The Free State of Jones

Newt Knight vs. The U.S. Court of Claims

cover page of Newt Knight's final petition to Congress, 1894

cover page of Newt Knight's final petition to Congress, 1894

Newt Knight was relentless in his efforts to gain compensation for himself and his men from the U.S. Government for having served the Union. I barely touched on his history of claims in The Free State of Jones because the National Archives, where the files are stored, could not locate most of the records when I visited there back around 1994. Thankfully, Ken Welch of Soso, Mississippi, provided me copies of the missed files back in 2000, but not in time for me to integrate them into the book.

So, in a new essay, “Fighting a Losing Battle: Newt Knight versus the U.S. Court of Claims, 1870-1900, ” which will appear in my upcoming book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, I tell the history of those efforts. The case files are fascinating–many former members of the band, including Newt, AND opponents of the band, gave lengthy depositions! These files convince  me more than ever that the Knight Band never attempted to secede from the Confederacy, but rather rejected the Confederacy’s right to exist, at least in Jones County, which had voted against Mississippi’s secession from the Union.

But there’s much more to be learned from the files than that, and I truly enjoyed writing this essay as kind of an epilogue to The Free State of Jones. Most striking is how doggedly Newt pursued his case, right up to the dawn of the twentieth century. In the end, he and his men were denied compensation (as were the vast majority of Southern Unionists).

When I imagine Newt’s frustration with the government he claimed to have fought for during the Civil War, I think I understand why he commented around 1892 that nonslaveholding farmers in the South should have just risen up against the slaveholders rather than fight their war for them.

 

Vikki Bynum

Victoria Bynum, The Long Shadow of the Civil War

Victoria Bynum, The Long Shadow of the Civil War

8 replies »

  1. Hi, I think its great that you wrote a book about The free state of Jones. I grew up in Jones county, MS and I visited Ethel Knight once. She also wrote the book The free state of Jones, in the 1980′s. I am aspiring to be a writer, am working on my first book. It is a mystery novel.
    I love the civil war stories as well. Actually,I was told that Knewt Knight was kin to my great grandmother. She married a Knight. My Mother, sister, and I once visited knewt Knight’s grave.
    Anyway, I just want to applaud you for your hard work. I think they should make a movie about the story.
    Thank you and feel free to e-mail me if you want.

    Best regards,

    Beverly Ezell- Dye

  2. Hi Beverly, thanks for stopping by!

    What sort of a mystery novel are you writing? Is it a present-day story, or about the past? I really admire people who can write fiction. Wish I could, but I don’t have that kind of flare; am strictly a historian!

    I too met Ethel Knight, author of Echo of the Black Horn, while she was alive, and have visited Newt Knight’s grave. Both were very interesting events, which I describe in my book.

    Thank you for your good words about my book. Hollywood may make a movie about it all yet, if the economy ever improves.

    Vikki

  3. Vikki,

    Hi, thank you for your response. First I would like to apologize. In my blog, I wrote that author Ethel Knight’s book was titled free state of Jones but it was titled Echo of the black horn.
    oops! Sorry…
    You asked about my book? I’m writing about the past. Actually it is fiction inspired by a true story.

    I enjoyed the song by Dr. G and the mudcats. Its great!

    I can’t wait to read your book.

    Thanks!

    Beverly Ezell Dye

  4. Hi Beverly,

    I understand the title mistake; LOL, there’s so many books on the subject, it’s hard to keep them straight!

    In regard to your novel-in-process, I think most good fiction is based on true stories, so good for you, and I wish you much success.

    I will pass your compliments on to Dr. G. and the Mudcats, and hope that you enjoy my book as well.

    Vikki

    • Ms. Vicki,

      Hello! It’s been a while! I thought I’d stop by and see how you’re doing. Hope all is well your way. I love your book by the way! Just been busy with school & writing around here. Can’t wait to read your upcoming book! Well, gotta run. Take care.

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