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Ronda Rich: My Yankee husband's firsthand encounter at Vicksburg
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It did not turn out as I intended.

Somehow, Tink managed to turn it into what he called “The Victory Tour.” And he did so with gleeful satisfaction — that is the only way to say it with unvarnished truth, though he now says otherwise.

We set sail on a river paddle boat called The American Queen out of New Orleans and headed for Memphis. Stops and day trips would be 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!” he said.

“Y’all did not win Vicksburg,” I retorted.

I knew they did. I visited Vicksburg several years ago while on a cruise aboard the American Queen and I knew the sad story.

Gen. Joe Johnston had wired he was sending more Confederate troops but was outright lying. He didn’t think Vicksburg could be defended, so he didn’t intend to bother.

The city fell on July 4. As a result, the proud people of Vicksburg refused to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday for more than 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 where he had cell service. He then looked it up.

I was sitting in the Mark Twain room aboard the boat, reading, when I saw Tink charging toward me with purpose.

“Aha! We did win Vicksburg!” he said, grinning from ear to ear. “This is going to be a Victory Tour!”

I looked up from my book.

“You did not win Vicksburg,” I said. “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 backward, 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. Ulysses S. Grant shrewdly had cut off their food supply. That, combined with rampant diarrhea, signaled defeat. So the near-starved, sickly Confederates meekly surrendered.

About 33,000 rebels 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 from Vicksburg.

It is considered one of the most brilliant military campaigns of the Civil War. It earned 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 led to the Union’s complete triumph when Grant accepted Robert E. Lee’s unconditional surrender at Appomattox.

What is to be remembered is most of the military leaders who squared off against each other in the Civil War were cadets together at West Point and fought together in the Mexican War. That brotherhood 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. Grant was reprimanded for it.

At Vicksburg, though, Tink viewed firsthand the extreme cruelties of America’s war against itself. It is 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 several books, including “What Southern Women Know.” Sign up for her newsletter at Her column appears Tuesdays.