OTD in History… July 4, 1863, the Union breaks the Confederacy in half with victory at the Siege of Vicksburg
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
On this day in history July 4, 1863, the Union breaks the Confederacy in half with victory at the Siege of Vicksburg during the Civil War. The Vicksburg Campaign lasted between May 18 and July 4, 1863. Union Major Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his Army of the Tennessee aimed to take the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi from Confederate General Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton and his Confederate Army of the Mississippi. First, on May 16, Grant won the Battle of Champion Hill against Pemberton. Then Grant attempted two major assaults on the Confederate strategic stronghold Vicksburg on the Mississippi River, on May 19 and 22 forcing Pemberton to retreat back to Vicksburg. In the three weeks in May, Grant won five battles with the Confederates and took 6,000 prisoners. For forty days, from May 25, Grant and his 70,000 troops surrounded the city, when supplies ran out Pemberton and his 25,000 soldiers finally surrendered on July 4.
The Battle of Gettysburg and the Siege of Vicksburg are considered major turning points in the Civil War. Once Vicksburg was captured, the Confederacy lost the Mississippi and contact with their Western states, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. The lost made it impossible for the Confederacy to win the war ever. As Civil War historian, James McPherson recounts in his book Battle Cry of Freedom, “The Fourth of July 1863 was the most memorable Independence Day in American history since that first one four score and seven years earlier. Far away in Pennsylvania, the high tide of the Confederacy receded from Gettysburg. Here in Mississippi, white flags sprouted above rebel trenches, the emaciated troops marched out and stacked arms, and a Union division moved into Vicksburg to raise the stars and stripes over the courthouse.” (McPherson, 636)
The city’s residents were not as upset to see Yankees as would be presumed. The Union soldiers broke into speculators’ stores and allowed the residents to take what needed. Still, the ridicule would prevent Vicksburg from celebrating the Fourth of July for 81 years. The siege broke the city and the Confederacy giving the North an even more decisive victory than in Gettysburg, preventing the South from even employing a successful defensive war against the Union. McPherson concludes, “The capture of Vicksburg was the most important northern strategic victory of the war, perhaps meriting Grant’s later assertion that ‘the fate of the Confederacy was sealed when Vicksburg fell.’” (McPherson, 637) Although the war would last less than two more years, it was more a Northern assault on the South, punishing them for their rebellion than anything else; the Union could not lose the war.
McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.