06: Free State of Jones

Next Friday, on June 24th, director Gary Ross, the three-time Academy Award nominated writer and director behind Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games and Pleasantville, has taken his place behind the camera once again in a movie he’s written. This time for Free State of Jones, which is based on the true story of a farmer in Mississippi named Newton Knight.

But how much of Free State of Jones is truth? Get to know the true story before you see the movie in this week’s podcast.

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Transcript

Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

The real Newton Knight, who’s played by Matthew McConaughey in the movie, was born on November 10th, 1837 to Albert and Mary Mason Knight in Mississippi.

Newton’s own son would say that Newton was born in 1830, while Newton’s grandniece would give yet another date, 1829. Newton’s own grave stone, which you can find pictures of online, say he was born on November 10th, 1829. Despite this, most historians agree Newton Knight was born in 1837 because there’s several census records and official documents showing that date.

Still, this goes to show how few of the details are actually known about Newton. And the ones we do know are still subject to debate.

Which, if you think about it, makes sense. Newton was a farmer, and didn’t have very much money. And he lived in rural farm country in Mississippi in the mid-1800s, during a time when the country itself was tearing apart at the seams. It’s likely that keeping an accurate history wasn’t exactly on the top of everyone’s mind.

Growing up when he did, Newton was surrounded by slavery. Although his father, Albert, ran the farm without any slaves — instead relying on Newton and his other siblings to help out around the farm. Newton was the fourth of seven children from Albert and Mary Mason. They didn’t actually own any slaves, so it’s likely Newton himself grew up accustomed to a life without slavery. But just because Newton’s parents didn’t own any slaves doesn’t mean slavery was a foreign concept to him.

In fact, he was more than likely very familiar with slavery as his grandfather, John, was the one of the largest slaveholders in Jones County, Mississippi.

But like his father, when Newton started his own family he never owned any slaves. In fact, most of the land owners in Jones County weren’t slave owners. This made the men of Jones County stand out a bit in Mississippi, an overwhelmingly slave-driven state. Again, history is torn as to the reasons why.

Some have speculated it’s something he learned from his father. Others have said Newton was morally opposed to slavery because of his religious beliefs.

Most likely the latter is the reason, as Newton was very religious. He was what’s now referred to as an Old School Baptist, or an Original or Primitive Baptist. This form of Baptist Christianity was incredibly popular during Newton’s time, and it’s still a faith that many follow.

As a strict Primitive Baptist, not only did he abstain from slavery, but he also didn’t drink alcohol. That’s something even his father couldn’t keep himself from doing.

So it’s more likely that Newton didn’t own slaves because of his own beliefs than because it was something his father did. In 1858, Newton’s steel-blue eyes won the affection of Serena Turner, who’s played by Keri Russell in the movie. Newton was 21 and Serena was 20 when they were married.

The newlyweds set up their life together on a farm just over the county line from Jones County and in Jasper County, which is about 50 miles east of Jackson, Mississippi. Two years later, in 1860, Newton and Serena welcomed their first child into the world. Thomas Jefferson Knight was born on September 26th, 1860.

The newborn’s name is a bit ironic as Thomas Jefferson was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. And yet, just a couple months after Thomas Jefferson Knight was born to Newton and Serena, an event occurred which would change history.

On December 20th, 1860, a convention in Charleston, South Carolina unanimously adopted an ordinance to dissolve all connections between South Carolina and the United States of America. This effectively made South Carolina the first state to secede from the United States.

They wouldn’t be the last.

Twenty days after South Carolina seceded from the Union at the end of 1860, it would be Newton’s home state of Mississippi who would become the second state to secede from the United States on January 9th, 1861.

On the same day, January 9th, 1861, Newton’s grandfather, John, passed away. While there’s no documentation that conclusively explains his death, considering he was 87 years old at the time it’s safe to say it could have been natural causes.

Even though Newton and his father, Albert, didn’t see eye-to-eye with John on his views of slavery, it was still a loss in the family. And no matter how much you disagree with family, losing someone you love is painful.

The pain wouldn’t end there.

After the secession, the inevitable happened when, on April 12, 1861, the Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina, officially starting the Civil War.

News of the new war meant a divide in the United States. North and south. Union versus Confederacy.

Newton was just 24 years old, been married for only a few years and with a newborn baby. Needless to say, his life was thrown into chaos.

While thousands perished throughout the war, something that’s never had an official tally is how the added stress of a nation at war affects marriages. Soon, Newton’s and Serena’s marriage fell casualty to the stress.

