In the days following the fall of Vicksburg, Mississippi, Federal forces began an occupation of the city. The 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.
Major-General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Federal Army of the Tennessee, addressed the delicate status of slaves in Vicksburg. He told one of his corps commanders, Major-General James B. McPherson, “I want the Negroes to understand that they are free men. If they are then anxious to go with their masters I do not see the necessity of preventing it. Some going might benefit our cause by telling that the Yankees set them all free. It is not necessary that you should give yourself any trouble about Negroes being enticed away from officers. Everyone that loses a Negro will insist that he has been enticed off, because otherwise his Negro would not leave.”
Major-General John A. Logan, assigned to command the Federal occupation forces, complained to Grant’s chief of staff, Brigadier-General John Rawlins, about “the manner in which Confederate officers are permitted to intimidate their servants.” According to Logan, slaves were being asked if they wanted to stay with their masters in front of their masters so that the slaves could be intimidated into saying yes. Logan stated that “the manner in which this is done is conniving at furnishing Negroes to every officer who is a prisoner in Vicksburg.”
McPherson, commanding the corps that included Logan’s division, informed Lieutenant-General John C. Pemberton, commander of the surrendered Confederate army, on the 7th:
“I am constrained, in consequence of the abuse of the privilege which was granted to officers to take out one private servant (colored) each, to withdraw it altogether, except in cases of families and sick and disabled officers. The abuses which I speak of are: 1. Officers coming here with their servants and intimidating them, instead of sending them by themselves to be questioned. 2. Citizens have been seen and heard in the streets urging Negroes who were evidently not servants to go with the officers. 3. Negroes have also been brought here who have been at work on the fortifications.”
That same day, the message that had been sent by Rear-Admiral David D. Porter notifying his superiors of the fall of Vicksburg reached Washington. Having sent his message by fast gunboat, Porter’s message arrived ahead of Grant’s. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles was meeting with a delegation of New Englanders regarding coastal security when, as he later wrote:
“I was handed a dispatch from Admiral Porter, communicating the fall of Vicksburg on the fourth of July. Excusing myself to the delegation, I immediately returned to the Executive Mansion. The President was detailing certain points relative to Grant’s movements on the map to (Treasury Secretary Salmon) Chase and two or three others, when I gave him the tidings. Putting down the map, he rose at once… seized his hat, but suddenly stopped, his countenance beaming with joy; he caught my hand, and, throwing his arm around me, exclaimed: ‘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!’”
Welles wrote that there was a serenade on the night of the 7th in honor of the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, adding, “The last has excited a degree of enthusiasm not excelled during the war…” Welles also noted the tension between the army and navy despite all the good news. General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “never by a scratch of his pen, or by a word from his mouth, ever awarded any credit to the Navy for anything. I am not aware that his sluggish mind has ever done good of any kind to the country…”
Welles also noted that Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton was “excessively angry because Admiral Porter heralded the news to me in advance of General Grant to the War Department. The telegraph office is in the War Department building, which has a censorship over all that passes or is received. Everything goes under the Secretary’s eye, and he craves to announce all important information. In these matters of announcing news he takes as deep an interest as in army movements which decide the welfare of the country.”
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.”
Grant’s report on Vicksburg’s capture arrived in Washington on the 8th. 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.
After nearly a week, the Confederates in Vicksburg were ready to be paroled and sent home. Those who refused to be paroled were shipped to northern prison camps. Federal orders were issued on the 10th:
“Paroled prisoners will be sent out of here to-morrow. They will be authorized to cross at the railroad bridge, and move from there to Edward’s Ferry (Station), and on by way of Raymond. Instruct the commands to be orderly and quiet as these prisoners pass, to make no offensive remarks, and not to harbor any who fall out of ranks after they have passed.”
The Confederate troops began filing out of Vicksburg the next day. Grant noted: “When they passed out of the works they had so long and so gallantly defended, between lines of their late antagonists, not a cheer went up, not a remark was made that would give pain. Really, I believe there was a feeling of sadness just then in the breasts of most of the Union soldiers at seeing the dejection of their late antagonists.”
Back at Washington, the rivalry between the army and navy continued. Welles wrote in his diary, “The Secretary of War and General Halleck are much dissatisfied that Admiral Porter should have sent me information of the capture of Vicksburg in advance of any word from General Grant, and also with me for spreading it at once over the country without verification from the War Office.” Despite this, Lincoln happily proclaimed, “Grant is my man, and I am his the rest of the war.” He wrote his victorious general 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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- Catton, Bruce, Grant Moves South. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, Inc., 1960.
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- Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983.
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- McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865. Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press (Kindle Edition), 2012.
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