By Dr. Walter G. Howell
After General Lee’s crushing defeat at Gettysburg, both Union and Confederate armies pulled back from further ﬁghting for the remainder of the year. Several Mississippi College Riﬂes took a furlough to recuperate from wounds suffered during the battle.
In early September 1863, the Confederate government directed General James Longstreet’s nine brigades (twenty-seven regiments) to Tennessee, where the Union army had taken control of most of the state, except Chattanooga and Knoxville. The 18th Mississippi Infantry Regiment and the Mississippi College Riﬂes were under Longstreet’s command.
Longstreet’s army moved by train through Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia, marching on Chickamauga on September 19, 1863. In that battle, Philip Roberts of Crystal Springs was killed, and Columbus Williams of Columbus was wounded and captured. The Riﬂes fought at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, but suffered no casualties. They took winter quarters at Russellville. A number of Riﬂes took furloughs during winter quarters and traveled to Mississippi. Three — Thomas Stanley, John Brent and Stephen Granberry — deserted while on leave and surrendered to Union forces in Mississippi.
Meanwhile, people in Clinton coped with the Confederate defeat and Union occupation. General Grant wanted slaves, now called “contraband,” to remain on the plantations and farms and continue working for their former owners, but now be compensated for their labor. The policy never worked because young, able-bodied “contraband” left the plantations to follow the Union army to Vicksburg. Older, less-productive “contraband” remained on the plantations, uncertain about their futures. The agricultural economy collapsed in Hinds County in the fall of 1863.
In early 1864, General Sherman began a march from Vicksburg to Meridian, intent on destroying the agricultural and transportation resources that supported the South’s war effort and demoralizing the civilian population. A Confederate cavalry detail under Colonel Wirt Adams was in Clinton, but pulled out “a breath ahead of the Yankees.” As Sherman passed the town, his artillery lobbed a few shells on Clinton, causing some destruction — but nothing like the burning and looting of the previous year. After burning the railroad center in Meridian, Sherman returned to Vicksburg. Grant had left Mississippi in the fall of 1863 to lead Union forces in Tennessee, and Sherman would soon leave for Georgia and the campaign that made his reputation.
The Union army maintained a presence in Vicksburg through the end of the war. When there were reports of Confederate activity east of the Big Black River, Union troops moved out of Vicksburg and pushed the Confederates back across the Pearl River. In March 1864, General James McPherson’s 17th Army Corps moved on Jackson to clear out Confederate forces in Hinds County. He sent two Union brigades to Clinton, where there were reports of Confederates. Union artillery shelled the town and drove the Rebels out.
With the Union army ever present, Clintonians wearily waited out the next two years of the war. They continued to seek information on the ﬁghting on the Virginia front. The Mississippi College Riﬂes were still in the ﬁght.
Editor’s note: 2011 marked the beginning of the sesquicentennial observation of the American Civil War. This is the twentieth in a series of pieces by Dr. Walter Howell, the City Historian, 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.