With Free State of Jones, Hollywood’s Civil War Comes Closer to History’s
By Victoria Bynum, published for Zocalo Public Square
The setting is the piney woods of Civil War Jones County, Mississippi. The white farmer Newt Knight leads a band of deserters against Confederate forces. An enslaved woman, Rachel, lends invaluable aid to this Knight Band. After gaining her freedom, she spends the rest of her life as Newt’s partner. These events are a great story—and even better history. This summer, Free State of Jones will bring to movie theaters across the country a thrilling and relatively unknown tale of Civil War insurrection, romance, and interracial collaboration. The film, inspired by several historical books about these events including my own, shows how far scholarly research—and popular entertainment—about the Civil War has come. Free State of Jones is a Civil War movie that privileges neither Gods and Generals nor genteel plantations à la Gone with the Wind. White yeoman farmers represented a class disproportionately devastated by battlefield deaths and Confederate seizures of home front produce and property. As they increasingly desert …
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