Sunday, August 25, 2013

Mississippi in the Civil War

Mississippi in the Civil War

Introduction

Two presidents and two opposing statements that altered our nation's history.
 
"17,000 of our escaped [Mississippi] slaves are fighting for the Union!?" Mississippi native and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
 
"Vicksburg is the KEY!" President Abraham Lincoln stated. "Capture Vicksburg and you control that mighty Mississippi River!"
 
General US Grant stated as he sieged Vicksburg, "The only surrender I will accept is an unconditional surrender!" Grant was now known as Unconditional Surrender (or US) Grant. 

Mississippi troops fought in every major theater of the Civil War, although most were concentrated in the Western Theater. The only president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, though born in Kentucky, spent his formative years in Mississippi. Prominent Mississippi generals during the war included William Barksdale, Carnot Posey, Wirt Adams, Earl Van Dorn, Robert Lowry, and Benjamin G. Humphreys. The major military operations came in the Shiloh and Corinth campaigns and the Siege of Vicksburg, from the spring of 1862 to the summer of 1863. The most important was the Vicksburg Campaign, fought for control of the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. The fall of the city to General Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, 1863, gave the Union control of the Mississippi River, cut off the western states, and made the Confederate cause in the west hopeless. See also Ten Bloodiest and Costliest Battles of the American Civil War.

Mississippi became the 20th state on December 10, 1817. Mississippi is a U.S. state located in the Southern United States. Jackson is the state capital and largest city. The name of the state derives from the Mississippi River, which flows along its western boundary, whose name comes from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi ("Great River").
 
(Photo) Mississippi citizen and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, ca. 1860 - ca. 1865.
Slavery
The first major European expedition into the territory that became Mississippi was that of the Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto, who passed through the northeast part of the state in 1540, in his second expedition to the New World. In April 1699, French colonists established the first European settlement at Fort Maurepas (also known as Old Biloxi), built at Ocean Springs and settled by Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville. In 1716, the French founded Natchez on the Mississippi River (as Fort Rosalie); it became the dominant town and trading post of the area. The French called the greater territory "New Louisiana"; the Spanish continued to claim the Gulf coast area of present-day southern Alabama and Florida.
Through the next decades, the area was ruled by Spanish, French and British colonial governments. The colonists imported African slaves as laborers. Under French and Spanish rule, there developed a class of free people of color (gens de couleur libres), mostly multiracial descendants of European men and enslaved women, and their children. In the early days the French and Spanish colonists were chiefly men. Even as more European women joined the settlements, the men had interracial unions among women of African descent (and increasingly, also European descent), both before and after marriages to European women. Often the European men would help their multiracial children get educated or have apprenticeships for trades, and sometimes settled property on them; they sometimes freed the mothers and their children if enslaved. With this social capital, the free people of color became artisans, sometimes educated merchants and property owners, forming a third class between the Europeans and most enslaved Africans in the French and Spanish settlements, although not so large a community as in New Orleans. After Great Britain's victory in the French and Indian War (Seven Years' War), the French surrendered the Mississippi area to them under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1763).
After the American Revolution, this area became part of the new United States of America. The Mississippi Territory was organized on April 7, 1798, from territory ceded by Georgia and South Carolina. It was later twice expanded to include disputed territory claimed by both the United States and Spain. From 1800 to about 1830, the United States purchased some lands (Treaty of Doak's Stand) from Native American tribes for new settlements of European Americans, who were mostly migrants from other Southern states. Many slaveholders brought slaves with them or purchased them through the internal slave market, especially New Orleans. They transported nearly one million slaves to the Deep South, including Mississippi, in a forced internal migration that broke up many slave families of the Upper South, where planters were selling excess slaves. The Southerners imposed their slave laws and restricted the rights of free blacks, according to their view of white supremacy.
On December 10, 1817, Mississippi was the 20th state admitted to the Union. David Holmes was elected as the first governor of the state. Plantations were developed primarily along the rivers, where waterfront gave them access to the major transportation routes. This is also where early towns developed, linked by the steamboats that carried commercial products and crops to markets. The backcountry remained largely undeveloped frontier.
When cotton was king during the 1850s, Mississippi plantation owners—especially those of the Delta and Black Belt regions—became wealthy due to the high fertility of the soil, the high price of cotton on the international market, and their assets in slaves. They used the profits to buy more cotton land and more slaves. The planters' dependence on hundreds of thousands of slaves for labor and the severe wealth imbalances among whites, played strong roles both in state politics and in planters' support for secession.
By 1860, the enslaved population numbered 436,631 or 55% of the state's total of 791,305. There were fewer than 1000 free people of color. The relatively low population of the state before the American Civil War (1961-1865) reflected the fact that land and villages were developed only along the riverfronts, which formed the main transportation corridors. Ninety percent of the Delta bottomlands were frontier and undeveloped. The state needed many more settlers for development.
 
