For five years after the Civil War, both martial law and civil authority existed concurrently in Mississippi. That phenomenon created a constitutional entanglement that scholars have yet to unravel. Governor Benjamin Grubb Humphreys had the misfortune of being caught in that tangle of conflicting and often competing authority. When Governor Humphreys was inaugurated October 16, 1865, he shared power with a provisional governor and was eventually removed by a military governor, whose authority he challenged and whose orders he countermanded. (See William Sharkey and Adelbert Ames.)
Humphreys was born August 26, 1808, at Hermitage, his father’s plantation in Claiborne County along the Bayou Pierre. He was appointed to the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, but because of his involvement in a Christmas frolic, he and about forty other cadets were expelled. He returned to help his father manage their plantation. For almost a decade, Humphreys represented Claiborne County in the Mississippi Legislature, serving in both the house and the senate.
In 1846, Humphreys purchased land in Sunflower County and established a plantation at Roebuck Lake. Humphreys was a Whig before the Civil War and opposed secession, but when the war began, he organized the Sunflower Guards and was soon afterwards elected colonel of the Twenty-first Mississippi Regiment. His plantation was destroyed by federal troops during the Vicksburg campaign. In July 1863, Humphreys was promoted to brigadier general and given command of General William Barksdale’s brigade after Barksdale fell in the Battle of Gettysburg. Humphreys was seriously wounded at Berryville in September 1864 and was reassigned to duty in south Mississippi.
In the general election of October 2, 1865, Humphreys was elected and served as governor of Mississippi during a most difficult and confusing period. Mississippi and other southern states were expected to voluntarily reconstruct themselves and extend the rights of citizenship to their former enslaved peoples.
When Mississippi and other ex-Confederate states failed to reconstruct themselves under President Johnson’s lenient plan, Congress placed the southern states under military law and installed military governors. That action did not automatically remove the civil governor. It did, however, create a rivalry between the military and civil authority which led eventually to Governor Humphreys’s removal from office in 1868.
After his dismissal, Governor Humphreys retired from public life and engaged in business and planting until his death on December 22, 1882. Humphreys County is named in honor of Mississippi's twenty-sixth governor.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912), 73.
Rowland, Dunbar. Mississippi Comprising Sketches in Cyclopedic Form I. 893-906.