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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not your father's Civil War
As a native Mississippian I began delving into my genealogy expecting to find the usual host of Confederate anestors. There were some, to be sure. What I didn't expect to find was one gr-gr grandfather who was a Union veteran from Maine and a gr-gr-gr grandmother who sheltered a band of deserters who took up arms against the Confederacy in Jones County,...
Published on December 19, 2008 by E. Payne

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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Well researched but stumbles...missing some glaring facts
Several facts on this subject need to be mentioned.

1. In late 1864 a large Union cavalry raid of several thousand men, from Baton Rouge, La., to Pascagoula, Ms., made it as far as New Augusta and the Lucedale, Mississippi areas, right through the very heart of the Pineywoods region and the very boarders of Jones County. No mention in the war records of this...
Published on October 30, 2010 by DavyCrockett


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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not your father's Civil War, December 19, 2008
By 
E. Payne (Jackson, MS USA) - See all my reviews
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As a native Mississippian I began delving into my genealogy expecting to find the usual host of Confederate anestors. There were some, to be sure. What I didn't expect to find was one gr-gr grandfather who was a Union veteran from Maine and a gr-gr-gr grandmother who sheltered a band of deserters who took up arms against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi.

Victoria Bynum's book concerns the latter event, its antecedents, and its reverberations down through the years. Jones County stood in marked contrast to most of antebellum Mississippi. In 1860 55% of the state's population was held in slavery, whereas in Jones County the figure was 12%. The area was heavily forested and more suitable to raising livestock than plantation agriculture. Thus Jones County citizens were by and large anti-secessionist. Once the war broke out, however, a goodly number of young men joined Confederate units. Others only did so a year later one step ahead of conscription. But many of the late joining soldiers felt no espirit de corp once the Confederacy lost Vicksburg in 1863 and then passed a law exempting owners of 20 or more slaves from military service. Confederate deserters were not unique to Jones County, but in the Piney Woods their numbers and the support they received from kin and sympathisers were enough to draw attention. And in Newt Knight they had a man willing to organize them and fight. After several attempts, Confederate forces waged a successful campaign that diminished but did not eradicate the Knight Band.

While she did not grow up in Mississippi, Victoria Bynum has kinship links that made her aware of this odd story of a rebellion within the rebellion. After a decade of research she has written what will likely remain the definitive book on the subject. She painstakingly traced the various family lines that ended up on separate sides of the Jones County divide. If the Civil War did not pit Jones County brother against brother, it did pit cousin against cousin--usually based on who owned slaves and who did not. Yet it was these family connections that may well have kept the blood from flowing as freely as it did in Missouri.

Bynum adds depth to this "longest Civil War" by following the trail of the mixed race descendents of Newt Knight and with his mulatto consort, Rachel. Their efforts to fashion a life in post Civil War Mississippi, apart from both the black and white communities, gives meaning to Faulkner's observation that the past isn't dead--it isn't even past.

All in all, this is a fascinating story. Certainly not light reading, but it is a highly informative and entertaining one for anyone attracted to the many ironies to be found in Southern history. One bit of advice: since "Free State" begins with the migration of western Carolinians into the Piney Woods, I'd suggest reading the short Wikipedia article about North Carolina's pre-Revolutionary "War of the Regulation" if you are unfamiliar with this bit of history.

As my nephew said after I sent him a copy of this book, "Why didn't they teach us about this stuff in school?" Probably because too few authors have the diligence, skill, and sensitivity to write historical accounts of this caliber.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well Researched History of the "Republic" of Jones, August 5, 2002
By 
Q. Publius (Annandale, VA USA) - See all my reviews
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I have always wondered exactly what happened in Jones County, Mississippi, during the recent unpleasantness, and after reading The Free State of Jones, now I know. Often billed as the county that seceded from the Confederacy, the author provides an excellent local history of Southwest Mississippi from the early 1800s to the dawn of the Civil Rights movement. The author begins with the immigrants to Mississippi territory, mainly from the Carolinas. Excellent maps of migration routes and the early counties in the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi are included. During the Civil War, a band of 100 or so deserters from Confederate military service hid in Jones County, where the soil did not promote large commercial planting, and few individuals owned slaves. While there was never a formal act of secession from the Confederacy by the county government of Jones, the band of deserters did fight fourteen skirmishes with Confederate troops between 1863 and 1865, and many locals were sympathethic, either because they were relatives, they didn't like the relatively strong central Confederate government, or Confederate troops misbehaved by stealing from their small farms. Many of the band deserted because the felt the war was "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight"--especially after the "20 Negro Law" was passed exempting slaveowners with 20 or more slaves from Confederate military service. The author also goes into the mixed racial family of the leader of the band of deserters, Newt Knight, who survived until 1922. There are few places to read the details of this interesting micro-history within the Confederacy. Ms. Bynum's thoroughly researched book encompasses the whole story, and is worth the effort of delving into such a detailed local history.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Opposition to secession in Mississippi, January 6, 2009
I grew up in a community called Union in Jones county, but never heard about the Free State of Jones. I only heard about the glorious Southern cause growing up. In Mississippi, the victors were the secessionists, followed by the segregationists. This book shows a different side of Mississippi - opposition to secession, resistance to that secession, and different views about race in Jones county.