(Photo) Map of the mighty Mississippi River. President Abraham Lincoln opined that Vicksburg, Mississippi, which was considered the Gibraltar of the Mississippi, was the "Key to winning the Civil War!" The river was vital because the South lacked rail, or track, so much of its goods were simply transported by rivers, such as the Mississippi. But the Union, the North, relied on the Mississippi for its constant, and much needed, transportation of large quantities of troops and supplies to its armies fighting in the Southern states. So he who controlled  Vicksburg, also controlled the Mississippi.
Sentiment

Mississippi was a stronghold of Jacksonian Democracy, which glorified the independent farmer; they even named their state capital in Jackson's honor. But dishonor was also rampant. Corruption and land speculation caused a severe blow to state credit in the years preceding the Civil War. Federally allocated funds were misused, tax collections embezzled, and finally, in 1853, two state-supported banks collapsed when their debts were repudiated. In the Second Party System (1820s to 1850s) Mississippi moved politically from a divided Whig and Democratic state to a one-party Democratic state bent on secession. Criticism from Northern abolitionists escalated after the Mexican War ended in 1848, causing an intense countercrusade that tried to identify and eliminate all dangerous abolitionist influences. White Mississippians became outspoken defenders of the slave system. An abortive secession attempt in 1850 was followed by a decade of political agitation during which the protection and expansion of slavery became their major goal. When Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860 with the goal seeking an eventual end of slavery, Mississippi followed South Carolina and seceded from the Union on Jan. 9, 1861. Mississippi's U.S. senator Jefferson Davis became president of the Confederate States.
 
Secession

For years prior to the Civil War, Mississippi had heavily voted Democratic, especially as the Whigs declined in their influence. During the 1860 presidential election, the state supported Southern Democrat candidate John C. Breckinridge, giving him 40,768 votes (59.0% of the total of 69,095 ballots cast). John Bell, the candidate of the Constitutional Union Party, came in a distant second with 25,045 votes (36.25% of the total), with Stephen A. Douglas of the Northern Democrats receiving 3,282 votes (4.75%). Abraham Lincoln, who won the national election, was not on the ballot in Mississippi.
Long a hotbed of secession and states' rights, Mississippi declared its independence from the United States on January 9, 1861, briefly forming the Republic of Mississippi before joining the Confederacy less than a month later. The state issued a Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Union, proclaiming that "[o]ur position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery--the greatest material interest of the world". With South Carolina, Mississippi was one of only two states in the Union in 1860 where the majority of the population were slaves. Although there were small pockets of citizens who remained sympathetic to the Union, the vast majority of Mississippians embraced the Confederate cause, and thousands flocked to the military.
Civil War
According to the 1860 U.S. census, Mississippi had a free population of 354,674 and an additional slave population of 436,631.
Approximately 80,000 men from Mississippi served in the Confederate Army, while 500 Mississippians fought for the Union. As the war progressed, a considerable number of freed or escaped slaves joined the United States Colored Troops and similar black regiments. More than 17,000 black Mississippi slaves and freedmen fought for the Union. A compilation made from the official rosters of the Confederate Armies as they stood at various battles, and at various dates covering the entire period of the war, shows that Mississippi kept the following number of organizations in almost continuous service in the field: 49 regiments, and 6 battalions of infantry; 7 regiments, and 4 battalions of cavalry; 2 regiments of partisan rangers; and 20 batteries of light artillery. During the Civil War, Mississippi suffered at least 15,000 killed and several thousands more wounded.
Mississippi troops fought in every major theater of the Civil War, although most were concentrated in the Western Theater. The only president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, though born in Kentucky, spent his formative years in Mississippi. Prominent Mississippi generals during the war included William Barksdale, Carnot Posey, Wirt Adams, Earl Van Dorn, Robert Lowry, and Benjamin G. Humphreys.
Mississippi was the second Southern state to declare secession from the Union on January 9, 1861. Mississippi joined with six other Southern states to form the Confederacy a month later. Mississippi's location along the lengthy Mississippi River made it strategically important to both the North and South; dozens of battles were fought in the state as armies repeatedly clashed near key towns and cities.

