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Abstract

On Friday, May 31, 1861, a 24 year-old lawyer turned volunteer company commander gathered his unit of eighty men in the small central Mississippi town of Raleigh, the county seat of Smith County. The above quote described the scene that day as the soldiers and their families shared their last moments before the troops left for war. The company, nicknamed the “Smith Defenders,” would march the next day to Brandon, Mississippi and then continue onward via railroad to the state capital at Jackson. In both Brandon and Jackson, citizens greeted them with pomp and circumstance, characteristic of the early days of the war. The unit formed part of the 16th Mississippi Regiment, Company H, and would see action in Virginia under Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Many of the young soldiers who departed that day did indeed receive their last farewell from family and friends.

The young company commander, elected as Captain of his unit, was William Harris Hardy. He survived the war to become one of the foremost boosters of south Mississippi in the postwar period. A lawyer, politician, and judge, Hardy also made his mark in the post-Civil War era by building two railroad lines and founding the Mississippi cities of Hattiesburg, Laurel and Gulfport. Although his latter career is widely known, Hardy’s participation in the war as a young man is often overlooked, and this special Civil War Sesquicentennial edition of the Primary Source offers an opportunity to elaborate on the man and to highlight his archival legacy. This article will serve two purposes. The first is to provide a brief biography of Hardy and his Civil War career. The second will be to identify and highlight special collections materials either created by Hardy or which support the study of his life during the Civil War Era. Quotations from primary source materials in this article serve to illuminate the primary source materials and to illustrate Hardy’s eloquent prose.

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