism within a slave society, for they relied upon the boundaries of race and class—and slaves’ mechanisms for coping with those boundaries—for their success. Indeed, the very nature of slavery made it possible for white unionists to maintain secret communications with black resisters and to benefit from their established habits of subverting the larger white community. Slaves had long cultivated secret underground networks through which they hid runaways and obtained information about kin and friends abroad. Now white unionists found themselves taking advantage of—indeed, trusting their own safety to—systems of communication and movement that had heretofore been used against them by their own slaves.

    Source 26.1— Steven Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003) pp. 136 – 137.

    The expectations of land redistribution expressed almost universally held notions of just compensation for the travails of enslavement, of what was rightfully due those who tilled the soil, and of what could provide meaningful security in a post-emancipation world. In this, the ex-slaves closely resembled subject rural folk in many societies, for in one form or another the "land question" charged social struggles in all servile and semi-servile labor systems and surfaced in connection with almost all servile emancipations. But the expectations also reflected the freedpeople's intensely personal and spiritual conception of the world, and the logic of the millennial deliverance narratives that many had constructed as slaves. Thus, more than a few remembered learning of their liberation from bondage when "Marse Linkum" came riding through their locales, conflated the figures of Lincoln, Rufus Saxton, and William Sherman with Moses and Jesus, and called emancipation the "day of Jubilo," singing in many parts of the South,

    “Old master's gone away and the darkies stayed at home; Must be now that Kingdom's come and the year for jubilee.”

    Rich in the stories, characters, images, and allegories of the Bible as their community religious experiences came to be, could they not have known, too, that the Biblical "jubilee" joined freedom with the restitution of the land to its rightful claimants?

    Source 26.2Field Order 15. O.R. Series 1, Volume 47, Part 2, 60-62.

    In the field, Savannah, GA., January 16th, 1865.

    Special Field Orders, No. 15.

    I. The islands from Charleston, south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. Johns river, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the negroes now made free by the acts of war and proclamation of the President of the United States.

    II. At Beaufort, Hilton Head, Savannah, Fernandina, St. Augustine and Jacksonville, the blacks may remain in their chosen accustomed vocations – but on the islands, and in the settlements hereafter to be established, no white person whatever, unless military officers and soldiers detailed for duty, will be permitted to reside; and the sole and exclusive management of affairs will be left to the freed people themselves, subject only to the United States military authority and the acts of Congress. By the laws of war, and orders of the President of the United States, the negro is free and must be dealt with as such. He cannot be subjected to conscription or forced military service, save by the written orders of the highest military authority of the Department, under such regulations as the President or Congress may prescribe. Domestic servants, blacksmiths, carpenters and other mechanics, will be free to select their own work and residence, but the young in the service of the United States, to contribute their share towards maintaining their own freedom, and securing their rights as citizens of the United States.

    Negroes so enlisted will be organized into companies, battalions and regiments, under the orders of the United States Military authorities, and will be paid, fed and clothed according to law. The bounties paid on enlistment may, with the consent of the recruit, go to assist his family and settlement in procuring agricultural implements, seed, tools, boots, clothing, and other articles necessary for their livelihood.

    III. Whenever three respectable negroes, heads of families, shall desire to settle on land, and shall have selected for that purpose an island or a locality clearly defined, within the limits above designated, the Inspector of Settlements and Plantations will himself, or by such subordinate officer as he may appoint, give them a license to settle such island or district, and afford them such assistance as he can to enable them to establish a peaceable agricultural settlement. The three parties named will subdivide the land, under the supervision of the Inspector, among themselves and such others as may choose to settle near them, so that each family shall have a plot of not more than forty acres of tillable ground, and when it borders on some water channel, with not more than 800 feet water front, in the possession of which land the military authorities will afford them protection, until such time as they can protect themselves, or until Congress shall regulate their title. The Quartermaster may, on the requisition of the Inspector of Settlements and Plantations, place at the disposal of the Inspector, one or more of the captured steamers, to ply between the settlements and one or more of the commercial points heretofore named in orders, to afford the settlers the opportunity to supply their necessary wants, and to sell the products of their land and labor.

    IV. Whenever a negro has enlisted in the military service of the United States, he may locate his family in any of the settlements at pleasure, and acquire a homestead, and all other rights and privileges of a settler, as though present in person. In like manner, negroes may settle their families and engage on board the gunboats, or in fishing, or in the navigation of the inland waters, without losing any claim to land or other advantages derived from this system. But no one, unless an actual settler as above defined, or unless absent on Government service, will be entitled to claim any right to land or property in any settlement by virtue of these orders.

    V. In order to carry out this system of settlement, a general officer will be detailed as Inspector of Settlements and Plantations, whose duty it shall be to visit the settlements, to regulate their police and general management, and who will furnish personally to each head of a family, subject to the approval of the President of the United States, a possessory title in writing, giving as near as possible the description of boundaries; and who shall adjust all the claims or conflicts that may arise under the same, subject to the like approval, treating such titles altogether as possessory. The same general officer will also be charged with the enlistment and organization of the negro recruits, and protecting their interests while absent from their settlements; and will be governed by the rules and regulations prescribed by the War Department for such purposes.

    VI. Brigadier General R. Saxton is hereby appointed Inspector of Settlements and Plantations, and will at once enter on the performance of his duties. No change is intended or desired in the settlement now on Beaufort [Port Royal] Island, nor will any rights to property heretofore acquired be affected thereby.

    Source 26.3— Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution (New York: HarperCollins, 1988), 158–163, 183–184.