After each battle there was increased economic chaos and societal breakdown. State government during the course of the war was forced to move from Jackson to Enterprise, to Meridian and back to Jackson, to Meridian again and then to Columbus, Macon, and finally back to what was left of Jackson. The two wartime governors were fire-eater John J. Pettus, who carried the state into secession, whipped up the war spirit, began military and domestic mobilization, and prepared to finance the war. His successor, General Charles Clark, elected in 1863, although facing a deteriorating military and economic situation, remained committed to continuing the fight regardless of the cost. The war presented both men with enormous challenges in providing an orderly, stable government for Mississippi. There were no slave insurrections, as plantations turned to food production. The Union presence made it possible for planters to sell their cotton to Union Treasury agents for high prices, a sort of treason the Confederates were unable to stop.

The major military operations came in the Shiloh and Corinth campaigns and the Siege of Vicksburg, from the spring of 1862 to the summer of 1863. The most important was the Vicksburg Campaign, fought for control of the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. The fall of the city to General Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, 1863, gave the Union control of the Mississippi River, cut off the western states, and made the Confederate cause in the west hopeless. See also Ten Bloodiest and Costliest Battles of the American Civil War.

At the Battle of Grand Gulf, April 29, 1863, Admiral Porter led seven Union ironclads in an attack on the fortifications and batteries at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, with the intention of silencing the Confederate guns and then securing the area with troops of McClernand's XIII Corps who were on the accompanying transports and barges. The Confederates managed to win a hollow victory; the loss at Grand Gulf caused just a slight change in Grant's offensive. Grant won the Battle of Port Gibson. Advancing towards Port Gibson, Grant's army ran into Confederate outposts after midnight. Union forces advanced on the Rodney Road and a plantation road at dawn, and was met by Confederates. Grant forced the Confederates to fall back to new defensive positions several times during the day but they could not stop the Union onslaught and left the field in the early evening. This defeat demonstrated that the Confederates were unable to defend the Mississippi River line and the Federals had secured their beachhead. William Tecumseh Sherman's march from Vicksburg to Meridian was designed to destroy the railroad center of Meridian. The campaign was Sherman's first application of total war tactics, prefiguring his March to the Sea in Georgia in 1864. The Confederates had no better luck at the Battle of Raymond. On May 10, 1863, Pemberton sent troops from Jackson to Raymond, 20 miles to the southwest. Brig. Gen. over-strength brigade, having endured a grueling march from Port Hudson, Louisiana, arrived in Raymond late on May 11 and the next day tried to ambush a small Union raiding party. The raiding party turned out to be Maj. Gen. John A. Logan's Division of the XVII Corps. Gregg tried to hold Fourteen Mile Creek and a sharp battle ensued for six hours, but the overwhelming Union force prevailed and the Confederates retreated, exposing the Southern Railroad of Mississippi to Union forces, thus severing the lifeline of Vicksburg.
 
