Friday, July 03, 2015

When the Confederacy Died

In 1863, this day and tomorrow mark when the Confederate States of America ceased to be a possibility and became a doomed corpse. Yes, the Rebels lingered on for two more years while Union armies ground them into dust but their uncivilized cause was now totally hopeless.

July 3 - Gettysburg
On the third day of fighting, Robert E. Lee made one of the most abysmally stupid decision in the history of warfare. He ordered an attack across open terrain against an entrenched force holding the high ground, the infamous Pickett's Charge. Union general Ambrose Burnside had tried the same tactic at Fredricksburg the prior year and seen his command slaughtered.

Over 12,000 men began the charge, fewer than 6,000 came back in one piece. The Army of Northern Virginia was never able to recover. Lee continued fighting but all he could muster were defensive holding battles and fighting retreats. Lee managed a couple of marginal tactical victories but that didn't matter to Union commander Ulysses Grant. His plan was attrition, force Lee to fight until he literally ran out of men.

July 4 - Vickburg
Speaking of Grant, at the same time of the Gettysburg carnage, Grant's Army of the Tennessee was laying siege to the Mississippi town of Vicksburg. Vicksburg was one of the last, and the strongest, fortified redoubts the Rebels had on the Mississippi River. For months Grant had tried to capture the town whose artillery kept the Union from gaining total control of the river. He had even tried to reroute that mighty river to make the town's fortifications useless.

Finally, Grant settled on the strategy of starving the defenders into submission. On July 3, Confederate General John Pemberton asked Grant for his terms of surrender and on July 4 30,000 emaciated Rebel troops laid down their arms and surrendered. Vicksburg residents were so bitter about the siege and surrender that for 40 years after the Civil War they refused to celebrate Independence Day.

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