Portrait of John C. Pemberton

On July 4, 1863, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton surrendered the city of Vicksburg and the Confederate garrison defending it to Major General Ulysses S. Grant. [Wikimedia Commons]

Surrender at Vicksburg

July 4, 1863

On July 4, 1863, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton surrendered the city of Vicksburg and the Confederate garrison defending it to Major General Ulysses S. Grant.

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Prelude to the Surrender

Grant in Charge in the West

In July 1862, President Abraham Lincoln summoned Major General Henry Halleck to Washington to serve as chief of all Union armies. Halleck’s departure left Major General Ulysses S. Grant in charge of operations in the Western Theater.

Grant Focuses on the Mississippi River

Grant’s capture of Fort Henry on February 6, 1862, and Fort Donelson on February 15, 1862, secured Union control of the Tennessee and the Cumberland rivers. With two of the three main rivers connecting the North and South under Union control, Grant turned his attention to the Mississippi River. If the Union could gain control of the Mississippi, the Confederacy would relinquish easy access to supplies from the Gulf of Mexico and territories in the American West.

On May 18, 1862, Admiral David Farragut captured the port city of New Orleans on May 18, 1862, denying Confederate access to the Gulf of Mexico. In June, the Union tightened its grip on the Mississippi, when Federal forces captured the river city of Memphis, Tennessee. Prior to Halleck’s departure, the Confederate fortifications at Vicksburg, Mississippi remained the main obstacle to gaining control of the Mississippi River.

Marching Around Vicksburg

In December 1862, Grant launched the first of several unsuccessful attempts to capture Vicksburg. When spring arrived, Grant moved the Army of the Tennessee around Vicksburg on the Louisiana side of the river and then crossed the river into Mississippi at Bruinsburg, paving the way for him to attack Vicksburg from the south.

Grant Occupies Jackson, Mississippi

Before assaulting Vicksburg, Grant turned his attention to an army that General Joseph Johnston was assembling in Jackson, Mississippi, forty miles to the east of Vicksburg. By May 14, 1863, Union soldiers overpowered Johnston’s rearguard as he evacuated Jackson in the face of Grant’s larger army. After ordering the destruction of anything in the city that could support the Southern war effort, Grant marched his army back toward Vicksburg.

Pemberton Fails to Halt Grant

On May 16, 1863, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, the Confederate commander of the Army of Mississippi, unsuccessfully tried to halt Grant’s advance on Vicksburg by attacking the Union army at the Battle of Champion Hill, twenty miles east of the city. The next day, the Confederates made another futile stand along at the Battle of Big Black River Bridge. With no other options, Pemberton ordered his men to burn the bridges spanning the river, gather everything edible in their path, and retreat to the safety of Vicksburg.

Grant Besieges Vicksburg

Grant made two attempts to storm Vicksburg on May 19, and on May 22. Neither assault was successful, costing the Federals 639 killed, 3,277 wounded and 155 missing men. Rather than suffer further Union casualties, Grant besieged Vicksburg. On May 25, the Army of the Tennessee started to dig in, creating entrenchments around the city.

A week earlier, on May 19, William T. Sherman’s cavalry had forced the Confederates to evacuate their gun battery at Hayne’s Bluff, enabling Grant to establish a direct supply line on the Mississippi River to feed, arm, and reinforce his army.  As Grant’s forces swelled to nearly 75,000 Yankees, Pemberton’s only hope for escape was the possibility of General Johnston raising an army and marching against Grant from the east. Johnston did not share the belief held by others about Vicksburg’s military importance, so help never came.

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 artillery batteries and Farragut’s gunboats on the river lobbed thousands of shells into the city, forcing citizens to dig and inhabit over 500 caves for shelter.

Pemberton and Grant Negotiate the Surrender of Vicksburg

After holding out for over six weeks, Pemberton sent Major General John S. Bowen through his lines under a white flag of truce with the following message addressed to Grant.

Headquarters, Vicksburg, July 3, 1863.

Major-General Grant, commanding United States forces: —

General — I have the honor to propose to you an armistice for ___ hours, with a view to arranging terms for the capitulation of Vicksburg. To this end, if agreeable to you, I will appoint three commissioners, to meet a like number to be named by yourself, at such place and hour to-day, as you may find convenient. I make this proposition to save the further effusion of blood, which must otherwise be shed to a frightful extent, feeling myself fully able to maintain my position for a yet indefinite period. This communication will be handed you under a flag of truce, by Major-General James Bowen.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. C. PEMBERTON.

