When Col. Ridgley C. Powers was discharged from the US Army in December 1865, he decided to remain in Mississippi rather than return to his native state of Ohio. He purchased land in Noxubee County near Shuqualak and soon became a successful planter. In 1868 Mississippi’s military governor appointed Powers sheriff of Noxubee County.
Powers was born in Trumbull County, Ohio, on 24 December 1836. He graduated from the University of Michigan and studied at Union College in Schenectady, New York. Powers joined the Union Army in 1862 and served with the 125th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. After seeing fighting in Tennessee and in the Atlanta Campaign, he, like many other northerners and midwesterners, settled in the South after the war.
Powers joined Mississippi’s newly established Republican Party in 1868 and was elected lieutenant governor alongside James L. Alcorn in 1869. Although most Republican officials were very unpopular during the Reconstruction period, Powers retained the confidence and respect of many Mississippians.
On 30 November 1871 Alcorn resigned to accept a seat in the US Senate, and Powers succeeded him, becoming Mississippi’s twenty-ninth governor. Powers favored economic expansion and urged Mississippians to take full advantage of the state’s “slumbering resources” through industrial development and agricultural diversification. He especially promoted the increased production of wheat, barley, corn, and other grains to reduce the South’s dependence on imported grain. However, a series of bad crops during the early 1870s discouraged Mississippi farmers from experimenting with new crops and left the state with little capital to finance any industrial expansion. Powers was also especially active in supporting the improvement of public schools, arguing that better education would benefit all people and would undercut racial division.
In his first annual message to the legislature in 1872, Gov. Powers reported that a relative tranquillity existed throughout the state and that a “new era of good feeling has sprung up.” Mississippi should be recognized, he said, as “an example of reconstruction based upon reconciliation.” But that era of good feeling did not last very long, and in 1873 a bitter split within the Republican Party led to the nomination of competing tickets. One faction nominated Adelbert Ames, while the other nominated Alcorn. Powers considered the 1873 governor’s election illegal, but the Mississippi Supreme Court validated Ames’s election.
When Powers’s term expired in 1874, he retired from public life. Shortly after leaving office, Powers married Louisa Born, and he and his family subsequently moved west, first to Prescott, Arizona, and then to Los Angeles, where he was a rancher until his death on 11 November 1912.
- Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912)
- Dunbar Rowland, Encyclopedia of Mississippi History, vol. 2 (1907)