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Saturday, November 25, 2017

THE STATE of JONES: THE SMALL SOUTHERN COUNTY that SECEDED from the CONFEDERACY by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer

Published by Random House Audio in 2009
Read by Don Leslie
Duration: 13 hours

Newton Knight (1837-1922)
I am an avid reader of Civil War era histories (I own more than 100 and who knows how many that I have read from the library) and it is rare for me to find a book that covers new territory for me.

This book did. I knew as an abstract fact that there were thousands of white Union soldiers that came from the Confederacy. They are mentioned in many histories, but they are rarely a focus.

The State of Jones focuses on the family of Newton Knight, an unwilling Confederate soldier who was forcibly drafted, fought in multiple battles and eventually went AWOL. 
Newton Knight was not afraid to fight and kill for what he believed in. When the government tried to force him back into the military he started an anti-Confederate insurgency movement centered in Jones County, Mississippi. Those renegades tied up Confederate military assets and virtually stopped in-kind tax collections that were necessary to feed the Confederate military.

Newton Knight was a larger-than-life figure. A complicated man from a complicated family. His grandfather was one of the largest slaveholders in Jones County. But, Newton Knight's parents were outspoken opponents of slavery and Newton continued that tradition. Newton was an anti-secessionist but, when drafted, he became a competent soldier who earned at least one promotion.

The book's authors do a fantastic job of describing life on the march in the Confederate Army - no luster and no sheen. Very honest.

Knight's family back home was often targeted because of his political stances and that was one of the reasons Newton Knight left the army and, in his mind, switched sides and began to fight for the Union. The book runs into some of his weakest parts (scholarship-wise) in this section. Generally speaking, insurgency movements don't keep detailed written records of the membership or their plans, so there are gaps. The authors are clear that they are filling in the gaps with extremely educated guesses - but they are still not confirmed. These educated guesses are the only reason that I am giving the audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

Newton Knight's post-war life was just as complicated. He supported the Reconstruction government of Mississippi as it dealt with its own insurgency movement. Eventually, he completely broke with Southern tradition and married a former slave. They may have been the first interracial couple in the county. And, the county didn't know what to do with them. Thanks to the fearsome reputation of Newton Knight, the county mostly ignored them because they did not fit in to an easy category.

The audiobook was read by Don Leslie. His mournful, somber voice was perfect for Newton Knight and his story.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here:   THE STATE of JONES: THE SMALL SOUTHERN COUNTY that SECEDED from the CONFEDERACY.

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