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Surrender of Vicksburg, Mississippi
July 4, 1863
from Harper's Weekly Newspaper, August 1, 1863
Web Author's Notes:
Below is an article describing the surrender of Vicksburg, Mississippi, as it appeared in Harper's Weekly newspaper on August 1, 1863. The somewhat disjointed content may be a result of the re-printing of dispatches as they were received from author Theodore Davis who was present in Vicksburg at the time.


WE devote several pages this week to the surrender of Vicksburg--the most important event, in some respects, of the whole war.

Mr. Davis writes:

July 3, 1863.

The eyes of the gallant men in the rifle-pits in front of the Division of General A. J. Smith have been gladdened by the long-expected flag of truce that is, we hope, to close this eventful siege.

The officers, General Bowen and Colonel Montgomery, were received by the 'officer of the day' for the Division, Captain Joseph H. Green, of the Twenty-third Wisconsin Regiment, and by him conducted to the head-quarters of General Burbridge, Captain Green having first taken the precaution to blindfold the officers. At the quarters of General Burbridge, the General, who has been quite ill for some days, received them, with an apology for his inability to rise from his couch. The handkerchiefs were soon removed, and the message of which they were bearers was sent to General Grant, who returned word that he would meet General Pemberton at three o'clock in the afternoon, when the officers took their departure, blindfolded as before, walking out to the lines.

At three o'clock this afternoon the meeting of Generals Grant and Pemberton took place near the rebel work Fort hill.

After a conference of some two hours, in the most quiet and courteous manner, the two officers parted with a hand-shake that seemed most friendly.

Quietly seated upon the grassy slope near the rebel works, one could only look with the greatest interest upon the scene.

Meantime, a conference was being had near by by Generals McPherson and Smith and General Bowen and Colonel Montgomery, the officers of the Generals' staffs being en groupe.

July 4, 1863

This morning at ten o'clock the army under Lieutenant-General Pemberton marched out of their works and stacked arms and colors.

So close were our saps to the rebel works that in many instances the arms were stacked in our trenches. The scene sketched shows the key to the rebel position--Fort Hill, with which the readers of the 'Journal of Civilization' must by this time be rather familiar.

While the arms were being stacked General Grant with his staff rode past to enter the city; while upon the parapet of Fort Hill stood Pemberton, Hebert, Taylo9r, and other officers. It is , of course, impossible to show more than a small portion of the act of surrender, as each regiment stacked arms in front of the position they had held so gallantly during the siege, the works extending for nearly nine miles.

July 4, 1863

The exceeding picturesqueness of the scene, together with the natural interest attached to the movements of our gallant navy, made the arrival of the fleet one of the most gala incidents of the day. The sturdy iron-clads, trimmed from stem to stern with the many fluttering pennants and signal-flags of the code, the Jack-tars in their prettiest togs--white--and the jubilant crowd on the levee, whose noisy greeting was only equaled by the p-a-c-k-like explosion of the unshotted guns that told noisily off the stated amount of thunder due the anniversary of our country's birth.

And yet, sketching the scene, the thought came--Oh! could I but portray the heat! The pencil can not; words may. 'Twas very hot.

No officer has won for himself more golden opinions during this brilliant campaign than General McPherson. He is a cool and daring soldier in battle, a courteous gentleman in camp; as an engineer he is unsurpassed.

The works constructed by his corps are pronounced by the army the most complete and satisfactory of the line.

Each day he is in the trenches with the soldier, not a single thing escapes his notice--commendation or disapproval. He is the pride of the corps that he commands.

He has under him two able engineers, Captains Hickenlooper and Merrit. Captain H., being Chief-Engineer of the Corps, is represented at the right hand of my sketch. He is a native of the Buckeye State, and was previous to the rebellion, City Surveyor of Cincinnati, where he raised a 'battery' of artillery that has gained for itself a deserved reputation. Captain Merritt, a New Yorker by birth, was at the commencement of the rebellion a civil engineer of some reputation. Being in Iowa he recruited a Company in that State for the 'Engineer Regiments of the West.' He has served mostly upon detached service--in the construction and reconstruction of military railroads. I may say a word of this officer's coolness in emergency.
His post being in the advance trench in charge of working parties, he is continually the target for sharp-shooters. A few days since a lighted shell, thrown by the rebels into the trench among the working party, was picked up by him and thrown to explode among its senders.

