Mississippi in the American Civil War

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State of Mississippi
Flag of Mississippi
State seal of Mississippi
Flag (1861)
Coat of arms
Nickname(s): "The Magnolia State"
Map of the United States with Mississippi highlighted
Capital Jackson
Largest city Jackson
Admission to Confederacy  February 4, 1861 (2nd)
Population 790,530 Total
* 353,899 free
* 436,631 slave
Forces supplied Total
* soldiers
* sailors
* marines
Casualties  dead
Major garrisons/armories 
Governor John Pettus (1859–1863)
Charles Clark (1863–1865)
Lieutenant Governor None
Senators Albert Brown (1862–1865)
James Phelan, Sr. (1862–1864)
John Watson (1864–1865)
Representatives List
Restored to the Union February 23, 1870

Mississippi was the second southern U.S. state to declare its secession from the Union on January 9, 1861. With its Secession Ordinance, Mississippi joined with six other southern slave-holding states to form the Confederacy a month later, on February 4, 1861. Mississippi's location along the lengthy Mississippi River made it strategically important to both the Union and the Confederacy; dozens of battles were fought in the state as armies repeatedly clashed near key towns and cities.

Mississippian troops fought in every major theater of the American Civil War, although most were concentrated in the Western Theater. The only Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, though born in Kentucky, spent his formative years in Mississippi. Prominent Mississippian generals during the war included William Barksdale, Carnot Posey, Wirt Adams, Earl Van Dorn, Robert Lowry and Benjamin G. Humphreys.

Secession and Mississippian politics[edit]

For years prior to the American Civil War, Mississippi had voted heavily for the Democrats, especially as the Whigs declined in their influence. During the 1860 presidential election, the state supported Southern Democrat candidate John C. Breckinridge, giving him 40,768 votes (59.0% of the total of 69,095 ballots cast). John Bell, the candidate of the Constitutional Union Party, came in a distant second with 25,045 votes (36.25% of the total), with Stephen A. Douglas, a northern Democrat, receiving 3,282 votes (4.75%). Abraham Lincoln, who won the national election, was not on the ballot in Mississippi.[1][2] According to one Mississippian newspaper:

The slavery controversy in the United States presents a case of the most violent antagonism of interests and opinions. No persuaions, no entreaties or appeals, can allay the fierce contention between the two...
— Mississippi Free Trader, (August 28, 1857).[3]

Long a hotbed of secessionist sentiment, support for slavery, and southern states' rights, Mississippi declared its secession from the United States on January 9, 1861, and joined the Confederacy less than a month later. The state issued a declaration of their reasons for seceding, proclaiming that "[o]ur position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery--the greatest material interest of the world".[4] Fulton Anderson, a Mississippian lawyer, delivered a speech to the Virginian secession convention in 1861, in which he declared that "grievances of the Southern people on the slavery question" and their opposition to the Republican Party's goal of "the ultimate extinction of slavery" were the primary catalysts of the state in declaring secession.[5] Mississippian judge Alexander Hamilton Handy also shared this view, opining of the "black" Republican Party that:

The first act of the black republican party will be to exclude slavery from all the territories, from the District of Columbia, the arsenals and the forts, by the action of the general government. That would be a recognition that slavery is a sin, and confine the institution to its present limits. The moment that slavery is pronounced a moral evil, a sin, by the general government, that moment the safety of the rights of the south will be entirely gone.
— Judge Alexander Hamilton Handy, (February 1861).[6]

Along with South Carolina, Mississippi was one of only two states in the Union in 1860 in which the majority of the state's population were slaves.[7] According to Mississippian Democrat Jefferson Davis, Mississippi joined the Confederacy because it "has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal", a sentiment perceived as being threatening slavery, and because the "Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races".[8]

