July 4, 2009 – the 233d anniversary of the founding of the United States of America. Today is a day for picnics, baseball, apple pie, music and fireworks. We enjoy living in the greatest republic in the world. No matter your political affiliation, ethnicity or religion, as an American you can be proud of your country, and the many brave men – and women – that have toiled in the U.S. Armed Forces to protect your rights.
During the dark days of the American Civil War, as a country, we did not always have a great deal to celebrate. Sons, brothers, fathers, cousins and neighbors were likely to be fighting somewhere, to restore the United States civil authority, to all her states. Very few families in the North, or South, were not impacted by the events of 1861–1865. Amazingly enough, the Fourth of July celebration was heartily embraced by those living in the northern states, throughout the war. It was a day they were proud of their country’s heritage, and most importantly a day to look hopefully towards a future with no sectional hostilities. This week, I had the pleasure to visit Gettysburg. July 1–3 was the 146th anniversary of the greatest battle ever fought on American soil – the Battle of Gettysburg. While I was there, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with old friends Duane Siskey, J. David Petruzzi and others. Additionally, I had the opportunity to meet some new friends Mike Nugent, Sal Prezioso, Steve Stanley and Dr. Dave, among others. When I walked the beautiful fields of Gettysburg I was struck be the serenity of her wheat fields, boulders and monuments. But it was not hard to imagine how our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln must have felt as he was celebrating our nation’s founding on July 4, 1863. He had learned of the great battle fought in south central Pennsylvania. A battle whose loss in life was still unknown. But one that quickly could be counted as an important victory. Later this weekend, I am going to publish a book review of the newly released book, from Savas Beatie, LLC., “Sickles at Gettysburg.” This will be my contribution for the anniversary of the battle. Included with the review is a twelve part interview with the book’s author, James A. Hessler. Jim, a licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guide, is an authority on Gettysburg.
Now, back to my story about July 4, 1863. Besides learning of the glorious battlefield victory, of his Army of the Potomac, at Gettysburg, Lincoln also learned of another victory – one with significantly more strategic benefits to the United States – the surrender of Vicksburg, Mississippi. For over two months, US Major General Ulysses S. Grant maneuvered his Army of the Tennessee to the very gates of Vicksburg. Starting in mid May, Grant laid siege to Vicksburg, and her inhabitants, soldiers and civilians alike. Essentially operating as a large constricting snake, Grant’s forces slowly suffocated Vicksburg of food and supplies. On July 3, after 46 days of slowly sucking the life from Vicksburg, commanding general of the Confederate garrison, John C. Pemberton, requested an interview with U.S. Grant, “…with a view to arranging terms for the capitulation of Vicksburg. I make this proposition to save the further effusion of blood, which might otherwise be shed to a frightful extent, feeling myself fully able to maintain my position for a yet indefinite period.” Grant, refused, stating that he would only agree to the, “unconditional surrender of the city and its garrison.”(i) Grant had not wanted a meeting, but after CSA Major General John S. Bowen suggested a 3:00 P.M. meeting, he acceded. Meeting under a tree, near the present day Louisiana state monument, Grant heard Pemberton out. He knew that Pemberton would eventually be forced to surrender, under his terms, but Grant also knew that Pemberton’s threats were real – he still commanded a very strong garrison. The initial meeting resulted in a cease fire and the agreement that a Federal division would march into Vicksburg, at 8:00 A.M., on July 4, to receive Pemberton’s surrender. Once again, the United States flag was flying over Vicksburg.
Today, I wish each of you a safe, happy Fourth of July. God Bless the USA!
The following narrative, of the Vicksburg Campaign, is on my other website, BattlefieldPortraits.com.
Battle of Vicksburg
(Siege of Vicksburg)
Location: Vicksburg, Mississippi
Dates: May 18, 1863 – July 4, 1863
Union Commander: Ulysses S. Grant, Major General
Confederate Commander: John C. Pemberton, Lt. General
In the spring of 1863, Lincoln considering the strategic situation of the Union army, presciently stated, “See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key! The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.”
His commander of Union forces in that theater, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, was well aware of how important this parcel of ground was. With bluffs commanding the Mississippi River, Vicksburg offered the Confederacy a naturally defensive line, along a section of the Mississippi River that changed direction three times, creating a large loop.
