Today in History – May 27

On May 27, 1937, San Francisco‘s Golden Gate Bridge was opened to the public for the first time for “Pedestrian Day,” marking the start of the weeklong “Golden Gate Bridge Fiesta” held to celebrate its completion. More than 200,000 people paid twenty-five cents each to walk the bridge. The following day at noon President Franklin Roosevelt, from across the continent at the White House, pressed a telegraph key and the Golden Gate Bridge was officially opened for vehicular use. A compilation of raw film footage External of both day’s events is available as part of the Prelinger Archive External, acquired by the Library of Congress in 2002.

General View, Looking North, Showing the “Bay” Side of the Structure. Jet Lowe, photographer, 1984. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California. Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey. Prints & Photographs Division

Completed just six months after its neighbor, the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge is painted a striking hue External known as international orange, a reddish color that was chosen to compliment the bridge’s natural surroundings. Like the George Washington, Brooklyn, and Williamsburg bridges in New York City, the Golden Gate is a suspension bridge, held up by massive steel cables strung between towers. Its central span, at 4,200 feet, remained the longest in the world until 1964 when the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, also in New York, was completed. (Completed in 1998, the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in Japan, at 1,991 meters—about 6,532 feet—has the longest single span of any suspension bridge.)

The area known as the Golden Gate is the narrow channel formed at the mouth of San Francisco Bay, where a gap in the line of low mountains opens to meet the Pacific Ocean. Although topographical engineer John C. Frémont first named these rocky straights the “Chrysopylae or Golden Gate” in his report to Congress in 1848, evidence suggests that the term was in use at least a few years earlier. Fremont’s designation, which also appeared on his accompanying map of the region, caught the popular imagination when gold was discovered in California soon after.

Birdseye View of San Francisco and Surrounding Country. Drawn by G. H. Goddard; Britton, Rey & Co, lith; San Francisco: Snow & May, c1876. Panoramic Maps. Geography & Map Division

The idea of bridging the mile-wide Golden Gate channel was proposed as early as the 1870s, but it was not until the San Francisco Call and Post began an editorial campaign in 1916 that the plan received popular backing. Rocky terrain and difficult weather conditions made the task appear impossible. Following feasibility studies, however, in 1923 the California legislature passed the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District Act; the District itself was formed six years later. Voters, despite financial uncertainty following the 1929 stock market crash, approved a $35 million construction bond in November 1930.

Bridge designer Joseph Baermann Strauss, a long-time advocate for the project, was selected as the Golden Gate’s chief engineer. Important design contributions were made by engineers Charles Ellis and Leon Moissieff and by architect Irving Foster Morrow. Construction began on January 15, 1933. Strauss instituted unprecedented safety measures including an early version of the hard hat and a safety net that stretched end-to-end under the bridge. While eleven workers died during the course of the project, nineteen others whose falls were broken by the net became known as the “Half-Way-to-Hell Club.”

Detail View Showing Connection of Suspender to Floorbeam. Jet Lowe, photographer, 1984. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California. Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey. Prints & Photographs Division

The Golden Gate Bridge links San Francisco to the south with Marin County to the north. It connects a host of natural wonders ranging from Seal Rock to Mt. Tamalpais and the Muir Woods old growth forest; and to architectural achievements from San Francisco’s early modern Hallidie Building to Marin County’s Civic Center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Like New York Harbor’s Statue of Liberty, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge has become an icon for its setting and its city. In May 1987, to celebrate the bridge’s fiftieth anniversary, some 300,000 individuals walked the bridge in an event dubbed “Bridgewalk ’87.” Two years later, on October 17, 1989, the gracefully suspended bridge withstood the 7.1-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake without incident.


Today in History – May 26

On May 26, 1864, President Lincoln signed an enabling act creating the Territory of Montana. Twenty-five years later, on November 8, 1889, Montana became the forty-first state.

