The movie Free State of Jones debuted in theaters on Friday June 24th. It "tells the story of defiant Southern farmer, Newt Knight, and his extraordinary armed rebellion against the Confederacy...[who]...continued his struggle into Reconstruction." The Free State of Jones was the region of Jones County, Mississippi and surrounding counties that threw off the yoke of the Confederacy in the final years of the War Between the States. The movie is rated "R" because of its violence and graphic images (for example, in the opening scenes of the movie we see the back of a soldier's head get blown out and hogs eating the guts of a wounded or dead soldier). There is no sex (though implied), nudity or profanity. For a Hollywood movie, it does a pretty fair job following the historical events -- though there is obviously a lot of license. And some of the facts are disputed as well. History vs Hollywood points out some of the fact and fiction.
The movie will serve a good purpose if it makes us think about and research our history and heritage. Due to the firmly-embraced narrative of the Lost Cause, I suspect many of us native Southerners rarely think of the amount of doubt, discouragement, dissension, desertion -- and outright rebellion -- across the South regarding secession and war. The truth is clouded by the lore of some who inflate the anti-Confederate identity -- while others who settled into life in the post-war South wanted to erase and forget it (even some who were among the "antis").
Jones County, Mississippi may have one of the best stories for retelling, but it was not the only area of its kind to oppose secession and the Confederacy. Others include the Nickajack region of North Alabama and Southeast Tennessee, the Republic of Winston in Northwest Alabama, Searcy County in Arkansas, the State of Scott in North Tennessee, and the Free State of Van Zandt in Texas. Many East Texans have heard of Van Zandt County as the "Free State of Van Zandt," but varying stories and legends make us wonder whether it was ever a "free state" in the same sense as Jones County, Mississippi. Evan Andrews tells us of 6 Southern Unionist Strongholds During the Civil War -- one that is seldom mentioned and little-known, the Hill Country of Texas, and one that is so well-known and obvious that we forget, the state of West Virginia. Perhaps one of the best known Southern leaders who opposed secession was General Sam Houston. He refused to take the oath of loyalty to the Confederate States of America and was removed from the office of Governor of Texas, but he did not actively support the Union. He died in 1863 during the middle of the War.
Rudy H. Leverett, author of the scholarly work The Legend of the Free State of Jones from University of Mississippi Press, was the great-grandson of Major Amos McLemore (believed killed by Newton Knight). Leverett is buried in the same small cemetery as McLemore in Forrest County. Victoria E. Bynum, who wrote The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War, says Leverett’s book "exposed so many of the untruths passed on over the years" and her book "takes up where Dr. Leverett left off, but he and I came to very different conclusions about the men and families who joined and supported the Knight Company."
Ethel Boykin Knight, who wrote The Echo of the Black Horn was married to Sidney Knight, a grandson of Newton Knight's uncle D. C. Knight. Her book gives a very unflattering view of the Knight Company. Her husband's Knight ancestors fought for the Confederacy.