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The State of Jones

A book by Sally Jenkins

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A new look at Civil War history... well worth the read!

  • Jun 29, 2009
  • by
First off, The State of Jones is extremely well written and exhaustively researched. That alone would earn it at least 4 stars in my estimation. The Civil War category of history books tends to get over crowded with dry academic readings and revisionist polemics that aim to bolster someone's modern agenda (with themes that range from "clearing the family name" to defending racial politics). The subject and storytelling here dodges the first bullet, making for an engrossing read that truly is "difficult to put down." And as for revisionist history, that's all too often in the eye of the beholder anyway, although to my eyes Jenkins and Stauffer have done a commendable job of providing balanced research with astute observation.

The focal point to this true tale is Newton Knight, a man unwilling to bend his principles to blend in with prevailing popular sentiment. Indeed, Captain Knight's influence wins over many of his neighbors in Jones County to the effect that they essentially seceded from the Confederacy (actually, they had voted against seceding from the U.S. to begin with). After the disastrous battle of Corinth, Newton and many of his followers deserted the rebel army and formed a guerilla band that may have been instrumental in redirecting enough Confederate resources so as to aid Sherman's march through the South.

But Knight's story runs far deeper. His personal life was complicated by his relationship with two women, one white, one black; and the large number of children that he sired with both. In fact, it's his relationship with the freed slave Rachel that offers the greatest insight into the character of the man as well as providing some of the most interesting conclusions by the authors. While Knight was consistent in his beliefs throughout, his postwar fortunes ranged from being a man of great influence to that of a social pariah depending on whether Republicans or Democrats held power in Mississippi. Well into the 20th century, Newton Knight's legacy of racial tolerance and equality was tested every day, even to the point that the attention of a Mississippi court was focused on the racial makeup of his second wife Rachel, 50 years after her death!

Other historical figures play roles in the story, U.S. Grant, W.T. Sherman, Aldridge Ames and Andrew Johnson (who perhaps "should" have been impeached if my reactions to his portrayal are correct).

The most notable observation for me comes from the author's statement that in essence, the South didn't really lose the war. Yes, Lee surrendered, and yes slavery was abolished; but to this day vestiges of the antebellum South still linger in unfortunate ways, fed by legends and tainted histories. One can't help but wonder how things might have been had Reconstruction been managed differently. Would the racial divide have been completely breached by now?

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More The State of Jones reviews
review by . August 23, 2009
The events that followed the end of the American Civil War from 1865 through roughly 1900, known as Reconstruction, mark the darkest days and events in American history, because they revealed a cold-blooded racial hatred that was deep-seated in the hearts and minds of the majority of white Americans. The history of individual families, black and white, from those years who lived through the worst of the violence, particularly in the deep south states like Mississippi, is one of terror and violence, …
review by . July 10, 2009
In his 1927 work Liberalism (Lib Works Ludwig Von Mises PB), Ludwig von Mises wrote, "The right of self-determination in regard to the question of membership in a state thus means: whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known, by a freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united to the state to which they belong at the time, but wish either to form an independent state …
review by . June 23, 2009
This is one of the most fascinating historical accounts I have ever read, as it emphasizes some points of American history that are rarely emphasized. Furthermore, it also demonstrates how mindless patriotic fervor can be mishandled into catastrophe, something that the United States has unfortunately not been able to outgrow.    One terrible fact rarely mentioned is that if there had been an honest and binding vote of all white males of voting age in each of the states of the Confederacy, …
review by . June 16, 2009
In an era when everybody and his mother is writing yet another book praising Lincoln, The State of Jones by Harvard historian John Stauffer is a fresh and original history of the Civil War. Even if you've already read a lot about the Civil War, this book will radically change your understanding of Civil War history.    The book discusses a pro-Union insurrection deep in the heart of the Confederacy - Jones County, Mississippi. It begins with the horrors of war during the battle …
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Amazon Best of the Month, July 2009:Make room in your understanding of the Civil War for Jones County, Mississippi, where a maverick small farmer named Newton Knight made a local legend of himself by leading a civil war of his own against the Confederate authorities. Anti-planter, anti-slavery, and anti-conscription, Knight and thousands of fellow poor whites, army deserters, and runaway slaves waged a guerrilla insurrection against the secession that at its peak could claim the lower third of Mississippi as pro-Union territory. Knight, who survived well beyond the war (and fathered more than a dozen children by two mothers who lived alongside each other, one white and one black), has long been a notorious, half-forgotten figure, and inThe State of Jonesjournalist Sally Jenkins and Harvard historian John Stauffer combine to tell his story with grace and passion. Using court transcripts, family memories, and other sources--and filling the remaining gaps with stylish evocations of crucial moments in the wider war--Jenkins and Stauffer connect Knight's unruly crusade to a South that, at its moment of crisis, was anything but solid.--Tom NissleySally Jenkins and John Stauffer on State of Jones

Newton Knight is the most famous Civil War hero you’ve never heard of, because according to Mississippi legend he betrayed not only the Confederacy but his race as well. In 1863 Knight, a poor farmer from Jones County Mississippi, deserted the Confederate Army—and began ...

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ISBN-10: 0385525931
ISBN-13: 978-0385525930
Author: Sally Jenkins
Genre: History
Publisher: Doubleday
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