A very short version of the story...
My ancestors first settled in Mississippi in Jones County. During the Civil War a man by the name of Newt Knight was my ggg grandfathers neighbor. Newton Knight lived in a remote corner of Jones County. He served in Confederate Army attaining the rank of 2nd Sergeant, in company E, 8th Mississippi and company F, 7th Mississippi Battalion. He had enlisted for three years or the war. He was busted to private and sometime before mid-May 1863 he deserted. He returned to Jones County, and is accused of murdering Major Amos McLemore, assigned the job of rounding up deserters and sending them back to their units, in Ellisville, Mississippi on October 5, 1863. From that date rumors spread that a band of deserters were terrorizing the area. A company of about one hundred armed men were robbing and killing Confederate officials in the area (Knight being the Captain). And there was a large organized group of deserters operating in this area of Mississippi but not totally in Jones County. It was an area that included neighboring Perry, Greene, Wayne, Jasper, Covington, and Smith Counties, where most of the activity occured. The Confederate Army sent troops into this area and for several weeks captured and hung many of these outlaws. Finally breaking the bands of deserters and to the relief of the local peoples restoring law and order.
Newton Knight escaped and survived the war and lived in his home until he died an old man. He was ostracized by the rest of the people in the county. Most of the legend of the Free State of Jones comes from his family. Union officials during late 1863 picked up the information of what was happening from those deserters that escaped to New Orleans from the Confederate roundups. Rumors of a band of Unionist taking control of Jones County and declaring their independence from the Confederacy and as allies to the Union made it to the Northern Newspapers and the legend was born.
Jones County never left the control of the Confederate Government. Jones County contributed the following companies to the Confederate Army...
Company B, 7th Miss. Battalion
Company B, 27th Miss. Reg.
Company C, 7th Miss. Battalion
Company F, 7th Miss. Battalion
Company K, 8th Miss. Reg.
This does not include any state, 30 day, 60 day, or 90 day, etc. troops of infantry or cavalry.
The people of Jones County accepted the Confederate forces sent into the area to surpress the deserters and bushwackers as saviors. Jones County was never "free state" and did not secede from the Confederacy.
My ggg grandfather served and died as a member of Company K, 8th Mississippi, and many of my kin served in other Jones County Confederate companies.
Read "Legend of the Free State of Jones" by Rudy H. Leverett