    Most dedicated of all to the idea of black landownership was Gen. Rufus Saxton, a prewar abolitionist who directed the Freedmen’s Bureau in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida during the summer of 1865. Saxton had already overseen the settlement of thousands of blacks on lands reserved for them under General Sherman’s Field Order 15. In June 1865, he announced his intention to use the property under Bureau control to provide freedmen with forty-acre homesteads “where by faithful industry they can readily achieve an independence.” Market-oriented farming was Saxton’s ideal. “put in all the cotton and rice you can,” he advised black farmers, “for these are the crops which will pay the best. …Let the world see ere long the fields of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida white with [cotton].” In this way, he argued, blacks tilling their own land could demonstrate the superiority of free labor to slave.
    Initially, Howard himself shared the radical aims of Conway, Brown, and Sax ton. “He says he will give the freedmen protection, land and schools, as far and as fast as he can,” a friend reported in March 1865. But regarding land, this policy was not to be. For reasons that will be related below, President Johnson during the summer and fall issued a rash of special pardons, restoring the property of former Confederates. Johnson’s actions threw into question the status of confiscated and abandoned land, including the Sherman reservation. At the end of July, without consulting the President, Howard issued Circular 13, which instructed Bureau agents to “set aside” forty-acre tracts for the freedmen as rapidly as possible. Presidential pardons, he insisted, did not carry with them the restoration of land that had been settled by freedmen in accordance with the law establishing the Bureau. Johnson, however, soon directed Howard to rescind his order. A new policy, drafted in the White House and issued in September as Howard’s Circular 15, ordered the restoration to pardoned owners of all land except the small amount that had already been sold under a court decree. Soon thereafter, the government suspended land sales scheduled in Virginia and South Carolina. Once growing crops had been harvested, virtually all the land in Bureau hands would revert to its former owners.
    Most of the land occupied by blacks in the summer and fall of 1865 lay within the Sherman reservation, where 40,000 freedmen had been settled. “Could a just Government,” Saxton asked, “drive out these loyal men?” To Howard fell the task of informing the freedmen that the land would be restored to their former owners, and that they must either agree to work for the planters or be evicted. In October, he traveled to low-country South Carolina, hoping to “ease the shock as much as possible, of depriving the freedmen of the ownership of the lands.” On Edisto Island occurred one of the most poignant confrontations of the era. Blacks here had been holding weekly meetings, where issues of “general interest” were discussed and Republican newspapers read aloud. They fully anticipated Howard’s message, and when he rose to speak to more than 2,000 freedmen gathered at a local church, “dissatisfaction and sorrow were manifested from every part of the assembly.” Finally, a “sweet-voiced negro woman” quieted the crowd by leading it in singing spirituals: “Nobody Knows the Trouble I Seen” and “Wandering in the Wilderness of Sorrow and Gloom.” When the freedmen fell silent, Howard begged them to “lay aside their bitter feelings, and to become reconciled to their old masters.” He was continually interrupted by members of the audience: “No, never,” “Can’t do it,” “Why, General Howard, do you take away our lands?”

    Source 26.4— Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution (New York: HarperCollins, 1988), pp. 199 - 200.

    Mississippi and South Carolina enacted the first and most severe Black Codes toward the end of 1865. Mississippi required all blacks to possess, each January, written evidence of employment for the coming year. Laborers leaving their jobs before the contract expired would forfeit wages already earned, and, as under slavery, be subject to arrest by any white citizen. A person offering work to a laborer already under contract risked imprisonment or a fine of $ 500. To limit the freedmen’s economic opportunities, they were forbidden to rent land in urban areas. Vagrancy— a crime whose definition included the idle, disorderly, and those who “misspend what they earn”— could be punished by fines or involuntary plantation labor; other criminal offenses included “insulting” gestures or language, “malicious mischief,” and preaching the Gospel without a license. In case anything had been overlooked, the legislature declared all penal codes defining crimes by slaves and free blacks “in full force” unless specifically altered by law.

    Source 26.5— W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in America (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1935), chap. 16.

    It must be remembered and never forgotten that the Civil War in the South which overthrew Reconstruction was a determined effort to reduce black labor as nearly as possible to a condition of unlimited exploitation and build a new class of capitalists on this foundation. The wage of the Negro worker, despite the war amendments, was to be reduced to the level of bare subsistence by taxation, peonage, caste, and every method of discrimination. This program had to be carried out in open defiance of the clear letter of the law.

    The lawlessness in the South since the Civil War has varied in its phases. First, it was the kind of disregard for law which follows all war. Then it became a labor war, an attempt on the part of impoverished capitalists and landholders to force laborers to work on the capitalist’s own terms. From this, it changed to a war between laborers, white and black men fighting for the same jobs. Afterward, the white laborer joined the white landholder and capitalist and beat the black laborer into subjection through secret organizations and the rise of a new doctrine of race hatred.

    It is always difficult to stop war, and doubly difficult to stop a civil war. Inevitably, when men have long been trained to violence and murder, the habit projects itself into civil life after peace, and there is crime and disorder and social upheaval, as we who live in the backwash of World War know too well. But in the case of civil war, where the contending parties must rest face to face after peace, there can be no quick and perfect peace. When to all this you add a servile and disadvantaged race, who represent the cause of war and who afterwards are left near naked to their enemies, war may go on more secretly, more spasmodically, and yet as truly as before the peace. This was the case in the South after Lee’s surrender.

    Emancipation loosed the finer feelings of some Southerners toward Negroes. They felt the fall of a burden – and expressed it. The nightmare was at last over. They need no longer apologize to the world for a system they were powerless to change or reconstruct. It had been changed and they were glad.

    But Emancipation left the planters poor, and with no method of earning a living, except by exploiting black labor on their only remaining capital – their land. This underlying economic urge was naturally far stronger than the philanthropic, and motivated the mass of Southerners.

    Source 26.6— Steven Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 118.