Although there were small pockets of citizens who remained sympathetic to the Union, the vast majority of free Mississippians embraced the Confederate cause, and thousands flocked to the military. Around 80,000 white men from Mississippi fought in the Confederate army; some 500 white Mississippians fought for the Union. As the war progressed, a considerable number of freed or escaped slaves joined the United States Colored Troops and similar black regiments. More than 17,000 black Mississippi slaves and freedmen fought for the Union.[9]

Portions of northwestern Mississippi were under Union occupation on January 1, 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. All of Mississippi had been declared "in rebellion" in the Proclamation, and Union forces accordingly began to free slaves in the occupied areas of Mississippi at once.[10]

Mississippian towns during the war[edit]


Corinth's location at the junction of two railroads made it strategically important. Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard retreated there after the Battle of Shiloh, pursued by Union Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck. Beauregard abandoned the town when Halleck approached, letting it fall into Union hands. Since Halleck approached so cautiously, digging entrenchments at every stop for over a month, this action has been known as the Siege of Corinth.

Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans moved to Corinth as well and concentrated his force with Halleck later in the year to again attack the city. The Battle of Corinth took place on October 3–4, 1862, when Confederate Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn attempted to retake the city. The Confederate troops won back the city but were quickly forced out when Union reinforcements arrived.


Despite its small population, Jackson became a strategic center of manufacturing for the Confederacy. In 1863, during the campaign which ended in the capture of Vicksburg, Union forces captured Jackson during two battles—once before the fall of Vicksburg and again soon after its fall.

On May 13, 1863, Union forces won the first Battle of Jackson, forcing Confederate forces to flee northward towards Canton. Subsequently, on May 15 Union troops under William Tecumseh Sherman burned and looted key facilities in Jackson. After driving the Confederates out of Jackson, Union forces turned west once again and soon placed Vicksburg under siege. Confederates began to reassemble in Jackson in preparation for an attempt to break through the Union lines now surrounding Vicksburg. Confederates marched out of Jackson to break the siege in early July. However, unknown to them, Vicksburg had already surrendered on July 4. Union Army general Ulysses S. Grant dispatched Sherman to meet the Confederate forces. Upon learning that Vicksburg had already surrendered, the Confederates retreated back into Jackson, thus beginning the Siege of Jackson, which lasted for approximately one week before the town fell.


During the Civil War, Natchez remained largely undamaged. The city surrendered to Flag-Officer David G. Farragut after the fall of New Orleans in May 1862.[11] One civilian, an elderly man, was killed during the war, when in September 1863, a Union ironclad shelled the town from the river and he promptly died of a heart attack. Union soldiers sent by Ulysses S. Grant from Vicksburg occupied Natchez in 1863. The local commander, General Thomas Ransom, established headquarters at a home called Rosalie.[12]

Ellen Shields's memoir reveals a Confederate woman's reactions to Union occupation of the city. Shields was a member of the local elite and her memoir points to the upheaval of Confederate society during the war. According to historian Joyce Broussard, Shields's memoir indicates that Confederate men, absent because of the war, were seen to have failed in their homes and in the wider community, forcing the women to use their class-based femininity and their sexuality to deal with the Union Army.[13]

The 340 planters who each owned 250 or more slaves in the Natchez region in 1860 were not enthusiastic Confederates. The support these slaveholders had for the Confederacy was problematic because they were fairly recent arrivals to the Confederacy, opposed secession, and held social and economic ties to the Union. These elite planters also lacked a strong emotional attachment to the South; however, when war came, many of their sons and nephews joined the Confederate army.[14] On the other hand, Charles Dahlgren arrived from Philadelphia and made his fortune before the war. He did support the Confederacy and led a brigade, but was sharply criticized for failing to defend the Gulf Coast. When the Union Army came he moved to Georgia for the duration. He returned in 1865 but never recouped his fortune; He went bankrupt and in 1870 he gave up and moved to New York City.[15]

Bishop Elder of Natchez

A few residents showed their defiance of Union authorities. In 1864, the Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Natchez, William Henry Elder, refused to obey a Union order to compel his parishioners to pray for the U.S. president. In response, Union forces arrested Elder, convicted him, and jailed him briefly.

