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The State of Jones by Sally Jenkins

The State of Jones (2009)

by Sally Jenkins, John Stauffer

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The story of the pro-Union guerrilla resistance organized by hard-scrabble dirt farmer Newton Knight in southeastern Mississippi, which appears to be the Wild West of the South. Despite his great success, at great cost, Knight's post-war struggle against the overwhelming pressures of the Southern Cause is heart-breaking. The aristocrats who made up the Confederacy shoved through secession even though Jones County was overwhelmingly pro-Union. When the war ended, politics returned them to power starting with President Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's Southern Democrat successor who may have been pro-Union, but was unrelentingly racist. Congress took the power over the South away from him and kicked the rebels out, but Grant, of all people, returned them to power as a trade-off, then the Democrats, seeking to replace the Republicans in office, defanged and later removed the military occupiers, letting the ex-Confederates drive out and kill Republicans and blacks - who were often the same - and use the law as locally interpreted, to keep the black man down for another 100 years. Knight, who should've been a hero, was forced to withdraw to his farm, always armed against possible assassination. But while he rode during the Civil War with his Union guerrillas - so recognized by the North - he delivered amazing rear-area victories. Well-deserved recognition for a man little known whose story will be retold, in Hollywood fashion, in an upcoming Mathew McConaughey movie. Brilliant story, a genuine page-turner. Revealing in its view of life in the South, the attitude towards the aristocratic secessionists, and the success in achieving rebel goals after the war ended, among other things. ( )
  NickHowes | Mar 5, 2016 |
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
This amazing history book reads like a novel. I was fascinated at every turn: The description of the siege at Vicksburg, the utter decimation visited on the South as wartime policy, and the heartrending aftermath of the war. I'd been aware that blacks had been granted the vote in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War; I had never fully understood why the federal government allowed Jim Crow laws and the essential reversal of all the North fought for.

This beautifully written tome explains a great deal of how deep and all-encompassing not only Southern pride, but Southern racism really was. Is? It didn't touch on current politics, seeming to assume that in the decades since the Civil Rights Act, the teeming morass of racism, classism and political division has been largely tamped -- or perhaps assuming it best not to touch on current issues.

I finished this book shocked and horrified at all the atrocities committed during the Civil War and the following decades. During the first part of the book, Newton Knight and his band of Unionists reminded me so much of Robin Hood that I was actually disappointed when Confederate generals succeeded in hanging or shooting men from Jones County. Disappointed not just for the pointless deaths, but that Knight hadn't ridden down like an avenging angel and stopped the Confederate troops after they caught his men.

Ridiculous, I know, but seriously. Read about Knight defying Confederate-installed sheriffs, robbing from rich plantation owners to feed the poor whites and emancipated slaves, and living in the Mississippi swamps throughout the war and try not to make the Robin Hood parallel.

It's a boldly written, beautifully pieced-together book. It's rife with heroism, love, and betrayal -- all on both a grand and a personal scale. This is probably the most evocative, intriguing look at the Civil War South I've ever had the pleasure of reading. ( )
1 vote mephistia | Apr 6, 2013 |
A fascinating, largely unknown piece of Civil War history. There were a considerable number of anti-slavery, pro-Unionists living in southern Mississippi, some of whom took part in guerilla warfare against Conferderate forces. The authors sometimes rely too much upon conjecture and speculation, but the book appears to be well-researched and quite interesting. ( )
  Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
First let me say this is a well written book that I enjoyed very much. It is the story of the Union sympathizers in south east Mississippi (in and around Jones county) who made life very difficult for the Confederate authorities during the Civil War. They opposed secession and when they served in the Confederate army they sooner or later deserted and returned home to resist the CSA in one way or the other (although Jones county never really seceded from the Confederacy). The story is almost exclusively about Newton Knight and his experiences during the Civil War and Reconstruction and apparently for some that is the problem with the book. The book has been criticized for what other reviewers and historians regard as over emphasizing the role of Knight in the war time resistance and in his relationships with slaves and freedmen. The book is based on a screenplay for a movie about Knight and some people felt that the authors’ relied too much on supposition in order to inflate Knight’s part. I certainly can’t speak to the historical facts but I did notice the following phases on just one random page: “would have” (twice), “almost certainly,” “had likely,” “would likely,” “was probably,” “may have” and “might have.” But aside from all the controversy let me repeat that it was a good story well told. ( )
  wmorton38 | Feb 3, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Jenkins and Stauffer create a lively narrative, but is it factual — or fictionalized, like the movie script about Knight by the screenwriter Gary Ross, which, the authors report, inspired them to write the book?... Jenkins and Stauffer bring historical contexts to life and offer provocative interpretations, but they pile hunch upon hunch about Knight himself. Unless a new cache of sources about his life turns up, he’ll remain as elusive to biographers as he was to the Confederate troops that chased him through the wooded marshes of Jones County.
This sounds like a gripping tale, but it falls flat in the hands of Washington Post reporter Sally Jenkins and Harvard professor John Stauffer. Taking a bare framework of documented evidence, they upholster it heavily with supposition, presumption and contrived scenes based on the experiences of people who had little or nothing to do with Knight. The result is a discursive kind of pseudohistory.
Ms. Jenkins, a journalist, and Mr. Stauffer, a historian, have brought fresh attention to a little-known and interesting sidebar of Civil War ­history...It would have helped the authors’ argument if the book were simply better organized—the narrative is often difficult to follow—and if they had been more comfortable with Civil War history.
[Jenkins and Stauffer] relate Newt Knight’s story in suitably dramatic and often flamboyant fashion.
The State of Jones is an entertaining, informative book about a courageous group of Southerners clearly ahead of their time. It offers a refreshing look at the issues surrounding the Civil War, and some delightful surprises for even the most knowledgeable history buff.
added by Shortride | editBookPage, John T. Slania (Jul 1, 2009)

