Mississippi’s Role in America’s Bloodiest Conflict – Part 2

The Free State of Jones

Though much of the state was in agreement of secession from the United States one county in particular was quite against the idea. Jones County voted in overwhelming numbers for an anti-secessionist leader. The county consisted mainly of cattle herders and yeoman farmers who had little use for slaves; they didn’t want to take part in a war that fought for the states right to maintain the institution of slavery. Unfortunately the election of John Hathorne Powell, Jr. wouldn’t change this and the county was drawn into the conflict with the rest of the south.

As the war went on Jones County became even more disparaged with the cause as many of their farms fell into destitution thanks to high taxation which included the taking of their livestock which was pivotal to their success. The lack of food and supplies didn’t help either and moral became incredibly low. After a short while the county became a refuge for deserters of the confederate army who had also become disparaged with the cause, it would be these deserters that would go on to form the now legendary ‘Free State of Jones’ in 1863.

Led by Newton Knight, they formed a separate government with Unionist leanings that protected the area from Confederate authorities and their crippling taxation. They fought 14 skirmishes against confederate forces along with a raid on Paulding which resulted in the recovery of five wagons filled with corn that had been taxed from farms within the area. Once retrieved these were distributed back amongst the people. Together the company harassed several Confederate officials and Newton Knight has gone on to be revered as something of a Robin Hood figure for the area.

The President of the Confederacy

Mississippi’s role was furthered when its representative in the United States Senate, Jefferson Finis Davis was made the President of the Confederate States. He was its first and only President serving throughout the entirety of its existence as its leading figure in opposition to Abraham Lincoln who led the Union. He had previous experience as the Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce between the years of 1853 and 1857 and was said to have been a model example to represent the values of the planter as well as a champion of slave labour. In truth the man had hoped to serve as commander –in-chief of the confederacy’s armies as opposed to its leader, upon reading a letter announcing his role as President he was said to have looked incredibly “grieved”.

Many of the Confederacy’s weaknesses have been attributed by historians to the poor leadership of Davis. He was said to have a lack of popular appeal, a preoccupation with detail, favouritism towards old friends, a reluctance to delegate and feuds with generals and State Governors. In fact he was renowned for not getting on with those who disagreed with him. Despite this though, he is still held up by some as a Southern patriot. Many monuments to the man can still be found all over the South, some of which are in Mississippi, though in recent years efforts have begun throughout the country to remove many of them.