Mississippians have served the United States since the Creek Indian Wars and the War of 1812, when a company of Mississippi volunteers fought with Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. Jefferson Davis led the Mississippi Rifles in the Mexican War. An estimated ninety-eight thousand Mississippians served in the Civil War in no fewer than forty-eight infantry regiments and twenty-two cavalry units. The Spanish-American War, the two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, the two Gulf wars, Afghanistan, and Iraq have produced thousands of distinguished Mississippi veterans from all branches of the service.
In 1924 the Mississippi legislature founded the Office of the State Service Commissioner to aid all state residents who had served in the US military forces. In 1948 this group was renamed the State Veterans Affairs Board. Its main claims office is located in Jackson, while officers are also stationed at the US Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals in Jackson, Biloxi, and Memphis, Tennessee, to assist veterans with appeals, casework, and claims paperwork. In addition, the board operates 150-bed State Veterans Nursing Homes in Collins, Jackson, Kosciusko, and Oxford as well as the State Veterans Memorial Cemetery, which opened in April 2011 on eighty-two acres in Newton County donated by Mississippi State University and which is the site of the Persian Gulf War Memorial.
The state has also had other veterans’ homes. Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’s home on Biloxi Beach, housed about twenty-five hundred Civil War veterans and their widows between 1902 and 1953; Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the facility in 1937. Many veterans were interred in the cemetery on the grounds, which is also the location of the Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Soldier. In 1976, the US Naval Home was moved from Philadelphia Naval Yard to the former location of the Gulf Coast Military Academy in Gulfport. Damage from Hurricane Katrina closed the home in 2005, but it was rebuilt and reopened as the Armed Forces Retirement Home in October 2010.
Virtually every community in the state is served by one or more private veterans’ organizations, including the American Legion, American Ex-POWs, Blinded Veterans Association, Fleet Reserve Association, Non-Commissioned Officers Association, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Mississippi has numerous military cemeteries, markers, museums, and memorials, many of which originated during or commemorate the Civil War. The battlefield at Vicksburg, for example, contains 18,244 Civil War graves. What are now national cemeteries operated by the US Department of Veterans Affairs in Corinth and Natchez began as Civil War cemeteries, and a third national cemetery for veterans was added in Biloxi in 1934. The Vicksburg National Military Park contains more than 1,300 historical monuments and markers as well as the salvaged USS Cairo. In and around Corinth a large segment of the Shiloh National Military Park is preserved as a civil war memorial. The four-hundred-acre Grand Gulf Military Park near Port Gibson features a museum and the remnants of two Civil War forts. Five miles offshore of Gulfport, Fort Massachusetts, on Ship Island, is a national park. The Mississippi Vietnam Veterans Memorial was established in Ocean Springs in 1996. Similar to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., it contains a remembrance wall honoring those lost in the Vietnam conflict. In addition, counties across the state have erected monuments honoring local men and women who served their country.
Hattiesburg’s Camp Shelby, which since 1917 has served as a US Army and National Guard training center, features the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum. Hattiesburg is also home to the African American Military History Museum, which has artifacts and displays relating to nearly two centuries of history, including Mississippian Jesse L. Brown, the first African American naval aviator. Camp Van Dorn, near Centerville, maintains a small museum dedicated to the site’s World War II service. Private military museums are also open at the Veterans Memorial Museum in Laurel and the GI Museum in Gautier.
- Mississippi Veterans Affairs Board website, www.vab.ms.gov
- US Department of the Interior, The National Parks Index, 2001–2003 (2001)
- US Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration website, www.cem.va.gov/CEM/index.asp