In April–May 1863 a major cavalry raid by Union colonel Benjamin H. Grierson raced through Mississippi and Louisiana, destroying railroads, telegraph lines, and Confederate weapons and supplies. The raid also served as a diversion for Grant's moves toward Vicksburg.
A Union expedition commanded by General Samuel D. Sturgis was opposed by Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest. They clashed at the Battle of Brice's Crossroads on June 10, 1864, as Forrest routed the Yankees in his greatest battlefield victory.
After the Confederate victory at the Battle of Brice's Crossroads, the supply lines for Sherman's armies in Georgia became increasingly vulnerable. Union Maj. Gen. A.J. Smith, commanding a combined force of more than 14,000 men, left LaGrange, Tennessee, on July 5, 1864, and advanced south. Smith’s mission was to insure that Maj. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest and his cavalry did not raid Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s railroad lifeline in Middle Tennessee and, thereby, prevent supplies from reaching him in his campaign against Atlanta.
The ensuing Battle of Tupelo (also known as Harrisburg) would be the last major battle in Mississippi.
Laying waste to the countryside as he advanced, Smith reached Pontotoc, Mississippi, on July 11. Forrest was in nearby Okolona with about 6,000 men, but his commander, Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee, told him he could not attack until he was reinforced. Two days later, Smith, fearing an ambush, moved east toward Tupelo. On the previous day, Lee arrived near Pontotoc with 2,000 additional men and, under his command, the entire Confederate force engaged Smith. Within two miles of the Federals, on the night of the 13th, Lee ordered an attack for the next morning. Lee attacked at 7:30 am the next morning in a number of uncoordinated assaults which the Yankees beat back, causing heavy casualties. Lee halted the fighting after a few hours. Short on rations, Smith did not pursue but started back to Memphis on the 15th. Criticized for not destroying Forrest’s command, Smith had caused much damage and had fulfilled his mission of insuring Sherman’s supply lines.
Jefferson Davis was captured on May 10, 1865, at Irwinville, Irwin County, Georgia. On May 19, 1865, Davis was imprisoned at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Although he was indicted for treason a year later, he was never tried. After two years of imprisonment, Davis was finally released on bail which was posted by prominent citizens of both Northern and Southern states, including Horace Greeley and Cornelius Vanderbilt. See also Southern States Secede: Secession of the South History.
Analysis and Aftermath
 
Portions of northwestern Mississippi had been under Union occupation on January 1, 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. All of Mississippi had been declared "in rebellion" in the Proclamation, and Union forces accordingly began to free slaves in the occupied areas of Mississippi at once. Slavery in the Confederate controlled areas, however, remained intact until Union forces conquered the state in 1865.
The war shattered the lives of all classes, high and low. Upper class ladies replaced balls and parties with bandage-rolling sessions and fund-raising efforts. But soon enough they found their world shattering as they lost brothers, sons and husbands to battlefield deaths and disease, lost their incomes and luxuries and instead had to deal with chronic shortages and poor ersatz substitutes for common items. They took on unexpected responsibilities, including the chores always left to slaves; they coped by focusing on survival. They maintained their family honor by upholding Confederate patriotism to the bitter end, and after the war became the champions of the "Los Cause." Less privileged white women were less wedded to honor and patriotism and in even more trouble as they immediately were forced to do double and triple work with the men gone; many became refugees in camps or fled to Union lines.
Black women and children had an especially hard time as the plantation regime collapsed and the only option was to find a refugee camp operated by the Union Army. Tens of thousands of freedmen died from cholera, yellow fever, diphtheria, dysentery, pneumonia, phthisis, convulsions, and other fevers. Death rates were especially high in informal refugee camps, and somewhat lower in the better-organized camps built by the Freedman's Bureau of the U.S. Army.

Columbus was an important hospital town early in the war. Columbus also had an arsenal that produced gun powder as well as cannons and handguns. Columbus was targeted by the Union on at least two different occasions but failed to attack the town due to Nathan Bedford Forrest and his men. Many of the casualties from the Battle of Shiloh were brought there, and thousands were buried in the town's Friendship Cemetery. 
Canton was an important rail and logistics center. Many wounded soldiers were treated in or transported through the city, and, as a consequence, it too has a large Confederate cemetery.
 
