Mississippians who served in the army were generally in one of three branches: infantry, artillery, or cavalry. In the post I will give a brief overview of how Mississippi infantry regiments were organized and where they served during the Civil War.
The infantry was by far the largest branch of the army, and the basic unit of that army was the regiment, which at full strength numbered about 1,000 men. After the twin killers of combat and disease had taken their toll, however, the typical Mississippi regiment had less than half that number present for duty.
A Civil War infantry regiment was commanded by a colonel, who was aided by a lieutenant colonel who was second in command, and a major who was third in line to lead the unit. At full strength each regiment consisted of ten companies of 100 men each, with a captain commanding each company.
The formation of companies took place in local communities throughout Mississippi. The initial task of organizing the company was usually carried out by someone of influence in the area, and once complete, an election was held by the soldiers to choose the officers that would lead them. Very often the man who organized the company was elected captain, and the other officers were selected from among the most notable men in the community. As a source of local pride each company selected a distinctive nickname, such as the “Jeff Davis Guards,” “Clark County Rangers,” or “Yankee Terrors.”
After the regimental organization was complete, each company of the regiment was given a letter designation from A through K, skipping the letter J. This omission was done to avoid possible confusion in written orders, since in the cursive script of the day the letters I and J looked much alike.
The Mississippians who served in the infantry fought for the most part in one of three armies. In the eastern theater of the war, twelve Mississippi infantry regiments numbering over 16,000 men fought under Robert E. Lee in the Army of Northern Virginia.
The second army was the Army of Tennessee, which protected the Confederate heartland and was by far the most widely traveled of the Rebel armies. For example, the 10th Mississippi Infantry served in the Army of Tennessee for most of its existence, and during the course of the war campaigned through the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Sergeant John C. Rietti of the 10th Mississippi later estimated that the regiment marched 3,500 miles on foot and 5,000 miles by boat and train during the war.
Mississippians were well represented in the Army of Tennessee – an abstract dated November 22, 1862, showed fourteen infantry regiments and one infantry battalion from the state serving in this army. In early 1864 the Army of Tennessee was heavily reinforced from troops serving in Mississippi, creating the largest concentration of Magnolia State infantry regiments to ever serve in one single army – thirty-three regiments or battalions.
On June 24, 1864, the Meridian Daily Clarion wrote of the Mississippians in the Army of Tennessee: “Mississippi has between thirty-five and forty regiments with General Johnston’s army. After the battle is over our readers will hear of deeds performed by Mississippians that will be ‘chronicled in story and blazoned in bright gold.”
The third major army in which Mississippians served was the Army of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, better known by the much handier title, the Army of Vicksburg. This army had among its responsibilities the defense of Vicksburg, and is best known for the forty-seven days it spent besieged inside the city in 1863.
Mississippians made up a considerable part of the Army of Vicksburg – a return for March 31, 1863, showed the state had twenty infantry regiments and three infantry battalions with this command. In addition, there were three regiments, three battalions, and one brigade of Mississippi militia attached to the army as well.