Mark Perrin Lowrey was born in McNairy County, Tennessee, on 20 December 1828. At the age of fifteen he moved with his family to Farmington in what was then part of Tishomingo County (now Alcorn County). After volunteering for service in the Mexican War, he was mustered out in Vicksburg in July 1848. Although he did not see action, he learned to respect the discipline of military life.
After the war Lowrey married Sarah Holmes and began what he thought would be a lifetime as a brick mason. He was good at his job and began to accumulate money, but in 1853 he became a Baptist minister. As Mississippi moved toward secession, he attempted to remain politically neutral, but he was nevertheless asked to lead men into war because of his prior military service, slim as it was. Lowrey soon found himself serving as colonel of the 32nd Mississippi Regiment. Opposed to human bondage and owning no slaves, he saw himself solely as defending his home and family from invasion by Union forces.
He saw action between the Battle of Shiloh and his resignation on 14 March 1865, attaining the rank of brigadier general. Confederate soldiers remembered him as the Fighting Parson of the Army of Tennessee, declaring that he would “preach like hell on Sunday and fight like the devil all the week.”
Lowrey returned to Mississippi, resumed his pastoral duties, and worked to reorganize Baptist churches that had suffered from the war. He was a well-respected man, and in 1872, while he was preaching in Jackson, the state legislature asked him to become a US senator. He declined, saying, “I can not sacrifice the commission I hold as a minister of the gospel even for a commission as U.S. Senator.” That year he also declined an offer from the Southern Baptist Convention to become executive secretary of the Foreign Mission Board because he believed that Mississippi offered a safer environment for his children than did Richmond, Virginia.
Lowrey served as president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention from 1868 to 1877 as well as on the board of trustees for the University of Mississippi and Mississippi College. He edited the Mississippi Department of The Baptist from 1870 to 1877. In 1869 he and a friend, Dr. J. B. Gambrell, decided to start a school for girls. Later that year he traded property with Randolph Gipson, taking possession of a farm on a hillside in Tippah County known as the Brougher Place. There, on 12 September 1873, he established Blue Mountain Female Institute (later renamed Blue Mountain College). He devoted the remainder of his life to the cause of female education, serving as the school’s president and as a history professor. While accompanying several students and two faculty members to catch the train to New Orleans, the general collapsed and died at the railway station in Middleton, Tennessee, on 27 February 1885. Gambrell remembered his friend as “a Christian and minister, a writer and editor, a soldier and citizen, an educator, a man.”
- Baptist Message (31 October 1940)
- Larry Wells Kennedy, “The Fighting Preacher of the Army of Tennessee” (PhD dissertation, Mississippi State University, 1976)
- Mark Perrin Lowrey, Unpublished Autobiography, 30 September 1867, Archives of the National Alumnae Association of Blue Mountain College, Blue Mountain, Mississippi
- Memphis Commercial Appeal (12 February 1906)
- Ripley Enterprise (6 March 1912)
- Ripley Southern Sentinel (15 March 1923)
- Robbie Neal Sumrall, A Light on a Hill: A History of Blue Mountain College (1947)