Final Countdown to Free State of Jones

This morning CBS’s Sunday Morning program ran a very nice segment on Matthew Mcconaughey and the upcoming movie, the Free State of Jones. It’s well worth watching. Mcconaughey is interviewed alongside director Gary Ross, a local historian related to the Knight family, and two members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I was hoping to hear more from the SCV members, but it is clear that they have nothing constructive to offer about the movie or the history of Newton Knight and Jones County. The others rightfully point out the movie’s relevance to our own time and its place in the ongoing erosion of the Lost Cause narrative.

I am spending the day re-reading sections of Vikki Bynum’s brilliant book, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War, in preparation for a movie review that I hope to publish at The Daily Beast. As many of you know, the movie is based on Bynum’s book.

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17 comments… add one
  • Patrick Jennings Jun 6, 2016 @ 8:42

    Having grown up in the south, and having learned my earliest Civil War history in the south, I can not disagree more with those commentators who mention the “myth” of monolithic Confederacy. I was never, never taught anything of the sort. If anything, the opposite was taught. The Confederacy was fractured from the start. West Virginia was born as an anti-CSA action, and, as my 6th grade teacher noted (perhaps wrongly) “Every state in the Confederacy, save South Carolina, had volunteers serving in the Federal Army.”

  • Al Mackey Jun 6, 2016 @ 4:58

    Of course the SCV has nothing constructive to offer. Their charge is to vindicate the confederate soldiers and their cause, not to engage in actual history.

  • London John Jun 6, 2016 @ 4:17

    Re the myth of the monolithic Confederacy and the position of White small farmers, is it not generally acknowledged that Lincoln chose Andrew Johnson as VP to appeal to the White Southerners who felt that the plantocracy were their enemy?

    • David Doggett Jun 6, 2016 @ 17:04

      Did Lincoln really choose Johnson for VP to appeal to non-slaveholding white Southerners? Seems like it didn’t work at all, and really backfired when Lincoln was assassinated, then Johnson took over and pardoned Jeff Davis and closed down reconstruction. How different things would have been if Lincoln had lived on, or had chosen a committed Northern abolitionist for VP.

  • bob carey Jun 6, 2016 @ 3:31

    I believe the movie will be useful in promoting the discussion of unionism in the southern states during the war. It will help defuse the notion of a monolithic Confederacy. The degree to which this is done is based entirely on how popular the movie will be.
    The historical accuracy of the film is far less important then the message. I say this with dismay because I’m a believer in accuracy and I think that the people who contribute to this and other blogs about the Civil War era share this belief. However I must face reality and admit that we are a small minority today.
    Lastly, I would like to mention the relevance of the film pertaining to today’s political climate. When McNaughey mentions it was a class struggle and not a race struggle I think he may be comparing the oligarchs of the old South with the one-percent of today. Although he doesn’t mention it, he certainly implies that there was, and is, a divide and conquer strategy being employed by both groups.

  • Craig L. Jun 6, 2016 @ 0:51

    My dad passed away a little more than a year ago at the age of 87. About ten years ago I discovered that my dad’s great grandfather died in the Civil War in 1865. It was news to him, though I’m quite certain that his mother and his two older sisters knew at least a little about his great grandfather’s Civil War legacy. My dad’s sisters were born shortly before America became involved in WWI and he was born about eight years after WWI ended. History for German-Americans changed after WWI because Germans were the enemy and would remain so until the end of the Cold War. My dad’s father was a minister in Wisconsin who preached in both German and English because many of his parishioners were recent German immigrants who spoke German and were not yet fluent in English. He died when my dad was five years old. Five years later, when his sisters were in college marrying ministers, my dad moved with his mother, his aunt and uncle and their daughter from Wisconsin to Pascagoula, Mississippi. His mother managed a motor park there while his uncle started up a trucking company from 1937 until about 1940 when they returned to Wisconsin.

    One of the things my dad did remember about Pascagoula was taking a bus trip with his mother to Chattanooga and back. He said the bus went almost to New Orleans before it turned north and east, so I guess that means they followed Interstate 59 which wouldn’t open to traffic until after 1960. Before that the road was known as U.S. Highway 11, which was built in 1926 and extended nearly two thousand miles from New Orleans to the St. Lawrence Seaway in upstate New York on the Vermont stateline. Route 11 goes right through Chattanooga and he remembered seeing Lookout Mountain there, but he didn’t remember being told that his great grandfather died in the Civil War. I think my grandmother was obeying the dictates of her church. The bus also passed through Jones County and the towns of Laurel and Hattiesburg, both on the way to Chattanooga and on the way back.

    The bus crossed the Tombigbee River twice less than five miles east and downstream from Gainesville, Alabama, where General Nathan Bedford Forrest surrendered his army at the end of the war. A portion of Forrest’s army boarded a flotilla of boats that constituted much of the Confederate Navy there and proceeded downriver to Mobile. Along the way they found room on board for a Union regiment that had spent the better part of a month marching north and west along the Tombigbee after the last forts defending Mobile fell. One of the men in that Union regiment was my great great grandfather, who died less than two months later from complications of yellow fever.

