Lincoln Speech Celebrates the Surrender of Vicksburg
In the summer of 1863 the fortified town of Vicksburg, Mississippi, was one of two remaining Confederate strongholds (along with Port Hudson, Louisiana) preventing Union forces from controlling the Mississippi River and splitting the Confederacy in two. After two large-scale attacks on May 19 and 22 were repulsed, General Ulysses S. Grant and an army eventually totaling 77,000 men began a 47-day siege of Vicksburg and its defenders—a Confederate army of 33,000 men led by General John C. Pemberton.
As the siege wore on the soldiers and residents of Vicksburg suffered terribly. They boiled rats and even shoe leather for food, and townspeople lived underground, scooping out caves for shelter from the heavy artillery fire. Then in July, as the North prepared to celebrate Independence Day, the Union gained two major victories that turned the tide of the war. First, on July 1-3, came triumph at the Battle of Gettysburg. Then, on July 4, Vicksburg surrendered. With the surrender of Port Hudson five days later, the North completely controlled the Mississippi River and the Confederacy was cut in two, never again to be rejoined.
This newspaper article announcing the news of the surrender of Vicksburg describes how joyously the news was received in Washington, D.C., including a speech given by President Abraham Lincoln. It was published by the Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts) on the front page of its July 8, 1863, issue:
Fall of Vicksburg!!
Official Confirmation from Admiral Porter
Surrender of the Garrison!
Demonstration in Washington
Speech of President Lincoln
Cairo [Illinois], July 7.
Vicksburg Surrendered July 4.
Washington, July 7—1 P.M.—The following dispatch has just been received:
U.S. Squadron Flag Ship Black Hawk, July 4, 1863.
To Hon. Gideon Welles:
Sir: I have the honor to inform you that Vicksburg has surrendered to the United States forces on this Fourth of July.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
D. D. Porter, Act’g Read Admiral.
Cairo, July 7.—The dispatch boat has just arrived here from Vicksburg. She left at 10:00 on Sunday morning. The passengers announce that Gen. Pemberton sent a flag of truce on the morning of the 4th, and offered to surrender if his men were allowed to march out. Gen. Grant is reported to have replied that no man should leave except as prisoners of war. Gen. Pemberton then, after consultation with his officers, unconditionally surrendered.
This news is perfectly reliable.
Rejoicings over the News.
Washington, July 7.—The brief intelligence to the Secretary of the Navy from Admiral Porter, of the surrender of Vicksburg on the 4th, was received a few minutes before one o’clock.
The news spread with astonishing rapidity throughout Washington, exciting the most marked and expressive enthusiasm.
The intelligence was at once communicated to the President by Secretary Welles in person.
Evening.—A procession with bands of music proceeded to the Executive Mansion this evening. The crowd soon became immense, and there were in addition to the patriotic strains of music repeated cheers given for the President, and Generals Meade, Rosecrans and Grant. The President appeared at an upper window and spoke in substance as follows:
“Fellow citizens: I am very glad indeed to see you tonight and yet I will not say I thank you for the call, but I do most sincerely thank Almighty God for the occasion on which you have called. (Cheers.) How long ago is it? 80 odd years, since on the 4th of July for the first time in the history of the world a nation by its representatives assembled and declared as a self-evident truth that all men are created equal. (Cheers.) That was the birthday of the United States of America. Since then the 4th of July has had several very peculiar recognitions. The two most distinguished men in the framing and support of the Declaration were Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the one having framed it and the other sustained it the most forcibly in debate, the only two of the fifty-five who sustained it being elected President of the United States. Precisely fifty years after they put their hands to the paper, it pleased Almighty God to take both from this stage of action. This indeed was an extraordinary and remarkable event in our history. Another President five years after was called from the stage of existence on the same day and month of the year. And now on this last 4th of July, just passed, when we have a gigantic rebellion, at the bottom of which is an effort to overthrow the principle that all men are created equal, we have the surrender of a most powerful position and an army on that day (cheers), and not only have we gained a victory here, but in a succession of battles in Pennsylvania near to us. Through three days so rapidly fought that they might be called one great battle, on the 1st, 2d, and 3d of July, and on the 4th the cohorts of those who opposed the declaration that all men are equal, turned tail and ran. (Long continued cheers.) Gentlemen this is a glorious theme and the occasion for a speech, but I am prepared to make one mostly of the occasion. I would like to speak in terms of praise due to the many brave officers and soldiers who have fought in the cause of the Union and liberties of their country from the beginning of the war. These are trying occasions not only in success, but for the want of success. I dislike to mention the name of one single officer lest I might do wrong to those I might forget. The recent events bring up glorious names and particularly prominent ones, but these I will not mention. Having said this much I will now take the music.”
Three cheers were given, and after the music the larger part of the crowd proceeded to the War Department. Loud cries were given for Secretary Stanton, who returned his thanks for the compliment, and spoke in high eulogy of the recent deeds of the Army of the Potomac and of the success resulting from the fall of Vicksburg. He expressed his confidence in the early crushing out of the rebellion, and anticipated that successes would continue to follow successes, and claimed that we had achieved a great victory over the rebels and copperheads.
Gen. Halleck briefly addressed the multitude. He remarked: “It had been nearly two years since he took command of the Army of the West. Gen. Grant was under his command, and had fought fifteen battles and won fifteen victories. Now he is three-fourths of the way down the Mississippi river, and today or tomorrow he will be in Port Hudson.”
Secretary Stanton proposed three cheers for Gen. Meade, and three for Gen. Grant, three for Gen. Halleck, and nine for the Union; which were enthusiastically given.
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