Following South Carolina’s secession from the Union, Mississippi seceded on January 9, 1861. Fervor about the impending war grew, with most thinking it would be little more than a skirmish that would last no more than ninety days. (If only they had been right.) Young men across the South gathered in preparation and formed militia-type military units. Once Ft. Sumter was fired upon in April, newly-elected President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to serve as “the militia of the several States of the Union…in order to suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed.” His actions only spurned more aggression, and Southerners felt they were left with no choice but to retaliate.
On May 4, 1861, male students attending the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), as well as many professors, joined the fight. Known as the University Greys, 135 young men enlisted in the Confederate Army as Company A of the 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment. This was nearly all of the student body. In fact, only four students showed up for class the following fall, so the University closed for a time.
The University Greys fought in nearly every engagement of the Civil War, and participated in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, where they sustained a 100% casualty rate, in that everyone was either killed or wounded. Following Gettysburg, what was left of the University Grays merged with Company G, the Lamar Rifles, and fought until the end of the war.
A special cemetery was set aside on campus for the fallen University Greys. Each grave was designated by a wooden marker. However, according to local legend, one day, a groundskeeper decided it would be easier to mow the grass if he removed all the markers. Unfortunately, once he was done with his chore, he couldn’t remember where the markers were supposed to go, so he stored them in a shed, where they were kept for years.
Although no one knows exactly where each soldier is buried, a large monument designates the sacred area and speaks of the sacrifices these admirable young men suffered. Every May, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other historical groups gather to pay their respects for the University Greys by holding a special service in honor of them.
It’s a shame Ole Miss is consistent in forgetting how its students fought for what they deemed a worthy cause at the time. In recent years, the university has done away with its mascot, Colonel Reb, and has refused to fly the state flag. They have discussed removal of statues on campus as well as changing various street names honoring their brave warriors. Political correctness has taken precedence over historical remembrance. I certainly hope Ole Miss retains some of its amazing artwork, instead of caving in to political correctness and to those who wrongly deem all Confederate images as racist.