B.E. view, Helena, Mont. Haines Photo Co., c1908. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division
Map of the territory of Montana with portions of the adjoining territories. Drawn by W. W. de Lacy for the use of the first legislature of Montana; St. Louis, Mo: Jul. Hutawa, lithr., 1865. General Maps. Geography & Map Division

Numerous Native American tribes originally inhabited the Montana Territory. Today, Montana’s Indian reservations maintain the heritage and culture of many of these tribes including the Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Assiniboine, Gros Ventre or Atsina, Blackfeet, Kootenai, Salish, Chippewa, and Cree. Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the members of their expedition were the first explorers to document a journey through Montana and the lands of the Louisiana Purchase. Soon, forts were established to facilitate regular fur trading with Native American tribes. Missionaries and trailblazers followed.

The discovery of gold in the early 1860s sped the creation of the Montana Territory. As settlers and gold prospectors entered Montana in the 1860s and 1870s conflicts with the Indians arose. Perhaps the most famous clash between Native Americans and the United States military occurred in Montana on June 25, 1876. On that day, Sioux and Cheyenne defeated Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer‘s 7th United States Cavalry regiment at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand. A year later, Nez Percé Chief Joseph surrendered in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana after traveling over 1,000 miles across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana, trying to elude the U.S. Army and reach safe haven in Canada.

Bands of sheep on the Gravelly Range at the foot of Black Butte, Madison County, Montana, Russell Lee, photographer, Aug. 1942. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

Lured by gold in the 1860s and copper in the 1880s, mining brought many settlers to Montana. Rich grazing lands for cattle and sheep attracted other pioneers. Irene Binderies recalls her memories of moving to Superior, Montana as a young girl:

My family came to Superior from Missoula in 1898, when I was about 14. My father had been editor of several of the larger Montana papers, among them the Butte Miner. Our former environment had been so different from the one we found here that the mining atmosphere made quite an…impression on my brothers and sisters and me, at first mainly of shock.

Social Life in and about Superior.” Irene Bundrick, interviewee; Mabel Olson, interviewer; Superior, Montana, between 1936 and 1940. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division


Today in History – May 25

Legendary jazz tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was born on May 25, 1878, in Richmond, Virginia. His given name was Luther, but he despised it and appropriated that of his younger brother, William. An extraordinary performer and synthesizer of the tap tradition, Robinson is also credited with one major innovation in this American art form: transforming its flat footwork into dancing up on the toes, which gave tap “a hitherto-unknown lightness and presence.”1 Many steps Robinson perfected with his trademark clarity, precision, and elegance, including the famous “stair dance,” remain part of the tap repertoire today.

Portrait of Bill Robinson. Carl Van Vechten, photographer, Jan. 25, 1933. Van Vechten Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Orphaned in early childhood and unwanted by his grandmother, a survivor of slavery and a strict Baptist who forbade dancing, Robinson nevertheless began dancing and singing as a young child for nickels and dimes on Richmond street-corners. He ran away to Washington, D.C., and spent some years dancing in local beer-gardens and surviving on odd jobs before breaking into the relatively new theatrical genre called “vaudeville,” which showcased dancers, singers, comedians, and actors in a series of short performances. By the early decades of the twentieth century, Robinson was earning top dollar on the vaudeville circuit and in nightclubs as one of the very few black dancers who was permitted to perform as a soloist. In 1928 he burst onto Broadway with sensational success in the all-black revue Blackbirds of 1928. Other Broadway triumphs followed.

By the 1930s, motion pictures and radio had usurped vaudeville’s popularity and Robinson moved with the times. He went to Hollywood in 1932 and appeared in some sixteen films, most famously opposite Shirley Temple. Stormy Weather (1943), with Lena Horne, provided him a rare opportunity to appear in an African-American production. Although his film career brought him even greater prominence during this period, Robinson also continued to work in the theater. He was featured in the highly acclaimed Hot Mikado, staged at the 1939 World’s Fair, in which a critic for Theatre Arts described his dancing:

He does not sing, or even swing, with his voice but with his feet. Never has shoe leather beaten out such a variety of intricate patterns. Never … has one note been made to sing and soar, to whisper and to laugh, in such astonishingly complex rhythm.