    Political organization was most advanced with the institutional harbingers of the Republican party (Union Leagues and Equal Rights Leagues) in evidence. Elsewhere, mass meetings and smaller gatherings served to proclaim a new black political presence: that is, to establish a collective public life, air grievances, and express aspirations. They issued calls for assembly, introduced leaders from near and far, explained the role of black troops in the abolition of slavery and the defeat of the slaveholders’ rebellion, protested abusive and discriminatory treatment at the hands of federal officials and former Confederates alike, and in many cases pressed for entrance into American civil and political society.

    Among the diverse activities that Union League councils across the former Confederate South pursued in 1867, few commanded more immediate attention than those required to implement the provisions and goals of the Reconstruction Acts. Within months, the Republican party had to be organized in the states and counties, delegates had to be nominated and elected to serve in state constitutional conventions, new state constitutions enfranchising black men and investing state governments with new structures and responsibilities had to be written and ratified, and the general congressional expectations for readmission to the Union had to be fulfilled. First and foremost, the outlines of a new body politic had to be drawn and legitimated through a process of voter registration.

    Source 26.7— Michael W. Fitzgerald, The Union League Movement in the Deep South: Politics and Agricultural Change During Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989), p. 29.

    In social terms, the main force behind the expansion of the Union League came from the black community. During the immediate postwar period, freedmen became increasingly restive. Once the euphoria of emancipation wore off, blacks became aware of legal and economic constraints on their liberty. They resented the resemblance their situation bore to servitude. The plantation system offered a graphic demonstration: landowners tried to conduct agriculture much as they had under slavery. Tension escalated in the cotton belt as planters sought control over their labor force in the face of black resistance. By the beginning of Military Reconstruction, an acute social crisis gripped the plantation regions of Alabama and Mississippi, and black dissatisfaction fed political insurgency even before the emergence of the League. Thus the Union League tapped an existing black political movement, rather than creating one, and this was the key to the organization’s rapid growth.

    Source 26.8— Nicholas Lemann, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), p. 82.

    In most of the substantial towns of Mississippi, the equivalent, and ally, of Louisiana’s White Leagues were springing up. The purpose of these “White Line” organizations was to reestablish white (which was to say, Democratic Party) control of the apparatus of government, and their means was the violent disruption of Republican (which was to say, Negro) political organizing and voting. After the war, the mainly black supporters of Reconstruction had set up “loyal leagues” all over the South dedicated to maintaining Negro rights. Widespread white legend had it that the loyal leagues were actually organizations sworn by secret blood oath to the mass slaughter of white people, and the White Liners, who partook of the white Southern tradition of locating their own violent impulses in the other race, imagined themselves as a counterweight to the loyal leagues. But in fact the loyal leagues did not engage in the violence that was the White Liners’ signature technique. The White Line organizations were plainly in communication with each other, and Governor Ames, at least, believed they were also in communication with the Democratic Party. Certainly they had a well-formed political purpose. Although they drew deeply from the psychological well of white Southern justifications for killing Negroes— rumors of incipient organized bloody revolt, an urgency in protecting white women from sexual depredations, and so on— the murders were not random or local. The killing was terrorism in service of a coherent cause, the overthrow of Reconstruction, which was beginning to seem plausible.

    A Negro farmer named Moses Kellaby who lived in the countryside outside Vicksburg offered this account, to the somewhat incredulous questioners from a congressional investigating committee, of how the White Liners looked to Negroes:

    Q: What do you understand to be the object of these clubs?

    A: I cannot say. I have been traveling right smart with the white people … East Tennessee is my home— and I have been looking over that thing— what the foundation was; I could not see except that the white people want to kill all the darkies out.

    Q: Do your people stand in fear of these clubs?

    A: They do stand in fear.

    Q: Why?

    A: They think they are not safe.

    Q: Why?

    A: They think they will kill them …

    Q: Do they interfere with your voting?

    A: If a man does not vote as they want him to, he stands a poor hack. If a man does not vote the democratic ticket, he is gone up.

    Q: Do you think he is not safe if he does not vote that ticket?

    A: He is not safe.

    Source 26.9— Nicholas Lemann, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), pp. 170 – 171.
    Lemann describes in searing detail the systemized violence that began in Mississippi, and led to the effective end of Reconstruction.

    As the 1876 presidential election drew near, Democrats had begun to talk about the possibility of other Southern states implementing the “Mississippi plan.” The post-Civil War constitutional amendments had seemed to promise the Republicans an unbeatable majority in national politics, because they added the freed slaves living in the former Confederate states, who overwhelmingly voted Republican, to the electorate. Even if white Southerners bitterly opposed Reconstruction and the Republican Party, the most heavily black Southern states, like Mississippi and Louisiana, would still join the Republicans’ base in the Northeast and Midwest to create a bloc big enough to win presidential elections. That was how Grant had won reelection in 1872.

    For Democrats, and especially for white Southern Democrats, this was a problem to which the Mississippi plan offered a solution. Using violence and intimidation to suppress the black vote— but subtly enough so that the federal government would not be forced to use federal troops to enforce Negro rights— the Democrats could sweep the entire South. James George and Ethelbert Barksdale, the Confederate general and the newspaper editor who ran Democratic politics in Mississippi in 1875, were the inventors of the Mississippi plan. They had been sufficiently respectable to be able to maintain contact with Lucius Lamar and other elected Democrats in Washington, and even with leading Republicans, but sufficiently ruthless to keep within their range of communication the White Liners, Bulldozers, Regulators, and free-roaming ex-Confederate soldiers who were ready, willing, and able to murder and terrorize to an extent unknown before or since in American politics. The 1876 election would be, among other things, a test of the Mississippi plan.