July 4, 1863

Until this time, for obvious reasons, it has not been possible to obtain a satisfactory sketch of this Gibraltar of the South.

The present sketch gives a comprehensive view of the city, river, and fortifications. In the foreground are grouped the prisoners, whose condition is any thing but enviable, one poor fellow shivering with a chill; and the thermometer, if one were to be had, would certainly show a temperature of at least purgatorial heat. While sketching I was joined by a brave man, Lieutenant Vernay, of General McPherson's staff. Ah! quoth he, how we watched each flash from this monster gun as we, in frail transports, steamed past through the storm of hurtling iron. Vernay had volunteered, and in running the batteries never left the hurricane-deck of the boat he commanded. A word of the guns in these batteries. They are cast rough, and mounted, as the technical phrase is, with the skin on which adds to their strength about 15 per cent.

Of the rebel works at Vicksburg a Herald correspondent, who carefully examined the place after the surrender, writes as follows:

The question has often been asked, 'How long could Vicksburg have held out if its provisions had not become exhausted?' This is readily answered now that we have examined the ground and condition of their works, and the fact is this: One week's further operations and the city would have been obliged to surrender, in consequence of the murderous fire (which every day grew more severe) which our batteries and sharpshooters were continually hurling against the fated city.

A few of the reasons for this assertion may be succinctly stated. Aside from the fact of the scarcity of percussion caps, which for the sake of better showing our position, we will supposed were abundant, the configuration of the ground within the rebel works was poorly adapted to defense, and afforded no position for a second line. Between the outer line of works and the city there is but a single ravine. From the works--Fort Hill particularly--the slope to the bottom of the ravine was gradual, and presented remarkable opportunities of pouring into the enemy a superlatively sanguinary fire. The ascent of the slope on the other side was equally as exposed, though the fire could not be so sweeping as upon the retreat from the works to the ravine. Once driven across this ravine, the enemy would be even more exposed than at first; for not only would our land-batteries have a fair sweep from the landward side, but the gun-boats could be brought to bear upon the position from the rear. This would be a predicament for the enemy the realization of which could never be endured for a day.

In viewing the rebel fortifications their defects are evident even to the untutored in the eminent science of military defenses. There seems to be no system about them, but merely a collection of ditches and raised earth. The idea suggested to a person viewing them is that the engineers for the construction of the defenses of Vicksburg went to work in the most easy manner, physically, to themselves. It appears as if a detail were made, and each man alternately presented with a spade and a pick, and ordered to disperse, and in the language of the West, 'pitch in' wherever they thought proper, being careful always to give hills and prominent positions the preference.

From the looks of the works this is the way in which Vicksburg was fortified. There is no system, no consecutive chain of positions, no interlacing of works, upon which depends the fortified strength of a place. Another observable feature in the rebel works was the lack of gabions, which in all field fortifications are deemed almost indispensable. In the enemy's works there were none.

It would be unnecessary to say further in summing up that a great lack of engineering skill on the part of the enemy was displayed upon the defenses of Vicksburg. This fact is indubitable to one who has seen them, and must certainly occur to those who have carefully perused the above statement, which is based upon observation.

In conversation with several rebel privates I elicited as sections to the effect that we had not yet all the large guns which had been used in the defense of Vicksburg. I inquired what had become of them. They were not prone to tell; but one more incautions than the rest inadvertently said they were buried. I asked no further questions, for if this be a fact, as I have since learned it to be, the whereabouts of the interred instruments of war will soon be found by marks of fresh earth or by information. Certainly the entombed terrifiers will be exhumed and restored to service in a more rational cause than the one in which their former proprietors used them.

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