 

In 1862, Newton had another year of major changes. First, he married Rachel – a former slave of his grandfather farm. In the movie, Rachel is played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

Although it is interesting to note that Newton wasn’t the only one who wasn’t a fan of slavery in Jones County. There’s documented cases of Jones County residents being against the Confederacy, but despite this there were plenty of slaves — such as those on Newton’s own grandfather’s farm. While there’s no documentation of any sort of commotion caused by Newton’s interracial marriage, it certainly wasn’t a common occurrence in the deep south during the Civil War.

At first, most on both the Union and Confederate side thought the war would only last a short time — maybe a week at most. Then a month. Then after a year of bloody fighting, no one knew when it’d end.

As the war lasted longer than originally anticipated, it did what most wars do — devour more and more lives. This is where the Confederacy had a distinct disadvantage, because the southern states didn’t have populations as large as those in the Union.

The number of men joining the Confederacy continued to rise. However, Jones County again stood apart. Most of the men here refused to volunteer for the army, and they also refused any sort of conscription that the Confederate government tried to use to draft able-bodied men into the army.

Newton was one of those who refused, but after continual pressure he finally was forced to join the army. On May 13, 1862, Newton Knight joined the Confederate army, enlisting as a Private in Company E of Mississippi’s 8th Infantry Regiment. He joined with some of his friends from Jasper County, which neighbors Jones County and is where Newton’s farm technically was located. They joined together so they wouldn’t be separated by the army.

And they refused to do anything other than help the wounded in the hospital as orderlies.

This refusal to play a bigger role didn’t make his superiors happy, and since Newton was one of the more outspoken of those forced into service from Jones or Jasper County, the Confederate officers wanted to make an example out of him.

As the year wore on, the fledgling Confederate nation started to run into a problem. Those who had happily volunteered at the beginning of the war had done so for twelve months. After all, everyone assumed the war would be over long before then.

So as the war raged on, most of the volunteer time for the Confederate army was coming to an end, and not many were re-enlisting. Understandably, they were sick of war.

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. This proclamation set the legal status of over 3,000,000 slaves in the southern states from “slave” to “free”.

At the time, almost everyone saw this proclamation as a political move. The Confederate States of America saw themselves as a different country and didn’t see President Lincoln of the United States of America as their leader.

While this may be difficult to comprehend today, at the time this mindset was no more than George Washington and the Americans who founded the United States saw King George as their leader in the American Revolution just a few generations before.

Still, President Lincoln’s proclamation was something that many slave owners in the Confederacy thought might cause a rebellion. With many of these slave owners off fighting in the war, they couldn’t very well be there to defend their own homes if their slaves rebelled.

The morale of the Confederate army started to suffer as their concerns started to shift back to their homes.

Three weeks after President Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, the Confederate Congress passed a new law in response as part of the Second Conscription Act of October 11, 1862.

As part of this new law, there was a provision that read:

          “To secure the proper police of the country, one person, either as agent, owner or overseer on each plantation on which one white person is required to be kept by the laws or ordinances of any State, and on which there is no white male adult not liable to do military service, and in States having no such law, one person as agent, owner or overseer, on each plantation of twenty negroes, and on which there is no white male adult not liable to military service; And furthermore, For additional police for every twenty negroes on two or more plantations, within five miles of each other, and each having less than twenty negroes, and of which there is no white male adult not liable to military duty, one person, being the oldest of the owners or overseers on such plantations;… are hereby exempted from military service in the armies of the Confederate States;… Provided, further, That the exemptions herein above enumerated and granted hereby, shall only continue whilst the persons exempted are actually engaged in their respective pursuits or occupations.”

The obviously racist terminology of this law is also riddled with legalese. Essentially, any white male in the Confederate army who had twenty or more slaves didn’t have to fight in the war. They could return home, theoretically to prevent any sort of uprising among the slaves.

But it backfired.

Overnight, this Act made owning twenty or more slaves a ticket out of the war. It made slaves extremely valuable and for those rich enough to own twenty or more slaves, quite possibly a means to save their own lives.

One of Newton Knight’s friends, Private Jasper Collins, who had joined the Confederate army with him was furious. His anger mirrored the sentiment of many Confederate soldiers at the time. All of a sudden, this was a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.

Already not in the mood to serve, this was the last straw. Private Collins deserted the Confederate army, setting a precedent for Newton and those left in the army. Just a few weeks later, word reached Newton that the Confederate army had seized all of the horses on his farm.

