Date of Award
Honors College Thesis
In the Civil War era, Mississippi was a house divided. Secessionists were in a never ending conflict with pro-Unionists in the 1850’s and into 1860 over secession. These clashes even spilled over into the war as Confederates skirmished with pro-Unionists, as well as groups of people that became known as anti-Confederates (these being people that did not support the Union, but did not agree with the policies of the Confederacy). The division in Mississippi had become so bad that many men refused to join the army, some deserted after conscription, while others supported the Union in any way possible. In 1863, the United States formed a battalion containing men from in and around Mississippi, who was willing to fight the Confederate Army, called the 1st Mississippi Mounted Rifles. Over 600 men enlisted into the battalion for various reasons. Many signed on to truly fight for the Union, while others stayed long enough to collect one or two bounties and then desert, often taking their horse and gun. For those that truly desired to serve the United States, they were never going to be a determining factor in the war, as the course for a brutal and destructive end was already set in motion. But their role was very important as they had to fight the army under General Nathan B. Forrest that could have slowed Sherman’s March, thus prolonging the war.
During its existence, the men of the battalion were given the objective of protecting the Federal base at Memphis, as well as venturing on several expeditions into Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri, thus taking the fight to the already crumbling Confederate forces and destroying any and all remaining Rebel property. This is where life as a soldier in the 1st Mississippi became very difficult. Mississippians had to go into their own state with the task of suppressing any armed resistance, which included fellow Mississippians that were fighting for the Confederate Army.
The story of Mississippians fighting against the C.S.A. is not unusual. One man has been the focus of many historians, and has become a larger than life legend; almost like a nineteenth century Robin Hood. This story of, course is that of Newton Knight and the Free State of Jones. The story of Knight is something that remains highly debated. In short, he was a citizen of Jones County and enlisted into the Confederate Army, only to desert and become nothing more than a fugitive on the run with friends and family, having several run-ins with Confederate forces. Another well known story is a memoir written by Mississippian Levi Naron, who served as a scout for the Union during the Civil War.
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Johnson, Beau, "1st Mississippi Mounted Rifles: Mississippi’s Union Battalion in the Civil War" (2012). Honors Theses. 41.