A quick-tempered and competitive man, a perfectionist well aware of his own immense artistic gifts, Robinson chafed at and challenged the oppressive racial norms of his era, gambled recklessly, and carried a gold-plated revolver that no one doubted he was prepared to use. He celebrated his sixty-first birthday by dancing down Broadway from Columbus Circle to 44th Street. As his seventieth birthday approached, his dancing abilities, like his popularity, barely waned. At Robinson’s death in 1949, thousands passed by his body as it lay in state in Harlem, where he had long since been deemed honorary mayor. Black and white, high and low, alike paid tribute to the man’s professional genius and personal generosity.

Portrait of Bill Robinson. Carl Van Vechten, photographer, Jan. 25, 1933. Van Vechten Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Several films included in the collection Variety Stage Sound Recordings and Motion Pictures demonstrate the style of dancing Robinson excelled at.

Unabashedly racist, the comedy Fights of Nations relied on both stereotype and slapstick. “Part 2” opens with a sword fight between three kilted Scots, and moves on to a New York City dance hall. Between brawls, viewers are treated to a tap dance, performed by a character known as “The Bully.”

Tap Dance Sequence from Fights of Nations. Part 2 of 3, second film. Billy Bitzer, camera; United States: American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, 1907. Variety Stage Sound Recordings and Motion Pictures. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division

The Library of Congress presents such materials as part of the record of the past, reflecting the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of different times. The Library of Congress does not endorse the views they express.


Today in History – May 24

On May 24, 1844, Samuel F. B. Morse dispatched the first telegraphic message over an experimental line from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore. The message, taken from the Bible, Numbers 23:23 and recorded on a paper tape, had been suggested to Morse by Annie Ellsworth, the young daughter of a friend.

First Telegraphic Message—24 May 1844. Series: Miscellany. Samuel F. B. Morse Papers at the Library of Congress, 1793 to 1919. Manuscript Division
Samuel Finley Breese Morse, head and shoulders self-portrait. (Photograph of painting). c[between 1900 and 1912]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Morse is best known as the inventor of the telegraph, but he is also esteemed for his contributions to American portraiture. His painting is characterized by delicate technique and vigorous honesty and insight into the character of his subjects.

While returning from Europe to assume a position as an arts professor at New York University, Morse began to conceive of a communications system employing the electro-magnet and a series of relays through a network of telegraph stations. In order to transmit messages via this system, he invented Morse Code, an alphabet of electronic dashes and dots used to transmit telegraph messages.

In an interview in the digital collection American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940, Ross M. Plummer talks of his father’s fascination with possibilities introduced by Morse’s invention:

At about the time my father was a young practicing physician in Missouri, Samuel Morse’s electric telegraph was becoming an increasingly useful and important new development. A net work of lines was being extended in all directions…. The miracle of electricity as applied to the clacking telegraph key and sounder, so absorbed my father that he … knew that he could never be fully satisfied until he had, for awhile at least, devoted his entire time to the telegraph…. It wasn’t long until my father was known throughout Missouri as an expert and soon his services were in demand. When the Western Union Telegraph Company thrust their history-making first transcontinental wire through the Rockies, my father was on the payroll as an installation engineer and operator.

Occupational and Medical Lore.” Ross M. Plummer, interviewee; A. C. Sherbert, interviewer; Portland, Oregon, January 19, 1939. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division

Samuel F. B. Morse’s Colored Sketch of Railway Telegraph, ca. 1838. (Samuel F.B. Morse Papers). Words and Deeds in American History. Manuscript Division.

