Happy Independence Day from Vicksburg!

Happy Independence Day! 

On July 4, 1863 the Confederacy, under General Pemberton, surrendered Vicksburg to General Grant.  The Battle of Vicksburg is an excellent example of the Lost Cause.

“The Vicksburg campaign was one of the Union’s most successful of the war.  Although Grant’s first attempt to take the city failed in the winter of 1862-63, he renewed his efforts in the spring.  Admiral David Porter had run his flotilla past the Vicksburg defenses in early May as Grant marched his army down the west bank of the river opposite Vicksburg, crossed back to Mississippi, and drove toward Jackson. After defeating a Confederate force near Jackson, Grant turned back to Vicksburg. On May 16, he defeated a force under John C. Pemberton at Champion Hill. Pemberton retreated back to Vicksburg, and Grant sealed the city by the end of May. In three weeks, Grant’s men marched 180 miles, won five battles, and took 6,000 prisoners.

Grant made some attacks after bottling Vicksburg, but found the Confederates well entrenched. Preparing for a long siege, his army constructed 15 miles of trenches and enclosed Pemberton’s force of 29,000 men inside the perimeter. It was only a matter of time before Grant, with 70,000 troops, captured Vicksburg. Attempts to rescue Pemberton and his force failed from both the east and west, and conditions for both military personnel and civilians deteriorated rapidly. Many residents moved to tunnels dug from the hillsides to escape the constant bombardments. Pemberton surrendered on July 4.”[1]

The Battle of Vicksburg doesn’t receive very much attention, because in the east, the Battle of Gettysburg was occurring simultaneously.  The combined two Confederate losses mark the turning point of the war for the Union. 

What makes Vicksburg a shining example of the Lost Cause is that it fits most criteria associated with the Lost Cause.  David Blight states that “the ingredients that would form the Lost Cause were: public memory, a cult of the fallen soldier, a righteous political cause defeated only by superior industrial might, a heritage community awaiting its exodus, and a people forming a collective identity as victims and survivors.”[2] 

The public of Vicksburg remember very vividly the siege and eventual surrender.  It was not until the 1950s that Independence Day was celebrated with any conviction.[3]  The public memory that is shared by Vicksburg residents reinforces the memory of the Lost Cause.  In reference to the cult of the fallen soldier…according to civilwar.org, the Confederates had over 9,000 casualties.  This figure does not include civilian casualties.  The way the town was able to endure a 47 day siege shows how valiantly they fought.  Many soldiers and citizens died to save their town.  Also, reinforcements were not able to reach General Pemberton, thus proving that one of the key reasons why the Confederates surrendered was because the Union had limitless resources.  I believe the citizens of Vicksburg chose to unite around this battle because they had endured it together.  They are both the victims and survivors –each with their own challenges as the remainder of the Civil War played out. 

After exploring the National Park Service website, http://www.nps.gov/vick/historyculture/index.htm, it is clear there are memorials to both the Union and the Confederacy.  There’s even a memorial to African American soldiers who helped fight for the Union at Port Hudson and at Milliken’s Bend.  Does this combination of memorials at the site of Vicksburg show reconciliation?  Or, is it an attempt by the Park Service to carry out due diligence and offer both perspectives of the battle?  If Vicksburg is an example of the Lost Cause, can it also participate in other memory theories?

[1] “This Day In History July 4, 1863: Confederates Surrender Vicksburg,”  History.com: This Day in History, accessed July 2, 2012, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/surrender-of-vicksburg.

[2] David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001) 38.

[3] Beverly Beyer and Ed Rabey, “Vicksburg Hides Civil War Memories Behind Sleepy Facade: Once called Gibraltar of Confederacy, Mississippi River Town is Famed for Battlefield and Mansions, ” Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1992.

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2 comments
  1. In order to answer your questions, I think it would be helpful to know when the memorials were erected. The different causes appear to be more popular than others as a reflection of current events. The motivation to erect seperate memorials is clearly part of the reconciliation in which compromises were made on all sides for the greater good of restoring the Republic.

  2. 10ectim said:

    Vicksburg was indeed an example of those that support the Lost Cause. The vastly outnumbered Confederate forces held off Grants army for an extended period of time. The citizens of Vicksburg endured suffering and sacrificed their livelihoods, their homes, and their futures. Many of them living in caves or dugout areas in the hills to avoid Union artillery. The Union forces are again seen as brutal, invading Yankees reeking destruction upon the South. But this battle (or siege) also depict the weakness and failings of the Confederate government. A political division between the commander in the West (Joseph Johnston) and the president (Jefferson Davis) prevent a concerted effort to send reinforcements to Vicksburg. It seemed similar to the political conflicts between Lincoln and McClellan earlier in the war.

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