Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Fall of Vicksburg, 150 years ago today (July 4, 1863)

Vicksburg, Mississippi
150 years ago today, the Confederacy's "Gibraltar of the Mississippi" fell to the army of Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. It was a devastating blow from which the South would not recover.

The final acts in the moments leading to the surrender of Vicksburg were enacted before dawn on the morning of July 4, 1863. Having considered a final proposal from Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton (CS), Gen. Grant (US) sent a letter through the lines to his Confederate counterpart:

Union battery before Vicksburg
     ...I can make no stipulations with regard to the treatment of citizens and their private property. While I do not propose to cause them any undue annoyance or loss, I cannot consent to leave myself under any restraint by stipulations. The property which officers will be allowed to take with them will be as stated in my proposition of last evening; that is, officers will be allowed their private baggage and side-arms, and mounted officers one horse each.
     If you mean by your proposition for each brigade to march to the front of the lines now occupied by it, and stack arms at 10 a.m., and then return tot he inside, and there remain as prisoners until properly paroled, I will make no objection to it. - Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, USA (July 4, 1863).

Confederate cannon at Vicksburg
In closing his final offer, Grant informed Pemberton that if he received no reply by 9 a.m., hostilities would resume. To avoid this, the Confederates should display white lines along their lines.

Pemberton reviewed the note and early on the morning of July 4, 1863, agreed to surrender Vicksburg, Mississippi, to the United States:

GENERAL:  I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of this day, and in reply to say that the terms proposed by you are accepted. - Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, CSA (July 4, 1863).

Later in the morning, as the Union forces crowded to the tops of their breastworks and fortifications to watch, the Confederate army came out of its trenches for the first time in more than 45 days:

Former channel of the Mississippi at Vicksburg
...[T]he garrison was surrendered at 10 a.m., and the Federal forces immediately took possession of our works and placed guards in the city. If it should be asked why July 4 was selected as the day for the surrender, the answer is obvious. I believed that upon that day I should obtain better terms. Well aware of the vanity of our foes, I knew they would attach vast importance to the entrance on July 4 into the stronghold of the great river, and that to gratify their national vanity they would yield then what could not be extorted from them at any other time. - Maj. Gen. John C. Pemberton, CSA (August 2, 1863).

Union cannon at Vucksburg
Pemberton was right in his assessment of how the Union would regard the surrender of Vicksburg on the 4th of July. It was hailed across the North with celebrations and bonfires. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, Grant's friend and trusted subordinate, predicted the reaction of the Northern states and gently warned his commander about the fleeting nature of fame. He also commended him for his generosity to the Confederates who had fought from the trenches of Vicksburg for 47 days:

...I can hardly contain myself. Surely will I not punish any soldier for being "uncohappy" this most glorious anniversary of the birth of a nation, whose sire and father was a Washington. Did I not know the honesty, modesty, and purity of your nature, I would be tempted to follow the examples of my standard enemies of the press in indulging in wanton flattery; but as a man and soldier, and ardent friend of yours, I warn you against the incense of flattery that will fill our land from one extreme to the other. Be natural and yourself, and this glittering flattery will be as the passing breeze of the sea on a warm summer day. To me the delicacy with which you have treated a brave but deluded enemy is more eloquent than the most gorgeous oratory of an Everett. - Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, USA (July 4, 1863).

Old Courthouse in Vicksburg
While the main army remained outside the city, a small force of Union troops entered Vicksburg on July 4, 1863 - 150 years ago today - and raised the U.S. flag from the top of the Warren County Courthouse. The historic building still stands in Vicksburg today, where it is now a museum and is generally known as the "Old Courthouse."

With the fall of Vicksburg, only one Confederate bastion - Port Hudson, Louisiana - remained along the full length of the Mississippi River. I will focus on events at that battlefield over coming days.

To learn more about the Battle of Vicksburg and the historic city itself, please visit

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