To make matters worse, as far as his opinion of the war went, the farms of his family and friends were being raided by Confederate soldiers for food and supplies. The rule was that each family was to give 10% of their supplies to help fund the army. For example, if a farmer had 10 pigs, then the army was allowed to take one away and it was to continue twice a year. But this system wasn’t followed and soldiers were taking whatever they wanted leaving moms and their children to worry about starving. Newt was livid about this so he deserted the army and went home to help protect the farms and he wasn’t the only one to leave.
Newt and other deserters hid in the swamp so they wouldn’t get caught because there were army patrols constantly on the lookout for them. While there they came across several slaves who were on the run as well. Through his leadership, he brought all the men together and they formed their own resistance army.
Like Robin Hood, they would attack the Confederate Army’s supply convoys and give the supplies to the people. This is how he kept his rebel army fed and how he equipped them with guns and ammunition. When they attacked supply convoys they always did their best to not shoot anyone and instead let the Confederate soldiers go. When they received information that soldiers were going to certain farms to collect supplies, they’d wait for them and would send them in retreat.
Word got out as to what Newt was doing and more and more men joined his resistance movement. The Confederate Army became very worried about what was happening and sent a fairly large regiment to go in and stop Newt and his men. Some of Newt’s soldiers defected because they were afraid of taking on a large amount of trained soldiers but Newt knew they were coming and put together a great strategy to beat them even though they were far outnumbered.
The Confederate soldiers had no idea that Newt had spent a lot of time getting his hands on all kinds of weapons including a few small cannons. Some of the weapons they used were stolen while some were provided by Confederate soldiers who hadn’t defected but were sympathetic to their cause.
The Confederate army marched into a hornets nest and Newt’s army sent them running. His group of farmers won a major victory and it was the last time the Confederate general decided to take them on. He had enough worries on his hands fighting the Union soldiers who had made their way deep into the south.
Newt ended up creating a country within a country with their own Bill of Rights that was very simple and clearly outlined that if you can stand on two feet, you’re a man; which meant equal status for blacks. He was a great crusader for slaves and fell in love with an African American woman that he couldn’t marry under Mississippi laws so she became his common law wife.
Newt called the small territory he carved out the "Free State of Jones" which included the area in and around Jones County, Mississippi. After the war, he joined the Republican Party and served in Mississippi's Reconstruction Government as a Deputy US Marshal.
He was very much engaged in the Republican Party and worked hard to get former slaves registered so they could vote for the first time. Democrats were doing everything they could to scare the blacks into not voting including creating the Klu Klux Klan.
Newt led a large group of former slaves to the voting office and when the local election was over, the Republicans only had two votes and lost by a landslide. So here Newt’s men had voted for a Republican candidate and a large amount of blacks did as well, yet the election officials counted only two Republican votes. As you can imagine, the former slaves were disillusioned about the voting process and Newt wanted to kill the election officials.
Newt Knight was such a brave person. He didn’t desert the Confederate Army and hide until after the war, he engaged in a fight to protect not only poor farmers but also slaves and he was up against tremendous odds. He was a Union sympathizer in the Deep South which was extremely dangerous yet he lived to be 92 years old; far beyond men of those times.
There’s a great movie worth watching called: Free State of Jones and it stars Matthew McConaughey as Newt. It wasn’t a Box Office hit because films like this often aren’t, even though the stories are so important to U.S. history. Please see it, you’ll be glad you did.