That was his last straw.

 

On November 6th, 1862, Newton Knight went Absent Without Leave, or AWOL, and deserted the Confederate army near Abbeville, Mississippi – about 200 miles from his home. It wasn’t an easy trip back to Jones County, as the Confederate army had scouts looking out for any sort of deserters.

When Newton reached his farm, he was in shock. The farm was a disaster. Like many of the surrounding farms, it was run-down and most of the crops were either dead or dying due to a lack of people working the fields.

Another law the Confederate Congress had passed was taking its toll. It was referred to as the “tax-in-kind” system, and essentially meant the Confederate armies could take whatever they wanted for the soldiers as a sort of tax. This meant hungry soldiers would ravish farms and take meat from smokehouses, horses, chickens, crops and even clothing.

One of the Colonels in the Confederate army, William Brown, would later report that the Confederacy’s own tax officials, “done more to demoralize Jones County than the whole Yankee army.”

How could soldiers, who were already sick of war, be expected to fight when their wives and children back home were starving?

But wars aren’t so easily stopped. And so, it raged on.

 

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were being killed on both sides. But the Confederacy didn’t have the same sort of numbers as the Union. And the war slowly started to shift.

In May of 1863, Newton’s battalion was ordered about 150 miles to the west of Jones County, to Vicksburg, Mississippi, to help defend a Confederate stronghold along the Mississippi River there.

Newton refused to go, and so he was imprisoned and, according to many accounts, he was tortured while his possessions at home were destroyed. An already poor farmer, Newton lost the few things he owned.

Things weren’t going so well for those who had gone to Vicksburg. Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant decided to lay siege to the stronghold starting on May 25th, 1863.

For six weeks, the Confederate soldiers at Vicksburg held out. And then, it all came crashing down for the Confederacy.

As the heat of the summer months began to oppress the soldiers at Vicksburg, over a thousand miles to the north in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a new battle was beginning that would, along with Vicksburg, be seen as the turning point in the war.

The Battle of Gettysburg was from July 1st to 3rd in 1863. It was also the bloodiest battle of the war which saw 51,000 people die in the span of three days. 28,000 Confederate soldiers perished to 23,000 Union soldiers.

The day after the Union won the Battle of Gettysburg by forcing the remaining Confederate soldiers from the field, the Confederate soldiers at Vicksburg surrendered. News certainly hadn’t traveled that fast at the time, so it’s most likely the surrender at Vicksburg was more due to the six-week siege that General Grant’s army had held on the stronghold.

Regardless, these two events happening in such quick succession was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. When the Union army took control of the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, they also gained control over the Mississippi River. This would permanently isolate the western states of the Confederacy.

A Confederate nation already ravaged by their own internal issues with things such as the “tax-in-kind” system now wouldn’t be able to send supplies across the Mississippi. They were, in effect, split in two.

A lot of the soldiers from the Jones County battalion returned home, deserting the army after the defeat at Vicksburg. There’s accounts of some of the horrors that happened, but perhaps none can be more telling than the story of an unknown soldier who returned to his home in Jones County after the defeat at Vicksburg. When he arrived, he found his wife had died of starvation, a fate she chose by giving the last of the meager food they had to their children.

 

It had to be extremely demoralizing to hear of such tragedies not only in the war, but also at home.

Already short of manpower, the Confederacy couldn’t afford to lose any more soldiers to desertion.

Like Newton, his superior officer, Major Amos McLemore, was opposed to the Confederacy at the onset of the war. However, McLemore’s view of the Union was very similar to many other at the time. He saw the Union as invaders and although he was opposed to secession, when war seemed inevitable, he joined the Confederate army and raised a company of men from Smith, Jones, Jasper, and Simpson counties.

Major McLemore himself was from Jones County. So in August of 1863, Major Amos McLemore of the 27th Mississippi Regiment was tasked with rounding up many of the deserters in his home county.

That mission was short-lived, when a couple months later on October 5th, 1863, Major McLemore was murdered by the deserters he was trying to round up. While there’s not very good documentation to support the facts in this case, most historians believe it was Newton Knight himself who pulled the trigger to end McLemore’s life, shooting him in the back as he prepared to go to bed.

Whether or not Newton killed McLemore, we do know it was after this event that Newton organized the company of men that would make him famous.

Many of the men who had been to war had certainly changed in the way that only war can change you.

There’s no historical proof, but if you think about what you might do in a similar situation you can think there weren’t many options.