After pushing CS Major General Earl Van Dorn’s army out of Iuka, and Corinth, in September, and October of 1862, Grant set his sights on Vicksburg. In late November, Grant planned a grand feint. He would push down into the area, around Holly Springs, from Tennessee. This would draw rebel troops from the Vicksburg area, weakening its defenses. Once weakened, US Major General William T. Sherman would lead his Corps into Vicksburg, from the north. The plan failed early, as Grant ran into CS Lieutenant General John Pemberton’s troops dug in on the south side of the Yalobusha River. While being held, in check by Pemberton, Earl Van Dorn led a successful cavalry raid in Grant’s rear. Van Dorn tore up over 50 miles of track that was Grant’s supply line to Memphis. Unable to supply his field forces, Grant would retire to Memphis for the winter.
Not to be deterred, from his plan, Grant sent Sherman’s troops down the Mississippi River to Milliken’s Bend (later to be known for a bloody rebel assault on black Federal troops). Disembarking from troop transports, Sherman pushed his troops into the swamp area, north of Vicksburg, on December 26. Sherman would push 32,000 Union troops through the bayou and against a very well defended Vicksburg. In a battle that would become known as Chickasaw Bayou, Sherman would be repeatedly repulsed from December 27, through December 29, by a much smaller Confederate force. Sherman became convinced, that an attack on the north of Vicksburg could not succeed, and on January 1, 1863 his troops boarded transports to the north. All told, Sherman lost close to 1,200 troops at Chickasaw Bayou.
In January, 1863, Grant unperturbed by the failure of Sherman, pushed down the west side of the Mississippi. With winter rains raising the Mississippi, Grant set his troops to work to avoid the demoralizing effects of inactivity. Grant set US Major General John McClernand’s troops to work, constructing a canal, that would move the Mississippi away from Vicksburg, allowing boats to transport his troops south. On March 8, the rising Mississippi overpowered a dam, on the upper end, flooding McClernand’s efforts and bringing a sorry end to this project.
At the end of March, Grant put McClernand’s troops back in motion, sending them south, on the west side of the Mississippi, to New Carthage. As a diversion, to this action, Grant sent US Colonel Benjamin Grierson’s cavalry on one of the most successful raids in the west. Grierson’s cavalry tore up miles of railroad, causing Pemberton to focus attention north, and east, of Vicksburg, allowing Grant to operate more easily on the west side of the Mississippi.
On April 16, and again on April 22, Admiral David Dixon Porter sent his gunboats down the Mississippi, past the guns of Vicksburg. This proved highly successful, even when the Rebels lit bales of cotton, on the banks, to silhouette the boats. This led to the battle of Grand Gulf, Mississippi on April 29, silencing the cannons south of Vicksburg. With the river open to the Union gunboats, Grant ferried 24,000 Federal troops across the Mississippi, into the very heart of the south. With this action, Grant would embark on the most brilliant campaign of the war. Severing his supply lines, he would march his troops, many miles, through hostile country, with no supply lines. This move was so controversial that even Grant confidant, William T. Sherman, advised Grant against making the move. Over the next 17 days, Grant would win battles against the Confederate army at Port Gibson (May 1), Raymond (May 12), Jackson (May 14), Champion Hill (May 16) and Big Black River Bridge (May 17).
By May 18, U.S. Grant had pushed CSA General Joseph E. Johnston’s army east of Jackson, and had pushed Pemberton’s army back into the fortifications of Vicksburg. On May 19, Sherman’s Corps would take the offensive, pushing down Graveyard Road and into the area around the Stockyard Redan. Sherman was repulsed, after much loss of life. Further south, McClernand’s troops, along with troops from US Major General James B. McPherson, pushed within a 1/4 mile of Vicksburg’s outer perimeter. Grant learned quickly that Pemberton’s army was not going to be easily destroyed.