Meridian's strategic position at a major railroad junction made it the home of a Confederate arsenal, military hospital, and prisoner-of-war stockade, as well as the headquarters for a number of state offices. The disastrous Chunky Creek Train Wreck of 1863 happened 30 miles from Meridian which was en route to the Vicksburg battle. After the Vicksburg campaign, Sherman's Union forces turned eastward. In February 1864, his army reached Meridian, where they destroyed the railroads and burned much of the area to the ground. After completing this task, Sherman is reputed to have said, "Meridian no longer exists."
A makeshift shipyard was established on the Yazoo River at Yazoo City after the early Confederate loss of the South’s largest city, a port city, New Orleans. The shipyard was destroyed by Union forces in 1863, and Yazoo City returned to Confederate control. Union forces retook the city the following year and burned most of the buildings in the city.
Corinth's location at the junction of two railroads made it strategically important. Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard retreated there after the Battle of Shiloh, pursued by Union Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck. Beauregard abandoned the town when Halleck approached, letting it fall into Union hands. Since Halleck approached so cautiously, digging entrenchments at every stop for over a month, this action has been known as the Siege of Corinth. Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans moved to Corinth as well and concentrated his force with Halleck later in the year to again attack the city. The Second Battle of Corinth took place on October 3–4, 1862, when Confederate Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn attempted to retake the city. The Confederate troops won back the city but were quickly forced out when Union reinforcements arrived.
Despite its small population, Jackson became a strategic center of manufacturing for the Confederacy. In 1863, during the campaign which ended in the capture of Vicksburg, Union forces captured Jackson during two battles—once before the fall of Vicksburg and again soon after its fall. On May 13, 1863, Union forces won the first Battle of Jackson, forcing Confederate forces to flee northward towards Canton. Subsequently, on May 15 Union troops under William Tecumseh Sherman burned and looted key facilities Jackson. After driving the Confederates out of Jackson, Union forces turned west once again and soon placed Vicksburg under siege. Confederates began to reassemble in Jackson in preparation for an attempt to break through the Union lines now surrounding Vicksburg. Confederates marched out of Jackson to break the siege in early July. However, unknown to them, Vicksburg had already surrendered on July 4. General Ulysses S. Grant dispatched Sherman to meet the Confederate forces. Upon learning that Vicksburg had already surrendered, the Confederates retreated back into Jackson, thus beginning the Siege of Jackson, which lasted for approximately one week before the town fell.
During the Civil War, Natchez remained largely undamaged. The city surrendered to Flag-Officer David G. Farragut after the fall of New Orleans in May 1862. One civilian, an elderly man, was killed during the war, when in September 1863, a Union ironclad shelled the town from the river and he promptly died of a heart attack. Union troops sent by U. S. Grant from Vicksburg occupied Natchez in 1863. The local commander, General Thomas Ransom, established headquarters at a home called Rosalie. Ellen Shields's memoir reveals a Southern women's reactions to Yankee occupation of the city. Shields was a member of the local elite and her memoir points to the upheaval of Southern society during the War. Southern men, absent because of the war, were seen to have failed in their homes and in the wider community, forcing the women to use their class-based femininity and their sexuality to deal with the Yankees.
The 340 planters who each owned 250 or more slaves in the Natchez region in 1860 were not enthusiastic Confederates. The support these slaveholders had for the Confederacy was problematic because they were fairly recent arrivals to the South, opposed secession, and held social and economic ties to the North. These elite planters also lacked a strong emotional attachment to the South; however, when war came, many of their sons and nephews joined the Confederate army. On the other hand, Charles Dahlgren arrived from Philadelphia and made his fortune before the war. He did support the Confederacy and led a brigade, but was sharply criticized for failing to defend the Gulf Coast. When the Yankees came he moved to Georgia for the duration. He returned in 1865 but never recouped his fortune. He went bankrupt and in 1870, penniless, he moved to New York City.
A few residents showed their defiance of the Federal authorities. In 1864, the Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Natchez, William Henry Elder, refused to obey a Federal order to compel his parishioners to pray for the President of the United States. In response, the Federals arrested Elder, convicted him, and jailed him briefly.
The memory of the war remains important for the city, as white Natchez became much more pro-Confederate after the war. The Lost Cause myth arose as a means for coming to terms with the South's defeat. It quickly became a definitive ideology, strengthened by its celebratory activities, speeches, clubs, and statues. The major organizations dedicated to maintaining the tradition were the United Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. At Natchez, although the local newspapers and veterans played a role in the maintenance of the Lost Cause, elite women particularly were important, especially in establishing memorials such as the Civil War Monument dedicated on Memorial Day 1890. The Lost Cause enabled women noncombatants to lay a claim to the central event in their redefinition of Southern history.
Vicksburg was the site of the Battle of Vicksburg, an important battle in which the Union forces gained control of the entire Mississippi River. The battle consisted of a long siege, which was necessary because the town was on high ground, well-fortified, and difficult to attack directly. The capture of Vicksburg and the simultaneous defeat of Lee at Gettysburg marked the turning point of the Civil War. After its long siege, Vicksburg was in utter ruins when it surrendered to Grant on July 4, 1863, and its residents refused to celebrate the holiday for 81 years.
Greenville was a pivotal village for Grant's northern operations in Mississippi during the Vicksburg campaign. The area of the Delta surrounding Greenville was considered the "breadbasket" for providing Vicksburg's military with corn, hogs, beef, mules and horses. Beginning at the end of March, 1863, Greenville was the target of General Frederick Steele's Expedition. The design of this expedition was to reconnoiter Deer Creek as a possible route to Vicksburg and to create havoc and cause damage to confederate soldiers, guerrillas, and loyal (Confederate)landowners. Highly successful, Steele's men seized almost 1000 head of livestock (horses, mules, and cattle) and burned 500,000 bushels of corn during their foray. In addition to the damage done, the Union soldiers also acquired several hundred slaves, who, wishing to escape the bonds of slavery left their plantations and followed the troops from Rolling Fork back to Greenville. It was at this time that General U. S. Grant determined if any of the slaves chose, they could cross the Union lines and become soldiers. The first black regiments were formed during the Greenville expedition, and by the end of the expedition nearly 500 ex-slaves were learning the "school of the soldier." General Steele's activity in the delta around Greenville pulled the attention of the Confederate leaders away from the Union activities on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River as they moved on Vicksburg. More importantly, it had serious consequences for the people and soldiers of Vicksburg who were now deprived of a most important source of supplies, food, and animals. In early May, as retaliation for Confederate artillery firing on shipping on the Mississippi River, Commander Selfridge of the U.S. Navy ordered ashore 67 marines and 30 sailors, landing near Chicot Island. Their orders were to "put to the torch" all homes and buildings of those citizens guilty of aiding and abetting Confederate forces. By the end of the day of May 9th, the large and imposing mansions, barns, stables, cotton gins, overseer dwellings and slave quarters of the Blanton nd Roach plantations were in ruins. Additional damage was done to Argyle Landing and Chicot Island and other houses, barns and outbuildings. The destruction of Greenville was completed on May 6th when a number of Union infantrymen slipped ashore from their boats and burned every building in the village but two (a house and a church).
 