Brigadier General Andrew Jackson Smith received Bowen and forwarded Pemberton’s message to Grant. After considering Pemberton’s proposal, Grant replied:

Headquarters, Department of Tennessee,

In the Field, near Vicksburg, July 3, 1863.

Lieutenant-General J. C. Pemberton, commanding Confederate forces, &c.: —

General — Your note of this date, just received, proposes an armistice of several hours, for the purpose of arranging terms of capitulation through commissioners to be appointed, &c. The effusion of blood you propose stopping by this course, can be ended at any time you may choose, by an unconditional surrender of the city and garrison. Men who have shown so much endurance and courage as those now in Vicksburg, will always challenge the respect of an adversary, and I can assure you will be treated with all the respect due them as prisoners of war. I do not favor the proposition of appointing commissioners to arrange terms of capitulation, because I have no other terms than those indicated above.

I am, General, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

U. S. GRANT, Major-General.

After receiving Grant’s written reply, Pemberton sought an audience with Grant between the Union and Confederate lines. The two generals agreed to meet at 3 p.m. Generals Edward O. C. Ord, James B. McPherson, John A. Logan, and A. J. Smith accompanied Grant. Pemberton arrived late, escorted by General Bowen and Lieutenant Colonel Louis Montgomery. For the next one-and-one-half hours, the two groups presented terms of surrender. At the end of the meeting, Grant agreed to consider Pemberton’s conditions and respond in writing. Pemberton promised to respond before nightfall. In the meantime, the ceasefire would remain in effect.

Grant returned to his headquarters where he conferred with his subordinate officers before penning his terms of surrender. General Bowen and Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson delivered the document to Pemberton’s Headquarters.

Headquarters, Department of Tennessee,

Near Vicksburg, July 3, 1863.

Lieutenant-General J. C. Pemberton, commanding Confederate forces, Vicksburg, Miss. :

General — In conformity with the agreement of this afternoon, I will submit the following proposition or the surrender of the city of Vicksburg, public stores, &c. On your accepting the terms proposed, I will march in one division, as a guard, and take possession at eight o’clock to-morrow morning. As soon as paroles can be made out and signed by the officers and men, you will be allowed to march out of our lines, the officers taking with them their regimental clothing, and staff, field, and cavalry officers, one horse each. The rank and file will be allowed all their clothing, but no other property.

If these conditions are accepted, any amount of rations you may deem necessary can be taken from the stores you now have, and also the necessary cooking utensils for preparing them; thirty wagons also, counting two two-horse or mule teams as one. You will be allowed to transport such articles as cannot be carried along. The same conditions will be allowed to all sick and wounded officers and privates, as fast as they become able to travel. The paroles for these latter must be signed, however, whilst officers are present authorized to sign the roll of prisoners.

I am, General, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

U. S. GRANT, Major-General.

Pemberton did not reply overnight, but given the lateness of the day, his courier did not deliver the message until the morning (July 4).

Headquarters, Vicksburg, July 3, 1863.

Major-General Grant, commanding United States forces : —

General — I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of this date, proposing terms for the surrender of this garrison and post. In the main your terms are accepted ; but in justice both to the honor and spirit of my troops, manifested in the defence of Vicksburg. I have the honor to submit the following amendments, which if acceded to by you, will perfect the agreement between us: — At ten o’clock to-morrow I propose to evacuate the works in and around Vicksburg, and to surrender the city and garrison under my command, by marching out with my colors and arms, and stacking them in front of my present limits, after which you will take possession; officers to retain their side arms and personal property, and the rights and property of citizens to be respected.

I am. General, yours very respectfully,

J. C. PEMBERTON, Lieutenant-General.

Grant replied without delay that he would not comply with some of Pemberton’s requests.

Headquarters, Department of Tennessee,

Before Vicksburg, July 4, 1863.

Lieutenant-General Pemberton, commanding forces at Vicksburg: —

General — I have the honor to acknowledge your communication of the 3rd of July. The amendments proposed by you cannot be acceded to in full. It will be necessary to furnish every officer and man with a parole signed by himself, which, with the completion of the rolls of prisoners, will necessarily take some time. Again, I can make no stipulation with regard to the treatment of citizens and their private property. While I do not propose to cause any of them any undue annoyance or loss, I cannot consent to leave myself under restraint by stipulations. The property which officers can be allowed to take with them will be as stated in the proposition of last evening — that is, that officers will be allowed their private baggage and side arms, and mounted officers one horse each. If you mean by your proposition for each brigade to march to the front of the lines now occupied by it, and stack their arms at ten o’clock A. M., and then return to the inside and remain as prisoners until properly paroled, I will make no objection to it. Should no modification be made of your acceptance of my terms by nine o’clock, A. M., I shall regard them as having been rejected, and act accordingly. Should these terms be accepted, white flags will be displayed along your lines, to prevent such of my troops as may not have been notified, from firing on your men.

