Governor Charles Clark has the distinction of being one of the three governors of Mississippi to be arrested and imprisoned. The other two are John Quitman and Theodore Bilbo. When the Civil War ended, Governor Clark was arrested by Union authorities and incarcerated briefly at Fort Pulaski in Savannah, Georgia. A witness described the arrest of the former Confederate general, who had twice been wounded, first at Shiloh and then at Baton Rouge:
The old soldier, when informed of the purpose of the officers, straightened his mangled limbs as best he could, and with great difficulty said, “I denounce before high heaven and the civilized world this unparalleled act of tyranny and usurpation. I only yield obedience because I have no power to resist.”
Clark moved to Jefferson County in 1831 from Ohio, where he was born in 1810. He taught school, practiced law, and represented Jefferson County in the state legislature for several years. During the Mexican-American War, Clark organized the Thomas Hinds Guards, an infantry company which became a part of the Second Regiment of Mississippi Volunteers. After the resignation of Reuben Davis, the regimental commander, Clark was elected colonel of the regiment.
Shortly after the war with Mexico, Clark moved to Bolivar County. Clark, who was a member of the Whig Party, represented Bolivar County in the state House of Representatives from 1856 to 1861. As a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1851, Clark had opposed secession, but by 1861, he had become convinced that Mississippi’s best interests were served by withdrawal from the Union.
In 1863, after the fall of Vicksburg, many Mississippians wanted to end the war and called for negotiations with the Union government. But many others favored the continuation of the war, and Charles Clark ran for governor as an anti-peace candidate, winning over only token opposition.
During Governor Clark’s administration, the Union army occupied the state capital and forced Governor Clark to move the capital to Macon and to Columbus, and then back to Macon. After Confederate troops in Alabama and Mississippi surrendered May 6, 1865, Governor Clark issued a proclamation convening the state legislature for a special session and ordered all state officials to return to Jackson.
When Governor Clark arrived in Jackson, which was then occupied by federal troops, he was informed by the Union military commander that he and the legislature would be placed under arrest. Most of the lawmakers escaped arrest by fleeing the capital city.
After his release from Fort Pulaski, Governor Clark returned to his home in Bolivar County where he resumed the practice of law. In 1876, after the Reconstruction period had ended, he was appointed chancellor for the fourth judicial district and served on the bench until his death December 17, 1877.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912), 70.
Rowland, Dunbar. Mississippi Comprising Sketches in Cyclopedic Form I. 437-445.