Ms. Bynum even has stories about my g-g-grandmother, who lived to be almost 100. I have found that my g-g-grandfather and three of his brothers actually joined the Union army in New Orleans. Many other men from the county joined about the same time. Ms. Bynum shows the origins of the opposition to secession. She has uncovered a great deal of information that I did not know existed. I am impressed by her work.

There was division. Jones county did send troops to fight for the South. Some of those later deserted, such as Newt Knight

A movie about the Free State of Jones is now in production by Gary Ross of Seabiscuit fame. Since I read the book I have been collecting everything I can find on the web about the Free State of Jones. I have links to Victoria Bynum's blog and other sites at [...]

This is a great story that Victoria Bynum has unearthed and told in amazing detail. I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in Southern opposition to secession.

You might also like Bitterly Divided by David Williams. It tells of opposition to secession throughout the South. His book is convincing, but rather repetitious in its examples. I found Ms. Bynum's book much more accessible and interesting.

The opposition to secession in the South is story that needs telling. This is a great place to start learning that story.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent history!, July 2, 2009
Victoria Bynum has done an amazing job of research that goes a long way toward explaining how race, class, and gender affected and were affected by the development of social customs in the South. She uses as her central focus the Free State of Jones, the theoretical secession of a southern Mississippi county from the Confederacy. She then goes back in time to find out why the participants were so willing to flout authority during the Civil War. She ends with a trial in 1948 that decided whether one of the descendants of the leader of the Free State of Jones was legally white. Throughout the book, the depth and quality of research is astonishing.

In Part One, Bynum looked into the ancestry of the people of southern Mississippi, finding that in colonial and Revolutionary times, their ancestors were just as resistant to central authority as any Fire Eater. Most families came from South Carolina, but their parents lived in North Carolina, where they took part in many small-scale rebellions. They were part of the Regulator movement that resisted the concentration of power into the hands of a few wealthy landowners. They were also part of the more independent Baptist sects that resisted central power in a church hierarchy. Many of these families also resisted the peer pressure to own slaves. Bynum makes it clear that resistance to authority they exhibited during the Civil War was nothing new to these families.

Bynum traces the settlement patterns of these families as they moved into Georgia and Alabama before finally putting down roots in Mississippi. This westward mobility was not unusual, of course, but Bynum shows that the types of land that people moved on to can be a clear indicator of their later political views. Families who settled on rich river bottoms tended to become wealthy slave-owners while families and parts of families who stayed by choice in the less fertile hills tended not to own slaves, though some did garner considerable wealth. The plantation owners in any extended family were the strongest supporters of the Confederacy while the backwoods subsistence farmers were more skeptical of any authority.

Religion also played a part in the division of family groups into those who defended the Confederacy and those who wanted no part of it. Most of these people were Baptists, but the Baptist church itself was anything but unified. Post-Great Awakening exhorters clashed with more modern missionary congregations. Bynum shows which families belonged to which style of Baptists, and discovers that those who were members of independent churches were more rebellious toward authority than were people who supported the unification of all congregations into one hierarchy. Bynum also traced the experiences of family members who were chastised by their church - a serious social discipline - as it differed from the experiences of those who never flouted the church. Unsurprisingly, long-time members gave less trouble politically than those who were often censured by their congregations.

The second part of the book deals with the Civil War, Reconstruction, and on into the twentieth century. It was during the Civil War that some families of the county of Jones in northern Mississippi, led by Newt Knight, declared themselves independent of the Confederacy: the Free State of Jones. Bynum uses the device of contrasting the outlooks of two novels published about this event to frame her arguments. _Tap Roots_ by James Street was published in 1943, and it ignited arguments over what really happened in Jones County. One of Knight's descendants, Ethel Knight, counter-published _Echo of the Black Horn_ in 1953, a novel reeking with Lost Cause overtones, just in time for the Massive Resistance to the Civil Rights movement.

Bynum uses these two novels to ask who owns history. Each side claimed their version of events was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Was Newt Knight a good man who resisted serving in the Confederacy because he believed it was a rich man's war and a poor man's fight? Was he an evil, power-hungry man who used the anarchy of the war to aggrandize himself? Bynum uses the usual scholarly sources to find out what really happened, but she also listens to current versions of the past to analyze the effect of those events on modern Southerners. The fact that New Knight had a long-standing relationship, and several children, with Rachel Knight, a mulatto woman and former slave, brought the race issue to the forefront of many arguments. The fact that Rachel was a strong woman who took responsibility for her own life in difficult circumstances made gender a definite factor in what people wanted to believe, then and later.

All these facts and factors come together in the miscegenation trial of Davis Knight, great-grandson of Rachel, who married a white woman in 1948. Bynum suggests that the publication of _Tap Roots_ in 1943 renewed awareness in the doings on Newt Knight and his offspring, and so Davis's marriage five years later became a matter that townspeople felt they had a vested interest in. Davis, who was probably one thirty-second part of African descent, was found to be legally white, and therefore not guilty of miscegenation. Race, class, and gender issues all mix together in this examination of his status, and also inform Bynum's careful analysis.

