Benjamin Humphreys was a Confederate general and governor of
Mississippi during the early phase of Reconstruction
(1865-1868). He oversaw the implementation of racially
discriminatory Black Codes and opposed ratification of the
He was born on August 26, 1808, on his father’s plantation,
Hermitage, in Claiborne County, Mississippi, to Sarah Smith
Humphreys and George Humphreys. In 1825, he entered the U.S.
Military Academy at West Point, where he was a member of the
same class as Robert E. Lee. Humphreys was one of several
cadets expelled for their participation in the “Eggnog Riot” on
Christmas Eve 1826. He returned to Mississippi, where he helped
manage his father’s plantation and studied law. He married Mary
McLaughlin in 1832, and the couple had two children before she
died in 1835. Four years later, he married Mildred Maury; the
couple later had 14 children.
Humphreys was elected to the state house in 1838 and the
state senate in 1840 as a Whig. He left the state senate in
1844, and two years later established a plantation in Sunflower
County, a developing area in the Mississippi Delta. He strongly
opposed secession, but organized a Confederate volunteer
company, the Sunflower Guards, when Mississippi left the Union.
In May 1861, he was elected company captain and assigned to the
Virginia warfront. By the end of the year, he had been
promoted to colonel of the 21st Mississippi
Regiment. He served with distinction at Antietam (September
1862), Fredericksburg (December 1862), and Gettysburg (July
1863). In August 1863, he was given the rank of brigadier
general, and then served under General James Longstreet in
Tennessee, Georgia, and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where
he was wounded (at Berryville) in September 1864 and then
reassigned to southern Mississippi.
After the Civil War, Humphreys was elected governor of
Mississippi on October 2, 1865, and inaugurated two weeks later,
having been pardoned by President Andrew Johnson. As governor,
Humphreys endorsed the enactment of a “Black Code,” which
severely limited the rights of the newly freed slaves, and
opposed ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. With passage
First Reconstruction Act in March 1867, his
authority as governor was greatly restricted by a presidentially
appointed military commander. Humphreys initially cooperated
with federal officials, but denounced Congressional
Reconstruction after being nominated by the Democratic Party for
a second term. As a result of his outspoken opposition, he was
removed from the governorship by military authorities on June
15, 1868. He won the subsequent election, but was not allowed
to take office because the proposed state constitution failed to
gain popular approval.
Humphreys retired to his plantation, and briefly worked as an
insurance agent. He died at his home on December 20, 1882.
Humphreys County in Mississippi was named in his honor.