Western Union’s completion of the first transcontinental telegraph line in October 1861 doomed the Pony Express. At the same time, as the Civil War demonstrated, it made electronic telecommunication indispensable.

As the Civil War progressed mobile telegraph stations and hastily strung wires began to connect scattered military units. During the Seven Days’ Battles, June 25-July 1, 1862, General George McClellan sent frequent dispatches to the War Department telegraph office, where President Lincoln often appeared to seek news from the front. The telegraph contributed to the failure of a Confederate attack against the Federal General Ambrose Burnside when an assault force under General James Longstreet got tangled in Union telegraph wires strung from tree stump to tree stump at Fort Sanders in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Wilcox’s Landing, Va., vicinity of Charles City Court House. Field telegraph station. 1864. Civil War. Prints & Photographs Division


Today in History – May 23

On May 23, 1865, the Army of the Potomac celebrated the end of the Civil War by parading down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Only weeks before, mourners watched Abraham Lincoln’s funeral cortege travel the same thoroughfare. With many buildings still dressed in black crepe, this joyous procession could not help but remind spectators of that unhappy occasion.

When Johnny comes Marching Home Again, Hurrah, hurrah!
We’ll give him a hearty welcome then, Hurrah, hurrah!
The men will cheer, the boys will shout, The ladies, they will all turn out,
And we’ll all feel gay, When Johnny comes marching home

When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” Words and music by Louis Lambert (pseudonym of Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore); Boston: Henry Tolman & Co., 1863. Civil War Sheet Music Collection. Music Division

Washington, D.C. Infantry Unit with Fixed Bayonets Followed by Ambulances Passing on Pennsylvania Avenue… Mathew B. Brady, photographer, 1865. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. Prints & Photographs Division
Washington, District of Columbia. Grand Review of the Army. Presidential Reviewing Stand with Guests and Guard. Mathew B. Brady, photographer, 1865. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. Prints & Photographs Division
Washington, D.C. Another Artillery Unit Passing on Pennsylvania Avenue… Mathew B. Brady, photographer, 1865. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. Prints & Photographs Division

Laid out by Pierre L’Enfant, Pennsylvania Avenue was one of the earliest streets constructed in the federal city. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson considered the avenue an important feature of the new capital. After inspecting L’Enfant’s plan, President Washington referred to the thoroughfare as a “Grand Avenue.” Jefferson concurred, and while the “grand avenue” was little more than a wide dirt road, he planted it with rows of fast growing Lombardy poplars.

Although Pennsylvania Avenue extends seven miles, the expanse between the White House and the Capitol constitutes the ceremonial heart of the nation. Washington called this stretch “most magnificent & most convenient” and it has served the country well. Ever since an impromptu procession formed around Jefferson’s second inauguration, each United States president has paraded down the Avenue after taking the oath of office. From William Henry Harrison to John F. Kennedy the funeral corteges of the seven presidents who died in office followed this route.

President McKinley’s Funeral Cortege at Washington, D.C.. United States: Thomas A. Edison, Inc., September 1901. The Last Days of a President: Films of McKinley and the Pan-American Exposition, 1901. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division

Not just the scene of official functions, Pennsylvania Avenue is the traditional parade and protest route of ordinary citizens. During the depression of the 1890s, for example, Jacob Coxey marched 500 supporters down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol to demand Federal aid for the unemployed. Similarly, on the eve of Woodrow Wilson’s 1913 inauguration, Alice Paul masterminded a parade highlighting the woman suffrage movement. In July 1932, a contingent of the Bonus Expeditionary Force carried flags down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House where they planned to form picket lines. Pennsylvania Avenue also has served as a background for more lighthearted celebrations, including a series of day and nighttime Shriner’s parades in the 1920s and 1930s.


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Today in History – May 22

On May 22, 1802, the first of first ladies, Martha Dandridge Custis Washington died of a severe fever. When she married George Washington in January 1759, she was twenty-seven years old and a widowed mother of two. She was also one of the wealthiest women in Virginia, having inherited some 15,000 acres of farmland from her deceased husband, Daniel Parke Custis.

