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American Civil War
Mississippi was the second southern state to declare secession from the Union on January 9, 1861. Mississippi joined with six other southern states to form the Confederacy a month later. Mississippi's location along the lengthy Mississippi River made it strategically important to both the North and South; dozens of battles were fought in the state as armies repeatedly clashed near key towns and cities.
Mississippi troops fought in every major theater of the Civil War, although most were concentrated in the Western Theater. The only president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, though born in Kentucky, spent his formative years in Mississippi. Prominent Mississippi generals during the war included William Barksdale, Carnot Posey, Wirt Adams, Earl Van Dorn, Robert Lowry, and Benjamin G. Humphreys.
For years prior to the Civil War, Mississippi had heavily voted Democratic, 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 of the Northern Democrats receiving 3,282 votes (4.75%). Abraham Lincoln, who won the national election, was not on the ballot in Mississippi.
Long a hotbed of secession and states' rights, Mississippi declared its independence from the United States on January 9, 1861, briefly forming the Republic of Mississippi before joining the Confederacy less than a month later. The state issued a Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union, proclaiming that "[o]ur position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery--the greatest material interest of the world". With South Carolina, Mississippi was one of only two states in the Union in 1860 where the majority of the population were slaves. Although there were small pockets of citizens who remained sympathetic to the Union, the vast majority of 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.
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.
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 Second 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. 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. 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 troops sent by U. S. Grant from Vicksburg occupied Natchez in 1863. The local commander, General Thomas Ransom, established headquarters at a home called Rosalie.
Ellen Shields's memoir reveals a Southern women's reactions to Yankee occupation of the city. Shields was a member of the local elite and her memoir points to the upheaval of Southern society during the War. Southern 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 Yankees.
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 South, opposed secession, and held social and economic ties to the North. 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. 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 Yankees 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.
A few residents showed their defiance of the Federal authorities. In 1864, the Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Natchez, William Henry Elder, refused to obey a Federal order to compel his parishioners to pray for the President of the United States. In response, the Federals 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 South'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.
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. 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 U. S. Grant determined that if any of the slaves chose, they could cross the Union lines and become 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).
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 Federal 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.
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