"Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until the key is in our pocket." -Abraham Lincoln
"Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South's two halves together." -Jefferson Davis
AN HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT LETTER: GRANT DEFINES THE TERMS OF SURRENDER AT VICKSBURG.
The climactic fall of the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, is often regarded as the turning point of the American Civil War, for by destroying the Confederate control of the Mississippi River, the Union Army, led by Ulysses S. Grant, effectively divided the Confederacy in two. As “Sherman told a friend after Vicksburg had fallen, ‘they have fought battles and maneuvered fast armies. Here he has achieved a real conclusion.” (Donald L. Miller, Vicksburg: Grant’s Campaign That Broke the Confederacy).
Before the Union could declare victory, however, terms of surrender had to be drawn between General John C. Pemberton, representing the Confederacy, and Grant, representing the North. The main issue at stake was what to do with the approximately 30,000 captured Confederate soldiers.
“That evening [July 3], as northern and southern soldiers socialized between the lines, Grant gathered his officers for a war council, one in which he alone would wield ultimate power. The debate hinged on whether the Confederate garrison should be ferried north as prisoners or paroled, sending them home and effectively excluding them from the war. Despite Grant’s reservations, his generals convinced him of the wisdom of the parole option; instead of tying up Union soldiers and monopolizing transports to steer more than thirty thousand rebels to northern prisons, Grant’s army would immediately be freed up for fresh military adventures. As the years went by and his name became synonymous with reconciliation, Grant tended to forget that he had started out favoring harsher treatment for Pemberton’s men. As he wrote in 1884, ‘The men behaved so well that I did not want to humiliate them. I believed that consideration for their feelings would make them less dangerous foes during the continuance of hostilities, and better citizens after the war was over.’” (Ron Chernow, Grant, pp.287-88).
“Once the war council ended, Grant presented Pemberton with generous terms, which would enable Confederate soldiers to save face and surrender with traditional war honors: ‘As soon as rolls can be made out and paroles signed by officers and men you will be allowed to march out of our lines the officers taking with them their side arms and clothing, and the Field, Staff & Cavalry officers one horse each.’ Turning up the pressure on Pemberton to accept these honorable terms, Grant slyly leaked the news to Confederate pickets. Once the rebel rank and file realized Grant was offering them a chance to head home, it would be difficult for Pemberton to reject his offer. He largely accepted the terms and said his men would march out the next morning with colors flying and stack their arms... Sometime around dawn [the next morning, July 4,] the siege ended. At breakfast time, Grant sat in his tent, composing dispatches on a small table, when an orderly arrived with Pemberton’s submission to his final terms. Wan, exhausted from the siege, Grant stood up and said with tangible relief to his son Fred, ‘W-e-e-e-ll, I’m glad Vicksburg will surrender.’’ (Chernow).
“Regarding Pemberton’s captured army, Grant had quickly deduced that parolees were preferable and POWs acceptable, but escapees (armed or unarmed) were neither. To Pemberton’s embarrassment, some of his former troops preferred the brutality of Northern prison camps to the future prospect of being conscripted back into the Confederate army, and Grant would not force anyone to sign their paroles. Then as Pemberton and his official parolees marched east to eventually rejoin their comrades and countrymen, most of them stole away into the countryside, never to bear arms again for the Confederacy. By the time Pemberton found Johnston in mid-July, reposing with his army still relatively intact, Pemberton’s over 30,000 parolees had reportedly melted away to fewer than 2,000 over the course of two weeks. As Cadwallader observed, ‘The wisdom of Grant’s releasing them on parole was thus early proven.’” (William Farina, Ulysses S. Grant, 1861-1864).
General James B. “McPherson became the point man for the surrender, and Grant had special instructions for him regarding the parole process. He wanted it done quickly to relieve the burden he felt about the Confederate army, but he also wanted it done right. He told McPherson to ‘take immediate charge of the paroling of the capitulated Confederate State forces, and hurry the same forward with all possible dispatch.'” (Timothy B. Smith, The Decision Was Always My Own: Ulysses S. Grant and the Vicksburg Campaign, p. 198).
In this July 8, 1863 letter, written from Grant to his "point man" McPherson, Grant clearly and strongly defines the terms of surrender (revealingly noting that there has been “some misunderstanding” on the part of Pemberton) and gives McPherson very specific instructions as to how to handle the prisoners.
The text reads in full:
Head Quarters, Dept. of the Tenn.
Vicksburg Miss. July 8th 1863.
Maj. Gen. J.B. McPherson,
Comdg 17th Army Corps.
There apparently being some misunderstanding between Lt. Gen. Pemberton and the paroling officers as to the method of conducting the paroling of prisoners I will give you the following rules for your guidance. That there may be no misunderstanding no prisoners will be allowed to leave our lines until all are paroled who will accept. Those who decline will be confined on Steamers anchored in the stream until they accept and consent to march out with officers appointed over them. Declining this they will be sent North as prisoners of War to be held for exchange. When all those able to leave the lines are paroled, and the rolls are approved by Gen. Pemberton, or any officer designated by him, the whole will be required to leave our lines. Those declining to leave will be sent out under guard.
Gen. Pemberton’s acceptance of the terms proposed to him binds the Confederate Govt. not to accept the services of any man who formed a part of this Garrison on the morning of the 4th inst. until properly exchanged. The object of the parole is to make each individual feel the same obligation.
News of the surrender of Vicksburg reached Washington, D.C., on July 7 – one day before this letter – and a thrilled President Abraham Lincoln immediately promoted Grant to the permanent rank of Major General of the Regular Army. This letter, then, written on July 8, was one of the first Grant wrote under his new rank. “Until Vicksburg, the western theater had been something of a sideshow. Now Ulysses S. Grant, an uncomplaining man of proven competence, found a new place in Lincoln’s affections... ‘Grant is my man,’ the president insisted, ‘and I am his the rest of the war.’” (Chernow).
Printed in The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Vol. 9. Vicksburg, MS: July 8, 1863. One large sheet (approx. 10x15.5 inches) folded in center to create four (7.75x10 in) pages (Grant’s letter on three pages). Custom cloth presentation folder. Usual folds, ink mark on final blank and some spots of ink smearing. Overall in outstanding condition.
A HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT LETTER WRITTEN AT ONE OF THE MOST CRITICAL MOMENTS OF THE CIVIL WAR.
Price: $28,000 .