I am fond of only what comes from the heart.

Martha Washington, quoted in “Martha Dandridge Custis Washington”. White House Web Site

Martha Washington… Gilbert Stuart, artist; Dominique C. Fabronius, lithographer; Boston: published by L. Prang, c1864. Popular Graphic Arts. Prints & Photographs Division

A prosperous farmer himself, George Washington ably took over the Custis estate, but moved Martha and his newly-adopted stepchildren Martha (“Patsy”) and John Parke (“Jacky”) to his own home, Mount Vernon, outside Alexandria, Virginia. There, the couple delighted in raising their children (though Patsy died of an epileptic seizure in 1773 at the age of seventeen, while Jacky died of camp fever during the Revolution in 1781) and entertaining Virginia society. It is estimated that between 1768 and 1775 over 2,000 guests visited the Washingtons, some staying for extended periods.

Paintings. Martha Washington in the White House I. [Photograph of Painting] Theodor Horydczak, photographer, ca.1920-ca. 1950. Horydczak Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

After George was elected president in 1789, entertaining became even more prominent in Martha Washington’s life. In the temporary U.S. capitals of New York and Philadelphia, she hosted lavish parties and receptions to match those given by the established governments of Europe. Although the first lady was noted for the generosity and warmth she displayed as the nation’s premier hostess, she longed for her private life in Virginia. In a letter to a niece she confided: “I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else, there is certain bounds set for me which I must not depart from.”

The Washingtons returned to their Mount Vernon home in 1797 where George passed away two years later. After her death, Martha was buried beside him in a modest tomb located on the estate.


Today in History – May 21

On May 21, 1796, attorney and statesman Reverdy Johnson was born in Annapolis, Maryland. Johnson represented Maryland, a slaveholding state south of the Mason-Dixon line, as a Whig, in the U.S. Senate from 1845-49 and again following the Civil War as a Democrat from 1863-68. Under President Zachary Taylor, he served as attorney general from 1849 until Taylor’s death in 1850. Johnson was considered a brilliant constitutional lawyer and won an 1854 Supreme Court decision in favor of a patent for the McCormick reaper.

President Taylor and His Cabinet…. Francis D’Avignon, artist; [New York]: Published by M.B. Brady daguerrian artist, c1849 (N.Y.: Printed by Nagel & Weingærtner). Popular Graphic Arts. Prints & Photographs Division

Print showing President Taylor standing in front of his cabinet officers, seated from left, Reverdy Johnson, Attorney General, William M. Meredith, Secretary of the Treasury, William B. Preston, Secretary of the Navy, George W. Crawford, Secretary of War, Jacob Collamer, Postmaster General, Thomas Ewing, Secretary of the Interior, and John M. Clayton, Secretary of State.

Men binding grain being cut by McCormick’s horse-drawn reaper, “invented in 1831.” Photo by McCormick Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Although he personally opposed slavery and emancipated slaves inherited from his father, Johnson represented the slave-owning defendant in the 1857 Dred Scott case in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that slaves could not be citizens of the United States. The court’s decision intensified antislavery sentiment in the North and fed the antagonism that sparked the Civil War. In 1865, the ruling was made obsolete with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment prohibiting slavery.

The map below depicts free states in pink and slave states in dark green. The light green area in the West was composed of a number of territories at that time.

Reynolds’s Political Map of the United States… New York: Wm. C. Reynolds and J.C. Jones, c1856. Map Collections. Geography & Map Division

During the Civil War, Reverdy Johnson strove to keep Maryland in the Union as exemplified in a major address to a Unionist meeting in January 1861. He maintained a close relationship with the Lincoln administration by serving as a member of the failed Washington Peace Conference that met in February 1861. Two years later, he was sent by President Lincoln to New Orleans to investigate complaints about the Union occupation of the city. Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was supported by Johnson as mentioned in a letter setting up a meeting between the two in April 1861.

