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.

Siege(s) at Yorktown 

Today in History, September 28: 1781 – The Siege of Yorktown during the Revolutionary War begins as The Continental Army and their French Allies corner British Lt. General Cornwallis’ forces from land and sea. The siege would last until October 19 when Cornwallis sent one of his officers out to surrender. This would be the last major land battle of the war, and would result in the British government negotiating for peace. Ironically, 81 years later, during the Civil War, Confederate forces would use some of Cornwallis’ trenches in another Siege of Yorktown, this time by forces under the command of Union Gen. George B. McClellan. The result would be different this time; by the time McClellan was ready to act, the Southerners and slipped the noose and escaped.

Running the Table

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.

Death From Afar Before the Age of Rockets & Missiles

Today in History, March 23: 1918 – At 7:20 AM the peace in Paris, France was shattered by an artillery barrage. The fire was from a new weapon designed by the Germans, the “Pariskanone”, a 210mm cannon with a 118 ft long barrel. The gun could fire a shell to an altitude of 25 miles; the cannons bombarding Paris were firing from safety 74 miles away. By the end of the assault on August 9, 260 Parisians had been killed.