Reconstruction

Mississippi attempted to modernize its plantation economy after the end of slavery. The legislature enacted policies to attract Northern capital, including huge land grants to railroads, and almost no taxes for railroads and other corporations.
During Reconstruction, the first Mississippi constitutional convention in 1868, with delegates both black and white, framed a constitution whose major elements would last for 22 years. The convention was the first political organization to include African-American representatives, 17 among the 100 members. Some were freedmen, but others were free blacks who had migrated from the North. Although 32 counties had black majorities, they elected whites as well as blacks to represent them. The convention adopted universal suffrage; did away with property qualifications for suffrage or for office, a change that also benefited poor whites; provided for the state's first public school system; forbade race distinctions in the possession and inheritance of property; and prohibited limiting civil rights in travel. Under the terms of Reconstruction, Mississippi was restored to the Union on February 23, 1870.
While Mississippi typified the Deep South in passing Jim Crow laws in the late 19th century and a constitution in 1890 that essentially disfranchised blacks, its history was more complex. Because the Mississippi Delta contained so much fertile bottomland that had not been developed before the Civil War, 90 percent of the land was still frontier. After the Civil War, tens of thousands of migrants were attracted to the area. They could earn money by clearing the land and selling timber, and eventually advance to ownership. The new farmers included freedmen, who achieved unusually high rates of land ownership in the Mississippi bottomlands. In the 1870s and 1880s, many black farmers succeeded in gaining land ownership.
By the turn of the 20th century, two-thirds of the farmers in Mississippi who owned land in the Delta were African American. Many were able to keep going through difficult years of falling cotton prices only by extending their debts. Cotton prices fell throughout the decades following the Civil War. As another agricultural depression lowered cotton prices into the 1890s, however, numerous African-American farmers finally had to sell their land to pay off debts, thus losing the land which they had developed by personal labor.
White legislators created a new constitution in 1890, with electoral and voter registration provisions that effectively disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites. Estimates are that 100,000 black and 50,000 white men were removed from voter registration rolls over the next few years. The loss of political influence contributed to the difficulties of African Americans in their attempts to obtain extended credit in the late nineteenth century. Together with Jim Crow laws, the increased frequency of lynchings beginning in the 1890s as whites worked to impose supremacy, failure of the cotton crops due to boll weevil infestation, and successive severe flooding in 1912 and 1913, created crisis conditions for many African Americans. With control of the ballot box and more access to credit, white planters expanded their ownership of Delta bottomlands and could take advantage of new railroads.

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