Today in History

Today in History: May 19

Grant At Vicksburg

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.

Vicksburg, Miss.
Siege of Vicksburg (detail),
Kurz & Allison, copyright 1888.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Vicksburg, Miss.
Levee and Steamboats, Vicksburg, Mississippi,
William R Pywell, photographer, February, 1864.
Selected Civil War Photographs

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 Village," 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, Vicksburg, Mississippi, J. M. Swords, proprietor, Thursday, July 2, 1863.
An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera

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, Vicksburg, Mississippi, J. M. Swords, proprietor, Thursday, July 2, 1863.
An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera

Daily Citizen
The Daily Citizen, Vicksburg, Mississippi, J. M. Swords, proprietor,
Thursday, July 2, 1863.
An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera

Daily Citizen
The Daily Citizen, (Reverse side) Vicksburg, Mississippi, J. M. Swords, proprietor,
Thursday, July 2, 1863.
An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera

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.

Use American Memory to learn more about the Civil War:

Cover of sheet music
"Never Surrender Quick Step" (detail),
"Composed and Dedicated to the Defenders of Glorious Vicksburg,"
Edward W. Eaton, music, 1863.
Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920

Mr. Johns Hopkins

Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland, between 1890 and 1910.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

Johns Hopkins was born on May 19, 1795, in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, to a Quaker family. Convinced that slavery was morally wrong, his parents freed their slaves. As a result, Johns had to leave school at age twelve to work in the family tobacco fields. Hopkins regretted that his formal education ended so early. Ambitious and hardworking, he abandoned farming, and, at his mother’s urging, became an apprentice in his uncle's wholesale grocery business when he was seventeen. Within a decade, he had created his own Baltimore-based mercantile operation. Hopkins single-mindedly pursued his business ventures. He never married, lived frugally, and retired a rich man at age fifty. A series of wise investments over the next two decades—he was the largest individual stockholder in the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, for example—further increased his wealth. He used his fortune to found The Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, incorporating them in 1867.

Hopkins died in 1873. His will divided $7 million equally between the hospital and the university. At the time, the gift was the largest philanthropic bequest in U.S. history. Hopkins also endowed an orphanage for African-American children.

Hopkins
Hopkins,
Bristow Adams, artist, copyright 1905.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Johns Hopkins University opened February 22, 1876. Hopkins' President Daniel Coit Gilman set a new standard for higher education by focusing on ground-breaking research and advanced study. The research university system he introduced continues to characterize American higher education today. Johns Hopkins Hospital opened in 1889, and the medical school opened four years later. Here too, rigorous academic standards and an emphasis on scientific research profoundly influenced medical practice in the United States.