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Sally Jenkinsprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stauffer, Johnmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to "remember those that are in bonds, as bound with them." I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done, in behalf of his despised poor, was not wrong, but right. - John Brown, "Last Address to the Virginia Court," 1859
For Gary Ross, Phyllis Grann, and Jim Kelly, the three great minds who brought us together, with enormous gratitude and affection.
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The newspaperman drove his big car along a rutted red-clay country road, sending up garlands of Mississippi backwoods dust.
1921, Border of Jones and Jasper Counties, Mississippi
The newspaperman drove his big city car along a rutted red-clay country road, sending up garlands of Mississippi backwoods dust.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385525931, Hardcover)

Amazon Best of the Month, July 2009: Make room in your understanding of the Civil War for Jones County, Mississippi, where a maverick small farmer named Newton Knight made a local legend of himself by leading a civil war of his own against the Confederate authorities. Anti-planter, anti-slavery, and anti-conscription, Knight and thousands of fellow poor whites, army deserters, and runaway slaves waged a guerrilla insurrection against the secession that at its peak could claim the lower third of Mississippi as pro-Union territory. Knight, who survived well beyond the war (and fathered more than a dozen children by two mothers who lived alongside each other, one white and one black), has long been a notorious, half-forgotten figure, and in The State of Jones journalist Sally Jenkins and Harvard historian John Stauffer combine to tell his story with grace and passion. Using court transcripts, family memories, and other sources--and filling the remaining gaps with stylish evocations of crucial moments in the wider war--Jenkins and Stauffer connect Knight's unruly crusade to a South that, at its moment of crisis, was anything but solid. --Tom Nissley Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer on State of Jones

Newton Knight is the most famous Civil War hero you’ve never heard of, because according to Mississippi legend he betrayed not only the Confederacy but his race as well. In 1863 Knight, a poor farmer from Jones County Mississippi, deserted the Confederate Army—and began fighting for the Union—after the battle of Vicksburg. It was rumored he even started a separate Unionist government, The Free State of Jones, and for two years he battled the Confederacy with a vengeance that solidified his legend. During his life Knight was hardly regarded as a proper soldier by either side, and after his death his Mississippi backwoods grave went unstrewn with flowers. Many southerners would have preferred to spit on it, and most northerners never recognized that such loyalty to the United States could exist in Dixie. But in truth, this lost patriot was a vital actor in helping to preserve the Union.

The recovery of the life of a Mississippi farmer who fought for his country is an important story. The fact that southern Unionists existed, and in very large numbers, is largely unknown to many Americans, who grew up with textbooks that perpetuated the myth of the Confederacy as a heroic Lost Cause, with its romanticized vision of the antebellum South. Some historians have even palpably sympathized with Confederate cavaliers while minimizing—and robbing of credit—the actions of southerners who remained loyal to the Union at desperate cost.

One would never know that the majority of white Southerners had opposed secession, and that many Southern whites fought for the Union. In Tennessee, for example, somewhere around 31,000 white men joined the Union army. In Arkansas more than 8,000 men eventually served in Union regiments. And in Mississippi, Newton Knight and his band of guerillas launched a virtual insurrection against the Confederacy in Jefferson Davis’ own home state.

“There’s lots of ways I’d rather die than being scared to death,” Knight said, and it was a defining statement. At almost every stage of his life this yeoman from the hill country of Jones County, Miss., took courageous stands. The grandson of a slave owner who never owned slaves, he voted against secession, deserted from the Confederate Army into which he was unwillingly impressed, and formed a band called the Jones County Scouts devoted to undermining the Rebel cause locally. Working with runaway slaves and fellow Unionists and Federal soldiers caught behind enemy lines, Knight conducted such an effective running gun battle that at the height of the war he and his allies controlled the entire lower third of the state. This "southern Yankee,” as one Rebel general termed him, remained unconquered until the end of the war. His resistance hampered the Confederate Army’s ability to operate, forced it to conduct a third-front war at home, and eroded its morale and will to fight.

Knight also burst free of racial barriers and forged bonds of alliance with blacks that were unmatched even by Northern abolitionists. He fought as ardently as any man for racial equality during the War, and after, during the terrifying days of Reconstruction, when his life was, if anything, even more in danger. He lived with an ex-slave named Rachel, fathering several children with her (but he never divorced his Caucasian wife, Serena), and worked on behalf of U.S. Grant’s Republican administration and against the nascent Ku Klux Klan, and envisioned a world that would only begin to be implemented a century later. Moreover, he operated in an inverted moral landscape in which fealty to country was labeled traitorous, and kinship with blacks was considered morally repugnant. He survived only because he could reload a shotgun before the smoke cleared.

As an Alabama Unionist told a Congressional committee in 1866 in testifying about the little appreciated service of southern loyalists, “You have no idea of the strength of principle and devotion these people exhibited towards the national government.” —Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer

(John Stauffer photo © Greg Martin; Sally Jenkins photo © Nicole Bengiveno)

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:31 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"From 1863 to 1965, residents of Jones County, Mississippi engaged in an insurrection against the Confederacy that would have repercussions far beyond the scope of the Civil War. Their defiance became legendary, and the line between fact and fiction faded with each passing year. Until now..."--jacket cover.… (more)

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