Fierce and determined. Black troops fought for the Union for the first time in the Vicksburg Campaign.
Thousands of free men and former slaves had signed up with the Union Army, but many Northerners didn't want to associate with them and considered them incapable of fighting. They had to work as laborers.
Union troops were losing battles, however, and Lincoln wanted the black troops to prove they could fight. They did so May 27 at Port Hudson and June 7 at Milliken's Bend, La. The Union lost both battles, but the black troops were fierce and determined, receiving praise from military and political leaders.
There reportedly were black enlisted men on the Confederate side, but they did not fight.
No July Fourth celebration. A threat of mutiny helped bring the siege to an end.
On June 28, Pemberton received a letter signed "Many soldiers." It read, in part: "If you can't feed us, you had better surrender us, horrible as the idea is....This army is now ripe for mutiny unless it can be fed." The general polled his officers, who agreed it was time to surrender.
Pemberton and Grant met under an oak tree on July 3, but Pemberton refused Grant's demand for an unconditional surrender. Their underlings continued to negotiate, and on July 4, Confederate soldiers laid down their arms and signed a pledge to return home. Each officer kept his horse and personal firearms. But July 4 — Independence Day — was not observed in Vicksburg until 1945. A volunteer at the Old Court House Museum told me, "You don't celebrate defeat and pillage."
Resting place for the Union. About 5,200 Confederates and 2,600 Yankees were killed or went missing in the Vicksburg Campaign, but almost 17,000 Union soldiers are buried in the 116-acre Vicksburg National Cemetery overlooking the Mississippi River, more than in any other national cemetery. About 40% are black soldiers. Only two Confederates joined them — by mistake. However, only 4,000 are identified with tombstones. The rest are buried under small, square stones, each with a number.
When Congress created the cemetery in 1866, it was specifically for soldiers who had fought for the United States. Bodies of Union troops who died elsewhere in the Southeast were moved there, and veterans of subsequent wars joined them later.
A separate place. You'll find the Confederates at Cedar Hill Cemetery, but it's not easy to find without a map.
A marker identifies a section as the Soldiers' Rest C.S.A. (Confederate States of America) Cemetery and says it holds more than 1,600 Confederate graves. The National Park Service estimates that 5,000 were reinterred here after the Civil War, 1,600 unidentified. Some graves are near the entrance, but the majority are near a statue of a Confederate soldier. Confederate flags flew over the graves on my pre-Memorial Day visit; a local man said they were placed there because of a recent ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the statue. He said Davis' great-great grandson spoke at the event.