It’s a long and continuing debate. Vicksburg or Gettysburg? Which is more important? Or are they inseparable? Certainly, Gettysburg tends to overshadow Vicksburg in public history interest. But how did people of the 1860’s view the two events?
Pondering this one evening, I decided to pull out LeRoy Gresham’s diary and see if he left written perspective on the importance of Vicksburg vs. Gettysburg. Certainly, I do not base a study or theory on the writings of one teenage civilian boy in Georgia, but Gresham studiously kept up with news and rumors of the days by reading papers and listening to adults’ conversations while lying ill with a deadly disease. His perspective on Southern knowledge of events and tracking opinions is often remarkable.
Starting with his entries at the beginning of June and going through July 9th, I found that Gresham wrote about Vicksburg twenty-one times, Gettysburg Campaign fifteen times. Fascinatingly, he was “invested” in Vicksburg’s determined stand, but as the rumors and news about that Southern stronghold got increasingly depressing, news from Lee’s army looked brighter. Gresham seemed to gravitate toward the hopes for the northern campaign and even gleefully reported a Confederate victory at Gettysburg, writing in extensive detail about the rumors of casualties and successful assaults, but finally admitting the truth wasn’t positive.
I’ve divided his entries about Gettysburg and Vicksburg for comparison, though I did not share the full paragraphs for July 8 or 9 since those rumors could be full studies on their own. Gresham wrote about pets, family, garden/orchard produce, and his health in these weeks, but I have opted to only type the military related record for ease of tracking and comparisons.
I can’t say Gresham decisively answered my question about how civilians felt about Vicksburg or Gettysburg. I need to look at more primary sources and take the location of the writers into consideration. However, his perspective is valuable. I found the shifting emphasis between the events significant and interesting in the history of Southern hopes.
June 2 – The news is on the whole encouraging. Vicksburg holds out heroically! Gen Grant demanded a surrender, but Pemberton replied that he would die in the trenches. There are some heavy rumors. One is that the enemy made a grand assault and were mown down by thousands, nearly all of them killed or captured. The Yankees say we rolled shells down the hill at them causing immense havoc. One thing is certain there has been an attack and a repulse but as to the slaughter there is a great deal of doubt about that…. I wish all the reliable reports we have heard could be true. If Vicksburg does pass this fiery ordeal in safety, how thankful we ought to be!
June 4 – Vicksburg is still ours. Grant is heavily reinforced. Pemberton’s address to his troops is a defense of himself, not a harangue to the troops.
June 5 – If there is any truth in the mass of stuff by Telegraph today, Grant may yet skeddadle…. Gen Johnston is on the move to cut off Grant. Grant is moving to prevent it and a great fight is pending on the Yazoo. The stench of rotten Yanks can be smelt 6 miles off. Pemberton calls on Grant to bury them…
June 6 – Of all the messes I ever saw this western news beats. I still stick to what I said, that Vicksburg would be yet delivered + Grant would yet be defeated.
June 7 – Prayer meeting for Vicksburg in the eve.
June 9 – Not a rumor from Vicksburg.
June 10 – The news from Vicksburg is encouraging. The Yanks acknowledge a loss of 50,000! 30000 wounded…. Pemberton says he can hold Vicksburg indefinitely. Grant is building parallel lines of fortifications. His loss is immense.
June 11 – Well, if things do not look gloomy at Vicksburg, there a’int no snakes. Grant has called for 50000 reinforcements and he will get them. Alas! We have none to send without exposing an important point. So as it has come to a question of reinforecements, we are gone…Father thinks it. It is a gloomy prospect. There are some wild rumors too. One is that you can walk on dead yankees for 10 acres and not touch the earth. Another says the blood is shoe deep! The slain are 60 + 70,000. Ours 600. Another says Pemberton boasts he can hold Vicksburg indefinitely and tells Johnston to take his time. The Yanky exaggeration’s are equally wild. They say Pemberton has been hung by our men….
June 14 – Prayer meeting for Vicksburg in our church.
June 16 – Father is desponding, almost hopeless about Vicksburg, though I see no reason to be more so than usual.
June 17 – The news from the West is good, if true. General E.K. Smith has taken Milliken’s bend. Father says the safety of Vicksburg depends upon him.
June 18 – Not a word from the “Hill City” [Vicksburg]
June 19 – No word of encouragement from Vicksburg.
