- Historic Sites
The Siege Of Vicksburg
June 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 4
That night General Pemberton, the Confederate commander, calkd a council of war. As recorded by S. H. Lockett:
We had been from the beginning short of ammunition. … We were short of provisions. … We were so shorthanded that no man within the lines had ever been off duty more than a small part of each day. … Our lines were badly battered, many of our guns were dismounted, and the Federal forces were within less than a minute of our defenses, so that a single dash could have precipitated them upon us in overwhelming numbers.
All of these facts were brought out in the council of war. … General Pemberton said he had lost all hopes of being relieved by General Johnston. … He then asked each officer present to give his vote on the question, surrender or not ? Beginning with the junior officer present, all voted to surrender but two. …
General Pemberton said, “Well, gentlemen, I have heard your votes and I agree with your almost unanimous decision, though my own preference would be to put myself at the head of my troops and make a desperate effort to cut our way through the enemy. … Far better would it be for me to die at the head of my army, even in a vain effort to force the enemy’s lines, than to surrender it and live and meet the obloquy which I know will be heaped upon me. But my duty is to sacrifice myself to save the army which has so nobly done its duty to defend Vicksburg. I therefore concur with you and shall offer to surrender. …”
According to the “young lady of New Orleans” the next day, July 3, began dismally for the people in the city:
Today we are down in the cellar again, shells flying as thick as ever; provisions so nearly gone, except [a] hogshead of sugar, that a few more days will bring us to starvation indeed. Martha says rats are hanging dressed in the market for sale with mule meat. There is nothing else.
In the lines the negotiations for Vicksburg’s surrender had begun. The forty-day siege was ending—on the same day, coincidentally, on which Lee sent Pickett against Cemetery Ridge and lost the Battle of Gettysburg.
The morning of July 4 found General Grant at his headquarters awaiting General P ember ton’s final acknowledgment of the surrender terms. As a newsman who paid Grant a visit wrote:
I … found everybody about his headquarters in a state of the liveliest satisfaction. … The General I found in conversation more animated than I have ever known him. He is evidently contented with the manner in which he has acquitted himself of the responsible task which has for more than five months engrossed his mind and his army. The consummation is one of which he may well be proud.
The Confederates laid down their arms that afternoon. Grant’s men watched the procedure without cheering.
Vicksburg’s citizens, deeply relieved that the ordeal was over at last, swarmed out of their caves and cellars and walked the streets in the sunshine. Military casualties, by Civil War standards, had been moderate, and among the civilians inside the city, although no exact figures exist, the casualties evidently were low. The “young lady of New Orleans” paid a visit to the waterfront:
Truly it was a fine spectacle to see the fleet of [Union] transports sweep around the curve and anchor in the teeth of the batteries lately vomiting fire. Presently Mr. J. passed us: “Aren’t you coming? There’s provisions on those boats —coffee and flour.”
… The townfolk continued to dash through the streets with their arms full, canned goods predominating. Towards five, Mr. J. passed again. “Keep on the lookout,” he said, “the army of occupation is coming.” And in a few minutes the head of the column appeared.
What a contrast to the suffering creatures we had seen were these stalwart, well-fed men, so splendidly set up and accoutred! Sleek horses, polished arms, bright plumes—this was the pride and panoply of war. Civilization, discipline, and order seemed to enter with the measured tramp of those marching columns; and the heart turns with throbs of added pity to the worn men in gray who were being blindly dashed against this embodiment of modern power.
Confederate officer S. H. Lockett wrote:
A few minutes after the Federal soldiers marched in, the soldiers of the two armies were fraternizing and swapping yarns over the incidents of the long siege. … [A] hearty cheer was given by one Federal division “for the gallant defenders of Vicksburg!”
I myself,” wrote Grant, “saw our men taking bread from their haversacks and giving it to the enemy they had so recently been engaged in starving out.”
A few of the more mischievous Yankees went to the office of the Daily Citizen and arranged for the last issue printed on wallpaper to carry the announcement that Grant had “caught the rabbit.”