The Free State of Jones

The Battle of Corinth: Early origins of the Knight Band to be portrayed in movie, Free State of Jones

Matt McConaughey as Newt Knight

Matt McConaughey as Newt Knight, Free State of Jones

By Vikki Bynum

I had a great time on the set of The Free State of Jones movie last week! Watched a very intense Matt McConaughey, pictured above, bring Newt Knight to life for the battle of Corinth and its aftermath. Pictured below are two additional cast members: Christopher Berry, who portrays Jasper Collins, and Sean Bridgers who appears as William Wesley Sumrall. Collins and Sumrall were stalwarts of the Knight band, their histories recounted in my Free State of Jones and Long Shadow of the Civil War.

The battle of Corinth, Mississippi, occurred in October, 1862. In its grim aftermath, wounded men who survived languished and often died in the army hospital at Enterprise.  Corinth was followed by Confederate passage of the “Twenty Negro Law”, which allowed slaveholders to apply for military exemptions based on slave ownership. Shortly thereafter, according to Newt Knight, Jasper Collins proclaimed to him that “this makes it a rich man’s war and poor man’s fight!” Newt agreed, and both men soon deserted.

To learn more about Jasper Collins and William Wesley Sumrall on Renegade South, click here and here for Jasper, and here for Sumrall.

Christopher Berry

Christopher Berry

sean bridgers

Sean Bridgers

17 replies »

  1. My husband is a descendant of Knight .. They share John Jackie Knight …Newts Grandfather and my husbands IV Grandfather. We are so delighted about the movie, I even think my husband resembles the Knights.

    • Please show a picture. I’m a descendant of John “Jackie” Knight, my line is a brother to Newton “Newt” Knight. My family still owns a section of the original land grants(a little section). Although I don’t live in that area, I do still live in Jones County. I do know some of Newt & Serena’s descendants. And after reading through some family tree info-I went to school with some of Newt & Rachel’s descendants. I went to school with some Lairds’ that my mom had said we were related to-but never understood how. Did your husbands family own Lairds automotive repair(I can’t remember the exact name of it. & they lived nearby. ?

  2. i am a descendant of John Jackie Knight…him being my V Great Grandfather through William “Pap” Knight. I’m really looking forward to seeing this movie.

  3. I too am related to the Knights. My father told me of some of the escapades of Newt Knight and his cabin being shot up by the Confederate soldiers and the bullet holes in the fence in front of the house.

    • Welcome to Renegade South, Kathy. The story of the Ates brothers is one of the most tragic of Jones County’s Civil War stories, and, as you may know, I included it in Free State of Jones.


      • So glad to see your book coming to fruition. You and I talked many years ago. I am the great grandson of Jasper Collins and Willam Lyon, both members of the 7th. I hope they hold to the text and don’t try to moralize or corrupt the story.

      • Hi Stephen; always glad to have another Jasper descendant on board! I’m trying to remember our conversation of years ago–I know several Lyon descendants. Was it while I was still writing The Free State of Jones?

  4. It was just after you had published. We discussed my great grandfather living with the Collins after the war and then marrying their daughter Theodocia Melissa. You had talked with my Aunt Dorothy Lyon Thomas. My theory is that his father, William Alexander Lyon died at Camp Douglas after being taken back in one of the roundups to serve with the 7th again. We do know he was AWOL after Corinth, then returned to fight and be captured at Kennesaw Mountain, GA. I think he was lost without his father and looked to the Collins family for guidance and support.

    • Yes, I do remember that discussion of your Lyon family and the way in which Jasper became a father figure to your great-grandfather. I also had such great letters from your Aunt Dorothy, who sent me copies of many useful Collins records and writings. It’s nice to be in touch again!


  5. Hi Vicky Byrum. I wrote to you a while back about the Ates family, and the fate of James and Tom…Kathy Spackman above is my sister. The Family of Francis Ates is deserving of a movie on it’s own, the struggles of a widow woman with five boys, four of whom served in the Confederacy, with two joining up with Newts company making it brother against brother…
    I would like to know what the survivors thought of that after the news of James and Tom being captured and hanged reached them…Probably I will never know, but I’m sure they didn’t like it much….On the other hand there are thousands of stories worth a movie…I’m glad to see one on Newt Knight…..I like the format of your site…I will drop by more often,,,

  6. You are right about Frances Ates and her boys deserving their own movie, Rick. There were several families like hers in the vicinity of the Leaf River, and I noted in Free State of Jones that the women who headed these families looked to the Knight band for relief from a war that was literally destroying them and their children’s lives.

    I’m glad you like the site; look forward to more comments from you.


  7. Hi! My name is Theresa Holder! I am the great great granddaughter of Jasper Collins and William Lyon. Stephen Lyon is my uncle.I think all of us descendants are excited to see this movie. It is also awesome to read replies from Knight descendants or others from that time.I wish all of the descendants could watch the movie together, but there might not be a theater big enough.HaHa I just wanted to thank you so much for writing this book. I just wish my Aunt Dorothy was still alive to see it. She would have been so thrilled!

    • Hi Theresa, It’s nice to meet you! It’s exciting to anticipate the coming movie, and I think there actually will be a number of communities—especially in Mississippi—where folks will come together to watch the movie.

      I too just wish that your Aunt Dorothy could have lived to see it. She knew that there was a movie in the works back in 2009; I remember discussing it with her, but then it went quiet until 2014.

      I’ve communicated on Facebook with the actor who is playing Jasper Collins, and he is really into his role.


    • I found out a couple of years ago I’m a descendant of the Blackwell name in Jones county. Kevin Blackwell

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