Written by Ned Lodwick, U.S. Grant Homestead Association
Generals Grant and Pemberton sit alone and discuss the terms of the largest surrender of the Civil War.
The Union forces now faced the strongest Confederate defenses they had yet faced at the Big Black Bridge. At the Big Black Bridge Ulysses again demonstrated his ability to see maneuvers that other generals did not yet understand. This is just one more reason the U.S. Army calls Ulysses S. Grant the first modern general of the U.S. Army. While his generals prepared for a frontal assault across a broad river into the face of fixed earthworks Grant sent Sherman and his men five miles north to cross the river. Sherman’s men then marched south, ‘double time’, and attacked the entrenched Confederates from their undefended side. A veteran reporter sent this report to his newspaper, “It was the most perilous and ludicrous charge I witnessed during the war!”
It was all over in three minutes. The Union attackers lost 200 men killed and wounded while the Confederates lost 1,751 men and 17 pieces of artillery. The Confederates retreated in disorder. The maneuvering, mobility, speed, and firepower of this campaign was a Grant trademark and it would become a trademark of the U.S. Army that continues until today.
Gen. Pemberton then pulled all of his troops back into the walls of Vicksburg. In 17 days Gen. Grant’s men had marched over 100 miles, while living off the land, and had fought and won five battles.
On May 18th General Grant ordered assaults on the City of Vicksburg itself thinking that the Confederates were demoralized from their many defeats in the last few days but nothing could have been farther from the truth. The Union assaults on the 19th and 22nd were well planned and executed but Vicksburg’s defense seemed to be as invincible as advertised. The siege of the city began and Grant again showed his ability to alter his plans of assault to a siege to protect his army from unnecessary loss of life.
Vicksburg became a truly beleaguered city. Grant’s army now numbered 77, 000 well armed and well feed soldiers while the 30,000 Confederates and an even larger civilian population looked forward to ever smaller rations of food. To increase the pressure Gen. Grant kept up a 24 hour artillery barrage with his 220 field pieces and Admiral Porter did the same with his 100 massive naval guns.
By early July the garrison and civilians of Vicksburg were living on mule meat and not very much of that. Caves were dug into the cliffs to give some protection from the continual shelling. No hope of a breakout by the Confederates within the city or relief from a Confederate army from other parts of the South was possible. Gen. Pemberton’s only choice was to surrender his army and the city.
Pemberton was a Pennsylvania man who had married a southern woman and said he thought he could get the best terms of surrender on the 4th of July. Grant and Pemberton talked under a stunted oak tree and eventually worked out the terms and the city surrendered on July 4, 1863. The Mississippi River was open, the Confederacy was cut from the West, and Grant had captured his second complete army. Many people in the South didn’t celebrate the ‘North’s’ 4th of July until WWII.
The Battle of Gettysburg ended on July 3rd and took all of the headlines in the national newspapers. The President understood the significance of both victories and their value to the Union cause. Gen. Meade got a curt message from the President chiding him for not pursuing Lee’s Army and allowing them to escape into Virginia. General Grant received this telegram from President Lincoln.
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 in the general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo Pass expedition and the like would succeed. When you got below and took Port Gibson, Grand Gulf and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join Gen. Banks; and when you turned Northward East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. Now I wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong.
Yours very truly,