    The population of Jones County was a little less than two thousand at the time of the Civil War. It’s now nearly seventy thousand. There’s been a highway through it connecting the Gulf of Mexico to the St. Lawrence Seaway for ninety years now and a multi-lane Interstate for more than half a century. It’ll be interesting see how the movie and the books contribute to the community’s Civil War legacy.

  • David Doggett Jun 5, 2016 @ 23:49

    I hope you have not overlooked Rudy H. Leverett’s book, “Legend of the Free State of Jones.” It provides the grain of salt we need for the mix of truth and myths that is available to us today, regardless of the author. We seem to only have a sketch of this history, from which one can view Knight as some kind of moral hero, or simply an opportunist out for his own skin, or a typically complicated human caught in the vice of history and exhibiting some of both behaviors in his own personal way. Even if this new movie is romanticized by Hollywood to resonate with modern anti-slavery, anti-racist morality, still it may provide a needed partial antidote to the damage done to history by the SCV, the DOC, and the revisionist propaganda of “Birth of a Nation” and “Gone With the Wind.”

  • Jimmy Dick Jun 5, 2016 @ 19:36

    I am looking forward to the movie. This movie has the potential to shatter the illusion of the united South and that all whites supported the Confederacy. People will discover that the South was having an internal civil war, that their greatest asset was actually their biggest liability, and that the yeoman white farmer was locked into his place by the very system that the planters advocated was so good for them.

    The neo-confederates will scream all they want, but when it comes time to show the facts, they will have their usual empty hands. This movie is not just a nail in the coffin of the lost cause lie, it is a whole bag of nails with a compressed air hammer pumping them into the coffin.

    I for one will be showing the trailer and the interview in my class tomorrow. It’s the first day of the summer semester and I want students to wonder about how history is interpreted. If Ford and Cox want to make their claims, they need to show evidence to support them. If not, it’s just hot air and the usual denial.

    • Forester Jun 6, 2016 @ 6:31

      “This movie has the potential to shatter the illusion of the united South and that all whites supported the Confederacy. ”

      Oh, come on Jimmy. You exaggerate. Compared to the amount of Patriots in the Revolution, the white south WAS united. And only an idiot would believe the support for the Confederacy was completely unanimous. We’ve all heard of Unionists, scalawags, ect. I feel like you’re making a “straw Neo-Confederate” here. And it doesn’t change that the vast and overwhelming majority of whites DID, for better or worse, rally around the cause of the Confederacy. I’m not saying they should have, but they did.

      “This movie is not just a nail in the coffin of the lost cause lie, it is a whole bag of nails with a compressed air hammer pumping them into the coffin.”

      No, it’s a movie. And to the minority of hardcore Neo-Confederates who never see reason, it’s another rallying cry. It’s an example of “Hollyweird” and the Liberal Agenda, waging “genocidal” attacks on their heritage. If anything, it will feed their victim complex and polarize them. That’s already happening on certain Facebook pages.

      • Jimmy Dick Jun 6, 2016 @ 9:22

        Well then, you need to explain it to the neo-confederates who think the south was united. They have their version of history and it reeks. As for teaching history, yes, I do think the film will help. Many of my students come to class thinking the South was a monolithic entity and learn for the first time that it was not such.

        You are entitled to your opinion, but in teaching history I find a lot of people get their history from films. That is not good, but if that is how they learn history, then we need to do our best to help develop and promote historical accurate films. At the very least, to be able to explain the differences between film and history. The medium of film is very powerful.

        The neo-confederates use code words like PC, liberal, etc. to identify what they disagree with and signal others. Every time they do that, they just end up demonstrating their own ignorance. They’re not interested in learning anything, only in perpetuating their beliefs. The only thing they are victims of is their own ignorance.

  • TF Smith Jun 5, 2016 @ 14:56

    I mean, one could not have scripted a more revealing comment… The definition of ignorance.

    Granted, the draw for the piece is McConnaughey, but once the SCV types were quoted, even with Prof. Moore (?) and the Knight family, but having the optics and audio of Dr. Bynum would have been one more nail in the SCV members’ “case.”

    Truly looking forward to this; should be a great thing to see.


  • Andy Hall Jun 5, 2016 @ 13:50

    Carl Ford is a Jones County bankruptcy lawyer; John Cox is a self-described amateur historian. They are both members of the Rosin Heels, a chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Cox describes Knight as “trailer trash.”

    When asked their chief complaint about the movie, Ford said, “Well, I hadn’t seen it, don’t know anything about it. But anything that comes out of Hollywood can’t be good.”


    A fair follow-up question would whether either man had read Vikki’s book — you know, given that it’s about their own, home community — but I suspect we can guess the answer to that one.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 5, 2016 @ 13:51

      I was hoping for a question along those lines as well, but I also doubt we saw the entire interview. That said, I think we know the answer. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Jimmy Dick Jun 5, 2016 @ 18:56

      You used two words that do not fit into the neo-confederate mentality: read and book.

  • Pat Young Jun 5, 2016 @ 12:41

    Love the Neo-Confederates who appear to have been dug up from a local cemetery. For two fellows who claim to be fighting anti-Southern white stereotypes and who stand for historical accuracy, their calling Newt Knight “trailer trash” is a bit ironic.

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