The memory of the war remains important for the city, as white Natchez became much more pro-Confederate after the war. The Lost Cause myth arose as a means for coming to terms with the Confederacy's defeat. It quickly became a definitive ideology, strengthened by its celebratory activities, speeches, clubs, and statues. The major organizations dedicated to maintaining the tradition were the United Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. At Natchez, although the local newspapers and veterans played a role in the maintenance of the Lost Cause, elite women particularly were important, especially in establishing memorials such as the Civil War Monument dedicated on Memorial Day 1890. The Lost Cause enabled women noncombatants to lay a claim to the central event in their redefinition of Southern history.[16]


Vicksburg was the site of the Battle of Vicksburg, an important battle in which the Union forces gained control of the entire Mississippi River. The battle consisted of a long siege, which was necessary because the town was on high ground, well fortified, and difficult to attack directly. The capture of Vicksburg and the simultaneous defeat of Lee at Gettysburg marked the turning point in the Civil War.


Greenville was a pivotal village for Grant's northern operations in Mississippi during the Vicksburg campaign. The area of the Delta surrounding Greenville was considered the "breadbasket" for providing Vicksburg's military with corn, hogs, beef, mules and horses. Beginning at the end of March 1863, Greenville was the target of General Frederick Steele's Expedition. The design of this expedition was to reconnoiter Deer Creek as a possible route to Vicksburg and to create havoc and cause damage to confederate soldiers, guerrillas, and loyal (Confederate) landowners. Highly successful, Steele's men seized almost 1000 head of livestock (horses, mules, and cattle) and burned 500,000 bushels of corn during their foray.[17] In addition to the damage done, the Union soldiers also acquired several hundred slaves, who, wishing to escape the bonds of slavery left their plantations and followed the troops from Rolling Fork back to Greenville. It was at this time that General Ulysses S. Grant determined that if any of the slaves chose to do so, they could cross the Union lines and become U.S. soldiers. The first black regiments were formed during the Greenville expedition, and by the end of the expedition nearly 500 ex-slaves were learning the "school of the soldier." General Steele's activity in the delta around Greenville pulled the attention of the Confederate leaders away from the Union activities on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River as they moved on Vicksburg. More importantly, it had serious consequences for the people and soldiers of Vicksburg who were now deprived of a most important source of supplies, food, and animals. In early May, as retaliation for Confederate artillery firing on shipping on the Mississippi River, Commander Selfridge of the U.S. Navy ordered ashore 67 marines and 30 sailors, landing near Chicot Island. Their orders were to "put to the torch" all homes and buildings of those citizens guilty of aiding and abetting Confederate forces. By the end of the day of May 9, the large and imposing mansions, barns, stables, cotton gins, overseer dwellings and slave quarters of the Blanton and Roach plantations were in ruins. Additional damage was done to Argyle Landing and Chicot Island and other houses, barns and outbuildings. The destruction of Greenville was completed on May 6 when a number of Union infantrymen slipped ashore from their boats and burned every building in the village but two (a house and a church).[18][19][20]


Columbus was an important hospital town early in the war. Columbus also had an arsenal that produced gunpowder as well as cannons and handguns. Columbus was targeted by the Union on at least two different occasions, but Union commanders failed to attack the town, due to the activities of Nathan Bedford Forrest and his men. Many of the casualties from the Battle of Shiloh were brought there, and thousands were buried in the town's Friendship Cemetery. Canton was an important rail and logistics center. Many wounded soldiers were treated in or transported through the city, and, as a consequence, it too has a large Confederate cemetery.