June 24 – The news came yesterday of a grand assault Saturday which resulted in a disastrous defeat upon Vicksburg. (What grammar!) Another report today says an attack was made Wednesday with like result. Don’t believe neither.
June 26 – Terrific firing at Vicksburg.
June 28 – Grant is bombarding Vicksburg by sea + land and apprehensions are felt by some as to the result. Prayer meeting for the country and army this PM.
July 2 – “Vicksburg is gone,” some people say; others think it not so bad as that.
July 4 – Not a splash of news from anywhere…. Father is desponding about Vicksburg.
July 7 – A cheering bit of “contraband news too delicate for the public palate” has been received from Vicksburg. Port Hudson has been attacked and the enemy awfully licked. I give all this as I heard it and anybody may credit it that wants to do so.
July 8 – I cannot believe that heroic little Vicksburg is actually gone, but “lack-a-day.” I reckon it is so.
July 9 – An official dispatch says – “Vicksburg has capitulated on the 4th inst. The men were immediately paroled; the officers retaining their side arms + baggage.” The cause of the surrender was famine. General Grant had a boatload of provisions brought for our poor men. We had only 7000 effective men.
June 2 – It is rumored and credited that Lee’s army is in motion.
June 11 – There has been a heavy cavalry fight on the Rappahannock. Gen Lee says “Gen Stuart after a ‘severe contest’ of 12 hrs. drove the Yanks ‘across the river.'” I reckon it was a hard fight.
June 12 – Gen Lee is moving but in what direction no one knows. Our loss was 400 in the late cavalry fight.
June 17 – Early’s division has stormed the entrenchments at Winchester and in the language of Gen Lee, God has again crowned the Valor of our troops with success.
June 18 – The news is Ewell has captured Milroy’s army. General Ed Johnson took 2000 coming to Milroy’s relief. Gen Stuart was completely surprised in the Fight at Brandy station + it was only the gallant behavior of our men that saved him from a disastrous defeat.
June 19 – The Yanks have evacuated the Stafford hills and gone somewhere, towards Manassas it is supposed.
June 20 – Ewell’s victory at “Winchester” is confirmed. 7000 prisoners + 3000 horses. It is rumored that our army is pushing into Maryland. The Yankees are under the influence of a grant scare or “uprisings.” Lincoln calls for 100000 6 months men and the Gov are calling too. Our loss at Brandy Station was 483; Yanks twice that.
June 21 – Our army it is rumored is “en route” to Mld [Maryland]
June 23 – General Ewell is in Mld. Hooker is near Bull run and “Manassas Plains.” Where the grand collision will occur or whither Gen Lee intends to fight, no one knows. I can’t see what object we can have in entering Maryland except to get provision or attract attention from Vicksburg. I feel confident that our army can whip Hooker’s anywhere….
June 25 – The movements of Gen Lee are shrouded in complete mystery as are Gen Johnston’s [in Mississippi]. Hooker is over the Potomac and the fight will be in Mld.
June 26 – Gen Longstreet has crossed the Potomac at Leesburg; Ewell at Harpers Ferry. A.P. Hill is behind.
July 2 – Gen Ewell is reported in “Harrisburg”!
July 7 – The news is all Northern, Viz. a Battle has been fought at Gettysburg, Pa. between the Yanks under Meade and the Confeds under Lt Gens Longstreet and Hill in which the “Anks” acknowledge that they were worsted…. The most sanguinary battle of the war has been fought at Gettysburg, Pa. Barksdale, Kemper, Garnett, Armistead, Semmes Killed. Hood, Trimble, Pickett, Pender – Hampton, Anderson, Robinson, Jenkins, Jones, Heth, Scales, Pettigrew +c. 50 field officers besides these disabled; our whole loss probably 15000 killed, wounded, and prisoners, certainly not less for nearly all our wounded, who were not able to move or be carried, were left behind. General Lee’s army is crossing the Potomac at Williamsport where a severe fight is probably going on with our rear guard….
July 8 – Great and glorious news! Grand defeat of the Yankees….
[Note: several paragraphs of rumors about Gettysburg on July 7 and 8; mostly wrong information]
July 9 – The “Victory” in Pa. grows beautifully less.
Gresham, LeRoy Wiley, edited by Janet E. Croon. (2018). The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865. Savas Beatie: El Dorado, CA. Pages 228-238.