The goal of this concept is to illustrate that the "Lower Mississippi River Valley was the most critical theater of the Civil War." As presented in the recently published brochure The Thousand Mile Front: Civil War in the Lower Mississippi Valley, many significant battles and skirmishes occurred across the region. From Shiloh, Tennessee, to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Pea Ridge, Arkansas, to New Orleans, Louisiana, the courageous sons and daughters of the North and South gave their lives in the war that split the nation. The region offers a variety of resources that recall the strategies that were planned, the men, women, and children whose lives were forever changed and the battles that occurred during the nation’s conflict with itself.
The election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860 changed the lives of all Americans almost overnight and the nation itself forever. Lincoln’s belief that "a house divided against itself cannot stand," created a sense of crisis in the South and brought the issues that divided the nation into sharp focus.
The Mississippi River became the focal point in the war plans of both sides. "The Father of Waters" had moved lumber, wheat, corn, and meat from the Midwest, cotton and tobacco from the Upper South to New Orleans, and European goods upriver. Control of the Mississippi and the rivers that flow into it would allow the North to move troops and supplies into the South while crippling the South’s ability to survive. The South needed to protect itself, especially the rich farmland of the Mississippi River Valley, from Northern invasion. The Mississippi, carrier of commerce, became the bearer of dreams as a divided nation struggled with itself over its future.
The Civil War changed not only the South but the nation. War ravaged the South, destroying railroads, factories, and homes. The end of the Civil War brought an uneasy peace, but was followed by one of the most traumatic periods in American history — Reconstruction. During that period, the Lower Mississippi Valley would also play an important role.