Meridian's strategic position at a major railroad junction made it the home of a Confederate arsenal, military hospital, and prisoner-of-war stockade, as well as the headquarters for a number of state offices. The disastrous Chunky Creek Train Wreck of 1863 happened 30 miles from Meridian, when the train was en route to the Vicksburg battle. After the Vicksburg campaign, Sherman's Union forces turned eastward. In February 1864, his army reached Meridian, where they destroyed the railroads and burned much of the area to the ground. After completing this task, Sherman is reputed to have said, "Meridian no longer exists."

A makeshift shipyard was established on the Yazoo River at Yazoo City after the Confederate loss of New Orleans. The shipyard was destroyed by Union forces in 1863. Then, Yazoo City fell back into Confederate hands. Union forces retook the city the following year and burned most of the buildings in the city.

Battles in Mississippi[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Leip, David. 1860 Presidential Election Results. Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections (October 21, 2006).
  2. ^ "American President:Abraham Lincoln:Campaigns and Elections". Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia. Retrieved 2009-04-22. 
  3. ^ "Mississippi Free Trader". Mississippi Free Trader. Mississippi: Mississippi Free Trader. August 28, 1857. Retrieved September 12, 2015. The slavery controversy in the United States presents a case of the most violent antagonism of interests and opinions. No persuaions, no entreaties or appeals, can allay the fierce contention between the two mutually repulsive elements of our system. 
  4. ^ "A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union". 
  5. ^ Anderson, Fulton (1861). "Speech of Fulton Anderson to the Virginia Convention". Civil War Causes. Retrieved July 25, 2011. 
  6. ^ Rhea, Gordon (January 2011). "Why Non-Slaveholding Southeners Fought". Address to the Charleston Library Society. Civil War Trust. Retrieved August 2, 2015. 
  7. ^ University of Virginia Library Historical Census Browser
  8. ^ Davis, Jefferson (January 21, 1861). "Jefferson Davis's Last Speech Before the U.S. Senate On Withdrawal from the Union". Washington. Retrieved September 6, 2013. 
  9. ^ Mississippi Soldiers in the Civil War
  10. ^ Ira Berlin et al., eds, Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation 1861-1867, Vol. 1: The Destruction of Slavery (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 260
  11. ^ Mahan, A.T., Capt. USN. The Navy in the Civil War. Sampson Low, Marston, & Company, Ltd. London, UK. 1898.
  12. ^ "A Brief History of Rosalie Mansion", Official Website
  13. ^ Joyce L.. Broussard, "Occupied Natchez, Elite Women, and the Feminization of the Civil War," Journal of Mississippi History, Summer 2008, Vol. 70 Issue 2, pp 179–208
  14. ^ William K. Scarborough, "Not Quite Southern," Prologue, Winter 2004, Vol. 36 Issue 4, pp 20–29
  15. ^ Herschel Gower, Charles Dahlgren of Natchez: The Civil War and Dynastic Decline (2003)
  16. ^ Melody Kubassek, "Ask Us Not to Forget: The Lost Cause in Natchez, Mississippi," Southern Studies, 1992, Vol. 3 Issue 3, pp 155–170
  17. ^ "War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies" (O.R.) Series I, Vol XXIV,Pt I, p 502.
  18. ^ "War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies" (O.R.) Series I, Vol XXIV,Pt II, p 144.
  19. ^ Diary of Lt. Geo Hale, 33rd Wisconsin
  20. ^ Diary of Lt. Anthony Burton, 5th battery, Ohio Artillery

Further reading[edit]

  • Ballard, Michael B. The Civil War in Mississippi: Major Campaigns and Battles (University Press of Mississippi; 2011) 320 pages; covers Vicksburg, Iuka and Corinth, Meridian, Brice's Crossroads, and Tupelo.
  • Frisby, Derek W. Campaigns in Mississippi and Tennessee, February-December 1864 (Center of Military History; 2014) 67 pages.
  • Rainwater, Percy Lee. Mississippi: storm center of secession, 1856-1861 (1938)
  • Smith, Timothy B. Mississippi in the Civil War: The Home Front (Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2010)

External links[edit]