On May 19, 1863, General Ulysses S. Grant attempted to take the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, Mississippi. After making a daring run past Confederate batteries, Union naval forces joined troops several miles down river. Working together, they detained Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston in Jackson, preventing him from assisting General John C. Pemberton at Vicksburg.
When Grant’s direct assaults failed to overwhelm the city, on this date and again on May 22, he settled down to a six-week siege. Twelve miles of Northern entrenchments paralleled Confederate earthworks. At some points, soldiers held their separate lines within shouting distance. By mid-June, nearly 80,000 Union troops were massed at the city on the Mississippi River bluffs.
With Union gunboats on the river and enemy trenches surrounding the city, the citizens and soldiers of Vicksburg were sealed off from supplies. In addition to dwindling food stores, they weathered nearly constant bombardment by land and naval forces. To escape the shells, Vicksburg residents abandoned their homes for caves carved into the city’s hills. Weeks passed and starving denizens of “Prairie Dog Villages,” as Union soldiers dubbed the maze of dugouts, still hoped for salvation at the hands of General Johnston.
By day forty-four of the siege, the editor of Vicksburg’s Daily Citizen was reduced to printing on wallpaper. Still, he managed to quip:
[T]he great Ulysses—the Yankee Generalissimo, surnamed Grant—has expressed his intention of dining in Vicksburg on Saturday next, and celebrating the 4th of July by a grand dinner and so forth. When asked if he would invite Gen. Jo Johnston to join he said. ‘No! for fear there will be a row at the table.’ Ulysses must get into the city before he dines in it. The way to cook rabbit is ‘first catch the rabbit.’ &c.
The Daily Citizen. J. M. Swords, proprietor. Vicksburg, Miss. Thursday, July 2, 1863. Printed Ephemera: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera. Rare Book & Special Collections Division
Unbeknownst to the writer, the ordeal was drawing to a close. Pemberton and his 30,000 men surrendered on July 4, 1863. When Northern forces entered the city that day, they found the Citizen ready for the press. The issue was printed by Grant’s men and distributed with this addendum:
Two days bring about great changes, The banner of the Union floats over Vicksburg, Gen. Grant has ‘caught the rabbit;’ he has dined in Vicksburg, and he did bring his dinner with him. The ‘Citizen’ lives to see it. For the last time it appears on ‘Wall-paper.’ No more will it eulogize the luxury of mule-meat and fricasseed kitten—urge Southern warriors to such diet never-more.
The Daily Citizen. J. M. Swords, proprietor. Vicksburg, Miss. Thursday, July 2, 1863. Printed Ephemera: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera. Rare Book & Special Collections Divison
A major turning point in the Civil War, Grant’s victory returned control of the Mississippi River to the Union and geographically divided the Confederacy. Coming just a day after Northern triumph at Gettysburg, the capture of Vicksburg restored faith in Union victory and dispirited the South.