The Civil War – July 1863 an important date

Submitted by C.J. Johnson

Two extremely significant events occurred in the first week of July 1863, at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, both ending on July 4. The following comments are taken from the Civil War Trust website. Vicksburg

“For many a hard fought month, Ulysses S. Grant and his Army of the Tennessee had been trying to wrest away the strategic Confederate river fortress of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Previous, direct attempts to take this important town high above the Mississippi River were blocked by deft rebel counter moves and some of the most pernicious terrain in the entire Western theater.

In late April 1863, Grant undertook a new and bold campaign against Vicksburg and the Confederate defenders under John Pemberton. After conducting a surprise landing below Vicksburg at Bruinsburg, Mississippi, Grant’s forces moved rapidly inland, pushing back the threat posed by Joseph E. Johnston’s forces near Jackson. Once his rear was clear, Grant again turned his sights on Vicksburg.

Union victories at Champion Hill and Big Black Bridge weakened Pemberton’s forces, leaving the Confederate chief with no alternative but to retreat to Vicksburg’s defenses. The Federals assailed the Rebel stronghold on May 19 and 22, but were repulsed with such great loss that Grant determined to lay siege to the city to avoid further loss of life. Soldiers and civilians alike endured the privations of siege warfare for 47 days before the surrender of Pemberton’s forces on July 4, 1863. With the Mississippi River now firmly in Union hands, the Confederacy’s fate was all but sealed.”

Gettysburg

“After his astounding victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, in May 1863, Robert E. Lee led his Army of Northern Virginia in its second invasion of the North—the Gettysburg Campaign. With his army in high spirits, Lee intended to collect supplies in the abundant Pennsylvania farmland and take the fighting away from war-ravaged Virginia.

He wanted to threaten Northern cities, weaken the North’s appetite for war and, especially, win a major battle on Northern soil and strengthen the peace movement in the North…Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee concentrated his army around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, upon the approach of Union Gen. George G. Meade’s forces.

On July 1, Confederates drove Union defenders through Gettysburg to Cemetery Hill. The next day Lee struck the flanks of the Union line resulting in severe fighting at Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, Peach Orchard, Culp’s Hill and East Cemetery Hill. Southerners gained ground but failed to dislodge the Union host.

On the morning of July 3rd, fighting raged at Culp’s Hill with the Union regaining its lost ground. That afternoon, after a massive artillery bombardment, Lee attacked the Union center on Cemetery Ridge and was repulsed with heavy losses in what is known as Pickett’s Charge. Lee’s second invasion of the North had failed…

Four months after the battle, President Lincoln used the dedication ceremony for Gettysburg’s Soldiers National Cemetery to honor the fallen Union soldiers and redefine the purpose of the war in his historic Gettysburg Address.”

There is a wealth of data available on Gettysburg. Civil War Trust highlighted several interesting points. “The Battle of Gettysburg is by far the costliest battle of the Civil War but not necessarily the largest. While each of the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg rank in the top 15 bloodiest battles of the Civil War—the 160,000 troops present at Gettysburg are eclipsed by the more than 185,000 at Fredericksburg…

More than one-third of all known photographs of dead soldiers on Civil War battlefields were recorded at Gettysburg…General George Gordon Meade was only in command for three days before the battle… General Lee lost 23 battle flags in Pickett’s Charge — more than he had lost in the previous 14 months combined.”