    In Mississippi itself, of course, the plan was already in place. There was hardly a cessation of political violence between the end of 1875’s campaign and the beginning of 1876’s. In late July 1876, more than three months before Election Day, a Republican from Macon, Mississippi, wrote to James Redpath, “The Negroes are now almost ready to take to the swamps, and unless the Government sends troops here at least a month before the Election, the Negroes will not go to the polls. We look for the Government to stand by us and if it does not it can take these Southern States and do what it pleases with them. And the prayer of every Northern man that has fought for ten years like I have for the Government will be that these Southern men will clean them up like Sitting Bull and Custer.” As Election Day drew near, those Mississippi Republicans who still dared to hold open political rallies found them disrupted by armed White Liners according to what was by now a well-rehearsed routine. The Democrats also adopted a couple of new tactics. One was issuing “certificates of loyalty” to Negroes who promised to vote Democratic, which protected them and their families from violence and loss of employment. Another was a registration system made state law by the new legislature, under which voters were required to tell a Democratic Party appointee where they were employed and which election district they lived in, or they would not be allowed to vote. Any Negro voter who didn’t want to take, or couldn’t pass, this quiz— who was not, in other words, willing to have his voting behavior reported to his employer— could not vote.

    On Election Day, Samuel Tilden, governor of New York and the Democratic presidential nominee, carried Mississippi by more than fifty-five thousand votes. Democrats swept almost all the other races. In Yazoo County, only two people cast Republican votes; in Tallahatchie County, only one; in Lowndes County, only thirteen.

    Source 27.1— W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America: Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in an Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in American, 1860 – 1880 (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2013), Ch. 10.

    On January 16, 1868, General Sherman issued his celebrated Field Order, Number 15. All the Sea Islands, from Charleston to Port Royal, and adjoining lands to the distance of thirty miles inland, were set aside for the use of the Negroes who had followed his army. General Saxton executed this order, and divided 485,000 acres of land among 40,000 Negroes. They were given, however, only possessory titles, and in the end, the government broke its implied promise and drove them off the land.

    Source 27.2— Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution (New York: Harper Collins, 1988), pp. 189 - 190.

    The definitive announcement of Johnson’s plan of Reconstruction came in two proclamations issued on May 29, 1865. The first conferred amnesty and pardon, including restoration of all property rights except for slaves, upon participants in the rebellion who took an oath pledging loyalty to the Union and support for emancipation. Fourteen classes of Southerners, however, most notably major Confederate officials and owners of taxable property valued at more than $20,000, were required to apply individually for Presidential pardons.

    Johnson’s pardon policy reinforced his emerging image as the white South’s champion. Despite talk of punishing traitors, the President embarked on a course of amazing leniency. No mass arrests followed the collapse of the Confederacy; only Henry Wirz, commandant of Andersonville prison camp, paid the ultimate penalty for treason. Jefferson Davis spent two years in federal prison but was never put on trial and lived to his eighty-second year; his Vice President, Alexander H. Stephens, served a brief imprisonment, returned to Congress in 1873, and died ten years later as governor of Georgia. Almost from the outset of Presidential Reconstruction, moreover, the administration ignored the Ironclad Oath in making such politically important appointments as revenue assessor, tax collector, and postmaster. Simultaneously, Johnson’s initial policy of excluding Confederate leaders and disloyal planters from political affairs unraveled. Some 15,000 Southerners, a majority barred from the general amnesty because of their wealth, filed applications for individual pardons. At first, the President granted pardons cautiously, but by September they were being issued wholesale, sometimes hundreds in a single day. By 1866, over 7,000 Southerners excluded from amnesty under the $20,000 clause had received individual pardons.

    Source 28.1— Ethel Knight, The Echo of the Black Horn (York, PA/Binghampton, NY: The Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group, 1951), pp. 265–266.
    Ethel Knight recounts the story of Newt burning down a school that refused to educate mixed-race children.

    When describing the incident where Rachel sought to send her children to the school Newt had built and organized, Ethel writes that after a man told Rachel’s children to go home:


    “He assured the schoolmaster that he would have no trouble with similar occurrence. So the excitement was soon over, and the school was begun.

    But it lasted only one day. Shortly after dark that night the country was weirdly lighted, and the beauty of the majestic pines stood out in bold relief on the hill by the light of the burning school house.

    "How did it happen? Who did it?" were unanswered questions.

    It was at once said that Newt set it because he wished the Negroes to have equal opportunity. Other said that Rachel, angry over the refusal to let her children enter it, set it. And even another said that, secretly, under cover of the evening’s shadows, Rachel had called on two white men who were the fathers of her children, and had threatened to expose them, if they did not burn the school, as her two were half-brothers to theirs, and therefore should have equal rights. And to silence Rachel, the men gladly complied with her wishes. But poor Newt bore the blame.”

    Source 28.2— John Stauffer and Sally Jenkins, The State of Jones (New York: Doubleday, 2009), p. 260.

    At first, Newton’s neighbors had sought his advice and cooperation in building a new school. Every two or three miles in Jones and Jasper counties there was a family with children, including those of some of the men he had ridden with in the war. He and his old friends decided to split the cost and the work of raising the schoolhouse. “He was a kind-hearted man, and he was a man of good judgment, and was looked upon as being the leader of his community in matters of schools and other local affairs,” Tom Knight remembered. Newton hewed beams and split logs for benches and contributed to the hiring of a teacher at a salary of ten dollars a month, the cost of which would be shared equally, along with his board. On the first day of the term, Newton sent his children to school—and Rachel’s children went with them. Parents who accompanied their young to the schoolhouse door were startled to see Rachel’s son Jeff and daughters Georgeanne and Fannie file into the building. When some of the white parents angrily asked Rachel’s children what they thought they were doing, they replied that their mother had sent them.

