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Slavery in Mississippi


General William T. Sherman
General William T. Sherman

Slavery was one of the most divisive political issues in Congress in the first half of the 19th century. Members of Congress from the Northern states pressed to end slavery, both because it was considered immoral and because white labor could not compete with unpaid black labor. Members from the Deep South (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida) believed that slavery was essential to their cotton-based agricultural system and that the North was trying to dominate the national economy. Both the slaveowners and nonslaveowners defended the system because they feared the consequences of abolitionism, the movement to end slavery totally and immediately.

By the 1850s, Southerners saw their power slipping in Congress, the clamor by Northern abolitionists was at a high pitch, and many in the South came to believe that secession from the Union was the only way to protect “Southern rights,” including the right to own slaves. A secession movement, led by extremists in Mississippi and other slave states, arose in 1850. It failed, however, when Congress passed the Compromise Measures of 1850, temporarily reconciling North and South on the issue of slavery.

In 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected president as the candidate of the Republican Party, which opposed the spread of slavery. The state of South Carolina, which had threatened to secede if the Republicans won, did so in December 1860.

On January 9, 1861, Mississippi became the second state to secede. The next month, after five more states had seceded, the breakaway states organized as the Confederate States of America and began mobilizing for the war that was expected to follow.

As their president the Confederates elected Mississippi cotton planter Jefferson Davis, a U.S. senator and former U.S. secretary of war. The American Civil War began officially on April 12, 1861, when Confederate artillery bombarded a federal fort in Charleston harbor.

The major military campaign in Mississippi during the war was the long Union Army drive leading to the capture of Vicksburg in July 1863. The loss of Vicksburg was a shattering blow because the city was the last major Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. Early the next year a Union Army force under General William T. Sherman marched across the state from Vicksburg to Meridian. After the capture of Vicksburg, most Confederate troops were withdrawn from Mississippi. Some remained, however, under the leadership of Generals Nathan B. Forrest and Stephen D. Lee. These forces defeated several Union attempts to capture northeastern Mississippi in 1864, most notably in the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads, near Baldwyn, in June. In all, about 80,000 Mississippians fought for the confederacy. About 25,000 Mississippi soldiers, or one out of every three, died in the war from wounds and disease. "Mississippi" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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