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The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War

3.8 out of 5 stars 92 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0807854679
ISBN-10: 0807854670
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Editorial Reviews


Bynum is to be saluted not only for her profound scholarship but for her evenhanded accounts of matters that remain volatile and controversial. . . . [This] book should be praised as an original and cogent piece of scholarship on a devilishly complicated and demanding subject.--Washington Times

This is an excellent book and Bynum deserves much praise for her ability to negotiate the minefield of myth and legend to produce a study that not only makes a tremendous contribution to scholarship but is a compelling read as well. Thoroughly researched, thoughtfully argued, well-written, and unfailingly interesting, Bynum's work further demonstrates the potential of local studies to shed light on broader forces that have shaped the American past. It deserves attention from those interested in the Free State of Jones, the Civil War in history and memory, and the enduring impact of race, class, and gender on Southern history.--H-Net

Bynum shows how future historians might convincingly knit together the all too-often disparate fields of political, ideological, gender, and racial histories.--Virginia Quarterly Review

Bynum's deeply researched and well-written book unravels the historical and sociological significance of the Piney Woods region of southeastern Mississippi. . . . Powerful, revisionist, and timely, Bynum's book combines superb history with poignant analysis of historical memory and southern racial mores.--Choice

An ambitious piece of work spanning three centuries that presents a lively and intricate portrait of some fascinating and idiosyncratic characters. . . . Prodigious research in genealogical material, census files, church records, official documents, and oral histories provides as full a picture of Jones County and its people as we are ever likely to have.--American Historical Review

Well researched.--New York Times Book Review

Bynum has fashioned frustratingly disparate material into an important book that may cause historians who are skeptical about putting too much stress on an 'inner' Civil War to rethink their position.--American Historical Review


The Free State of Jones is clearly a story that needs to be told, and Bynum has done impressive research to bring it to a modern audience. She uses a wide range of social history sources to trace the long history not only of Newt Knight and his gang but also of their ancestors. She is interested in social structure, economic patterns, migration, religious revivals, family formation, and community relations--in short, a genealogy of the entire Jones County community before they became famous during and after the Civil War. This is an ambitious project that brings the Jones County community to life for scholars, students, and lay readers.--Altina L. Waller, author of Feud: Hatfields, McCoys, and Social Change in Appalachia, 1860-1900

Local studies have made us increasingly aware of the many different ways in which southerners experienced the Civil War. Few communities fought as much of the war on their own terms or generated as distorted yet profound a legacy afterward as did the men and women of this renegade county in Mississippi's Piney Woods. It's a fascinating story, and Victoria Bynum tells it remarkably well.--John C. Inscoe, coauthor of The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War


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Product Details

  • Series: Fred W. Morrison Series in Southern Studies
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (February 24, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807854670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807854679
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #978,548 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Payne on December 19, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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