Over the next four days Grant re-formed, and solidified, his positions around Vicksburg. On May 22 Grant had Porter’s gunboats soften Vicksburg, south of town, while his artillery, north, and west, of town, lobbed shells into the rebel works. At 10:00 AM, Grant sent Sherman’s Corps into the area of Stockyard Redan, McPherson’s Corps into the area around Third Louisiana Redan, in the center, and McClernand’s Corps into the area of the Second Texas Lunette on the south. McClernand’s troops were able to reach the fortifications, in front of the Railroad Redoubt, where they were pinned. Learning of McClernand’s success in the south sector, Grant ordered another army wide assault of the rebel works. Once again, across the entire line, the Confederates pushed the Federal troops back. Throughout the day Grant suffered close to 3,200 casualties, compared with less than 500 on the rebel side.
By May 25, Grant determined he could not break the rebel works and instructed his engineering staff to plan for a siege. Grant’s troops would control all roads into, and out of Vicksburg, while Porter’s river gunboats would quarantine Vicksburg along the water approaches.
Over the coming days engineers would work with the infantry, around the Vicksburg perimeter, to dig connected trenches, moving ever closer to the enemy lines. These trenches were constructed using ingenious tools, such as saprollers, to protect the workers. These saprollers were man-made barriers constructed of cane, and cotton bales, that would be rolled ahead of the troops. The trenches would be built in a zig-zag route, that would prevent the enemy from enfilading long sections of line. Additional protection, along the walls, would be gained by gabions. Gabions were large cylindrical tubes made of wicker, and filled with dirt. They could strengthen walls and trenches.
Over the coming weeks, Grant would call for reinforcements to fortify his lengthened lines. Troops arrived from Kentucky, and Missouri, eventually providing Grant with over 75,000 troops. Meanwhile, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was sending reinforcements to General Joseph Johnston, at Jackson, Mississippi, and encouraging him to assist Pemberton, at Vicksburg. Johnston could not be persuaded and would offer no help to Pemberton. Eventually, he would actually encourage Pemberton to leave Vicksburg and join him. Johnston, being 30 miles away, could not grasp the tactical situation facing Pemberton, as Pemberton had no means of pushing through the Union lines.
By the last of June, with food supplies dwindling, and the local Vicksburg citizens dug into caves, Pemberton’s situation became critical. He had two options going into July. Cut his way out of the defenses or surrender his army. In a war council, with his lieutenants, Pemberton pushed for the first option, while the majority of his generals pushed him to surrender. Pemberton would meet with Grant, on July 3, to discuss possible terms for the capitulation of his army. U.S. Grant, true to his character would accept no terms other than unconditional surrender. However, over the night of July 3 – July 4, Grant reconsidered. He knew the logistical difficulties he encountered when Fort Donelson surrendered, and did not want to have to arrange transport for over twice as many troops entrenched at Vicksburg. Grant would send Pemberton revised terms that only required the rebel soldiers to sign paroles, promising not to fight again until properly exchanged.
At 10:00 AM, on a very symbolic July 4th, John C. Pemberton would officially surrender his army to Ulysses S. Grant. The second such surrender Grant received in little more than 18 months. Close to 30,000 Confederate soldiers would file out of the Vicksburg defenses, stacking their arms. Shortly afterward, a selected cadre of Union troops would march into Vicksburg, once again lofting the “Stars and Stripes” over the Warren County Court House.
Outcome: Union victory
Union: 4,835 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
Confederate: 32,697 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
The July 4th holiday, in 1863, was a a day long remembered. In the eastern theater, Major General George Gordon Meade pushed Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, once and for all, from northern soil at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. While this battle was horrific in magnitude, it was not the “key” Lincoln referred to early in the spring. With the capitulation of Pemberton’s army, at Vicksburg, U.S. Grant had permanently removed two Confederate armies. Armies that would never again rebel against the federal authority of the United States. Additionally, the Mississippi would, for the rest of the war, be the exclusive domain of the Federal government, effectively cutting the Confederacy in two. After the fall of Port Hudson, on July 9, Lincoln would succinctly state, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”
After Vicksburg, Grant’s star would continue to rise. When Major General William S. Rosecrans was trapped in Chattanooga, in November, Lincoln would send for Grant. Creating the Department of Mississippi, Grant would command all troops west of the Appalachians. In March 1864, Grant would be promoted to Lieutenant General, the first since George Washington, and would command all Union land forces.
(i) Ballard, Michael B., Vicksburg: The Campaign That Opened the Mississippi, published by The University of North Carolina Press in 2004, Pgs. 396–397.