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Lamar Rifles [Company G, 11th Mississippi], taken on the Main Street on the side of the county courthouse square, about 1861. New York Historical Society collection.

Lamar Rifles [Company G, 11th Mississippi], taken on the Main Street on the side of the county courthouse square about 1861. New York Historical Society collection.

Why did young men from Mississippi enlist to fight for the Confederacy when the state seceded in January 1861?

An episode of the animated TV series The Simpsons captured how political correctness is used to overcome attempts to discuss the complicated causes behind the Civil War.

In the episode, immigrant Apu is taking a test for citizenship and has this exchange with the test proctor:

Proctor: All right, here’s your last question. What was the cause of the Civil War?
Apu: Actually, there were numerous causes. Aside from the obvious schism between the abolitionists and the anti-abolitionists, there were economic factors, both domestic and inter. . .
Proctor: Wait, wait. . .just say slavery.
Apu: Slavery it is, sir.
(Episode: 3F20, Much Apu About Nothing)

And so “slavery” is the easy answer to the question “Why did young men from Mississippi enlist to fight for the Confederacy?”

Such an easy answer, however, ignores the complicated issues faced by the Poore brothers and others in the Piney Woods region of Mississippi.

The Piney Woods, because of its soil, was not a major cotton-growing or slave section

Recruiting poster for the Confederate States of America, Floyd County, Virginia, February 1862. Image courtesy of learnnc.org.

Recruiting poster for the Confederate States of America, Floyd County, Virginia, February 1862. Image courtesy of learnnc.org.

of the state. A few steaks of rich, black soil allowed for a handful of large cotton plantations with many slaves. Yeoman farmers who, like the Poore family, owned five or fewer slaves usually focused on growing corn, cattle, hogs and, for a cash crop, a little cotton. Most other farmers in the region owned no slaves at all.

Some Piney Woods families split over secession. Strong pockets of unionist and anti-Confederate feelings existed in the region throughout the war. Even pro-Confederate Newton County historian A. J. Brown had to admit that during the secession crisis “quite a number of voters of the county . . . were ‘Union men.’”

Strongly pro-Union, anti-secession or anti-Confederate men and their families in the region bedeviled Confederate authorities during the war. Some men who fought reluctantly at first for the rebels later deserted and joined local guerillas and fought determinedly against Confederate authorities.

After Lincoln called out thousands of Northern troops to force Southern states back into the Union, Mississippi needed men to meet them in defense of hearth and home.

There is little doubt the Poore brothers supported slavery, but their opinions on secession are not known. Regardless of the Poore brothers’ views, the choice for them once Mississippi left the Union became one of fighting with the secessionists or against them.

About 73 out of every 100 young men aged 18 to 24 in Mississippi enlisted. This made the Poore brothers and other Mississippi young men among the most motivated recruits in either the Southern or Northern army.

The Poore brothers no doubt enlisted, at least in part, because they saw a duty to defend their state.

Did your ancestor leave a record as to why he enlisted? Can you tell if the region he lived in was either strongly unionist or secessionist? What does that say about his choice?

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