This was a fascinating book, a true story of Jones County, Mississippi, the only county in the Confederacy to secede and actively work for the Union cause. The central character, Newton Knight, was conscripted to serve the Confederacy but deserted after the devastating loss at Corinth. Newton’s heart never was in it for the Confederacy – he opposed secession on both political and religious grounds.
The story of those who were deeply Southern yet deeply committed to the preservation of the Union is one not often seen when reading about the Civil War. Newton and his fellow Unionists literally risked life and limb to wreak havoc on the Rebels, most never making the formal commitment to officially join the ranks of Union troops.
Another part of the story centers around Newton Knight’s family – his birth family, his own family as husband to Serena and father to their children and the family he had with a slave woman named Rachel. When Serena was forced to flee it was Rachel who cared for Newton, helping to protect him from the Rebels who hunted him down as well as those in his community and state who wished him harm for his pro-Union stance. He later separated from but never divorced Serena. His children with Rachel and their descendants would be referred to as “Knight’s Negroes” (or worse).
Newton Knight was certainly a compelling figure, probably one most people have never heard of. His story is a complex one, for he not only betrayed the Confederate South but his race as well. The feelings of betrayal didn’t subside either, even after Newton Knight was long gone. With the bitterness of the Civil War it was hard for both sides to swallow that such a person existed in the South.
Some even believe he created his own state, the State of Jones, thus the title of the book. Authors Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer provide a masterful and meticulous accounting of Newton’s life, the “back story” and his struggle to survive against all odds. It is truly amazing that he survived and lived until the early 1920’s. As the book’s description states, “he survived only because he could reload a shotgun before the smoke cleared.”
Certainly Civil War history buffs would enjoy this book, but those wanting to read a different kind of Civil War story would find it interesting as well. I learned a lot and it’s chock full of details, twists and turns – well worth your time to read.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.