Mike Ballard takes aim at state's Civil War battles

As the nation begins observing the Civil War's 150th anniversary, archivist Michael B. Ballard of Mississippi State is producing a history of key Magnolia State clashes in the 1861-65 conflict.

"The Civil War in Mississippi: Major Campaigns and Battles" is a new hardcover release of the University Press of Mississippi. Among its 320 pages are more than two dozen illustrations and 12 maps to help readers follow the course of events.

"The war in Mississippi had two decisive regions engulfed by the opposing armies," the MSU doctoral graduate explains in the foreword. "The foremost was the Vicksburg campaign, which lasted over a year. The other... was Northeast Mississippi, where control of the railroads that connected at Corinth affected strategic operations for most of the war."

The struggle for the 19th Century Warren County river fortress city gets three of Ballard's 10 primary chapters, while two others are devoted to the vital Alcorn County rail junction town close by the Tennessee border.

Iuka, Meridian, Tupelo and its nearby Harrisburg community also get separate chapters, as does Brice's Crossroads, another Lee County community near Baldwyn.

In a final segment titled "More Raids: Smith and Grierson," Ballard covers other territory, literally, as he follows significant cavalry probes. Included here is a lesser-known 1864 winter raid by Union Col. Benjamin Grierson, who took his mounted troopers from Memphis to Vicksburg via Egypt Station in Chickasaw County, Grenada and Winona.

Grierson's better documented spring 1863 marathon ride of some 600 miles between LaGrange, Tenn., and Baton Rouge, La., via East and Central Mississippi also is covered in the third Vicksburg chapter.

Ballard also provides readers with a special focus on ethnic and racial groups largely ignored in other histories, possibly because of somewhat limited roles they played in the Mississippi campaigns. Specifically, he gives a spotlight to Choctaw and African-American troops, with most Native-American soldiers fighting for the Southern cause and former slaves serving with Union forces.

In addition to his role as university archivist, Ballard is coordinator of the Congressional and Political Research Center in MSU's Mitchell Memorial Library. He also is associate editor for publishing projects of the library's Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Collection.

The lifelong Ackerman resident previously authored a number of Civil War histories, most dealing with his home state and Confederate leaders playing key roles in America's bloodiest internal conflict.

Among others, his earlier works include, "Vicksburg: The Campaign That Opened the Mississippi," "Civil War Mississippi: A Guide," "A Long Shadow: Jefferson Davis and the Final Days of the Confederacy," and "Pemberton: The General Who Lost Vicksburg."

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