Today in History, July 4, 1863:

Confederate General John C. Pemberton surrenders Vicksburg, Mississippi to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Pemberton had sent a note asking for terms on the 3rd, and initially Grant gave is usual “unconditional surrender” response. He then thought about what he would do with 30,000 starving Southern troops, who he had lay siege to since May 18th, and granted them parole, accepting the surrender on the 4th.

The capture of Vicksburg effectively cut off of the Confederate states west of the Mississippi (and their supplies) from the South. Grant’s parole of the rebels would come back to bite him, as the Confederacy did not recognize it’s terms and many of them fought again…which came back to bite the Confederacy because as a result the Union stopped trading prisoners.

The South knew the consequences of the loss of Vicksburg.  It would be many, many years before Independence Day was celebrated in Vicksburg again.

The Patended President

Today in History, May 22, 1849:

“Be it known that I, Abraham Lincoln, of Springfield, in the county of Sangamon, in the state of Illinois, have invented a new and improved manner of combining adjustable buoyant air chambers with a steam boat or other vessel for the purpose of enabling their draught of water to be readily lessened to enable them to pass over bars, or through shallow water, without discharging their cargoes;”

Young Abraham Lincoln receives patent #6469 for an invention to lift river boats over shoals and other obtructions.

Among many other jobs he’d held, he had hauled freight on flat boats on the Mississippi. Twice his boat was hung up. As was common, once the boat had to be unloaded, repaired and portaged over the obstruction…a very laborous job.

Lincoln’s invention would inflate bladders to create more boyancy, lifting the craft over the problem. His invention was never put into use, so it’s viability remains unproven. It does make Abe the only US President with a patent.

The Tragedy of the SS Sultana

Today in History, April 27, 1865:

The SS Sultana.

They had left their farms, their jobs and their families, to fight for the Union, some for glory, some for honor. Any glory in the war faded, as it always must, as they fought through terrible battles. They saw their friends die mutilated, many of them suffered irreparable injuries.

Then they were captured by their enemy and sent to horrific prison camps such as the despised Andersonville. Conditions there were unspeakable; even if the Confederates had any sympathy for them, the South didn’t have the resources to care for it’s own, much less it’s prisoners.

Finally after months or years of starvation and brutality, the war was over; they were liberated. They were going home! Can you imagine the joy, the rapture they must have felt? Most had to have believed it would never happen, that they would die in their captivity.

They marched (those that could still walk) to ports on the Mississippi to board steamships for the trip north and home. Desperate to get home as quickly as possible, they begged, cajoled, bartered or simply boarded the overloaded river boats clandestinely. You can take just one more, right?

The steamer SS Sultana was one of those commissioned by the Union Government to get them home. Her capacity was for 376 passengers. 376. By the time she sailed from the captured city of Vicksburg, MS she was loaded down with at least 2,400…mostly those Union prisoners on their way home.

At 2 AM on the 27th of April her decks and quarters were jammed beyond capacity, but their must have been peace amongst the passengers. The ship was top heavy and as she made the turns of the river, the water in her inter-connected boilers sloshed back and forth, lowering the water levels in the boilers opposite the turn. One of the boilers had been hastily patched to allow her use on the trip.

Suddenly, one of the boilers burst, causing at least two more to follow. The ship exploded, the suddenly escaping steam burned hundreds to death in an instant, setting the wooden ship afire to kill hundreds more. Most of those that managed to escape the ship into the water, already emaciated, drowned before they could be rescued; the first ship to reach them was an hour away in the frigid waters.

Of the 2,400, as many as 1,900 perished. 7 to 9 miles above Memphis on the river, even the recently defeated Confederates there responded with compassion, opening their homes to the few survivors.

No one was ever prosecuted for the disaster, however Maj. Gen. Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana, commander of the Department of the Mississippi, was relieved of his command by Lt. Gen. Grant.

A Consequential Life

Today in History, January 24: 1956:

“Milam: “You still as good as I am?”

Bobo: “Yeah.”

Milam: “You still ‘had’ white women?”

Bobo: “Yeah.”

That big .45 jumped in Big Milam’s hand. The youth turned to catch that big, expanding bullet at his right ear. He dropped.”

Look magazine prints an article documenting the confession of two Mississippi men who had murdered a black youth, 14-year-old Emmett Till of Chicago, and then been acquitted by a Mississippi jury.

Emmett had flirted with one of the men’s wives at their small country store, so the men had kidnapped him, pistol whipped him, and finally murdered him.

He wasn’t familiar with Mississippi “rules”, and he couldn’t know that his death would help kick off the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.

I chose not to post the gruesome photos that were published in ’56….look them up if you’d like. If you have a few minutes, the “Look” article is enlightening and worth the time.

Those that lived those times can testify…while we still have progress to make, we have come a very long way.

Today in History, July 6: 1861 – Twenty-six year old Samuel Clemons, having followed his brother to the Nevada territory in search of adventure and riches, begins writing for Virginia City’s “Territorial Enterprise” newspaper under the pen name Mark Twain. He had searched for precious metals without success, and began writing to make money. He had spent time on the Mississippi River on river boats, which inspired his pen name. He went on to write in California, where he would begin his career in fiction. He would live to 1910.

Great Flood of ’27

Today in History, April 15: 1927 – “”The roaring Mississippi River, bank and levee full from St. Louis to New Orleans, is believed to be on its mightiest rampage…All along the Mississippi considerable fear is felt over the prospects for the greatest flood in history.” –The Memphis Commercial Appeal. The rains had been pouring down almost continuously across the Mississippi River Valley (yes that includes Oklahoma) for almost a year. On this day in 1927 the rains increased. Rivers all over the mid-west, already swollen past capacity, emptied into the Mississippi River. Soon the levies began to break all along the river, inundating the rich farmland on either side of the river’s normal course. Over 27,000 square miles were covered in 30 feet of water, a stretch at points 90 miles wide. To draw a comparison, Oklahoma covers nearly 70,000 sq. miles…so picture, if you can, everything in Oklahoma east of I-35 under 30 feet of water. Only 250 people lost their lives, a miracle considering that nearly 1,000,000 people lived in the affected region. It was the worst river flood in American history; and still is.