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  • Mississippi "Milish"Militiamen in the Civil War
  • Tracy L. Barnett (bio)

War fever swept through the piney woods of South Mississippi during the spring of 1861, and enthusiastic young men from rural hamlets, small towns, and cities across the South enlisted as Confederate soldiers.1 In Liberty, Mississippi, the Amite County Rifles, eventually becoming Company C, Seventh Regiment Mississippi Infantry, organized in April 1861.2 Two local siblings, Benjamin Franklin Wilkinson and Jefferson Washington Wilkinson, joined the regiment and marched off to war, leaving behind farms, wives, and young children. Then, in March 1862, their oldest brother, John Cain Wilkinson, enlisted in Company K, Thirty-Third Regiment Mississippi Infantry. He, too, left behind family—a wife and six young children—in addition to a plantation and slaves. Micajah Wilkinson, the middle brother, was the only male member of the family to remain in the Magnolia State.3 Micajah Wilkinson did not enlist in the Confederate army—a decision he never fully explained and we may never fully understand. Given his wartime letters, he [End Page 343] appears a deeply committed husband and father, so his motivations may have been based on familial concerns. They could also have been financial or, as he was a planter, occupational. Regardless, Wilkinson sought to remain in Liberty for the duration of the war.4 Though he refused to enlist, he held an ideological commitment to the Confederacy and as a plantation owner with seventeen slaves he certainly had a vested financial stake in its success. Self-identifying with the Confederate cause, both he and his wife praised Confederate victories, lamented battlefield defeats, and on a few occasions disparaged "the yanks" in their wartime correspondences.5 Moreover, Wilkinson never took up arms against his native state nor participated in any known unionist activities. For all appearances then, he fully supported the Confederacy.

Nonetheless, Wilkinson's support had its limitations, and he resented the war's interference with his daily life.6 Frequently separated from his brothers, wife, and children, Wilkinson longed for peace and fervently hoped "that the day will come when we will all meet at home to stay & enjoy the society off our familys."7 Desiring nothing more than to remain a farmer in Amite County, Wilkinson nonetheless expected the war to reach his plantation's doorsteps. Conscription, implemented by the Confederate Congress in the spring of 1862, threatened to pull both youthful and middle-aged men into the folds of the Confederate army.8 Thirty-nine-year-old Wilkinson, who balked at the notion of leaving Mississippi and abandoning his family, sought legal means to circumvent the draft. But at the same time, he never questioned his devotion to the South nor did he appear to expect censure from his family or neighbors for his decision to eschew military service.9 At first he even opposed militia service but quickly reconsidered. While temporarily removing him [End Page 344] from his home and family, militia service, he thought, would protect him from the Confederate conscript officer and keep him within the confines of the state. "If I was to get off I would bee conscripted & I had rather stay with the militia," he told his wife."10 Mary concurred with her husband's judgment: "Some times I think you had as well stay there [in the militia] as to come home and be drug about from piller to post and then send off in the confederacy. I would be very glad to see you but I believe I would wait a while."11 Choosing service in the Mississippi militia instead of the Confederate army, Wilkinson officially joined Company C, Quinn's Second Regiment Minute Men on July 12, 1862.12

Numerous Southerners, including Micajah Wilkinson, served in state organized militias during the American Civil War.13 Instead of the extremely patriotic, youthful Union and Confederate volunteers, who rushed off to war in 1861 to prove their place as men and citizens, militiamen tended to be married men in their late thirties and early forties who had well-established careers. As vital components of the Southern home front, these men expressed idealistic support for the Confederacy, but intentionally eschewed prolonged period of absence from...


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