During the Great Depression in the 1930s, the U.S. government’s Works Projects Administration undertook a number of efforts to help the unemployed retain their skills. While critics saw it as creating a huge army loyal to President Roosevelt, the WPA did employ some 8.5 million people in a wide variety of areas.
One of those efforts was the Writers’ Project, which, among other projects, produced travel guides to cities and states across the United States. Writers also collected oral histories of still-living Americans who had experienced extraordinary events, like the Civil War.
War and Reconstruction in Mississippi 1861-1875 was one such work. It focused on the town of Holly Springs in Marshall County, in the northern part of the state. Holly Springs was noteworthy for a number of reasons, not least of which was that it had changed hands 57 times during the Civil War. Before the war, it had been a prosperous town in a planter- and slave-based economy. During the Reconstruction period, it was occupied by a federal garrison and experienced Republican political control.
The WPA document assembled a history of the town and its founding, its experiences during the war as recounted by still living inhabitants, the role of Freedman’s Bureau during Reconstruction, and how the former Confederates eventually regained political control by stuffing the ballot box for the Democrats.
The document was edited and republished by Charles Mills in 2010. While some 60 to 70 years intervened between the events and how people remembered them, it still remains a valuable resource for what people on all sides experienced during the war and what followed.
Mills is also the author of Gold, Murder and Monsters in the Superstition Mountains, Legends of the Superstition Mountains, Death and Delusion in the Superstition Mountains, Treasure Legends of the Civil War, Love, Sex and Marriage in the Civil War, Civil War Civilian Life: Manassas, Virginia (Battle of Bull Run), and several other works on historical subjects. He is the producer and co-host of Virginia Time Travel, a TV program seen by two million viewers in northern Virginia, which is also where he lives (on land once owned by George Washington).
Top photograph: The New York Herald of Nov. 7, 1862, describing the expected move of Gen. Grant’s army southward toward Holly Springs.