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I hope you all had an enjoyable 4th of July weekend and for you Canadians I hope you enjoyed Canada Day on 1 July. Trish forgive me but I don't know if Australia has a holiday at this time. Please let us know if you do.

When we think about July 1863, most of us think of the Battle of Gettysburg. But did you know that the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi surrendered to General Grant on July 4, 1863 after a siege that lasted for six weeks and that the city did not celebrate Independence Day again until 1945?

The two opposing presidents, Abraham Lincoln of the Northern states and Jefferson Davis of the Confederate states had this to say, "Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until the key is in our pocket," President Abraham Lincoln said. Southerners agreed. "Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South's two halves together," said Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The Siege of Vicksburg

Vicksburg was virtually a fortress controlling the center of the Mississippi River. Situated high on bluffs that were practically unreachable by Union forces, the Confederate's artillery controlled the river below. Union gunboats risked destruction when trying to sail past Vicksburg, and Port Hudson, another southern stronghold, prevented Union naval forces from sailing

General Grant planned a two-pronged advance on Vicksburg as early as 1862 but failed dismally. He tried five other times to capture the city to no avail. In a final attempt, Union Admiral Farragut succeeded in running the batteries at Port Hudson with two Federal gunboats and gained control of the Mississippi below Vicksburg. Admiral Porter on the other hand successfully moved his ships down past the Vicksburg artillery.

Grant ordered diversions by Major General Sherman at Haines Bluff and a cavalry raid by Colonel R.H. Grierson, both of which successfully distracted Confederate General Pemberton. Grant who had intended to land his troops at Grand Gulf, was unable to neutralize the Confederate forces there and instead landed at Bruinsburg, Mississippi on April 30, 1863.

Unable to recover quickly from the diversions, Pemberton did not have substantial forces to contain Grant after the landing. A Confederate task force under Brigadier General John Bowen met Grant at Port Gibson on May 1 but after a hard daylong battle retreated when no reinforcements arrived.

On May 12, Grant began his move with about 44,000 troops toward the interior of Mississippi. They met and defeated a small Confederate task force at Raymond that same day and two days later broke up a concentration of Confederate General Joe Johnston's forces at Jackson. The Confederates abandoned the important railhead and supply depot located there and escaped to the north.

General Johnston again ordered Pemberton to take his forces and attack Grant, only this time from the rear. Pemberton delayed until May 15 and finally marched out to take Grant's non existent supply line. He decided on May 16 to obey Johnston's orders but by this time it was too late. Grant was now in contact with his lead division near Champion Hill.

Grant, who had left Sherman with two divisions in Jackson to finish the destruction of railroad tracks and stores, was left with about 29,000 troops to face Pemberton's 23,000. A desperate battle ensued with the key positions changing hands several times but in the end it was Pemberton who was forced to retreat into the Vicksburg defenses.

Assaults on May 18 and May 22 proved unsuccessful. The Confederates were a stubborn lot. Pemberton, who refused to obey his orders from Johnston and withdraw from the city, called a council of war of his officers instead. The vote was to dig in and hope for rescue, only this was not a reasonable hope and they soon found themselves trapped. Grant after failing two times to take the city, decided to let hunger work for him. Pemberton had 20,000 men, plus several thousand civilians and dependents, shut up within the city's eight-mile-long perimeter (less than 10 square miles). By now the heat of summer had settled on the city and between the Union's bombardments and the stench, life could be considered Hell. The citizens took to living in caves and in the bluffs to escape the shellfire. People became uncivilized with the search for food being the main reason for living. First cows disappeared, then horses, then mules. Sickness ran rampant and men and women began to die because their weakened constitutions could not withstand the onslaught of disease.

The following is taken from a young woman's diary.

"We are utterly cut off from the world, surrounded by a circle of fire?. The fiery shower of shells goes on day and night?.People do nothing but eat what they can get, sleep when they can, and dodge the shells?.I think all the dogs and cats must be killed or starved. We don't see any more pitiful animals prowling around?.The confinement is dreadful?.? This place has two large underground cisterns of good cool water, and every night in my subterranean dressing room a tub of cold water is the nerve-calmer that sends me to sleep in spite of the roar. One cistern I had to give up to the soldiers, who swarm about like hungry animals seeking something to devour. Poor fellows! My heart bleeds for them. They have nothing but spoiled, greasy bacon, and bread made of musty pea flour, and but little of that. The sick ones can't bolt it. They come into the kitchen when Martha [a slave] puts the pan of corn-bread in the stove, and beg for the bowl she mixes it in. They shake up the scrapings with water, put in their bacon, and boil the mixture into a kind of soup, which is easier to swallow than pea-bread. When I happen in, they look so ashamed of their poor clothes. I know we saved the lives of two by giving a few meals?. The churches are a great resort for those who own no caves. People fancy they are not shelled so much, and they are substantial, and the pews good to sleep in."

No other city during the entire Civil War suffered such hardship. After forty days of siege, negotiations started between Grant and the defenders of Vicksburg. This time Grant allowed conditions which included paroling the soldiers of Vicksburg. He allowed them to go with a pledge not to fight anymore. On July 4, 1863, General Pemberton surrendered the city into the hands of General Grant.

The Union soldiers entered the city and immediately began distributing bread and supplies to the starving Confederates. Grant telegraphed the news to Lincoln who was already savoring the news of victory at Gettysburg and the president said, "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea."

Sources for today's tidbit are:


"A Short History of the Civil War" by James L. Stokesbury,copyright 1995 by James L. Stokesbury.

" Don't Know Much About the Civil War" by Kenneth C.Davis,copyright 1996 by Kenneth C. Davis.

Related websites:

Battle of Raymond

Battle of Jackson

Battle of Champion Hill

I know this is another long tidbit but I wanted to tell you about something I learned yesterday. While at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. I saw a display of clothespins and much to my surprise, I found out that wounded soldiers during the Civil War made clothespin dolls while they were recovering. There were reproductions of the dolls and some of them were missing limbs. The explanation said that oft times if the soldier was an amputee his doll would be missing the same limb as the soldier. I found that rather interesting and thought you might too.

© 2006 Winifred Ledoux