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John Clifford Pemberton


        Born August 10, 1814, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, John Clifford Pemberton's marriage to a Virginia woman influenced him to fight for the South. By wars end, he had become one of the Confederacy's most controversial generals.
        An 1837 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, Pemberton saw action in the Second Seminole War and was decorated for bravery in the Mexican War. In peacetime, he proved to he an effective administrative officer. Though his defenders would later claim that Pemberton frequently exhibited antebellum pro-Southern sentiments, there is much evidence to the contrary When war broke out in 1861, he agonized for weeks before coming to Virginia to fight for his wife's native land.
        Pemberton's first significant duty came in March 1862, when he was promoted to major general and took command of the Department of South Carolina and Georgia. Always adept at military politics, he had moved rapidly upward in rank despite a lack of accomplishments.
        The new commander soon was embroiled in controversy Many South Carolinians feared that the Northern-born general was not dedicated to an all-out defense of the department. Pemberton added to their fears by declaring that, if he had to make a choice, he would abandon the area rather than risk losing his outnumbered army When state officials complained to Robert B. Lee, Pemberton's predecessor and now adviser to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Lee told Pemberton that he must defend the department at all cost. Pemberton was eventually relieved from command, but he had learned a fateful lesson from Lee.
        Despite Pemberton's preference for administrative duties and his problems in South Carolina, Davis promoted him to lieutenant general and gave him arguably the most difficult command in the Confederacy Pemberton was to defend Vicksburg, a Mississippi city standing on high bluffs above the Mississippi River.  Its defenses were the last major river obstacle to Union shipping.
        Taking command of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana on October 14, 1862, Pemberton immediately set to work solving supply problems and improving troop morale. For several months he enjoyed remarkable success, defeating attempts by Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to take Vicksburg in the winter of 1862--1863.
        In the spring, however, Grant confused Pemberton with a series of diversions and crossed the Mississippi below Vicksburg practically unnoticed. Grant was free to maneuver because Pemberton had remembered Lees admonishment and had fought to hold Vicksburg at all cost. Jefferson Davis reinforced Pemberton's thinking with an order not to give up the river city "for a single day" Now that Grant had successfully crossed the Mississippi, Pemberton determined to stay close to Vicksburg. Davis complicated matters by sending Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to Mississippi to try to reverse declining Confederate fortunes. Johnston ordered Pemberton to unite his forces and attack Grant, if practicable, even if that meant abandoning the defense of Vicksburg.
        Torn by conflicting orders, Pemberton marked time while Grant swept inland scoring a series of quick victories at Port Gibson, Raymond, and Jackson. Pemberton finally tried to please both Davis and Johnston. He moved his army east from Edwards Station, all the while maintaining close contact with Vicksburg. A new order from Johnston forced Pemberton to reverse his course and unite with Johnston's forces that had been defeated at Jackson. Before the order could be carried out, Pemberton's army bumped into Grants forces at Champions Hill and suffered a major defeat. Pemberton retreated to the Big Black River where he suffered more heavy losses. Remembering Lees and Davis's orders, Pemberton chose to ignore another order from Vicksburg. He would try to save the city even if that meant risking the loss of his army. He retreated into the city where he and his men endured a forty-seven day siege before surrendering on July 4, 1863. Pemberton became a pariah in the South and was accused by his immediate superior, General Johnston, of causing he Confederate disaster by disobeying orders.
        John Pemberton might have made a positive contribution to the Confederate war effort had his talents been properly used. An able administrator, he was uncomfortable in combat. He had demonstrated his weaknesses in South Carolina, yet Davis had sent him to Mississippi anyway. A few months after Vicksburg, Pemberton displayed his loyalty to the Confederate cause by requesting a reduction in rank. He served the cause the remainder of the war as a lieutenant colonel of artillery in Virginia and South Carolina.
        After the war he settled on a farm near Warrenton, Virginia, and eventually returned to his native Pennsylvania, where he died July 13, 1881, in the village of Penllyn. He is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.
Source:  MacMillan Information Now Encyclopedia "The Confederacy."  Article by Michael B. Ballard


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