For most people living in America, July 4th brings to mind that day back in 1776 when the 13 colonies officially declared themselves independent of Great Britain, thus creating the United States of America as a distinct, sovereign nation.
But for about 75 years, citizens of Vicksburg didn’t have the heart to celebrate Independence Day, or regard the day as anything to celebrate at all, because of the events of July 4, 1863.
What happened that day?
The year 1863 was a pivotal one during the Civil War. The war had been going on for two years, far longer than some optimists had initially thought it would last. The summer of 1863 saw the momentum of the war shift decidedly in favor of the North.
Union General U.S. Grant set his sights on Vicksburg in the spring of 1863 because if he could control this port town, he could cut off the Confederacy’s access to the Mississippi River. Grant launched his siege on Vicksburg in May and for two months the city remained under siege. On July 4, one day after the Confederacy’s well-known defeat at Gettysburg, Vicksburg finally fell to the Union.
Though the war dragged on for another two years, the Confederacy was crippled afterwards. Though the Confederates would win isolated battles, they would never again have any sort of real momentum.
Perhaps this explains why citizens of Vicksburg for many years weren’t in a celebratory mood on July 4. Civil War historians rank the Battle of Vicksburg as one of the most strategically significant in the entire war, and certainly the most important battle fought in the Magnolia State.
Though the Union eventually prevailed over the Confederacy, one could say that in a sense, both sides lost. According to the World Book Encyclopedia, about 620,000 soldiers died during the Civil War, more often the result of disease than of gunfire, “almost as many as the combined American dead of all other wars from the Revolutionary War through the Vietnam War."
Union casualties were about 360,000, while Confederate casualties were about 260,000. Though more Union soldiers died over all, the Encyclopedia says that, percentage wise, about 1/3 of Confederate soldiers died, while about 1/6 of Union soldiers died.
The Civil War very nearly put an end to the United States of America. Good things, however, did come about in the war’s aftermath. The 13th amendment, prohibiting slavery, was ratified in 1865, followed soon after by the 14th and 15th amendments, which bestowed citizenship rights and voting rights on African-Americans.
If you have never visited the Civil War park in Vicksburg, it is well worth the trip. It is a wealth of information for anyone wanting to expand his or her knowledge of the war that forever changed the United States. It brings to life and puts in perspective the harrowing fight that fellow Americans waged against each other at a very bleak time in American history.