Bynum brings together three turbulent times in American history - the Revolutionary Era, the Civil War and Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights movement - and shows how several extended families unify all these events. Her variety of sources is stunning, ranging from the manuscript census to church records, county-level records, and oral traditions. There is enough research here for three books, but Bynum's writing is so good that the reader is simply swept along with her story.

If you are tempted to read another version of this story, be aware that those authors did not do the historically accurate type of research shown in this book, and they aimed their interpretations at sales (both of book and movie) rather than scholarly precision.

Note: much of this review was published by H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Both Intelligent and Enthralling, July 25, 2009
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If you have been following all the hype about the upcoming movie, "The State of Jones" and its commercial spin-off, the pseudo-historical book of the same name, you will want to read Bynum's seminal work. Don't let the "too close for coincidence titles" and the eerily look-alike book covers confuse you There is a significant qualitative difference between the two books.

Bynum enables the reader to sort historical fact from the convenient Hollywood fiction that is set to obscure this fascinating tale. In The Free State of Jones, Dr. Bynum offers up a thoroughly researched and well-documented book on the little Mississippi county that refuses to be neatly categorized, no matter how brilliant the movie producer or facile the journalist historian.

But don't let the fact that Dr. Bynum is faithful to history lead you to believe Free State of Jones is a dry read. The author's genius as a narrator pulls the reader into the story. She is a true history detective at work. We are with her as she follows leads, interviews descendants, tromps through overgrown cemeteries of those lost to legend, rifles through caches of forgotten historical memory. Even when she goes to the collected oral histories of those long dead, she brings them alive again.

Bynum refuses to sacrifice her academic integrity by grasping at easy conclusions based on scant data. If she puts forth a scenario, or asks us to consider a hypothesis, you can trust that the accrued evidence warrants it. Her authority has the heft of thoroughness to it.

Lastly, Dr. Bynum understands context and that makes all the difference. From years of exhaustive research she knows the difference between what is possible, what is probable and what is highly unlikely, given the place and time. She does not impose fantasized 21st Century sensibilities upon her subjects, but lets the subjects speak for themselves--ambiguities, contradictions, warts and all. Instead of providing the reader with comfortable Hollywood scripts with pre-determined outcomes, Bynum leaves us in awe of the complexity of human character.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The true facts about the Free State of Jones, January 12, 2009
By 
oregano55 (Austin, TX United States) - See all my reviews
For me, the best history books are ones that show us how the great movements in history affect (and bring out the best in) everyday people who are just trying protect their families, live by their guiding principles, and get by in the world. Dr. Bynum's book does a great job of explaining what actually happened in Jones County, who these people really were, why they did what they did, and what the consequences were. The book also challenges the stereotypical view of Southerners, which is very welcome. Anyone intrigued by the Free State of Jones story will find this a refreshing, factual account of what really happened.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Relearning History, November 30, 2007
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Fascinating Book! This book has retaught me a lot about the non-Civil War. My ancestors lived in the Free State of Jones during the 1860's; some joined the Confederate army and others joined the Union army. I now realize that the history we are taught in schools is a sterile perspective stripped of all the choas and complexities that give a true understanding of events. This is the beginning of a new learning adventure that will extend back to the Revolutionary War -- and beyond.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War, October 2, 2001
By 
"cgrafton@bellsouth.net" (Griffin, GA United States) - See all my reviews
Ms. Bynum provides a well researched and written account of the lifestyles and circumstandes of the people of Jones County, MS, leading up to the Civil War. Her research takes us back into North and South Carolina, prior to 1800, and follows the families of early Jones County settlers. She goes into details, explaining the different economic, cultural, and religious factors that served to mold the life of the everyday Jones County citizen.
The Free State of Mississippi... is a must read for anyone whith roots in Jones Co., MS, as well as for anyone who is simply interested in deep South History.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I thought I knew the story..., September 12, 2009
By 
PJ (Gainesville, FL United States) - See all my reviews
Having grown up in Jones County and having heard about Newt Knight for the past 50 years, I thought I knew the story. Of course, the story is in the ears of the beholders, so there was much to learn from this well-researched account. I still think the people of Jones County just can't get along with more than two other people at a time, but I appreciate the alternate explanation. Having also left Jones County as soon as I was able (at age 18 to go to school among yankees), I was touched to read the evidence for anti-slavery sentiment presented in this work. I also read the movie-script-based book and found it's just-so story approach much less satisfying. Dr. Bynum's work presents convincing evidence, clear explanations of missing information (records lost when the courthouse burned), and logical analysis of a small counter current in the eye of the civil war hurricane. The tempest in Jones County continues to provoke heated discussions at local family reunions; perhaps, the story will survive its 15 minutes of fame among wider circles.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Story, June 30, 2009
Professor Bynum does the seemingly impossible: she researches and analyzes like a good historian and writes like a popular novelist. Of course, it helps that the story she is detailing is fascinating in itself. By adding the background of the deserters and including the role of women and slaves, Bynum takes her book beyond the realm of pulp fiction to a gripping reality tale of love, betrayal, loyalty and family.
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