Somehow, despite my deep and broad lifelong study of world and American history, it never jelled in my mind until just recently that the (arguably) two most pivotal battles of the American Civil War concluded on the same day.
In 1863, the Siege of Vicksburg ran from May 18 – July 4 and the Battle of Gettysburg occurred over July 1-3. On July 4th, 1863, the fall of Vicksburg gave the Union control of the Mississippi slicing the Confederacy in two. On July 4th 1863, Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia were in full retreat from Pennsylvania having received a savage mauling. From that point on, the Confederacy lost all hope of foreign intervention and any chance of winning the war.
While we eat our hot dogs and watch our fireworks, it behooves us to recall what others have suffered for us:
Union casualties for the battle and siege of Vicksburg were 4,835; Confederate were 32,697 (29,495 surrendered). The full campaign, since March 29, claimed 10,142 Union and 9,091 Confederate killed and wounded. In addition to his surrendered men, Pemberton turned over to Grant 172 cannons and 50,000 rifles.
One of my great-great uncles, IIRC a Col. Brown, was killed at Vicksburg, vaporized by a direct hit from a 88-lb explosive mortar shell fired from a Union ironclad bombardment barge.
Vicksburg was arguably the first city in the world to face a sustained and massive bombardment by explosive shells. Photos from the city clearly presaged those of WWII. The civilians of Vicksburg were the first civilians to have to dig and live in bomb shelters.
The only saving grace of Gettysburg in comparison was that there was only one civilian death.
The two armies suffered between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties. Union casualties were 23,055 (3,155 killed, 14,531 wounded, 5,369 captured or missing), while Confederate casualties are more difficult to estimate. Many authors have referred to as many as 28,000 Confederate casualties, but Busey and Martin’s more recent definitive 2005 work, Regimental Strengths and Losses, documents 23,231 (4,708 killed, 12,693 wounded, 5,830 captured or missing). Nearly a third of Lee’s general officers were killed, wounded, or captured. The casualties for both sides during the entire campaign were 57,225.
In his epic work on WWII, Churchill titled the volume covering 1942, “The Hinge of Fate.” Clearly, July 4th, 1863 represented the hinge of fate for America.
I find it strange that I never put those two events of great important together in my mind. I suppose it happened because most histories of the war follow specific individuals or specific regions longitudinally, instead of giving a latitudinal snapshot of the entire war at any single point in time.