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The Clinton home front in 1862

By Dr. Walter G. Howell

While the Mississippi College Rifles fought in the Peninsular Campaign in the summer of 1862, people in Clinton experienced the shortages and inconveniences that war brings to a civilian population at home. President Lincoln’s blockage in April 1861 closed southern ports, and cotton grown around Clinton lost access to foreign markets. The blockade resulted in shortages of anything manufactured.
Civilian hardships in no way compared to what the Confederate soldiers were experiencing on the battle front. At home, everything was more expensive if it was available. Shoes in 1862 cost $25 to $30 a pair, compared to $6 in 1861. Coffee sold for $4 a pound, when available. A sack of salt (twenty-five pounds) sold for $75 to $100. With no known sources of salt in 1862, Mississippi had to import salt from Alabama and Louisiana.
Newsprint had to be imported from Alabama, and The Hinds County Gazette was reduced to two pages and then a half page in 1862. The Gazette reported on the progress of the war until the spring of 1863.
There was no shortage of paper money, as both the state and Confederate governments printed bank notes redeemable with bales of cotton. Merchants and bankers preferred federal currency, but had to accept what was offered. Bartering took the place of commerce.
Walter Hillman’s Female Institute remained open throughout the war, the only school in Mississippi to do so. Many Hillman students paid their tuition with food. Parents loaded wagons with produce, cotton, fresh port, molasses and corn meal – “a currency that did not depreciate in value.”
Students at the Institute corresponded with the Rifles on the battlefront. In 1862, Jannie Carloss wrote an essay, “The Battlefields of Virginia,” based on her boyfriend’s eyewitness account of the Battle of Manassas. She praised Stonewall Jackson, as the general who terrified the enemy and would free Virginia of Yankee soldiers.
Mississippi College lost most of its student body to the Confederate military in 1861. The college division closed in 1862, but President Isaac Urner taught preparatory students when circumstances allowed. Captain Johnston Welborn, after recovering from his wound of 1861 and a brief stint with the local militia, assisted Urner at the college. The president gave Welborn the task of collecting a debt owed the college since before the war, when Welborn sold a horse for the college. The buyer, a Mr. Nebring, had never paid. Urner instructed Welborn to collect the debt, but to not accept Confederate money.
After a year of war, the patriotic fever that swept Mississippi in 1861 began to weaken. Small farmers called into state service felt they were fighting someone else’s war. When the Confederate Congress passed the “twenty negro law” in 1862, Clinton planter Ulysses Moffett won a draft exemption for his oldest son, Cowles Mead Moffett, and his over-seer. Moffett lost two other sons at Malvern Hill in the summer of 1862. A third son in uniform, Ulysses, Jr., was discharged by the Richmond government.
Fighting in North Mississippi brought the war closer to Clinton. Confederate authorities sent casualties to Clinton, where the bottom floor of the college chapel was converted to a hospital. The resort at Mississippi Springs, five miles south of Clinton, also became a Confederate hospital.
Vicksburg, the “Gibraltar of the South,” became the Union General Grant’s major objective late in the year. He sent General Sherman on an expedition through the state on the eastern side of the Mississippi River to Chickasaw Bluffs, north of Vicksburg, in December of 1862. Confederate forces repulsed Sherman. The area around Clinton was soon to become a major theatre of war.


Editor’s note: 2011 marked the beginning of the sesquicentennial observation of the American Civil War. This is the twelfth in a series of pieces by Dr. Walter Howell that will follow the movements of the Mississippi College Rifles, the fate of Clintonians  involved in the fighting and other events on the home front.

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