The Turning Point of the Civil War

I know that it’s not Wednesday, but I still wanted to write a Civil War post this week. I promise that I will get back onto the Wednesday schedule next week. This particular week in 1863 was too important for me to just skip it.

The most well-known event that occurred during the first week of July during the years of the war was the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863. This battle would be known as the High Tide of the Confederacy because it seemed that after this point in the war things changed. It was the last time that Lee would take the offensive and the Confederates no longer meet with as much success as they had previously. The Union would start to see an upswing in things. Ulysses S Grant would be brought east and placed in command of all the Union armies, and he would finally get the results that Lincoln had been longing for all along.

What had Grant done that would have Lincoln deciding to put him in charge of the army? Prior to this point in the war very few people would have even considered Grant as overall commander. There were rumors that he was a drunk and his most trusted general in the west was crazy Sherman. In fact, when somebody approached Lincoln with the accusation that Grant drank too much, Lincoln replied, “By the way, can you tell me where he gets his whiskey? He has given us successes and if his whiskey does it, I should like to send a barrel of the same brand to every general in the field.” Grant was doing exactly what Lincoln had been hoping that the other generals would do, he was getting the job done. He went after the Confederates and didn’t stop until he’d found a way to get them.

Vicksburg is a good example of Grant’s inability to allow the Confederates to get the better of him. Grant knew that Vicksburg was the key to controlling the Mississippi River. If the Union could gain complete control of this they would split the Confederacy in half and have a better position at choking off the Confederacy and getting them to give up. When Grant couldn’t take over the city by attacking it he did what he was good at doing… waiting. He laid seige to the town of Vicksburg, slowly choking off their supplies and contact with the outside. The Navy was aiding in Grant’s campaign, helping by a constant lobbing of shells into the town. The people of Vicksburg took to living in caves that they had dug into the ground in the hopes of getting away from the relentless shelling of their homes.

The seige lasted for forty days, during which time supplies were stretched so thin that the soldiers in the city had their daily rations cut to one small biscuit and a piece of bacon. They were literally starving and the Confederate army was unable, or unwilling, to assist them. Confederate General Joseph Johnston was in Mississippi, but he was having problems trying to scrape together enough men to help support Pemberton in Vicksburg. Most of the ‘extra’ men had been shipped east when Lee started his campaign into the North, which would end in Gettysburg. Johnston instead urged Pemberton to leave Vicksburg and join him so that together they could then attack the Union and perhaps regain Vicksburg. Pemberton refused since he’d been given orders to hold Vicksburg, and he was determined to do so.

Each day Pemberton, his soldiers, and the 3,000 citizens of Vicksburg hoped that Johnston would be able to break through and help to save them from the seige. What they didn’t know, though, was that Grant had been able to amass 70,000 troops to counter the 30,000 that Johnston had at his disposal. President David didn’t have any more troops to send to Johnston, so it was just a waiting game. On June 28th Pemberton received a message from the soldiers saying that he had better do something soon because the starving men were ready to mutiny. On July 3rd Pemberton sent a message to Grant asking for terms of surrender.

July 4, 1863 the Confederate soldiers marched out of the city and stacked arms, while a Union division entered Vicksburg and raised the Stars and Stripes high above the city. The naval boats celebrated out on the river while the people of Vicksburg choked back tears, insulted by having to surrender on July 4th. To make matters even worse, the Union soldiers behaved themselves and even handed out rations and supplies to the Confederate soldiers and citizens of Vicksburg. How dare this horrible enemy from the North act like civilized human beings!

Vicksburg would show Lincoln and the papers in the east just what Grant was capable of accomplishing. Shortly after this victory Lincoln would call Grant east to lead the army from that arena. As for the people of Vicksburg, it would be many years before they would again actually celebrate July 4th as Independence Day. They did not officially celebrate it again until 1945, after the end of WWII.


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