Today in History, May 18: 1863 – Running the Table. Gen. Grant had plan for Vicksburg and Admiral David Dixon Porter’s fleet had run past of the guns at that fortress city. In the interim between then and today’s date, Grant’s army was taken across the Mississippi from several victories in Louisiana, won five major victories in Mississippi, including taking the capitol of Jackson. He pushed Confederate Gen. John C. Pemberton back to the Big Black River Bridge, which Pemberton burned on the 14th during his retreat to Vicksburg.
Pemberton could no longer face Grant in the field, having lost three quarters of his army. Grant had the bridge rebuilt by the 18th, and the siege of Vicksburg had begun. Grant made two unsuccessful attempts to take the city and then determined to have no more losses, lay siege to the city. The siege involved entrenchments, mines and bombardment by land based artillery as well as by Admiral Porter’s ships. The civilians and soldiers in the city had to live underground. By July 4th, his troops and civilians starving and demoralized, Pemberton agreed to surrender. Grant initially demanded his trademark “Unconditional Surrender”, then reconsidered. Even after having lost 3/4 of it’s manpower, Pemberton’s army still numbered 30,000 famished troops. He decided instead to utilize a long respected military method of “paroling” the rebel troops. That meant that they would be freed as long as they never took up arms against the Union again. It would have taken months and a great deal of manpower Grant did not want to expend to move 30,000 prisoners north. The Confederates agreed to the terms. Yet many of them were back in battle against Union troops by September. This ended the act of paroling for the remainder of the war. After Vicksburg and Port Hudson fell in July, President Lincoln proclaimed, “”The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.” This victory was considered the turning point in the Civil War; Union control of the Mississippi not only allowed US Navy movement and resupply all along it’s course, it effectively cut the Confederacy in half, depriving it of the resources and armies of the west. This battle is also largely the reason Grant was advanced to command of all Union Armies…as Lincoln said, “I cannot spare this man…he fights!” A quality the President found lacking in many of his other Generals.