164 A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI deteriorated. Prior to the summer of 1863, the Confederate government put in place several unpopular laws. The first was the Confederate Conscription Act, passed on April 16, 1862. This law made all healthy white males between eighteen and thirty-five liable, with a few exceptions, to a three-year stint in the Confederate army. It also extended the enlistment of soldiers already enrolled in the service to three years, an action that was unpopular with some early enlistees. The age range of eligible service would expand to those between seventeen and fifty in February of 1864. In October 1862, Congress amended the law to exempt anyone owning twenty or more slaves from military service. This twenty-slave law was also unpopular with small and non- slaveholders, prompting the famous slogan that the war had become a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” In the Piney Woods, many families lacked the manpower to produce enough foodstuffs to survive. The tax in kind exacerbated the situation. Put into place by the Confederate government on April 24, 1863, this tax required all farmers to give 10 percent of all agricultural products and livestock raised for slaughter. If the tax was not delivered in a timely manner, then a 50 percent penalty could be assessed. Word began to trickle out to those in the military service that families were starving at home, heightening their concern. In addition, the defeat of the Confederate army at Vicksburg in July 1863 further dampened the morale of both the soldiers and those on the home front. A number of Confederates deserted and headed back to their homes, vowing to sit out the war. From his post inAlabama, Private Richard B. Pittman of Marion County heard rumors by the summer of 1863 that times were “getting...bad...among our men at home and [they were] shooting one another.” Pittman asked his wife “...if they were conscripting and arresting them that run off home for I am anxious to see what will be done about them...” and alluded to the fact that men who had sacrificed by serving in the war would be “disheartened” if no action was taken. The Confederate government sent MajorAmos McLemore, the commander of Company B, 7th Battalion, Mississippi Regiment, to round up deserters in the Piney Woods inAugust 1863.Although he was against secession before the war, McLemore raised Company B, known as the Rosin Heels, in Jones County in September 1861.After he successfully conscripted more than 100 men in two months, an unknown assailant shot and killed McLemore on October 5, 1863, in the home ofAmos Deason in Ellisville, Mississippi. The primary suspect in the shooting was Newton “Newt” Knight. Despite his earlier enlistment in the Confederate Army in the fall of 1862, Knight left his unit and became a deserter. Making his way across the Mississippi countryside, Knight returned to Jones County only to be captured and sent back to the Confederate army. General Grant ordered the parole of the majority of the prisoners from the fall of Vicksburg, with Knight’s unit, the 7th Mississippi Battalion, among their number. Sometime late in the summer of 1863, Knight once again deserted the Confederate Army and returned home to Jones County, resolved not to return to the military service for the Confederacy. Whether Newt Knight actually murdered McLemore is uncertain, but only one week later Knight formed a company of men some 125 strong. Officially known as the Jones County Scouts, the more popular name of the group was the Knight band after their elected leader, Newt Knight. The goal of the company was to protect one another and to serve the interests of the United States government. The Knight band was a formidable group of men, essentially a paramilitary group organized to oppose the Confederacy. The gang protected deserters, but they also threatened local government officials. Out of their actions, the legend of the Free State of Jones arose. While Knight and his men certainly held a great deal of power in Jones and surrounding counties, the county never officially seceded from the Confederate States of America. By 1864, however, their actions were known outside of the local area, and they became marked men. In February 1864, General Leonidas Polk ordered a force of 500 men under Colonel Dabney Maury to suppress Knight’s company. Maury sent his son, Colonel Henry Maury, to the Piney Woods with a cavalry troop, and they met with little success. The Knight band raided Confederate supplies from Wayne County south to the Honey Island Swamp on the Pearl River. Greene County officer Wirt Thomson of the 24th Mississippi noted: “Government depots filled with supplies have been either robbed or burned. Gin-houses, dwelling houses, and barns, and the courthouse of Greene County, have been destroyed by fire. Bridges have been burned and ferry-boats sunk on almost every stream and at almost every ferry to obstruct the passage of troops; their pickets and vendettas lie concealed in swamps and thickets on the roadside; spies watch the citizens and eavesdrop their houses at night….” Polk realized something drastic must be done to reinforce the local government in the region. To head a new sweep of the area, he chose Colonel Robert Lowry. A former resident of Smith County, Lowry enlisted in the war The surrender and dissolution of the Confederacy signaled the beginning of Reconstruction in Mississippi.