THE CLAY HILLS 363 and women “hitched up together,” and called themselves man and wife. The playing and socializing that occupied much of young Pet Franks’time was another foundation of community. Growing up on an Aberdeen plantation near the river, he enjoyed “playin’’roun’de dock” with others, telling stories, and watching the steamboats go by. Wayne Holliday spent lots of time with his thirteen siblings. They played marbles, rode stick horses, and played house. Religion was also a vital component of the budding African American culture. Mississippi’s evangelical Protestants targeted both the white and black population for conversion. Slaves embraced Christianity, but did so largely on their own terms. They had their own preachers and founded their own churches. On his Aberdeen plantation, recalled Pet Franks, “preachin’an’singin’” was a central component of life in the slave quarter thanks to a preacher named Old DaddyYoung, who could inspire all involved to “shout an’roll” and be baptized in the river. He was, said Franks, “de bes’preacher us ever had.” Off the plantation, quasi-independent black churches sprang up in various towns. Aberdeen’s African American church was the largest one in north Mississippi. Its members built a church to hold 300 in 1847. And Columbus Methodists allowed their African American members to form a semi-independent congregation with its own separate building in 1849. Thus by the eve of the Civil War, the Clay Hills settlers had transformed it from land inhabited by indigenous people to a vital region in the state. The native population had not disappeared, however, as small numbers of Choctaws remained, joined by many white settlers, and an even larger number of black slaves. The region also retained its remarkable contrasts as sprawling cotton plantations co- existed with small farms in the region, and wealth co-existed with poverty. Mid-Century Crisis— The Civil War (1861-1865) The Civil War came to the Clay Hills, as it did to the rest of Mississippi, in 1861. Not all whites in the region supported secession. There were some Unionists in the region. Once the war began, however, most everyone came on board for the Confederate cause. Indeed, with the news of the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861, a passion and excitement born of prosperity, regional hubris, and a degree of naiveté claimed the public consciousness in the Clay Hills during 1861. Local young men, caught up in the excitement and passion of the times, joined the Confederate Army. They, like others at the war’s beginning, confidently assumed that the war would be of short duration and confined mostly to states east of their own. The Winston Guards, about 100 strong, were the first to leave that county for Corinth in May of 1861. The company would serve throughout the war, fighting in Virginia and Pennsylvania. They were joined by the Beauregard Rifles and the Barksdale Grays. In Oktibbeha County, four local companies—the Agency Rifles, the Oktibbeha Plow Boys, the Oktibbeha Rescues, and the Oktibbeha Riflemen—also mustered in 1861. Another company, called the Invincible Warriors, joined them in 1862. This company mustered in West Point and included men from Choctaw, Chickasaw, Oktibbeha, and Lowndes counties. Across the Clay Hills, even in counties like Carroll which did not sit on any vital waterway or railroad, thousands of men stepped up and volunteered for service. They continued to do so even when the war went beyond its first year. Their motives were various, ranging from peer pressure and self-interest to ideological commitment to the Confederate cause. Fighting this war proved to be far more dangerous and difficult than any of them imagined, however, as Confederate troops were inadequately trained, supplied, and supported. The results were devastating. Historians estimate that more than one-third of Mississippi’s soldiers died of disease or through injuries received in battle. The Clay Hills were no exception. Local histories filled with the names of the many men who gave their lives for this conflict are testament to the human devastation the war wrought. With so many of the region’s young, able-bodied white men off to fight the war, life on the home front of the Clay Hills remained cautiously quiet. Because Mississippians initially worried little about a landed invasion of Union troops marching through the state, they expected the mostly land-locked Clay Hills to remain uncontested terrain. The only real fear they had for the region’s fate focused on the potential vulnerability of Tombigbee River. Waterways were the “Achilles’ heel” of Mississippi’s defense, according to historian Michael Ballard, and state leaders most feared a Union naval invasion that would put valuable Clay Hills’ towns such as Aberdeen, Amory, and Columbus at risk. And with so Religion was also a vital component of the budding African American culture.