Major McLemore had been ordered to round up deserters. And now he was dead. Whether or not Newton pulled the trigger himself, it was certainly a deserter who did it. There would be a replacement for McLemore to round up the deserters.

And probably retaliation for his death.

The other alternative was to return to the war. That’s something they didn’t want to do in the first place, and since the Confederate defeats at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, they had to have seen the Confederacy crumbling. Why put your life on the line for a nation you didn’t want to support in the first place?

Instead, Newton decided to put his life on the line to defend something he did want to support: His home.

 

Just to set some context, if Knight and his men had a base of operations, it would’ve been around the small town of Ellisville, Mississippi, which at the time was the largest city in Jones County. Ellisville, whose surrounding areas are still home to many of the relatives from Knight and his men, is nestled along what’s now I-59 in the southeastern tip of Mississippi. It’s about 40 miles west of the Mississippi-Alabama border.

And it was in the rural swamps around Ellisville that Newton organized a company of about 125 men from Jones and the surrounding counties of Jasper, Covington and Smith.

They were all fed up with the Confederacy.

Newton and his men primarily raided smaller groups of Confederate soldiers, sabotaged supplies and mostly caused an annoyance to the Confederate army. Their methods were very much in line with guerrilla tactics used in the military today, although they were almost certainly not as organized. After all, Newton and his men were a collection of farmers and, although they had spent some time in the military, they hadn’t really seen much combat.

Still, they managed to stay hidden and avoid capture thanks to help from many of their friends in the area. In particular, Newton’s wife Rachel was a big help. Being a former slave, she was often able to hide in plain sight as many Confederate sympathizers outside the area didn’t expect her to be Newton’s wife. She helped Newton by offering him a steady supply of both food and vital information which helped Newton avoid capture.

Any time Newton and his men came close to getting captured, they’d use their knowledge of the local landscape to go into the swamps. They simply disappeared, making capture something that eluded them for a long time.

By the time 1864 rolled around, word had begun to spread of Newton Knight and his company of “Southern Yankees” who were in open rebellion to the Confederacy.

The Union army, after their victory at Vicksburg, continued to make their way through Mississippi. This path of destruction was led by Union General William Sherman and is now referred to as the Meridian Campaign, because it was a path from Vicksburg, Mississippi due east for about 130 miles to Meridian, Mississippi. Meridian, for context, is about 65 miles north of Ellisville in Jones County, where Newton and his men were.

This was just before Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea, or the Savannah Campaign, at the end of 1864. During the Meridian Campaign, General Sherman laid waste to anyone who crossed his path as he pushed General Polk of the Confederacy out of Mississippi. He led about 27,000 men and while about 170 Union soldiers perished in the campaign, there’s no documentation of how many Confederate soldiers were lost.

 

During this campaign, there was no battle. The fighting didn’t take place on some distant battlefield. It took place on the property and homes of Confederate sympathizers. We know from history that General Sherman captured or burned just about all of the food and supplies from civilians during his infamous March to the Sea. So there’s no telling what sort of devastation he laid to those in Mississippi during the Meridian Campaign. And since the people of Mississippi were already dying of starvation, there’s no way to know how many men, women and children perished either by the hand of General Sherman’s men or as a side effect of their destruction.

Then again, as they say, history is written by the winners. Such is the devastation of war.

No doubt Newton and his men had heard of the massive losses left in the wake of General Sherman’s march from Vicksburg to Meridian. So it makes sense that Newton would reach out to General Sherman in an attempt to make sure this death and destruction didn’t affect the home he was trying to protect from the Confederates.

During the Meridian Campaign, General Sherman claimed to have received a dispatch from Newton. It happened in February of 1864 and while there’s no surviving documentation to back up his words, General Sherman did write that he received “a declaration of independence” from men in Jones County.

This was backed up a few months later when the paper in nearby Natchez, Mississippi, the Natchez Courier, reported on July 12th, 1864 that Jones County had officially seceded from the Confederacy. There’s no official documentation of any secession but it’s not likely even if they did send official documentation somewhere that it’d have survived the war. Perhaps when Newton sent his letter to General Sherman, that was his official documentation. Perhaps he sent it elsewhere in an attempt to make it more “official” and it never arrived. There’s no way to know.

Then again, the very act of a rebellion is by its very nature illegal.

After all, the Confederacy itself had seceded from the United States of America, but at no time during the Civil War did the United States government ever recognize the Confederacy as a separate country. Much like the United States itself wasn’t recognized by the government from which it seceded, the British government, until the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783.

