Civil War movies, Confederacy, David Downing, Ethel Knigh, Free State of Jones, John Stauffer, Mississippi, movies, Newt Knight, Richard Jones, Sally Jenkies, Smithsonian Magazine, Victoria Bynum, Wyatt Moulds
Those of us who share an interest in the Civil War probably look askance at movies that are made about events during that time.
Is it good history, we are likely to ask ourselves. And that’s just the beginning of at least a dozen other questions. And just what is “good history”?
All of those questions could be asked about a movie currently showing in theaters across the country, The Free State of Jones.
The movie tells the story of Newt Knight, a poor Southern farmer from Mississippi who, after serving in the Confederate Army, led a revolt against the Confederacy that eventually resulted in Jones County, Mississippi, being declared the Free State of Jones.
So here’s a little more about the movie, the events it depicts, and a scene from the movie itself.
It’s hard to separate fact from the myths and stories about Newton Knight. He joined the Confederate Army in July 1961 after being one of many in his area who opposed secession. Knight found turmoil within the ranks, much of it sparked by reports from home that families were going hungry and were suffering abuse from local authorities. Dissatisfaction and desertions were a part of the environment.
Knight went home on furlough in January 1862 to see to his ailing father. He joined a different unit of fellow Mississippians. Knight was enraged to hear that the Confederate Army had seized the family horse and later to learn that some family members of slave-owners were exempt from service because of the number of slaves they owned.
He was reported AWOL in 1862 and arrested in early 1863. He was pressed back into service but deserted again. By this time, his and other families were destitute, and Knight led a small force against the local authorities.
Here is where much of the myth and storytelling about Newt Knight takes over. Writer Richard Jones visited Jones County recently and found a wide range of strongly-held opinions about Knight, all the war from “local hero” to “thief and reprobate.” His report appeared in the Smithsonian Magazine in March as The True Story of the ‘Free State of Jones.’
Here are a few books about Newt Knight:
- Bynum, Victoria E. (2003), The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, ISBN 0-8078-5467-0
- Downing, David C. A South Divided: Portraits of Dissent in the Confederacy. Nashville: Cumberland House, 2007. ISBN 978-1-58182-587-9
- Jenkins, Sally; Stauffer, John (2009), The State of Jones, New York: Doubleday, ISBN 978-0-385-52593-0
- Knight, Ethel (1951), Echo of the Black Horn: An authentic tale of “the Governor” of “The Free State of Jones
- Moulds, Wyatt (2016), The Legend of Newt Knight and the Free State of Jones
Here is what some of the critics have said about the movie: Reviews.
And here is a scene from the movie: