John Clifford Pemberton
1814 - 1881
John Clifford Pemberton, northerner turned southern general in the Civil War, died July 13, 1881.
Pemberton was born August 10, 1814 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The son of a prominent Quaker family, he graduated from West Point in 1837, becoming a career soldier.
Prior to the Civil War, Pemberton served on the American frontier, and in the Seminole and Mexican Wars. He was cited for bravery and meritorious service in Mexico and was hailed as a hero when he returned to Philadelphia after the war. This would not be the case after the Civil War.
Pemberton, who had married a Virginian, had southern sentiments, especially when it came to a stateís right to determine its own destiny. When the southern states seceded on this premise, Pemberton resigned his commission and joined the Confederate army. Two of his brothers joined the Union army.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis had confidence in Pembertonís southern loyalties and his military expertise. By February 1862, Pemberton had been promoted to lieutenant general and had replaced Robert E. Lee as commander of armies in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
Many southern leaders and citizens distrusted Pemberton, believing him to either be a northern spy or one who would lean to the North in battlefield situations. Davis thought otherwise, and put Pemberton in charge of the strategically important ports of Vicksburg and Port Hudson. These two locations were key in the Confederacy keeping control of the Mississippi River. If lost, the Confederacy would be cut in half.
Pemberton assumed command at Vicksburg in October 1862. Not long after, General Ulysses Grant laid siege to the city and its people. For eight months, the city held out against a barrage of Union artillery. They were reduced to eating rats near the end of the siege.
Seeing no recourse, Pemberton surrendered the city on July 4, 1863. Those suspicious of Pemberton say he purposely lost the battle, and added insult to injury by surrendering on Independence Day. The loss of Vicksburg and the fall of Gettysburg the day before seemed to seal the doom for the Confederacy.
Pemberton and his 29,000 soldiers were taken prisoner. He was released in a prisoner exchange in May 1864. And even though he was one of the highest ranking and most skilled of southern commanders, President Davis did not know what to do with him. No one wanted him as a commander.
Pemberton resigned his commission and offered to rejoin the army as a private, but served the last nine months of the war as an infantry lieutenant colonel in the defense of Richmond.
After the war, Pemberton was essentially a man without a country. Welcomed in neither the North nor the South, he retired to his Virginia farm. In 1876, he moved back to his native Pennsylvania where he died on July 13, 1881.