    The teacher flatly announced that he refused to instruct them. Rachel’s children were ordered out of the building. “Go home and tell your mother the school doesn’t accept Negroes,” they were told. Newton was apparently outraged by the insult: he had put his sweat and labor into building the school for the common benefit of the neighbors’ children, yet they refused the same benefits to his and Rachel’s children. Rachel had protected the lives of some of those white men during the war. Their edict against race mixing in the classroom seemed the height of moral hypocrisy: plenty of Piney Woods yeomen had sired children with Negro blood—racial intermingling was surely all right with them when it came to sex. The difference was that they refused to take responsibility for their progeny, while Newton took care of his. By one account, a day later the school, which still smelled of fresh-cut pine, went up in a bonfire. The embers were still glowing as word spread that Newton Knight had set the fire “because he wished the Negroes to have equal opportunity,” according to one of his descendants.

    Newton stopped talking to his neighbors over the school. It was the last straw for him—he had come to feel estranged from most local whites and more comfortable among blacks, with whom he shared an understanding of Unionism and democratic ideals. Martha Wheeler, the former Knight slave, said, “He had a complete break with the whites because he undertook to send several of his Negro children to a white school he had been instrumental in building.”

    Source 28.3— Rawick, The American Slave, supplement, series 1, vol. 10, Mississippi Narratives, part 5, interview with Martha Wheeler, former slave belonging to Jackie Knight, pp. 2262-71.

    Before Newt’s white wife left him he had a complete break with the whites because he undertook to send several of his negro children to a white school he had been instrumental in building. The peculiar stories about him and his affairs are too numerous to relate. No fiction reads as do the facts of this family.

    Source 29.1— “An act to change the name of the county of Jones, and for other purposes,” Petition from Jones County citizens to the Senate and House of Representatives, Oct. 16, 1865 (read into record Nov. 29, 1865), RG 47, vol. 88, MDAH.
    The petition itself attests to the reach and the renown of the Knight Company Rebellion: “We, the undersigned, petitioners and citizens of Jones county, would respectfully represent that from occurrences that have transpired within the past two years (the Knight Company Rebellion), the name of our county, beyond its limits, has become notorious if not infamous, at least to sensitive ears.”

    To the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Mississippi, October 16, 1865

    We, the undersigned, petitioners and citizens of Jones county, would respectfully represent that from occurrences that have transpired within the past two years, the name of our county, beyond its limits, has become notorious if not infamous, at least to sensitive ears and the public spirited. The reproaches and vulgar comparisons are mortifying to those who occasionally travel beyond its limits, and have sacrificed much to sustain a high reputation.

    We therefore, would petition your honorable body to change the name of our county to that of Davis, and the name of our county seat (Ellisville) to that of Leesburg, hoping that thereby an era in history will commence with marked improvement, and that its past history and name may be obliterated and buried so deep that the hand of time may never resurrect it, but by chance posterity should learn that there was a Jones county and the black part of its history. We would ask (not egotistically) that this petition, together with the names of those annexed, may be recorded in the journals of both Houses, that their mind (posterity) may be disabused of any participation on our part of any of its dark deeds, and in duty bound will ever pray. (Signed,)

    J. W. Baylis,
    James Gunter
    Thomas Watters
    William Baylis
    R. C. Duckworth
    William Dement, Sr.
    R. Jenkins
    W.H. Turner
    Elijah Powell
    Chas. Williams
    R.C. Saffold
    Robert Rairchild
    Angus McGilvray
    A. Tennon
    Willie Dickerson
    N. W. Staten
    W. Duckworth
    Henry Parker
    Daniel McWauther
    Edward Dossett
    E. M. Devall
    Enoch Watters
    Abner Dossett
    W.M. Shows
    William Hood
    W.D. Dossett
    W.B. Shows
    Willis Windham
    John Bynum
    W.J. Shows
    John M. Knight
    William Bynum, Jr.
    J.J. Shows
    Hugh Gellander
    William Bynum, Sr.
    J.P Shows, Jr
    J.W. Grayson
    S.H. Smith
    John Ferguson, Sr.
    John W. Watters
    M.A. Melvin
    M. Ferguson
    James Cooper
    Quinn Melvin
    B.F. Barrett
    Nowel Cooper
    Robert Jordan
    Jeff. Musgrove
    Allen Smith
    P.C. Jordan
    Robert Cooper
    H. Cooper
    J.L. Welborn
    T.C. Bryant
    D.C. Smith, Jr.
    J.G. Welborn
    Perkins Crede
    John Smith
    Bradford Shows
    J.B. Reeves
    M.F. Smith
    A. Goddie
    Samuel Trest
    J.T. Gardner
    F.M. McDonald
    R.C. Trest
    Henry Gardner
    C.C. McDonald
    A.T. Dossett
    J.F. Welborn
    George Davis
    Sam. Prince
    N.F. McGill
    R.J. Craven
    William P. Tisdall
    A.G. Welborn
    A. Patterson
    Elijah Tisdall
    E.C. Welborn
    Berry Smith
    W.L. Tisdall
    William Gore
    William Tarpey, Jr.
    J.A. Tisdall
    A.P. McGill
    E. Steward
    A.M. Drennon
    Daniel McGill
    Lane Watters
    Simpson Bruce
    James Gaskin
    Alleu Gunter
    A.B. Jordan
    J.H. Overstreet
    Robert Windham

    Source 30.1— J. Fairbanks, Capt., Commanding at Raleigh, to N. Knight, July 24, 1865, Newton Knight Folder, NA.

    Raleigh Miss July 24, 1865

    Mr. Knight,

    Sir this colored man informed me that you will get his two children for him and I hereby empower you to do so as I am informed that the man they lived with is about to leave the county and it is right that the families be kept together and as there Is no written contract between them it is best that the two children be reunited with their father.

    Yours Respectfully,

    J. Fairbanks
    Capt. 72nd Company at Raleigh

    Source 30.2Laws of the State of Mississippi, Passed at a Regular Session of the Mississippi Legislature, held in Jackson, October, November, and December, 1965, Jackson, 1866, from pages 82-93, 165-67.