Whether or not Newton ever sent official documentation of secession, after electing Newton as their Captain, a rank he never really earned in the Confederate army, the Knight Company, as they were becoming known in the area, managed to make a statement that’d certainly capture the attention of the Confederacy.

 

It all centered around a Union flag, a flag of the United States of America, which was raised over the courthouse in Ellisville as a blatant act of defiance against the Confederacy.

In March of 1864 after General Polk informed the Confederacy’s president, Jefferson Davis, that the Knight Company in Jones County was causing a major blow as they were seizing precious Confederate supplies that were desperately needed across the entire southeastern area of Mississippi.

As General Sherman’s troops were continuing to make their way east toward Georgia, the Confederacy wanted to crush the rebellion in Jones County once and for all.

To do this, they sent Colonel Robert Lowry, who would become the governor of Mississippi after the war. Colonel Lowry was from nearby Smith County, so he was familiar with the swamps of Mississippi. While we don’t know exactly how many men were at Lowry’s command to hunt out Newton and his men, we know Lowry’s Sixth Mississippi regiment suffered significant losses at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862.

So we know Colonel Lowry, who himself was badly injured at the Battle of Shiloh, and his men were battle-hardened. And they used rather brutal tactics to flush out Knight’s Company.

In April of 1864, Lowry’s men brought bloodhounds into the swamps. Many of Newton’s men were mauled by the dogs, and we know of at least ten who were captured and hanged by Colonel Lowry. They were left hanging in the swamps as a message to the rest of Knight’s Company.

While Knight’s Company wasn’t mentioned in a proclamation by General Polk on May 1st, 1864, they certainly had to have been on his mind. The proclamation was an official pardon for all soldiers who had deserted the army. Knowing that General Polk had just sent Colonel Lowry to flush out Newton and his men, who were all deserters from the Confederate army, had to have been a part of his plan. But this was also almost certainly an attempt to help add manpower to the Confederate army, which was suffering crippling losses at the hands of a Union army which had a lot more men to begin with.

Shortly after Polk’s proclamation, one of the newspapers in the Confederacy printed an article about Newton Knight’s men. The article was published on May 10th, 1864 by the Memphis Daily Appeal. Memphis, Tennessee was a part of the Confederacy at the time, so the story is told from the perspective against Newton’s men as it’s from the angle of the Confederacy but it offers quite an interesting look at the events which unfolded.

           

 

 

Outlawry Crushed in Mississippi

A correspondent of the Mobile Register, writing from Waynesboro’, Miss., gives information of the military proceeding in Mississippi, from which we learn that the organizations against the Confederate Government in the disaffected districts of that State have been completely broken up. He says:

I see that, under “Mississippi Items,” you say that Capt. Newton Knight of Jones, had sent in a flag of truce, etc., to Col. Lewis. This is not so. I am just from Jones County. The expedition consisted of the 5th and 20th Mississippi regiments and my cavalry company, the whole under command of Col. R. Lowry, of the 6th Mississippi regiment.

We entered Smith county on the 27th of March, and on the 28th hung two noted deserters and leaders of squads: McNeil and Rain. These were all the men who were hung in Smith. There was a Union flag, or rather a ludicrous representation of the United States flag, captured at the home of one Hawkins (of Smith county); it was concealed on the person of Mrs. Hawkins, who would not deliver it until after much persuasion and a few threats.

          The history of the flag is as follows:

After General Polk’s army had retired from the State and the enemy were at Meridian, it was thought that the State had gone up, and that our forces would not again occupy it; at least not soon. So old Hawkins called a meeting of citizens of his part of the country and of the deserters who had straggled during the retreat of our forces. He then made a speech to the assembly and urged them to stay at their homes and work, that they would not be molested, and told them that as the mill where he lived was all the property he had, that he had made a Union flag to fly on it to protect it from destruction by the Yankees, as the rumor was they were burning all mills.      

The worse feature was, that several good citizens were compelled by the deserters to attend the meeting. Old Hawkins is in custody, and will remain so until his case can be properly disposed of. While in Smith several hundred deserters were arrested and sent forward.   

On the night of the 12th of April a party of infantry, under a lieutenant, out on a scout, were being rested on the piazza of Mr. D. McLeed’s house, in Covington County; after dark a shot gun was discharged in their midst, killing a sergeant and wounding a lieutenant and a corporal. The perpetrator of the act was soon discovered. On the 15th we moved into Jones. That way the man who fired into the party on the piazza was arrested, after being wounded and run down by dogs, and promptly executed. His name was D. Reddock.  A young man by the name of Gregg was with him, was shot while running, and soon died from the wound.         

