Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Vicksburg on July 3, 1863, The Beginning of the End

Illinois Memorial at Vicksburg
More than any other event that took place in 1863 - including even Gettysburg - the passage of a letter from Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton (CSA) to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (USA) on this date 150 years ago was the beginning of the end of the Confederacy.

Many assume Gettysburg was the "turning point" of the War Between the States because it prevented Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia from descending on Washington, D.C., and ending the war in a single battle. This is a reasonable argument, but in truth, while the Army of Northern Virginia was beaten at Gettysburg and forced to end its invasion of the North, it left the battlefield still a seasoned and highly effective fighting force. The Union still held the North and the Confederacy still held Virginia after Gettysburg.

Confederate Cannon overlooks the Mississippi River
The Fall of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River, however, split the Confederacy in two. No more supplies or men would come from the West to help. The beef supplies from Texas were cut-off. Weapons, munitions and medicines smuggled into the Confederacy by way of Mexico no longer had a place to cross the Mississippi River. The massive Union army that had encircled Vicksburg was free for action on other fronts. The front in the West soon would shift from the Mississippi River to Chattanooga, Atlanta and the Sea.  Massive shipments of supplies could descend the river from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast and, for the first time since early 1861, the farms and factories of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri once again had an outlet to

Where the two armies fought within feet of each other.
Vicksburg, in short, cleared the way for the destruction of the Southern infrastructure. The Army of Tennessee would fight hard against the invaders, but from July 3, 1863, the collapse of the Confederacy was assured, not because of a massive battle in Pennsylvania, but because a Confederate army in the muddy trenches of Vicksburg knew that it had done all that it could do.

On the previous day, Gen. Pemberton had polled his subordinate generals for their opinions on whether his army could break out through Grant's encircling forces. The almost unanimous conclusion was that the men were too worn down from more than 45 days in the trenches to be able to make such an attempt without the army suffering inconceivable losses. See In the Trenches at Vicksburg on July 2, 1863.

Confederate Cannon at Fort Hill
Although his generals had been clear that they and their men would fight on, Pemberton knew that the siege would end in Union victory no matter how long he continued to fight. There was no hope of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston raising an army large enough to break the siege in time to save the Confederates of Vicksburg.

Facing the inevitable and deciding to save as many lives - soldier and civilian - as possible, the Confederate general sat down 150 years ago today and wrote to his adversary, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant:

    GENERAL: I have the honor to propose to you an armistice for ______ hours, with a view to arranging terms for a capitulation of Vicksburg. To this end, if agreeable to you, I will appoint three commissioners to meet a like number, to be named by yourself, at such place and hour to-day as you may find convenient.
     I make this proposition to save further effusion of blood, which must otherwise be shed to a frightful extent, feeling myself fulling able to maintain my position for a yet indefinite period. - Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, CSA (July 3, 1863).

U.S. Navy Monument at Vicksburg
The proposal to negotiate honorable terms was delivered to Grant under a flag of truce by Maj. Gen. J.S. Bowen, who had fought so fiercely against overwhelming odds when the Union army crossed the Mississippi near Port Gibson. He requested to meet with the Union commander, but Grant refused, saying he would meet only with Pemberton himself.  He also responded to the Confederate general's attempt to obtain honorable terms:

...The useless effusion of blood you propose stopping by this course can be ended at any time you choose, by an unconditional surrender of the city and garrison. Men who have shown so much endurance and courage as those now in Vicksburg will always challenge the respect of an adversary, and I can assure you will be treated with all the respect due prisoners of war. - Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, USA (July 3, 1863).

View from Stockade Redan across to the Union Lines
Grant declined Pemberton's request to appoint commissioners to negotiate the terms of surrender. In an attempt to negotiate with Grant in person, Gen. Pemberton met him between the lines on the afternoon of July 3, 1863. He insisted that his officers and men be paroled and allowed to march out of the city with eight days' rations from their own stores. Grant agreed to consider the proposal and then withdrew to consult with his generals, promising an answer later in the day.

As silence fell across the battlefield at Vicksburg, the Union commander met with his top generals and then wrote the following letter to Gen. Pemberton:

Vicksburg National Cemetery
...On your accepting the terms proposed, I will march in one division as a guard and take possession at 8 a.m. to-morrow. As soon as rolls can be made out, and paroles signed by officers and men, you will be allowed to march out of our lines, the officers taking with them their side-arms and clothing, and the field, staff , and cavalry officers one horse each. The rank and file will be allowed all their clothing, but no other property. - Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, USA (July 3, 1863).

"Unconditional Surrender" Grant's decision to end his demand for the unconditional surrender of Vicksburg brought the battle to an end.  Late in the night, Pemberton responded to his offer:

Crater where tunneling Federals blew up a Confederate fort
     ...In the main your terms are accepted, but in justice both to the honor and spirit of my troops, manifested in the defense of Vicksburg, I have the honor to submit the following amendments, which, if acceded to by you, will perfect the agreement between us:
     At 10 a.m. to-morrow I propose to evacuate the works in and around Vicksburg, and to surrender the city and garrison under my command, by marching out with my colors and arms, stacking them in front of my present lines, after which you will take possession. Officers to retain their side-arms and personal property, and the rights and property of citizens to be respected. - Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, CSA (July 3, 1863).

Grant would not respond until the next morning, but the fate of Vicksburg had been decided by the late night of July 3, 1863.  The surrender would take place the next day.

I will post about the surrender of Vicksburg tomorrow. Please remember that you can read more about the Battle of Vicksburg anytime at

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