    An Act to Regulate the Relation of Master and Apprentice, as Relates to Freedmen, Free Negroes, and Mulattoes


    Section 1. Be it enacted by the legislature of the state of Mississippi, that it shall be the duty of all sheriffs, justices of the peace, and other civil officers of the several counties in this state to report to the Probate courts of their respective counties semiannually, at the January and July terms of said courts, all freedmen, free Negroes, and mulattoes under the age of eighteen within their respective counties, beats, or districts who are orphans, or whose parent or parents have not the means, or who refuse to provide for and support said minors; and thereupon it shall be the duty of said Probate Court to order the clerk of said court to apprentice said minors to some competent and suitable person, on such terms as the court may direct, having a particular care to the interest of said minors: Provided, that the former owner of said minors shall have the preference when, in the opinion of the court, he or she shall be a Suitable person for that purpose.

    Section 2. Be it further enacted, that the said court shall be fully satisfied that the person or persons to whom said minor shall be apprenticed shall be a suitable person to have the charge and care of said minor and fully to protect the interest of said minor. The said court shall require the said master or mistress to execute bond and security, payable to the state of Mississippi, conditioned that he or she shall furnish said minor with sufficient food and clothing; to treat said minor humanely; furnish medical attention in case of sickness; teach or cause to be taught him or her to read and write, if under fifteen years old; and will conform to any law that may be hereafter passed for the regulation of the duties and relation of master and apprentice: Provided, that said apprentice shall be bound by indenture, in case of males until they are twenty-one years old, and in case of females until they are eighteen years old.


    Section 3. Be it further enacted, that in the management and control of said apprentices, said master or mistress shall have power to inflict such moderate corporeal chastisement as a father or guardian is allowed to inflict on his or her child or ward at common law: Provided, that in no case shall cruel or inhuman punishment be inflicted.

    Section 4. Be it further enacted, that if any apprentice shall leave the employment of his or her master or mistress without his or her consent, said master or mistress may pursue and recapture said apprentice and bring him or her before any justice of the peace of the county, whose duty it shall be to remand said apprentice to the service of his or her master or mistress; and in the event of a refusal on the part of said apprentice so to return, then said justice shall commit said apprentice to the jail of said county, on failure to give bond, until the next term of the county court; and it shall be the duty of said court, at the first term thereafter, to investigate said case; and if the court shall be of opinion that said apprentice left the employment of his or her master or mistress without good cause, to order him or her to be punished, as provided for the punishment of hired freedmen, as may be from time to time provided for by law, for desertion, until he or she shall agree to return to his or her master or mistress: Provided, that the court may grant continuances, as in other cases; and provided, further, that if the court shall believe that said apprentice had good cause to quit his said master or mistress, the court shall discharge said apprentice from said indenture and also enter a judgment against the master or mistress for not more than $100, for the use and benefit of said apprentice, to be collected on execution, as in other cases.

    Section 5. Be it further enacted, that if any person entice away any apprentice from his or her master or mistress, or shall knowingly employ an apprentice, or furnish him or her food or clothing, without the written consent of his or her master or mistress, or shall sell or give said apprentice ardent spirits, without such consent, said person so offending shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and shall, on conviction thereof before the county court, be punished as provided for the punishment of persons enticing from their employer hired freedmen, free Negroes, or mulattoes.


    Section 6. Be it further enacted, that it shall be the duty of all civil officers of their respective counties to report any minors within their respective counties to said Probate Court who are subject to be apprenticed under the provisions of this act, from time to time, as the facts may come to their knowledge; and it shall be the duty of said court, from time to time, as said minors shall be reported to them or otherwise come to their knowledge, to apprentice said minors as hereinbefore provided.


    Section 7. Be it further enacted, that in case the master or mistress of any apprentice shall desire, he or she shall have the privilege to summon his or her said apprentice to the Probate Court, and thereupon, with the approval of the court, he or she shall be released from all liability as master of said apprentice, and his said bond shall be canceled, and it shall be the duty of the court forthwith to reapprentice said minor; and in the event any master of an apprentice shall die before the close of the term of service of said apprentice, it shall be the duty of the court to give the preference in reapprenticing said minor to the widow, or other member of said master’s family: Provided, that said widow or other member of said family shall be a suitable person for that purpose.

    Section 8. Be it further enacted, that in case any master or mistress of any apprentice, bound to him or her under this act shall be about to remove or shall have removed to any other state of the United States by the laws of which such apprentice may be an inhabitant thereof, the Probate Court of the proper county may authorize the removal of such apprentice to such state, upon the said master or mistress entering into bond, with security, in a penalty to be fixed by the judge, conditioned that said master or mistress will, upon such removal, comply with the laws of such state in such cases: Provided, that said master shall be cited to attend the court at which such order is proposed to be made and shall have a right to resist the same by next friend, or otherwise.

    Section 9. Be it further enacted, that it shall be lawful for any freedman, free Negro, or Mulatto having a minor child or children to apprentice the said minor child or children as provided for by this act.

    Section 10. Be it further enacted, that in all cases where the age of the freedman, free Negro, or mulatto cannot be ascertained by record testimony, the judge of the county court shall fix the age.

    Source 31.1— Deed of Sale from Newton Knight to Rachel Knight. December 12, 1876 (filed December 23rd, 1876), Jasper County, Mississippi, Deed Book No. 19, p. 223, Chancery Clerk’s Office, Paulding, Mississippi. (Copy of Deed in Herman Welborn Collection.) 