The same day another party of our boys were ambushed near Newton Knight’s home by deserters—only wounding one man, not seriously, however. Our boys promptly charged the ambush and captured two, Ben Knight and a lad, Siliman Coleman, and shooting one other. Knight and Coleman, were both promptly executed.       

The same day four others were caught and brought in; they were put before a court-martial, and, on their own confession of resisting with arms military arrests, were, on the morning of the 16th, executed by hanging. Many men, said to belong to Knight’s company, have reported. We pursued a vigorous policy, but the condition of the community required it. Terror was struck among them, and they came flocking in asking for mercy. Just about this time General Polk’s proclamation of pardon reached us. We relaxed not, however, the rigor of our campaign, and with the proclamation of our activity we have succeeded in getting all but five of the deserters of Jones County.

Newton Knight, it is thought, will report if he can be found and see the proclamation by his friends and relatives who are hunting him. Sim Collins and boys have reported. Hotzfield, who was said to command a battalion, and all his influence have reported.

There never has existed any organizations of men in Jones. The deserters who were prominent in their neighborhoods led their squads not consisting generally of more than six or seven men. Jones is no worse than her surroundings. The people are very poor and very ignorant, and the enemy traversing the State without opposition induced to believe the country had gone up. So by the advice of some older citizens they were induced to believe they were the strong party, so they could defy the Government and stay at home. We have changed the status of things in Jones, Perry and Smith, and expect to re-establish in all South Mississippi a healthy loyalty to the powers that be. If you see proper to extract from the above, you can do so.

 

It’s worth noting that the Ben Knight mentioned in the article was most likely Newton’s brother, James W. Benjamin Knight, although there’s conflicting documentation that Ben Knight was actually killed in August of 1865 during the Battle of Atlanta.

 

Still, the article really helps give us insights into how many of Knight’s Company came to be captured. You’ll notice, though, that the article mentions, “we have succeeded in getting all but five of the deserters of Jones County”.

As it mentions, Newton Knight was one of those five. Newton and his core group weren’t captured by Colonel Lowry. Instead, they once again disappeared into the swamps. Although he tried to find them, Newton’s men stayed hidden, thanks in no small part to the continual effort of many locals. As she had before, Rachel was one of the keys to aiding Newton with food and information.

But with so few men left in the rebellion, Colonel Lowry soon called off the search for Newton and reported the mission a success. He left Mississippi to return to the front lines of the war.

As soon as he left, Newton and the few still with him re-emerged from the swamps and continued to cause destruction against the Confederacy, burning several key bridges and destroying railroads used by the Confederate army.

On January 10th, 1865, Newton and his men fought their final skirmish with the Confederacy at a place called Sal’s Battery, named after Newton’s shotgun, affectionately nicknamed ‘Sal’. Sal’s Battery is just outside Ellisville, Mississippi.

Newton’s men were successful in fighting off Confederate cavalry and infantry, surviving yet another close call.

 

Three months later, on April 9th, 1865, the leader of the Confederate army, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia. As the news spread of General Lee’s surrender, the rest of the Confederacy fell apart in the following months. The final Confederate troops to surrender were under Stand Watie, who was both the Cherokee Nation’s leader and a Brigadier General in the Confederate army. They surrendered on June 23rd, 1865.

Newton survived the war, and settled back onto the farm with Rachel.

The couple welcomed Martha into the world on August 15th, 1866 — not to be confused with Martha Ann Elizabeth, who was Newton’s daughter with his first wife, Serena.

Newton and Rachel had a son, John Steward, on May 10th, 1868. Then tragedy struck when Newton’s mother, Mary Mason, passed away in 1868 at the age of 63. Newton and Rachel had three more children, two boys and one girl, until Rachel passed away on February 11, 1889. She was only 48 when she passed and she had been married to Newton for 27 of those years.

This wasn’t the only tragedy Newton would endure.

On January 13, 1917, Newton’s daughter, Martha Ann Elizabeth passed away at only 53 years old, followed by his son, John Steward, passing away on December 6th, 1920.

After such a life of hardship and fighting for what he believed in, Newton Knight finally found peace when he was laid to rest on February 16th, 1922 at the age of 84. Today, you can find Newton alongside those he loved, including Martha Ann Elizabeth, John Steward and his beloved wife Rachel. They are buried at the Newton Knight Cemetery in Jasper County, Mississippi.

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