It did not turn out as I intended. Somehow, Tink managed to turn it into what he, with gleeful satisfaction – that is the only way to say it with unvarnished truth though he now says otherwise – called “The Victory Tour.”
We had set sail on a river paddle boat called The American Queen out of New Orleans, heading for Memphis. There would be stops and day trips along the way including a tour of the Vicksburg battlefield where Confederate and Union troops fought for 41 days.
Tink’s eyes gleamed. “We’re going to see where we Yankees won!”
“Y’all did not win Vicksburg,” I retorted. I knew they did. I visited Vicksburg several years ago while again on a cruise aboard the American Queen and I knew the sad story. How General Joe Johnston had wired he was sending more Confederate troops but was outright lying because he didn’t think that Vicksburg could be defended so he didn’t intend to bother; how the city fell on July 4th and, as a result, the proud people of Vicksburg refused to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday for over 80 years.
But Tink didn’t know that so I figured I could hold his triumphant spirit at bay for a day or two. It worked. His smile faded and his shoulders drooped. It lasted for the length of 26 hours until we docked at Natchez and he had cell service so he could look it up. I was sitting in the Mark Twain room aboard the boat, reading, when I looked up to see Tink charging toward me with purpose.
“Aha! We did win Vicksburg!” He was grinning from ear to ear. “This is going to be a Victory Tour!”
I looked up from my book. “You did not WIN Vicksburg. That would imply that you out-fought us. What you did was starve us.”
When it came to guts, hand-to-hand combat, and shooting, the Confederates were tougher. After all, if you had the choice between a backwards, bare-knuckled survivalist, as were most of the Confederates, or a town-raised, civilized, educated Yankee to defend you, which would you choose to wage battle?
But no man, regardless of how tough he is, can survive without food. Grant had shrewdly cut off their food supply. That, combined with rampant diarrhea, signaled defeat so the near-starved, sickly Confederates meekly surrendered. Thirty three thousand Rebels had held off 77,000 Yankees until they could no longer survive on a daily ration of a tablespoon of rice and a cup of water. Their commander, John Pemberton, met Grant under an oak tree to make the agreement. That tree was then chopped down and cut into pieces so the Union soldiers could take home souvenirs of the Vicksburg.
It is considered one of the most brilliant military campaigns of the Civil War. It would earn Grant a promotion to the rank of Major General of the Army. It was a significant victory, even if it was earned through starvation rather than gunfire that would lead to the Union’s complete triumph when Grant accepted Robert E. Lee’s unconditional surrender at Appomattox. To be remembered is that most of the military leaders that squared off against each other in the Civil War had been cadets together at West Point and then fought together in the Mexican War.
It was that brotherhood that led to one of the Civil War’s few acts of kindness: Grant permitted Lee to keep his beloved horse even though it was against the rules of surrender and he was reprimanded for it.
At Vicksburg, though, Tink viewed first-hand the extreme cruelties of America’s war against itself, a place where Grant’s 12-year-old son was wounded in battle, brothers were killed together and civilians were forced to surrender their family homes to the Union.
War is cruel. That’s what Tink realized that day. The victory tour was over.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of There’s A Better Day A-Comin’. Visit www.rondarich.com
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