    The State of Mississippi, Jasper County 12 December 1876

    In consideration of the sum of one-hundred and fifty dollars to me, paid by Rachel Knight, I Newton Knight do hereby grant, bargain sell and convey into the said Rachel Knight and to her heirs and assigners forever the following tract of land in Jasper County state of Mississippi and half of the South West quarter of section 23 in township 10 range 13 West and the South East quarter of section 22 township 10 range 13 West containing one hundred and sixty acres more or less, and I, the said Newton Knight, do hereby covant with the said Rachel Knight that I am selled of an estate in fee simple in said land, that said land is free from any encumbrance and that I Newton Knight will warrant and defend the title of the said Rachel Knight and to her heirs and assigners thereto forever and in testimony where of the said Newton Knight hath hereunto sell his hand and affixed his seal this the 12th day of December, 1876.

    Newton Knight .

    Source 31.2— John Stauffer and Sally Jenkins, The State of Jones (New York: Doubleday, 2009), p. 281.

    One bit of business Newton had was pressing: a month after the presidential election, he deeded Rachel 160 acres of land. The deed, handwritten and dated December 3, 1876, was an almost unheard-of gesture for a white man in Mississippi, and it bespoke Newton’s partnership with Rachel, whom he had come to regard as his “second wife.” It also suggested how much he wanted to secure her independence. Most whites sought to virtually re-enslave blacks, to drive them from land, or use them as tenants and cheap laborers, not to promote their independence. The title to her own land would protect Rachel in the event something happened to him.

    Source 31.3— John Stauffer and Sally Jenkins, The State of Jones (New York: Doubleday, 2009), p. 307.

    He was buried in the small family graveyard, near Rachel, under a cedar tree. It was said that just two whites attended his funeral. One of them was his cousin, George “Clean Neck” Knight, the son of Jesse Davis Knight. Somehow Newton and the son of the old Confederate planter had remained close, perhaps because Clean Neck understood his familial connection to Rachel’s children. The mulatto Knight relations, children and grandchildren, cousins and second cousins, stood around the gravesite as Newton was lowered in the ground, the only white man buried among former slaves. Knight’s stone was a simple gray tablet etched with his name and vitals: b. 1829, d. 1922. Fittingly, even the stone would become a source of debate: the birth date was probably wrong. His engraved epitaph, however, was simple and true: “He lived for others.”

    Source 32.1— Eric Foner, Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996) pp. xi – xii, xiv.

    Reconstruction was a time of momentous changes in American political and social life. In the aftermath of slavery’s demise, the federal government guaranteed the equality before the law of all citizens, black as well as white. In the South, former masters and former slaves struggled to shape the new labor systems that arose from the ashes of slavery, and new institutions – black churches, public schools, and many others – redefined the communities of both blacks and whites and relations between them. But no development during the turbulent years that followed the Civil War marked so dramatic a break with the nation’s traditions, or aroused such bitter hostility from Reconstruction’s opponents, as the appearance of large numbers of black American’s in public office only a few years after the destruction of slavery.

    Before the Civil War, blacks did not form part of America’s “political nation.” Black officeholding was unknown in the slave South and virtually unheard of in the free states as well. Four years before the outbreak of civil war, the Supreme Court decreed in the Dred Scott case that no black person could be a citizen of the United States. In 1860, only five Northern states, all with tiny black populations, allowed black men to vote on the same terms as white.

    During Presidential Reconstruction (1865 – 67), voting and elective office in the South continued to be restricted to whites, although a handful of blacks were appointed to local offices and federal patronage posts. Black officeholding began in earnest in 1867, when Congress ordered the election of new Southern governments under suffrage rules that did not discriminate on the basis of race. By 1877, when the last Radical Reconstruction governments were overthrown, around 2,000 black men had held federal, state, and local public offices, ranging from member of Congress to justice of the peace. Although much reduced after the abandonment of Reconstruction, black officeholding continued to the turn of the century, when most Southern blacks were disenfranchised, and, in a few places, even beyond. The next large group of black officials emerged in urban centers of the North, a product of the Great Migration that began during World War I. Not until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 did significant numbers of black Southerners again hold public office.

    Source 32.2— Michael W. Fitzgerald, The Union League Movement in the Deep South: Politics and Agricultural Change During Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989), p. 29.

    In social terms, the main force behind the expansion of the Union League came from the black community. During the immediate postwar period, freedmen became increasingly restive. Once the euphoria of emancipation wore off, blacks became aware of legal and economic constraints on their liberty. They resented the resemblance their situation bore to servitude. The plantation system offered a graphic demonstration: landowners tried to conduct agriculture much as they had under slavery. Tension escalated in the cotton belt as planters sought control over their labor force in the face of black resistance. By the beginning of Military Reconstruction, an acute social crisis gripped the plantation regions of Alabama and Mississippi, and black dissatisfaction fed political insurgency even before the emergence of the League. Thus the Union League tapped an existing black political movement, rather than creating one, and this was the key to the organization’s rapid growth.

    Source 32.3— Douglas R. Egerton, The Wars of Reconstruction (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2014)

    If black officeholders symbolized what African Americans could aspire to, predominantly black or interracial schools, churches, and Union League halls–which were frequently one and the same thing–paved the way for such achievement. As they had virtually since Appomattox, whites torched them almost as rapidly as blacks could construct them. When League members in rural North Carolina returned to their homes after a “Flag Raising” in Halifax, they found a white mob standing in “a line a Cross [the] public Road with gun and pistle.”

    Source 33.1— Victoria E. Bynum, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), p. 264.

    Although Newt Knight was identified as a Republican during Reconstruction, the overwhelming majority of voters in Jones and Jasper Counties, even those who deserted the Confederacy, appear to have quickly rejoined the Democratic Party.

    Source 34.1Mississippi in 1875: Report of the Select Committee to Inquire into the Mississippi Election of 1875, Mississippi in 1875 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1876), p. 466.
    This list of appointments confirms that Newt Knight was appointed colonel of the First Regiment Infantry for Jasper County on March 17, 1875.

