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In my previous post I wrote about John Ford’s Horse Soldiers (1959), starring John Wayne, that depicts events that occurred in my Poore family’s homeland during the Civil War.

Interestingly enough, Horse Soldiers wasn’t the only movie, or even the first, made about Piney Woods Mississippi during the Civil War and that also prompted research into my Civil War ancestors.

Tap Roots (1948) stars Van Heflin and Susan Hayward with Boris Karloff, Julie London, Whitfield Connor, Ward Bond and Richard Long.

The film, adapted from the 1942 novel Tap Roots by James H. Street, is very loosely based on the true-life story of Newton Knight.

Before the war, Knight lived in the southwest corner of Jasper County, near the Jones County line. Though Knight is closely linked with events in Jones County, he lived in Jasper County.

A legend arose that, under Knight, Jones County had seceded from the Free State of JonesConfederacy to form the Free State of Jones “complete with President, Vice-President, Cabinet and an army of several hundred men.” No such thing ever occurred.

Knight had no interest in the Confederate cause, but he had been drafted and served as a hospital orderly with the 7th Mississippi. Knight deserted after Confederate officials took his mother’s horse. Soon afterward another deserter, Jaspar Collins, joined Knight. Collins left the rebels because he resented the law that kept planters who owned 20 or more slaves out of military service.

Knight and Collins recruited others and estimates of the number in their band range from about 125 to nearly 300. Regardless of their number, the guerrillas vowed “to form a home defense band for resistance to oppression, by assassination, raiding, destruction, and other means to aid the Union, and at the same time to save our families from famine.”

From the Devil’s Den Knight and his men fanned out through Jones and surrounding counties to sink ferryboats, burn bridges and bushwhack Confederates.

In an effort to wipe out the Knight Company, C.S. Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk sent Colonel Henry Maury to Jones County with a sharpshooter battalion, a unit of horse artillery and 200 cavalrymen. But they never captured Newt Knight, who survived the war and lived into the 1920s.

Historian Victoria Bynum has written extensively about Newt Knight in her book The Free State of Jones and her blog Renegade South.

Are there any movies that inspired you to do more research into your Civil War ancestors’ lives?

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