On October 1, 1862, the Confederate War Department issued General Orders, Number 73 naming Major General John C. Pemberton to command a newly established military department that would become known as the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana.
While Pemberton traveled to Jackson, Mississippi, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 240, on October 14, 1862, announcing Pemberton’s promotion to lieutenant general and the addition of “the forces intended to operate in Southern Tennessee” to his command. When Pemberton arrived at Jackson the same day, he issued General Orders, Number 1 announcing that “In compliance with instructions received from the War Department” he was assuming “command of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, including the forces intended to operate in Southwestern Tennessee.”
The number of soldiers in Pemberton’s new command totaled fewer than 50,000. Including the forces of Major General Earl Van Dorn and Major General Sterling Price, roughly half of the men were garrisoned at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Port Hudson, Louisiana, near the Mississippi River. The rest were spread across the two states.
Army of Vicksburg
Pemberton’s forces acquired a formal name on December 7, 1862, when he issued General Orders, Number 17 (Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana) announcing that “By direction of the Secretary of War, hereafter this army will be denominated Army of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana . . . ” Soon thereafter, Pemberton’s force became known informally as the Army of Vicksburg.
Charged with defending Vicksburg, Mississippi, the “Gibraltar of the Mississippi,” the Army of Vicksburg took part in the Battle of Grand Gulf (April 29, 1863), the Battle of Port Gibson (May 1, 1863), the Battle of Champion Hill (May 16, 1863), and the Battle of Big Black River Bridge (May 17, 1863).
Battle of Champion Hill
During the Battle of Champion Hill, one of the Army of Vicksburg’s divisional commanders, Major General William W. Loring, failed to reinforce Pemberton’s left flank as Pemberton had ordered him to do. When Loring’s division became isolated during the fight, Loring moved away from Pemberton and join General Joseph Johnston’s forces in central Mississippi. Loring’s departure left Pemberton with only about 33,000 soldiers to defend Vicksburg.
Retreat to Vicksburg
Following the loss at the Big Black River Bridge, Pemberton retreated to Vicksburg where Ulysses S. Grant invested him. With no supplies coming into the city, citizens and soldiers alike suffered from a lack of food. Gradually, the poor diet led to the onset of diseases, including scurvy, malaria, dysentery, and diarrhea. To add to the misery, Union troops lobbed thousands of shells into the city, forcing citizens to dig and inhabit over 500 caves for shelter.
On July 4, 1863, unable to withstand any more hardship, Pemberton surrendered the city and the Army of Vicksburg to Grant. Following the surrender, Grant decided that he did not want to care for nearly 30,000 starving Confederate soldiers in poor health. Instead, he offered to parole all of his prisoners, requiring them to never take up arms against the Union again. The Confederate government later challenged the terms of the parole on technical issues and some of the prisoners who Grant released fought against the North at Chattanooga and during William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign.