For most of us, the role of Mississippi in the Civil War revolves around Vicksburg and the months-long siege of that Mississippi River city in 1863 by the army of Ulysses S. Grant. Vicksburg was a critical target for the Union; until it fell, it prevented Union control of the Mississippi River.
But for Mississippi, the war was far greater a force than only Vicksburg. Northern Mississippi, and cities like Corinth, Holly Springs, and Oxford, experienced the destruction of war before Vicksburg did. From early in the war, the Gulf Coast was effectively controlled by the Union Navy. The state’s citizens experienced increasing degrees of shortages of foodstuffs and basic necessities.
And then there was Jackson, the state capital.
Jackson was important primarily because of its railroads. Grant’s army, in a pincer movement, occupied Jackson once in 1863 because of those railroads and how they supplied Vicksburg. The rail lines were disrupted first, and then the Union Army turned back on Vicksburg. Once that city was surrendered on July 3, Grant once again turned his eye on Jackson.
What happened next is the subject of The Civil War Siege of Jackson, Mississippi by historian Jim Woodrick. As he notes, much of the siege works and battlefields involving Jackson have long been paved over and developed; there’s precious little left to show exactly where the military action happened. (As many times as I’ve been to Jackson and traveled through it, little did I know of what happened on what is now the area of the Mississippi Medical Center.)
The book is primarily a military history. Woodrick describes how Union forces converged on the capital city, how the Confederate army of Joseph Johnston dug in, the movement of Union forces in nearby towns like Canton, how part of the siege was conducted from the grounds of the State Insane Asylum overlooking the capital, and how and why Johnston determined to abandon the city and move to the east.
The story includes small, fascinating details, like how the piano at a local home survived the siege and subsequent looting and burning and eventually found a home in the Civil War Museum in New Orleans. And Woodrick describes the side activities, including how a Union troop found its way to Brookhaven, some 75 miles south, wreaking more havoc and capturing some 200 Confederate conscripts at the camp there. (I mention Brookhaven because my ancestors were living there at the time.) He also considers how much damage was actually done to the capital, which for years afterward was referred to as “Chimneyville,” for what was left of so many burned buildings.
A native of Meridian Mississippi, Woodrick was graduated from Millsaps College in Jackson. Since 1997, he has served on the staff of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH), notably as the Civil War sites historian, and is currently the director of the MDAH Historic Preservation Division.
The Civil War Siege of Jackson, Mississippi is a compact, fact-filled account of how a Confederate state capital experienced the Civil War and eventually fell to Union forces. Woodrick tells a fascinating, concise story.
Top photo: A view of the Mississippi state capital after the siege. The capital building survived.