July 4, 1863 – Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Confederates formally surrendered on Independence Day, transferring the mighty stronghold of Vicksburg to Federal hands.
Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal Army of the Tennessee accepted the surrender of both the Army of Mississippi and the city of Vicksburg. White flags were raised all along the Confederate defense line. A Federal division entered the city and quietly watched Vicksburg’s brave, exhausted, and starving defenders stack their arms in front of their lines at 10 a.m. Grant opened a supply line to feed the Confederates and city residents.
Federals replaced the Confederate flag over the city courthouse with a U.S. flag. An Ohio soldier wrote, “This was the most Glorious Fourth I ever spent.” Federal vessels on the Mississippi River blew their whistles in celebration. Federal officers celebrated the fall of Vicksburg at President Jefferson Davis’s nearby Brierfield Plantation. Vicksburg residents wept over the fall of their prized city.
A total of 29,511 officers and men were paroled (2,166 officers, 27,230 soldiers, and 115 civilians with the army). A group of 709 Confederates insisted on being taken prisoner so they would not have to take up arms again if exchanged. The Federals seized 172 guns, 50,000 stands of arms, and 600,000 rounds of ammunition. They now almost completely controlled the Mississippi River, except for the last Confederate garrison at Port Hudson.
The Army of Mississippi’s elimination from the war left General Joseph E. Johnston in command of Pemberton’s Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana. Johnston’s 32,000-man “Army of Relief” became the new Army of the Mississippi, and it was now all that was left to defend the rest of the state from Federal conquest.
Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the Mississippi River Squadron, relayed the first news of Vicksburg’s fall to Washington by sending a gunboat upriver to the nearest telegraph office at Cairo, Illinois, to wire Navy Secretary Gideon Welles. Porter reported having fired 7,000 mortar rounds at Vicksburg, 4,500 shot and shells by gunboat, and 4,500 rounds by 13 naval guns placed on shore.
When Welles received the telegram on the 7th, he hurried to the White House to share the news with President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was discussing the Vicksburg campaign with Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase when Welles entered the room and handed him the message: “I have the honor to inform you that Vicksburg has surrendered to the U.S. forces on this 4th day of July.”
Lincoln embraced Welles and said, “What can we do for the Secretary of the Navy for this glorious intelligence? He is always giving us good news. I cannot, in words, tell you my joy over this result. It is great, Mr. Welles, it is great!” Grant soon received a wire 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.”
It had taken Grant seven months to capture this Confederate stronghold, which strategically was the most important Federal victory of the war. During the 48-day siege, the Federals had sustained 4,910 casualties while the Confederates lost 2,872 (in addition to the 29,511 surrendered). Grant wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:
“The enemy surrendered this morning. The only terms allowed is their parole as prisoners of war. This I regard as a great advantage to us at the moment. It saves, probably, several days in the capture, and leaves troops and transports ready for immediate service. (General William T.) Sherman, with a large force, moves immediately on Johnston, to drive him from the State.”
Grant also paid tribute to Porter and his Mississippi River Squadron for their role in capturing Vicksburg: “The navy, under Porter, was all it could be during the entire campaign. Without its assistance the campaign could not have been successfully made with twice the number of men engaged.”
In Vicksburg, Federal troops broke into stores and, a Louisiana sergeant recalled, they brought the “luxuries” out “and throwing them down, would shout, ‘here rebs, help yourselves, you are naked and starving and need them.’ What a strange spectacle of war between those who were recently deadly foes.” Annie T. Wittemyer, a nurse in the Federal hospitals around Vicksburg, distributed between $116,000 and $136,000 worth of supplies to Confederate hospitals to help care for the sick and wounded in the city.
Grant submitted his report on Vicksburg’s surrender on July 8. Initially, Lincoln and Halleck expressed concern over Grant’s decision to parole the Confederates rather than ship them north as prisoners of war. However, Grant assured them that the prisoners, most of whom were “tired of the war and would get home as soon as they could,” would be processed for exchange by an authorized Confederate commissioner. In addition, paroling the troops would allow Grant to confront the Confederates at Jackson and Port Hudson. Porter’s fleet was also freed from conveying prisoners; it began moving downriver to help capture Port Hudson.
Lincoln wrote Grant on the 13th:
“My Dear General, I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgement for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do what you finally did–march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transports, and thus go below; and I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo Pass expedition and the like could succeed. When you got below and took Port Gibson, Grand Gulf and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join General Banks; and when you turned Northward, East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make a personal acknowledgement that you were right and I was wrong.”
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