“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

Between late 1863 and mid-1864, an armed band of Confederate deserters battled Confederate cavalry in the Piney Woods region of Jones County, Mississippi. Calling themselves the Knight Company after their captain, Newton Knight, they set up headquarters in the swamps of the Leaf River.

The story of the Jones County rebellion is well known among Mississippians, and debate over whether the county actually seceded from the state during the war has smoldered for more than a century. Adding further controversy to the legend is the story of Newt Knight’s interracial romance with his wartime accomplice, Rachel, a slave. From their relationship there developed a mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended, and the ambiguous racial identity of their descendants confounded the rules of segregated Mississippi well into the twentieth century.

The book traces the origins and legacy of the Jones County uprising from the American Revolution to the modern civil rights movement. In bridging the gap between the legendary and the real Free State of Jones, she shows how the legend–what was told, what was embellished, and what was left out–reveals a great deal about the South’s transition from slavery to segregation; the racial, gender, and class politics of the period; and the contingent nature of history and memory.

NOTE: The Movie Edition of The Free State of Jones is now available.

From the New Afterword:

The Free State of Jones challenges the very core of Lost Cause history, bringing to life white landowning, nonslaveholding families who acted aggressively in their own interests—interests that did not coincide with those of slaveholders. Dismissed by their pro-Confederate detractors as treasonous poor whites, outlaws, and cowards, the men and women who supported Jones County’s Civil War insurrection in fact comprise a “heritage” that Confederate flags, monuments, and movies have long obscured. Bynum, Afterword, Free State of Jones. 

2) THE LONG SHADOW OF THE CIVIL WAR (scroll to read more)

“Based on deep and creative research, this book opens up large and hotly debated questions of racial identity, gender roles, national identity, family life, and community in the South during and after the Civil War. It is a poignant portrait of all manner of southern common folk coming to grips with war, freedom, and dislocation on a scale few Americans have ever experienced.” —W. Fitzhugh Brundage, editor of Where These Memories Grow: History, Memory, and Regional Identity in the American South.

At long last, a few popular novels and films, such as Cold Mountain and the upcoming Free State of Jones, have featured white southerners who opposed secession and served only grudgingly in the Confederate Army, if at all. For over a century, The Myth of the Lost Cause, absorbed through the mother’s milk of sacred family traditions and stirring Civil War narratives, has presented a “Solid [white] South” united by noble principles and battlefield heroism.

The Long Shadow of the Civil War challenges the grip of neo-Confederate ideals in several discrete, yet related, essays. Whether about North Carolina women who protested Confederate conscription of husbands and sons, infamous guerrilla leader Newt Knight, Texas Unionists who evolved into New South populists or socialists, or the mixed-race community in Mississippi that emerged from collaboration against the Confederacy by blacks and whites, each essay features ordinary people who were plunged into extraordinary times that transformed their lives in the process.


Victoria Bynum’s thorough and sensitive analysis of the poor women of the North Carolina piedmont refuses to be limited by class, race, or legal status. With material so rich, so various, and by turns tragic and downright funny, Bynum is writing emancipated new southern history. Her view of the women who represented the bedrock of southern society is essential reading for students of southern history today.” — Nell Irvin Painter, Princeton University

In this richly detailed and imaginatively researched study, Victoria Bynum investigates “unruly” women in central North Carolina before and during the Civil War. Analyzing the complex and interrelated impact of gender, race, class, and region on the lives of black and white women, she shows how their diverse experiences and behavior reflected and influenced the changing social order and political economy of the state and region. Her work expands our knowledge of black and white women by studying them outside the plantation setting.

Bynum searched local and state court records, public documents, and manuscript collections to locate and document the lives of these otherwise ordinary, obscure women. Some appeared in court as abused, sometimes abusive, wives, as victims and sometimes perpetrators of violent assaults, or as participants in illicit, interracial relationships. During the Civil War, women frequently were cited for theft, trespassing, or rioting, usually in an effort to gain goods made scarce by war. Some women were charged with harboring evaders or deserters of the Confederacy, an act that reflected their conviction that the Confederacy was destroying them. These politically powerless unruly women threatened to disrupt the underlying social structure of the Old South, which depended on the services and cooperation of all women.

Bynum examines the effects of women’s social and sexual behavior on the dominant society and shows the ways in which power flowed between private and public spheres. Whether wives or unmarried, enslaved or free, women were active agents of the society’s ordering and dissolution.