Johnson was moderate in his attitude toward post-Civil War reconstruction of the rebellious Southern states. When impeachment proceedings were brought against Andrew Johnson, largely for his lenient treatment of the South, Reverdy Johnson was instrumental in securing the president’s acquittal.

Following a two-year appointment as minister to Great Britain from 1868-69, Johnson returned to his law practice in Annapolis where he died in 1876 as a result of a fall.


Today in History – May 20

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act on May 20, 1862. The act provided settlers with 160 acres of surveyed public land after payment of a filing fee and five years of continuous residence. Designed to spur Western migration, the Homestead Act culminated a twenty-year battle to distribute public lands to citizens willing to farm. Concerned that free land would lower property values and reduce the cheap labor supply, Northern businessmen opposed the act. Unlikely allies, Southerners feared homesteaders would add their voices to the call for abolition of slavery. With Southerners out of the picture in 1862, the legislation finally passed.

The first homestead in the United States, U.S.A. 1904. Prints & Photographs Division

By 1900, homesteaders had filed 600,000 claims for 80 million acres. Most pioneers settled in the Western Plains states. Experienced farm workers from other states or Europe, they abandoned family and community ties for the isolation of pioneer life gambling that conditions would favor prosperity. Louise Lane Trace was sixteen when her family arrived in Nebraska. After navigating a series of disasters, they reached their homestead in the spring of 1866. Over seventy years later, WPA interviewer George Wartman recorded Mrs. Trace’s memories of that difficult time:

Mr. Lane had arrived at his homestead with 30 head of cattle and several horses. He put out sod corn which gave all indication of being a wonderful crop, but the grasshoppers took the entire crop. There was an abundance of wild grass, but no way to harvest it. After winter set in with no feed for the stock they commenced to suffer. The horses became so weak from starvation [that?] they were not fit for traveling so Mr. Lane would walk 15 miles to what they called the “Dutch Settlement” and now known as Swanton, pay $2.00 per bushel for corn and carry a sack full on his shoulder making a thirty mile-round-trip for one sack of corn.

Mrs. Wm. Trace. George Hartman, interviewer; Lincoln, Nebraska, November 29, 1938. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940 . Manuscript Division

Charity Couch and her husband filed their homestead claim near the South Platte River in western Nebraska nearly twenty years later. Yet, the prairie remained an isolated place. Her WPA interviewer noted:

Mrs. Couch says she scarcely dared step outside the yard because there were so many long horned cattle and there were no neighbors between their place and Ogallala except the old Searle Ranch. There was no school for a year or so as their were no children in the district, and no social gatherings at that time such as church, Sunday school, literary, or dances, as people lived too far apart. There were a few buffalo, deer, antelope and gray wolves, and also large numbers of wild fowl such as prairie chickens, grouse, geese, and ducks.

Charity B. Couch. Bessie Jollensten, interviewer; Ogallala, Nebraska, November 16, 1938. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division

Rural life in Neb. Solomon D. Butcher, photographer, 1886. Prints & Photographs Division

Prosperous ranchers, the Couch family added to their original homestead, eventually accumulating 1,800 acres. Like farming, successful ranching required hard work and more than a little luck. Nevertheless with ready access to railroads and a rising demand for beef, ranches proliferated across the Plains states. Between 1860 and 1880, cattle in Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Dakota increased from 130,000 to 4.5 million head.

Daniel Freeman Standing, Holding Gun, with Hatchet Tucked in Belt. 1904. Prints & Photographs Division


Today in History – May 19

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.

Siege of Vicksburg… Kurz & Allison, c1888. Civil War. Prints & Photographs Division
Vicksburg, Miss. Levee and Steamboats. William R Pywell, photographer, February, 1864. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. Prints & Photographs Division

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

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
The Daily Citizen. (Reverse side) 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

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.