    After the Clinton Riot Governor Ames proceeded to perfect the military organization which had been ordered by law; and in the county of Hinds, under the authority known as the “Gatling-gun bill,” on the 23d of September he ordered one thousand Springfield breech-loading muskets to be purchased and directed to the adjutant-general of this post. After the receipt of those arms they were issued to companies in this county of Hinds, as follows:

    On the 2nd of October 80 guns, with accouterments, were issued to Capt. Chas. Caldwell, (colored).
    On the 5th October, to the same person, 17 were issued.
    On the 6th October, 47 issued to Capt. John W. Cleagan, (white).
    On the 7th, 80 stand of arms to Green Tapley, (colored,) with ammunition.
    On the 9th of October, 80 issued to Ed. L. Gillin, (colored,) with ammunition.
    On the 9th of October, 60 issued to Oliver Cromwell, (colored,) with ammunition.
    On the 10th, 80 issued to W.C. Mosely, with ammunition.
    On the 11th, 60 issued to Oliver Cromwell, (colored,) with ammunition.

    That was in this county; issued with accouterments, ammunition, and to five negro companies in the county of Hinds, and two white companies.

    Almost without exception the appointments were from the republican party. I do not think of an exception in the military appointments, and two-thirds of the companies that were commissioned in the military service were taken from that party. Probably half were commanded by colored officers.

    The following is a full list of the appointments:

    First Division – Brig. Gen. William F. Simonton, of Lee County, March 4, 1875
    Second Division – Brig. Gen. Marion Campbell, of DeSoto County, March 4, 1875
    Third Division – Brig. Gen. N.B. Bridges, of Oktibbeha County, March 4, 1875
    Hinds County: Samuel P. Steele, colonel First Regiment Infantry, March 10, 1875
    Jasper County: Newton Knight, colonel First Regiment Infantry, March 17, 1875

    Source 34.2Mississippi in 1875: Report of the Select Committee to Inquire into the Mississippi Election of 1875, Mississippi in 1875 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1876).
    This testimony before the Senate describing the election of 1875 makes the intent and the composition of Newt’s regiment clear.

    I would like to ask you what effect upon the public mind—the conditions of public feeling—had these measures adopted by Governor Ames. I mean what effect had they in suggesting the idea of violence to the public mind. His military operations and preparations, marching and countermarching the troops, most of which were colored—all of them were colored, I may say—had the effect of inducing the conservatives and democrats, and others, who desired a change of administration for the causes which were enumerated in the petition of the republican club of Jackson, and of the tax-payers’ convention to think that it was the determination to carry the election by force or intimidation, and by military violence if necessary.

    Source 35.1Encyclopedia of the Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, Edited by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000), pp. 706 – 707.

    Within the first month of its existence, the Confederate Congress adopted an official flag, known as the Stars and Bars. This flag consisted of three wide horizontal stripes in the order of red, white, and red. In the upper left was a blue canton with seven white stars, arranged in a circle, to represent each state in the Confederacy. The stars eventually numbered thirteen.

    A second flag, called the “stainless banner,” replaced the Stars and Bars on 1 May 1863. This rectangular flag contained a white field, with a red canton displaying a white-bordered blue cross that contained thirteen white stars. This flag remained as the Confederacy’s flag until 4 March 1865, when it was replaced by a shorter flag almost identical to the stainless banner except that it contained a vertical red stripe along the fly edge.

    Confederate armies used a wide variety of battle flags. In the East, most units carried what became known as the Southern Cross, a square flag, made of silk at first and then, when this material became unobtainable, wool bunting, as the general rule. These battle flags consisted of a red field upon which appeared a blue cross, bordered in white, containing the requisite number of stars. Unlike Union colors, the Southern Cross flags were not edged in fringe; early issues were trimmed in white, while those issued in 1863 to the Army of Northern Virginia had an orange border.

    Most Southern units carried only one of these battle flags. Infantry regiments carried a model that was 48 inches square, artillery batteries displayed flags 36 inches square, and cavalry unites used flags 30 inches square. Many units also used presented flags, while both Virginia and North Carolina issued state flags to several of their regiments. A color bearer and his guards marched into battle proudly bearing these banners, which also contained the regimental number and often were painted with the names of the battles in which they were used.

    West of the Allegheny Mountains, Southern armies carried flags less uniform than in the East. Different corps within the Army of Tennessee each adopted different flags. Units serving under General William J. Hardee carried a blue flag edged in white with a central white disk. General Leonidas Polk’s men used a rectangular flag that had a white-edged red cross of Saint George on a blue field. Other units carried variations on the eastern Southern Cross battle flag, generally varying in size and shape from the more official square version.

    Source 35.2— Historian Ron Field, Historical Costume Consultant, Fellow of the Company of Military Historians
    Historian Ron Field is an expert on historical military uniforms and a fellow of the Company of Military Historians. He observes that there were very few distinctive regimental or battalion uniforms at the beginning of the Civil War and almost none by the time represented at the start of the film, October 1862. This shortfall of uniforms led to a lack of standardization in both color and material.

    By the fall of 1862, Confederate uniforms were mostly being supplied by the Confederate States Quartermaster Department clothing depots. There were very few distinctive regimental or battalion uniforms at the beginning of the Civil War, and virtually none by 1862. In the Deep South, QM-issue uniforms consisted of a jacket or “roundabout” fastened with six buttons, and roughly matching pants. Whilst one can provide a detailed examination of an example of the type of uniform worn by the 7th Mississippi Battalion and 3rd Alabama, it should be emphasized that the appearance of these uniforms in the movie accurately show some lack of standardization as far as color of cloth and cut is concerned. Although the Quartermaster supply system was up and running by this time, some men and even whole companies in certain regiments were still receiving uniform clothing from ladies’ sewing societies back in their home communities. This contributed great variety to the appearance of the Confederate soldier.