The Fall of Vicksburg

July 4, 1863 – The Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi surrendered to Federals under Major General Ulysses S. Grant.

Shelters dug into the hills during the siege of Vicksburg | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Shelters dug into the hills during the siege of Vicksburg | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Grant’s forces had besieged Vicksburg, one of the last Confederate port cities on the Mississippi River, for over a month. Confederate soldiers and civilians had been cut off from supplies and subjected to continuous artillery fire that produced widespread sickness and starvation. General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding Confederates in Mississippi, refused to commit resources to save Vicksburg out of fear they would share the city’s fate.[1]

Federals repelled a small Confederate effort to relieve Vicksburg on July 1. The Federals also exploded a mine under Confederate defenses, which they hoped would create an exploitable gap in the siege line. The Confederate commander in Vicksburg, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, sent a confidential message to his four division commanders:

“Unless the siege of Vicksburg is raised or supplies are thrown in, it will become necessary very shortly to evacuate the place. I see no prospect of the former, and there are many great, if not insuperable, obstacles in the way of the latter. You are, therefore, requested to inform me with as little delay as possible as to the condition of your troops, and their ability to make the marches and undergo the fatigues necessary to accomplish a successful evacuation.”[2]

On the night of July 2, Pemberton’s commanders unanimously declared that their men were too exhausted and hungry to try breaking out of the city. The next day, Pemberton sent up white flags and dispatched Major General John S. Bowen to ask Grant for terms of surrender. Pemberton hoped that Grant would give Bowen, his old neighbor from St. Louis, reasonable terms that included not taking the Confederates prisoner. Moreover, the Confederates had broken the Federal signal code and learned the Federals would have logistical problems with shipping so many prisoners north.[3]

Bowen showed Grant the message: “General, I have the honor to propose to you an armistice for several hours, with a view to arranging terms for the capitulation of Vicksburg.” Pemberton wrote that he hoped “to save the further effusion of blood, which must otherwise be shed to a frightful extent, feeling myself fully able to maintain my position for a yet indefinite period.” Grant replied:

“The useless effusion of blood you propose stopping by this course can be ended at any time you may choose, by an unconditional surrender of the city and the 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 to prisoners of war. I do not favor the proposition of appointing commissioners to arrange terms of capitulation, because I have no terms other than those indicated above.”[4]

Despite his demand for unconditional surrender, Grant agreed to meet Pemberton between the lines to discuss further. The commanders and selected subordinates met at 3 p.m. on July 3. The talks became heated when Grant refused to lessen his demand. He and Pemberton spoke privately while Bowen talked with Grant’s subordinates. The Confederates agreed to surrender unconditionally only if they could be paroled. Grant said he would consider it and notify Pemberton of his final decision by 10 p.m. Grant’s final terms were:[5]

“In conformity with the agreement of this afternoon, I will submit the following proposition for the surrender of the city of Vicksburg, public stores, & c. On your accepting the terms propo(sed) 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 & Cavalry officers one horse each. The rank & file will be allowed all their clothing but no other property.”[6]

Pemberton accepted, and the Confederates formally surrendered Vicksburg on Independence Day, the siege’s 48th day. At 10 a.m., 29,511 Confederate officers and soldiers laid down their arms as the Federals quietly watched. Grant defied the War Department’s order to treat Confederate captives as prisoners of war, instead paroling 28,802 of the total once they pledged not to take up arms against the U.S. unless properly exchanged. The Federals also captured 172 cannon, nearly 60,000 muskets and rifles, and mass quantities of ammunition.[7]

After eight months of failed attempts, Grant finally captured the prize city. The U.S. flag replaced the Confederate flag over Vicksburg’s courthouse, and Grant directed that rations be distributed to the starving Confederates. But his work was not over, as he dispatched Major General William T. Sherman’s division to pursue the remaining Confederates in Mississippi under J.E. Johnston. He told Sherman during Vicksburg’s surrender negotiations: “I want Johnston broken up as effectually as possible, and roads destroyed.”[8]

Sherman left on the same day of Vicksburg’s fall, following Grant’s order to “drive Johnston from the Mississippi Central Railroad, destroy bridges as far as Grenada… and do the enemy all the harm possible.” Along the way, Federals looted and burned businesses, farms, private residences, barns, warehouses, and anything else in their path. When Johnston retreated, Sherman no longer considered him a threat and halted the pursuit.[9]

In Washington, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles brought the news of Vicksburg’s capture to the White House, where President Lincoln said, “What can we do for the Secretary of the Navy for this glorious intelligence?… I cannot, in words, tell you my joy over this result. It is great, Mr. Welles, it is great!” On the same day, Grant received a telegram from Washington: “It gives me great pleasure to inform you that you have been appointed a major general in the Regular Army, to rank from July 4, the date of your capture of Vicksburg.”[10]

Northerners celebrating the victory at Gettysburg went hysterical upon learning of Vicksburg’s fall. Six cities fired 100-gun salutes in celebration, and bells tolled in churches throughout the North. Port Hudson, the last Confederate bastion on the Mississippi, fell less than a week later, putting the entire river under Federal control. This cut the Confederacy in two, marking a devastating setback from which the South would never recover.[11]

—–

[1] Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 68; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 259-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 378

[2] Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 149 | 152; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 259-60

[3] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 606-10; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 152-56; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 378

[4] Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 378-79; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 606-10 ; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 152-56; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 259-60

[5] Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 378-79; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 606-10 ; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 152-56

[6] Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 378-79

[7] Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 129; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 613-14; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 259-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 378-79; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 239-41

[8] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 614; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156-57; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 259-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 378-79

[9] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 614; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156-57; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Loc 51256-61

[10] Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9453-65; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 624

[11] Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 129; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156-57; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 259-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 378-79

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