I am, General, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

U. S. GRANT, Major- General, U. S. A.

Upon receiving Grant’s reply, Pemberton curtly agreed to Grant’s terms.

Headquarters, Vicksburg, July 4, 1863.

Major-General U. S. Grant, Commanding United States forces, &c.: —

General — I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of this date, and, in reply, to say that the terms proposed by you are accepted.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. C. PEMBERTON, Lieutenant-General.

Pemberton Surrenders

At 10 a.m. that morning, Pemberton’s soldiers marched out of their defenses in front of Vicksburg and stacked their arms.

Grant entered the city around 11 a.m. and stopped to make a courtesy call at the Confederate headquarters where Pemberton and his staff treated him rudely. Colonel Wilson, who accompanied Grant recalled that:

No one even offered Grant a seat, and when he asked for a glass of water a member the Confederate staff merely told him where he could find it. The situation was a trying one, but Pemberton and his officers met it badly. Their behaviors unhandsome and disagreeable in the extreme while that of Grant and his staff was both modest and magnanimous to an extent to which the enemy had no just claim.

After a brief tour of the city, Grant sent a telegraph to Major General Halleck stating:

The enemy surrendered this morning. The only terms allowed is their parole as prisoners of war. This I regard as a great advantage to us at this moment. It saves, probably, several days in the capture, and leaves troops and transports ready for immediate service.

Later in his report on the campaign, Grant observed:

These terms I regarded more favorable to the Government than an unconditional surrender. It saved us the transportation of them north, which, at that time, would have been very difficult, owing to the limited amount of river transportation on hand, and the expense of subsisting them. It left our army free to operate against Johnston, who was threatening us from the direction of Jackson; and our river transportation to be used for the movement of troops to any point the exigency of the service might require.

Grant later recounted the concluding events of the surrender:

As soon as our troops took possession of the city, guards were established along the whole line of parapet, from the river above to the river below. The prisoners were allowed to occupy their old camps behind the intrenchments.

No restraint was put upon them, except by their own commanders. They were rationed about as our own men, and from our supplies. The men of the two armies fraternized as if they had been fighting for the same cause. When they passed out of the works they had so long and so gallantly defended, between lines of their late antagonists, not a cheer went up, not a remark was made that would give pain. I believe there was a feeling of sadness among the Union soldiers at seeing the dejection of their late antagonists.

Pemberton and his army were kept in Vicksburg until the whole could be paroled. The paroles were in duplicate, by organization (one copy for each, Federals and Confederates), and signed by the commanding officers of the companies or regiments. Duplicates were also made for each soldier and signed by each individually, one to be retained by the soldier signing and one to be retained by us. Several hundred refused to sign their paroles, preferring to be sent to the North as prisoners to being sent back to fight again. Others again kept out of the way, hoping to escape either alternative.

By the 11th, just one week after the surrender, the paroles were completed, and the Confederate garrison marched out.

Aftermath of the Surrender

Significance

The surrender of Vicksburg was a significant turning point in the American Civil War. Before the campaign began, President Abraham Lincoln stated, “Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until the key is in our pocket.” Confederate President Jefferson Davis said, “Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South’s two halves together.” Both were correct. Vicksburg’s fall gave the Union complete control of the Mississippi River, reestablishing trade through the Gulf of Mexico. It also severed the Confederacy’s connections with territories in the American West, denying the South essential agricultural supplies.

Darkest Two Days in Confederate Military History

Combined with Major General George G. Meade’s victory at Gettysburg (July 3), Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s retreat from Middle Tennessee at the conclusion of Major General William S. Rosecrans’ highly successful Tullahoma Campaign (July 3), and Major General Benjamin Prentiss’ triumph over Confederate troops in Arkansas at the Battle of Helena (July 4), Grant’s victory at Vicksburg completed the darkest two days in Confederate military history.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Surrender at Vicksburg
  • Coverage July 4, 1863
  • Author
  • Keywords vicksburg, surrender, grant, pemberton
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 31, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 8, 2021
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