November 2, 2013 10:06:28 PM
To truly understand the American Civil War in any state, one must first understand the rivers and railroads. "Nothing makes sense without them," said Dr. Michael B. Ballard Wednesday.
The prolific author and eminent professor emeritus of the Mississippi State University Libraries will illuminate the role of Mississippi's waterways in the war when he speaks at the Hazard Lecture Series Monday at 7 p.m. in the Heritage Academy Elementary School auditorium in Columbus.
The free program is the third in a series of Hazard lectures this fall marking "The Voyage from the Past: the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War."
"We've had wonderful turnouts at our first two talks where we enjoyed Marc Harris on Mississippians at Gettysburg and E.C. Fields as Gen. Grant talking about Grant, Robert E. Lee and Stephen D. Lee," said George Hazard Jr. He and his sister, Eulalie Hazard Davis, host the annual lecture series in honor of their late father, George S. Hazard Sr. "Our last lecture will bring us even closer to home when Dr. Ballard talks about the rivers in our state."
The extent and condition of Mississippi's roads left a lot to be desired in the mid- to late 1800s, making river travel often the quickest way to move troops and supplies. Control of the state's rivers and tributaries was of strategic and tactical importance to both sides in wartime. Blockades and hard-fought battles were common in the fight for supremacy of water routes.
Ballard's presentation will look at not only the Mississippi River, but also the Yazoo, the Tallahatchie and one of its tributaries, the Coldwater River, among others. He'll also touch on the Tombigbee River.
"I have an enlarged map that shows the major rivers during the war and how they looked at that time," said Ballard, who will talk of attacks related to Vicksburg, campaign maneuvers by water, and how armies were impacted by strategic destruction of bridges and dams.
Hazard said, "There have been some great questions after the talks, and we invite everyone to be with us for this assessment of our state's waterways. We especially hope students will come and learn more about this part of Mississippi history."
The official observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War has inspired programs like these in communities around the country, offering insight into a pivotal period that helped shape a nation.
"There is no war that belonged to the American people more than the Civil War because they were fighting each other, sadly," said Ballard.
About the speaker
Ballard worked in the MSU Libraries for 30 years as University archivist, coordinator of the Congressional and Political Research Center, and coordinator of U.S. Grant Papers and associate editor of Grant publishing projects in the Grant Presidential Library at MSU.
He received his doctoral degree in history in 1983 at MSU. He has published 14 books, two of the most recent being "The Civil War in Mississippi: Major Campaigns and Battles" (2011), and "Grant at Vicksburg: The General and the Siege" (2013). He lives with his wife Jan in Ackerman.
The Heritage Academy Elementary School auditorium is located at 623 Magnolia Lane. The program is open to the public. For more information, contact Beth Lucas at Heritage Academy, 662-327-1556.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.