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Top Ten Civil War History Highlights from Gettysburg and Vicksburg, July 4 Battles of 150 Years Ago

July 4 marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War fall of Vicksburg, a key position on the Mississippi River. It also marks the day Gettysburg fell quiet after the July 1-3 battle forever transformed it into hallowed ground. See highlights on both from UC’s Christopher Phillips, a New York Times published historian.

Date: 7/2/2013 9:30:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Supplied by UC Archives

UC ingot   The American Civil War perhaps reached its highest pitch 150 years ago, in early July 1863, when two decisive battles were decided – Gettysburg and Vicksburg.
This art, from UC Archives & Rare Books, illustrates a Stephen Foster Civil War song.
This art, from UC Archives & Rare Books, illustrates a Stephen Foster Civil War song.

To mark the approaching July anniversaries of these key turning points in the war, University of Cincinnati historian Christopher Phillips provides a Top Ten list of things you might not have known about Gettysburg and Vicksburg,
A July 4 Double Whammy for the Confederacy
The two battles officially ended on the same Independence Day, July 4, 1863. The Confederate troops at Vicksburg, Miss., surrendered that day after a 40-day siege. Their commander hoped the July 4 date would bring more sympathetic surrender terms. That same day, Robert E. Lee’s troops withdrew from Gettysburg, Penn.
Vicksburg Did Not Celebrate July 4 for Decades to Come
Legend has it that citizens of Vicksburg did not celebrate July 4 as Independence Day for more than a century following its 1863 fall. In fact, individuals in Vicksburg were celebrating July 4 as early as 1907, although the city did not officially celebrate the day until World War II.
Records Set on American Casualties and Number of Surrendering Troops
The casualties at Gettysburg totaled nearly 50,000. It stands as the largest land battle in the western hemisphere and the bloodiest battle in American history in terms of American casualties. The 29,500 Confederate troops who surrendered at Vicksburg represent the largest surrender of American forces in history.
Civilians Survived the Epic Battles
As battles, both Gettysburg and Vicksburg are named for the town and city locales where they occurred, sites that were home to local residents. Nevertheless, at besieged Vicksburg, few if any civilians became casualties despite continual bombardment. At Gettysburg, one civilian was killed. Jennie Wade, 20, was baking bread for Union soldiers when she was struck by a single bullet that traveled through two wooden doors before killing her instantly. Another Gettysburg civilian, John Burns, 69, was wounded as he fought with Federal forces as a citizen volunteer.
A Northerner Commanded the Confederate Troops at Vicksburg
In testimony to oft-divided loyalties of the era, the Confederate forces at Vicksburg were actually commanded by a Pennsylvanian, John C. Pemberton. (Pemberton’s two younger brothers fought for the Union in the war.)
High-Water Mark of the Confederacy
These combined Union victories have long been called the “high water mark of the Confederacy.” Success at both sites arguably represented the Confederate Army's best chances of achieving victory in the war. For instance, a Southern victory at Gettysburg might have allowed the Confederate troops to march on Washington, D.C. And when they surrendered Vicksburg, the Confederates yielded command of the Mississippi River to Union forces, effectively splitting the Confederacy in two.
“The Father of Waters Again Goes Unvexed to the Sea”
The Union victory at Vicksburg resulted in one of Abraham Lincoln’s most-famous quotes: “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”
Ulysses S. Grant Put in Charge of Western War Front Following Vicksburg
Because of his victory at Vicksburg, Union commander Ulysses S. Grant soon became the superior officer of the Federal commander at Gettysburg, George Meade. Soon after Vicksburg, Grant was given a command that effectively put him in charge of the entire western war front for the Union, except for Louisiana.
Paroled Southerners Would Fight in Later Battles
Ulysses S. Grant realized that thousands of surrendering Confederate soldiers at Vicksburg had been paroled more than a year earlier after his victory at Fort Donelson, Tenn. (Parole was a means for dealing with large numbers of captured troops, especially in circumstances where it would be difficult to feed and house them as prisoners of war.) Grant reluctantly paroled them again, and found himself again facing these same parolees in later battles at Chattanooga and in northern Georgia. When Grant became commander-in-chief of the entire Union army in 1864, he ended the system of soldier exchanges and paroles. Captured combatants became prisoners of war, unable to  rejoin in later battles. That resulted in the creation of the most infamous prison camp of the war – Andersonville in south Georgia.
Both Sites Became National Cemeteries
Both Gettysburg and Vicksburg became national cemeteries for the dead among the Federal troops. Nearly five months after the battle at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln dedicated the cemetery there with a short address that became the most famous speech in American history.
  • See more on UC research and collections related to the war.
  • Christopher Phillips, professor of history in UC's McMicken College of Arts & Sciences, is the author of six books on the Civil War era, including “Damned Yankee: The Life of Nathaniel Lyon” and the forthcoming “The Rivers Ran Backward: The Civil War on the Middle Border and the Making of American Regionalism.” His Civil War commentaries have been published in The New York Times in 2011 and 2012;
  1. "Missouri’s War Within the War"
  2. "Grant Goes to War"
  3. "The Fall of the House of Underwood"
  4. "The Breadbasket of the Union"
  5. "A Storm in Zion"